The Eutresis and Korakou Cultures of Early Helladic I-II

Lerna III. EH II Pottery. Patterned Askos. / Wikimedia Commons

By Dr. Jeremy B. Rutter
Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies
Sherman Fairchild Professor Emeritus in the Humanities
Dartmouth College


In 1918 Wace and Blegen, in imitation of Evans’ tripartite scheme for Crete, divided the Mainland Greek Bronze Age into Early, Middle, and Late, and then subdivided each of these into I, II, and III. Until the excavations of Caskey at Lerna between 1952 and 1958, the distinction between the cultures of the Early Helladic (EH) II and III chronological periods was not very clear. Likewise, it was not until Caskey’s supplementary excavations at Eutresis in 1958 that EH I culture became easily distinguishable from those of the preceding FN and the succeeding EH II periods.

As a result of the discovery in the mid-1960’s of a new Early Bronze Age (EBA) assemblage in the basal level (I) at the site of Lefkandi on Euboea that was initially thought to be contemporary with the EH III cultures of the Argolid and Central Greece, Renfrew in 1972 proposed an alternative system of terminology whereby EH I, II, and III were abandoned as designations for cultural (i.e. artifactual) assemblages, though they might still be useful as terms for chronological intervals, that is purely for periods of time. In their place, Renfrew used site names to designate cultures: the culture that flourished during the EH I period was named the Eutresis culture, that of the EH II period the Korakou culture, and that of the EH III period in its northeastern Peloponnesian version (i.e. stratum IV at Lerna) the Tiryns culture. The “Lefkandi I” culture in Renfrew’s scheme became a second distinct cultural assemblage existing during the EH III period, contemporary with but spatially discrete from the Tiryns culture.

Tiryns ruins

In 1979, Rutter suggested that the culture represented by the finds from Lefkandi I was contemporary not with the Tiryns culture of the EH III period but rather with the last phases of the Korakou culture of EH II. In contrast with the Eutresis and Korakou cultures which are found distributed throughout Mainland Greece south of Thessaly, the “Lefkandi I” assemblage was regionally restricted: it is at present attested in the northern Cyclades (= Renfrew’s Kastri group of the EC II Keros-Syros culture), Euboea, eastern Attica, coastal Thessaly, and at several sites on the interior of Boeotia. Several of its more distinctive shapes have also been reported to occur in late EB II levels at the site of Limantepe on the western Anatolian coast immediately west of ancient Clazomenai and about 25 kms. west of modern Izmir.

In 1987, Dousougli, in publishing collections of pottery both from excavations and from surface surveys at three sites in the Argolid, drew attention to a variant EH I cultural assemblage. Deposits of such material have been excavated both at Kephalari (just south of Argos) and at Tsoungiza, in both cases stratified below early EH II remains. This regional EH I complex characteristic of the Argive plain (Kephalari, Makrovouni, Talioti, etc.) and of the southern Corinthia (Tsoungiza, Zygouries) is as yet differentiated only by its pottery, which is distinct from, though clearly related to, both that from contemporary central Greece (e.g. Eutresis) and that from the southeastern Argolid (numerous sites in the Hermionid explored by survey but not yet excavated). Particularly characteristic of this “Talioti” sub-culture are: large red-slipped and usually unburnished bowls on high pedestal feet, often featuring simple incised and impressed patterns on the pedestals or the flattened interiors of the rims or both; mat impressions on the undersides of coarse cooking vessels; dark burnished and incised or impressed “frying pans” similar to those found in the EBA Cyclades, although possibly earlier than any of those; andaskoi furnished with an incised, high-swung vertical strap handle which may be descended from the incised scoops of the Final Neolithic period common in the area of the Saronic Gulf and the western Cyclades.

Resistance to Renfrew’s system of site labels for distinct cultural assemblages has consistently been quite strong since the mid-1970’s, with the result that both his site-based terminology and the older EH I-II-III labels are in concurrent use as descriptors for the various EBA cultures of the central and southern Greek Mainland. The EH terminological system, if retained, should be modified as follows: EH I = Eutresis culture (including the Talioti sub-culture); EH IIA = Korakou culture; EH IIB = “Lefkandi I” culture; EH III = Tiryns culture. Moreover, one must remember that in many areas of Greece (for example, throughout the northern Peloponnese) there is no EH IIB cultural phase, the Tiryns culture (EH III = Lerna stratum IV) directly succeeding the Korakou culture (EH IIA = Lerna stratum III).

The Eutresis Culture of Early Helladic I (ca. 3100/3000-2650 B.C.)

