Spherulites and Aspiring Elites: The Identification, Distribution, and Consumption of Giali Obsidian (Dodecanese, Greece)


  • Tristan Carter McMaster University
  • Daniel A. Contreras Aix-Marseille Université
  • Kathryn Campeau McMaster University
  • Kyle Freund Indian River State College




Aegean prehistory, characterization, exchange, Giali, obsidian, value regimes


This paper details the results of a survey of the obsidian sources on the island of Giali in the Dodecanese, Greece, together with a review of these raw materials’ use from the Mesolithic to the Late Bronze Age (ninth to second millennium Cal bc). Elemental characterization of 76 geological samples from 11 sampling locations demonstrates the existence of two geochemically distinct sources, termed ‘Giali A’, and ‘Giali B’. The latter material, available in small cobble form on the island’s southwestern half, seems to have only been exploited by local residents during the Final Neolithic (fourth millennium Cal bc). In contrast, Giali A obsidian comprises a distinctive white-spotted raw material, available in large boulders on the northeastern half of Giali, whose use changed significantly over time. During the Mesolithic to later Neolithic it was mainly used for flake-based tool-production by local Dodecanesian populations. Further away, handfuls of Giali A obsidian are documented from Early Neolithic to Early Bronze Age sites in Crete, the Cyclades, and western Anatolia. The distribution of this material is likely indicative of population movement, and regional socio-economic interaction more generally, rather than a significant desire for, and trade of, the material itself. This changed in the Middle Bronze Age (second millennium Cal bc), when Giali A obsidian was reconceptualized as a valued raw material, and used by Cretan palace-based lapidaries to make prestige goods. This radical shift in traditions of consumption resulted from Cretan factions appropriating Anatolian and Egyptian elite value regimes and craft practices as a means of creating new means of social distinction within a larger Eastern Mediterranean political arena.

Author Biographies

Tristan Carter, McMaster University

Tristan Carter employs multi-faceted stone tool studies to engage with major debates in eastern Mediterranean prehistory spanning the Lower Palaeolithic to Late Bronze Age. Working primarily in Greece (Malia, Mochlos), and Turkey (Çatalhöyük, and Göbekli Tepe), he has directed the MAX Lab since 2009, and the Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project since 2013.

Daniel A. Contreras, Aix-Marseille Université

Daniel Contreras is a Labex OT-Med postdoctoral research fellow for the AMENOPHYS Project at Aix-Marseille Université. His research focuses on human–environment interactions in the past, particularly the linked trajectories of anthropogenic and environmental change and ways of examining diverse human modifications of landscapes. His active field projects include research at Chavín de Huántar and in Ayacucho in Peru, in the Wadi al-Hasa, Jordan, and Stélida on Naxos, and he has worked at obsidian sources in Peru, Greece, and Turkey.

Kathryn Campeau, McMaster University

Kathryn Campeau is an Honors Anthropology student at McMaster University. Since 2013 she has been a Research Assistant in the MAX Lab, and a team member of the Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project.

Kyle Freund, Indian River State College

Kyle Freund’s primary research centers on prehistoric farming communities of the central Mediterranean, with an emphasis on the reflexive relationship between material culture and long-term social processes. His specializations include archaeometallurgy, lithic analysis, spatial statistics, and field survey.


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How to Cite

Carter, T., Contreras, D. A., Campeau, K., & Freund, K. (2016). Spherulites and Aspiring Elites: The Identification, Distribution, and Consumption of Giali Obsidian (Dodecanese, Greece). Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 29(1), 3–36. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmea.v29i1.31011