Ground Stone Studies

Ground stone artefacts and stone vases

The systematic collection of material during excavations at Sissi has led to the recovery of a large assemblage that comprises finished stone artefacts, debitage and unworked nodules. Drawing upon the concepts of the chaîne opératoire and object biographies, the aim of the study of the ground stone assemblage is to elucidate the choices made during the different stages of the life cycle of ground stone objects, from the acquisition of raw material, to production, use and final discard.


Fig.1.   Mycenaean ‘button’ from Zone 6 (Photo: Chr. Papanikolopoulos, © Sissi Project).

The Sissi ground stone assemblage comprises a wide range of stone objects such as handheld and stationary grinding tools (i.e. grinders and querns), mortars and pestles, abraders/whetstones, hammerstones, perforated stone rings (used possibly as stone weights), stone axes, stone vases and personal ornaments (e.g. beads and Mycenaean ‘buttons’ Fig.1), along with debitage and unworked nodules. The vast majority of objects were manufactured from raw materials that are available in the immediate or nearby vicinity of the settlement such as limestone and quartzite, while a small number of objects were manufactured from rocks that were acquired from regional sources within Crete (e.g. serpentinite, steatite and possible microgranite/granodiorite) or even further afield. These rock types occur at the site only in a worked form, which suggests that they entered the site as finished objects that may have been acquired either through direct procurement or through exchange networks.

Among the objects that stand out within the ground stone assemblage is an igneous pestle that was unearthed from Building CD (Fig. 2) and two tripod mortars (Fig. 3). The pestle is conical in shape and polygonal in section; the body of the tool has been nicely shaped through grinding and eight facets form on the body. The tripod mortars, both finely worked examples, belong to a type of mortars that occur rather rarely in Cretan sites (‘Syro-Palestinian tripod mortars’, MSV 45), with ca. 25 currently known examples. These objects stand out not only because of their rarity, but also in terms of their raw materials and the careful working which contrasts greatly with the mainly expedient use of local materials for tools that show minimal modification.


Fig.2. Igneous pestle from Zone 3, Room 3.6 (Photo: Chr. Papanikolopoulos, © Sissi Project).

The corpus of stone vases contains both complete examples and fragments of different types of bowls (Bird’s Nest Bowl: MSV 3, of high-shouldered form, blossom bowls: MSV 5), block vases/kernoi (MSV 4), lamps (MSV 24) and lids (MSV 27). Serpentinite is the dominant raw material among the recorded examples, but also a possible example of calcite has been identified. All recorded examples come from finished stone vases, that broke during use or final abandonment and not during manufacture. Among the complete stone vases found during excavations are a Bird’s Nest bowl from Building CD and a Blossom bowl from Building BC (CAN WE ADD an URL HERE TO THE IMAGE on

Fig. 3        Tripod mortar from Zone 5 (Photo: Chr. Papanikolopoulos, © Sissi Project).

The preliminary results of the spatial analysis of the ground stone artefacts suggest variations in the distribution of artefact types and potentially in the activities represented between different buildings and/or rooms. For instance, excavations at Building CD brought to light more than 300 ground stone objects, debitage and unworked nodules that are unevenly distributed within the building. There is a concentration of tools in the southern part of the building and in rooms that are in close proximity to Room 3.8 (The Shrine). Interestingly, however, Room 3.8 contained only a few tools, and mainly a large number of natural pebbles. Room 3.6 has the largest concentration of abrading and polishing tools than any other room in this building. This emphasis on abrasive activities in this space needs to be considered in relation to the vast quantities of pumice unearthed from this area. Whether this division in the use of space may reflect further social and/or gendered divisions, is one of the questions to be explored in more detail as the study progresses.

It is anticipated that the technological and contextual analysis of the assemblage and the integration of the results with other material categories (e.g. bioarchaeological assemblages) will provide important insights into the nature, technology and organisation of different daily and craft activities taking place at prehistoric Sissi.


Dr. Christina Tsoraki
Leiden University