Andrea Vianello


Exotica in archaeology are usually identified as any foreign as opposed to indigenous materials and products.  The  presence of  exotica can map movements of  people and help recognise exchange networks by linking human societies with sometimes  distant places. Initially exotica were only body ornaments,  such as Palaeolithic  beads (i.e. shells) and studies of the lithic tools have also demonstrated  that rare materials were being sought for. From the neolithic onwards exotica became an indicator of inequality, social stratification and hierarchy, though it is necessary to understand the social context in which they are inserted in order to appreciate their meaning.

Exotica in the Prehistoric  Mediterranean examines how  exotic materials were exchanged and used across the Mediterranean  from the Neolithic era to the Iron Age, focusing on the Bronze Age. A variety of materials and interpretative approaches are presented through several case studies. These emphasise  how the value of exotic materials depended on the context in which they were consumed.  The  book firmly departs f rom assumptions  of fixed categories such as prestige items or corresponding  values, as evident in the Amarna letters. Instead, it shows how almost any object could be appreciated  or ignored depending primarily on the cultural, social and economic dynamics of individual communities. Exotica considered include Neolithic shells and salt, amber, Bronze Age glass, ivory, prestige swords and bird-shaped prows of boats.

The Table of Contents is available in PDF format.

Publisher's web page.



...the editor has made a real effort to create a structure, organising the contributions in five sections (Neolithic; amber; eastern Mediterranean and Aegean; ships; wider perspectives), writing a preface, introduction, introductory summaries for each section and a final conclusion. (...) I would put this edited collection in the useful-but-pedestrian category of books". - Madeleine Hummler in Antiquity, Volume 85, 330 (2011).

Vianello's edited volume is ambitious in scope, since it attempts to picture not only interaction networks, but also consumption patterns and uses of exotica in different socio-political contexts across the prehistoric Mediterranean. The book offers a broad perspective on the whole Mediterranean basin from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, covering many categories of exotica. - Carlos P. Odriozola Lloret in European Journal of Archaeology, Volume 15, 2 (2012).

Exotica is well produced, with many black and white and some colour illustrations and will no doubt prove of considerable interest to both students and colleagues. - Jennifer M. Webb in Ancient West & East, Volume 13, 0 (2014).

Section 1 - The Neolithic

Protohistoric Spondylus gaederopus L. shell: some considerations on the earliest European long-distance exchanges related to shamanism
Michel Louis Séfériadès

Insignia of exotica - skeuomorphs of Mediterranean shells in Chalcolithic south Eastern Europe
Dragos Gheorghiu

Salt production and use in prehistory: toward a complex systems view
Tomaso di Fraia

Obsidian Finds on the Fringes of the Central Mediterranean: Exotic or Eccentric Exchange?
Robert H. Tykot

Mineral Mining and Mineral Trade in Mountainous Melanesia and the Mineral zone of Motten: Parallels between prehistoric central Europe and archaic societies in contemporary New Guinea
Heinrich C. Dosedla and Alf Krauliz

Section 2 - Amber

Amber in antiquity
Nuccia Negroni Catacchio

Neolithic amber processing and exchange on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea
Ilze Loze

L'ambra e i principi guerrieri di età orientalizzante in Italia (Amber and the warrior princes of the Orientalising period in Italy)
Nuccia Negroni Catacchio

Section 3 - The East Mediterranean and the Aegean Bronze Age

Exotic materials and objects sent to - and from? - the Bronze Age Aegean
Some recent work and some observations
Helen Hughes-Brock

Glass in the Aegean Bronze Age - Value, Meaning and Status
Caroline Jackson and Emma Wager

Low-value manufactured exotics in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages
Elon Heymans and Gert Jan Van Wijngaarden

Exotica in early Mycenaean burials as evidence for the self-representation of the elite
Helène Whittaker von Hofsten

Recognizing niello: three Aegean daggers
Nancy R. Thomas

Section 4 - Westward Ho! the ships

Recognising exotica in the archaeological record: the case of the Mycenaean exchange network
Andrea Vianello

Before the stream: the social and economic role of exotica in the central Mediterranean. The case of ivory items from Roca
Riccardo Guglielmino, Francesco Iacono and Michela Rugge

Section 5 - Broadening perspectives

Bird-shaped prows of boats, Sea Peoples and the Pelasgians
Jan Bouzek

Prestige swords of the Bronze Age
Anthony Harding