Eutresis spindle whorls

This cultural assemblage was first recognized by Blegen at Korakou in 1915-16. Best defined stratigraphically at Eutresis between levels attributable to Final Neolithic and Early Helladic II, it is also well represented at Lithares (Boeotia), Palaia Kokkinia (Attica), Perachora-Vouliagmeni (Corinthia), Nemea-Tsoungiza (Corinthia), and Talioti (Argolid). The ceramic type shape of the period – a red slipped and burnished hemispherical bowl – has a wide distribution from the Peloponnese to Thessaly. This culture is likely to be characteristic of the entire Greek Mainland south of the Spercheios River valley, although the recent definition of the Talioti sub-culture (see above) in the central Argolid and southern Corinthia suggests that regional variants may be fairly distinctive and possibly quite numerous.


There is a possible fortification wall at Perachora. Very little is known about the settlement architecture of this culture, primarily because levels dating from this period are normally found deeply buried beneath deposits belonging to later periods and are therefore relatively inaccessible. No tombs of this culture are known at present.

Material Culture

Stone, bone, and clay objects (spools, spindle whorls, and loomweights) are undistinguished. Metal finds are extremely rare. The pottery is somewhat variable, as the definition of the Talioti sub-culture (see above) has recently demonstrated. Nevertheless, the following traits seem to be widely shared: a preference for red slips in the finer tableware, whether this is burnished or not; a distinct fabric employed for cooking vessels, which are normally dark-surfaced; a penchant for simple incised or impressed patterns, normally rectilinear, on the fine tableware, and a corresponding predilection for plastic and impressed ornament on the cooking pottery and pithoi; and finally, a relatively simple shape repertoire consisting of convex-sided bowls, either pedestal-footed or flat-based, for eating and drinking, collar-necked jars for storage, and deeper bowls or wide-mouthed jars for cooking.


This assemblage appears to have developed directly out of central and southern Greek Final Neolithic culture. It is obvious from the summary above that at present we know very little about it. For the first phase of the “Bronze Age”, it is very poor in metal. From the point of view of stages in economic growth, the culture is perhaps best viewed as a terminal phase of the Neolithic.

The Korakou Culture of Early Helladic IIA (ca. 2650-2200/2150 B.C.)

Korakou t-rim pottery bowl

This culture is defined stratigraphically at Eutresis and Tsoungiza above Early Helladic I levels of the Eutresis culture and at Eutresis, Lerna, Tiryns, and Tsoungiza below Early Helladic III levels of the Tiryns culture. The Korakou culture is widely distributed all over the Peloponnese, Attica, Euboea, Boeotia, Phocis, Locris, and as far west as the island of Lefkas. Pottery typical of the Korakou culture is found in late Rachmani levels at Pefkakia (near Volos in Thessaly), in Early Minoan II levels at Knossos in Crete, and in Keros-Syros culture levels at sites such as Skarkos (Ios) and Ayia Irini (Keos) in the Cyclades. Many settlements of this culture, especially in the Argolid (e.g. Lerna, Tiryns), suffer burnt destructions before being either abandoned or reoccupied by bearers of the Tiryns culture, but at Eutresis in Boeotia and at Kolonna on Aegina there is said to be a smooth and peaceful transition to the new Tiryns culture.


A basically tripartite ceramic assemblage appears to have developed gradually and smoothly out of that of the preceding Eutresis culture. The fine wares, employed for most open shapes (saucers, bowls with T-shaped rims, large dippers with ring handles, small spoons, and especially {sauceboat}s [deep cups with a single small horizontal or vertical handle attached just below the rim on one side opposite an unusually long and high-swung, troughed spout on the other]) as well as for some of the smaller closed shapes (beaked jugs, askoi), fall into two major classes. The most common is {Early Helladic Urfirnis} (so labelled to distinguish it from the much earlier and quite different Middle Neolithic Urfirnis). This ware is normally unburnished and usually coated solidly with a paint/slip varying in color from black through brown to red (depending on firing conditions) and often mottled in a variety of these darker colors on one and the same vase. Large bowls, some water jars, and, towards the end of the period, numerous smaller shapes are only partially painted or have a simple band at the rim instead of the more common solid coating. Rarely, vases are decorated with true patterns in dark Urfirnis paint on a light clay ground (patterned Urfirnis). The second major fine class, {Yellow Mottled ware} (or, in German, “Elfenbeinware” = “Ivory Ware”), has a shape range very similar to that of Urfirnis ware but is coated with a light-colored slip rather than a dark one and is usually burnished. The surface colors of Yellow Mottled vary enormously, even on the same vase, and include yellow, pink, and bluish-gray. Most large closed shapes, including the extremely common hydrias or water jars, are made in a pale-surfaced, medium coarse fabric which is usually left unpainted. The third and final component of Korakou culture ceramics consists of medium coarse and coarse, dark-surfaced, and unburnished cooking pottery. Very closely related to that of the preceding Eutresis culture, such pottery consists primarily of deep bowls with incurving rims which often feature plastic and impressed decoration in the form of bands or lugs just below the rim.


