The domestic wares from Theopetra cave in Thessaly

Why were the cooking wares brought to the cave? How were they ‘built’ and how was their final texture produced? Did the functions of decorated and undecorated vases differ, if indeed they represent different functions? Does monochrome pottery indeed testify to the use of the cave by the Neolithic man, being permanent, seasonal or occasional? How does the relation between man and pot change over the periods the cave is occupied?

These challenging questions on the intrinsic quality of pottery have gradually occurred to me during my study of the plain monochrome wares from Theopetra cave, situated on the NW edge of the vast Thessalian plain in an impressive limestone outcrop which dominates the area.

Use of this cave began at the end of the 7th millennium BC but culminated through all of the 6th and into the start of the 5th millennium BC. Overlooking a river course and a flat fertile valley bottom, those occupying the cave would have had unrestricted views to the highland of Pindos to the west; the location of the cave itself clearly afforded a number of advantages. The cave yielded a plethora of vases in a variety of sizes and shapes, from bowls, cups, collared vases, small and big storage jars to cooking vessels which suggest that the place was used for occasional habitation, storage and holding livestock. It was probably related with an associated open air settlement nearby.

The morphological details of the pots suggest the high level of experience and the efficiency of the Neolithic potter, in terms of building and shaping choices. Beyond their technical know-how, functional needs to be fulfilled ought to determine the range of shapes and qualities in relation with a particular context.

Beyond this, certain technical choices eloquently imply a context of social interaction in the manufacture of the pots. Fingernail impressions recur as a technique across several generations of potters whose products were found in the caves. In addition, variegated coloring on pots attests to sophisticated knowledge of firing techniques. Double-colored monochrome ware, with its contrasting colors across parts of the same side or between the inside and the outside of the pots reflects different trends across generations. Therefore, this otherwise plain and undecorated pottery does articulate a meaningful part of a local tradition; it is, in fact, not all monochrome at all, but rather very colorful, preserving particular instances of specific technical choices which could develop to trends deemed socially appropriate. Further, the deposition of such ware in the cave as opposed to clearing them from the cave is even equally significant. It illustrates connections between the site and the users and this is echoed in the recycling of broken pots as “building” material, symbolic to the history of the community that used the cave.


Research project by the Ephorate of Paleoanthropology-Speleology (1985-2008) under the direction of Dr. N. Kyparissi-Apostolika.

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Theoretical Archaeology Group 2011, University of Berkeley, CA, USA, May 6-8, 2011: Archaeology of and in the Contemporary World. Session F: Memory, Performance and Identity in Archaeological Explorations of Space and Materiality (Organizer: Deborah Trein, University of Texas at Austin).

Paper: S. Katsarou, The Neolithic past on an imaginary stage.


2011, in print

S. Katsarou, The Potter and the User in Theopetra. The two main ‘actors’ of the Neolithic scene of the Cave in a discourse on the monochrome wares. In: N. Kyparissi-Apostolika (ed.), The Neolithic Theopetra. Philadelpheia. Institute for the Aegean Prehistory.


S. Katsarou, Monochrome wares as indicator of the process of choice: The case of Theopetra cave. In: N. Kyparissi-Apostolika (ed.), Theopetra Cave. Twelve Years of Excavation and Research. Proceedings of the International Conference, Trikala, November 6-7, 1998, Athens, pp. 235-261.