Author Elizabeth C. Banks
The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna: An Interview with Elizabeth C. Banksby Andrew Reinhard
In 1995 Jeremy B. Rutter presented the pottery of the Fourth Settlement at Lerna in Lerna III: The Pottery of Lerna IV. The newest volume by Elizabeth C. Banks is the companion to the Rutter volume, outlining the architectural sequence of the EH III period at the site with descriptions of the major building types and other features, such as hearths, ovens, and bothroi. Careful examination of the individual buildings and their contents constitutes the core of the text. The changing settlement patterns of the site through time are considered, and sources of influences are suggested. Professor Banks emailed with Andrew Reinhard, ASCSA’s Director of Publications, from her home in Kansas about her present and future work.
Andrew: Lerna vol. VI is about the architecture and settlement of Lerna IV. For readers unaccustomed with Lerna, what does the "IV" designate, and how does it fit in with the previous volumes in the series?
Betty: Lerna VI is the architectural companion volume to Jerry Rutter’s Lerna III (1990) which presented the EH III pottery from the site. We describe the development of the settlement following the destruction of the EH II House of the Tiles (published by Martha Wiencke in Lerna IV, 1995) when the settlers of Lerna VI brought two new architectural traditions to the site by the Gulf of Argos. Apsidal houses and trapezoidal ones, the former ultimately displacing the latter, as the settlement grew, appeared in the first stages of the new settlement. Although the trapezoidal structures were of a size suitable as single family dwellings, the apsidal buildings were both large and small, suggesting residences for chieftains and followers. Yet the pottery and other finds in them suggested no strong intra-site hierarchy. Only the evidence for copper working, found primarily in the area of the large apsidal buildings, was a marker for some significant local specialization in what appeared to be a small agricultural community.
Andrew: Based on your work with the EH III settlement, what conclusions can we draw about daily life in Lerna during that period?
Betty: The Lerna IV settlers lived a simple life, farming the land along the stream Amymone and pasturing their animals in the surrounding hills. Most of their tools and ornaments were made of local materials; whether or not the pottery was made on site could not be determined from the evidence available. Copper and obsidian were the primary imports, but a few objects such as a wing-handled jar of Northeastern Aegean type and a bossed bone plaque of the sort known from Troy to Malta indicate that the settlement had connections with the larger Mediterranean world.
Andrew: A number of bothroi were discovered at Lerna in the 1950s. What kinds of pits were these? What was found?
Betty: Lerna IV was riddled with over 200 bothroi. The evidence suggests that they served a variety of purposes. Some held the settlement’s rubbish and other debris, some were used for storage of household pots and probably food, but a significant proportion clearly were cooking places, with tell-tale charcoal and ash left from the wood used as fuel.
Andrew: How did you first become a part of the Lerna team, and what were your responsibilities then? What material were you first assigned, and who assigned that material to you? What can readers expect to find in your upcoming Lerna VII and Lerna VIII?
Betty: As a regular member of ASCSA in 1954-1955 with prehistoric interests, I was invited by Jack Caskey to join the Lerna staff. I spent two seasons in the field and the intervening time as the excavation’s “girl Friday,” working in Corinth and Athens on field and pottery reports, inventory, and general record keeping. Having inventoried so many of the small finds, I was invited by Caskey to study them as a dissertation topic at the University of Cincinnati (1967); my work was to be incorporated into the relevant volumes of his projected publications on the various periods represented at the site. Caskey’s untimely death radically changed the publication plans, and I took on responsibility for Lerna VI, Lerna VII (Neolithic settlement and small objects), and Lerna VIII (Bronze Age small objects).
Andrew: What's your best memory from Lerna?
Betty: I was never really comfortable in the field but have wonderful memories of village life at Myloi. In the mid-1950s Myloi was very “prehistoric.” There was no electricity, no running water, and we were very much aware of the natural rhythms of the lives of our neighbors: up at dawn, thanks to a very noisy rooster, to bed shortly after sundown, hearing the bells of the sheep and goats as they were taken to hills in the morning and brought home at dusk, listening to the very Aristophanic “brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax” of the frogs in the Lernaean swamp by the sea. It was another era, sadly now long gone, but fondly remembered by those of us who shared it.
The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV is available for purchase here.
The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV (Lerna VI)
by Elizabeth C. Banks
484 pp, 117 figs, 47 plans, 6 sections, 19 tables
Cloth, ISBN: 978-0-87661-306-1