Several sites, all of which lie on the coast (e.g. Lerna, Askitario, Kolonna), are fortified. For the first time large, presumably public buildings are attested (Building BG and the “House of the Tiles” at Lerna; at least two similar buildings at Akovitika in Messenia; the “Rundbau” at Tiryns; the “White House” at Kolonna on Aegina; the “Fortified Building” at Thebes; the “House of the Pithoi” at Zygouries). With the exception of the circular “Rundbau”, all of these conform to a single basic design, recently christened the “{Corridor House}”, which may be defined as follows: a rectangular, free-standing, two-storeyed structure characterized by a linear series of square to rectangular halls at the core and flanked on the long sides by corridors which also serve as stairwells. Most of these buildings were roofed with tiles, usually of terracotta only (some of which were even solidly coated with Urfirnis paint at Zygouries) but in some cases of both schist and terracotta, and thus the roofs were presumably pitched rather than flat. Notable features of these structures are the presence of aligned off-center doorways, the absence of cut stone, and the failure to employ the half-timbering technique in wall construction, all in marked contrast to the tradition of monumental settlement architecture that flourished in contemporary western Anatolia (e.g. Troy I-II). The Tirynthian “Rundbau”, though distinguished both by its round plan and by its enormous size, features concentric corridors and a roof of both tiles and schist slabs and thus is clearly part of the same highly distinctive architectural tradition as the Corridor Houses.

The function of all these structures has been much debated: are they truly public buildings or simply fancy private residences? if public, did they serve religious, economic, or political purposes, or were they multifunctional? With the exception of the House of the Tiles at Lerna (see below), no known example has been found to contain much in the way of its original furnishings, and even that building was claimed by its excavator to have been not yet finished at the time of its destruction by fire, so the movable contents of these structures do not provide any useful clues as to their function. The “Rundbau” has been claimed to be a monumental granary, but this identification, though it has considerable appeal, cannot be substantiated by much solid evidence. At both Akovitika and Tiryns more than one such monumental building may have been in simultaneous use; if such buildings were in fact multiple rather than singular at most sites, they are unlikely to have been THE settlement centers or residences of rulers, but more evidence is needed on this point. Interestingly, not only this architectural type but also the practice of using tiles for roofing disappear completely at the end of the EH II period.

Good portions of village plans have been cleared at the sites of Ayios Kosmas (Attica), Lithares (Boeotia), and Zygouries (Corinthia). The houses are in general rectangular (i.e. no curved walls) with flat roofs and some fixed hearths. Although there is no standard house plan, many exhibit common features (e.g. off-axis doorways) and some can even be recognized as simple one-storey versions of the larger Corridor Houses. The irregularities of most of the ordinary houses of the Korakou culture may be explained by the fact that the domestic architecture of this culture was agglomerative; that is, additions were made to an original building whenever and however they were needed or wanted rather than in any prescribed fashion or sequence. The contrast with the typological uniformity characteristic of the apsidal or rectangular megaron (= long-house consisting of one or two rooms with a shallow porch across, and an axially located doorway in the middle of, one short side) which was standard in the EH III and MH periods is striking. At the site of Orchomenos in Boeotia, a series of round foundations, presumably houses, may belong to the Korakou culture and are evidence for a fundamentally different kind of house plan.


The number of different forms in common use clearly reveal that there was no standard tomb type:

(1) Ayios Stephanos (Laconia): single burials in pits within the settlement.

(2) Ayios Kosmas and Tsepi cemetery at Marathon (Attica): extramural cemeteries ofcistgraves, each containing multiple burials. Strong Cycladic connections are indicated by the tomb gifts as well as by the tomb type itself.

(3) Lefkas, Nidri Plain, “R”-Graves: individual burials in pithoi, cists, or pits, all of which are set within raised circular platforms which supported tumuli/mounds covered with a layer of stones. These tombs, all located outside the settlement in a single cemetery, may actually be of a later calendar date than other EH IIA tombs, but some contain sauceboats and are thus culturally part of the EH IIA assemblage. There are traces of cremation in some tombs. Cists built of slabs are secondary and generally poor in grave offerings, while pithoi and cists built of rubble masonry are primary and often rich in their contents.

(4) Corinth (Corinthia): multiple burials in small rock-cut chambers opening off of a vertical rock-cut shaft.

(5) Zygouries (Corinthia): multiple burials in rock-cut chamber tombs constituting an extramural cemetery.

(6) Manika (Euboea): a series of extensive extramural cemeteries consisting of rock-cut chamber tombs used for multiple inhumation burials. The small tomb chambers are circular or trapezoidal in plan with roofs sloping down toward the back. The chambers are approached by a short vertical or steeply sloping shaft in which between one and three shallow steps are often cut. The mouths of the tomb chambers are sealed by stone slabs to prevent earth from filtering into the chambers and the entrance shafts are themselves filled with stones. The bones of the flexed inhumation burials often exhibit cutting marks, perhaps evidence for the severing of tendons to facilitate the flexing of the corpse after rigor mortis had set in.

Pithos burials for children are quite common. No tombs of this culture are known from Lerna, so the presence at this site of an extramural cemetery which has so far escaped detection is probable. In the chamber tombs of Manika, one or two burials are often found lying fully articulated on the tomb floor. By contrast, the masses of human bones found tightly packed into thecist graves at Tsepi in nearby eastern Attica were clearly deposited secondarily in their final resting places. Thus not only the tomb forms but also the final disposition of the body after death varied considerably from site to site within the Korakou culture.

Settlement Pattern and General Town Planning

Part of the Korakou settlement

Many sites of the Korakou culture continue to be occupied in the subsequent EH III and Middle Helladic (MH) periods. However, a substantial number of EH IIA sites occurring inland on low hillocks or ridges or on low coastal promontories are abandoned, not to be reoccupied until Mycenaean or even later times, if at all. Many of these abandoned sites were probably small fishing hamlets or isolated farmsteads which were given up in the more nucleated and defence-conscious EH III and MH periods. In contrast with both the preceding EH I and the succeeding EH III phases, settlements during the EH II period vary so considerably in absolute size that most authorities feel confident that some sort of site hierarchy existed, although there is considerable disagreement over how many levels or stages to identify in this hierarchy (two, three, or even four have been proposed).

Material Culture Other than Pottery

In clay, pithoi and hearths are often decorated with impressed designs made by rolling quite crudely decorated cylinder seals over raised bands of clay on pithos shoulders or over the flattened upper surfaces of hearth rims. Identical patterns occur at Tiryns, Lerna, and Zygouries in the Argolid, a fact which has been argued to show that the same itinerant artist was responsible for making these purportedly non-movable items. Clay animal figurines are fairly common (cows/bulls, sheep, etc.) and in some cases feature intentionally slit bellies, presumably indicative of butchery practices and possibly even of sacrificial procedure. Large numbers of sealings from Lerna, as well as seal impressions both on sealings and on pottery from a number of other sites, show that Mainland {glyptic} [the art of seal-cutting] was probably more advanced than Minoan glyptic at this time. The seals are also evidence for the existence of the concept of private property and suggest that the House of the Tiles, in which most of the Lernaean sealings were found, may have served as a “redistributive center” for this area of the Argolid. The actual seals from Lerna III have not survived, but one recently found at Nemea-Tsoungiza is made of lead, while others of both stone and terracotta are known from other sites. Spindle whorls and loomweights are common. Some terracotta “anchors” (use unknown) appear at this time, but not at Lerna until Lerna IV (= Tiryns culture of EH III period).

In stone, obsidian is the material for chipped stone, at least throughout the eastern mainland. Stone vessels are not common but do occur at Attic and Euboean sites which have strong Cycladic connections. Figurines of Cycladic type again occur at Attic and Euboean sites but almost never elsewhere. There does not appear to have been a particularly Mainland version of this marble artifactual form, as there was on Crete (the so-called Koumasa variant of the standard Cycladic folded-arm figurine). Stone pestles and grinders are common, as are beads and pendants of various kinds. Ground stone axes (called {celts) are also common.

In bone, small tools of various sorts are fairly common: pins, awls, needles, fish-hooks, and small tubes to hold pigment.

There is an enormous increase in the number of metal artifacts during this period over what is known from EH I. Copper/bronze daggers and tweezers are common, the latter particularly in graves. Two pairs of silver tweezers come from tombs at Manika. There is a fair amount of gold jewelry, also from tombs (e.g. at Zygouries), a class of object which may be considered to culminate in examples of precious metal {plate} [containers made out of metal], such as the two gold sauceboats known (one reputedly from Arcadia) and several incised gold and silver cups said to have been found on Euboea.

Representational Art

Representational art is quite rare in the Korakou culture, regardless of the medium (terracotta, stone, metal, or bone). Most common are three-dimensional animals in terracotta, either figurines of sheep and cattle or else {protome}s [only the heads, necks, and occasionally shoulders] of the same animals attached at the ends of sauceboat spouts or the bases of handles on other shapes. The existence of more complex figurines is suggested by a fragmentary yoke of oxen from Tsoungiza, which incidentally is the earliest evidence from the Greek Mainland for the use of draft animals or the plow. Human figures, on the other hand, are unattested in terracotta. In stone, tombs in the EH II cemeteries of Attica (e.g. Ayios Kosmas) and Euboea (e.g. Manika) have produced numerous marble figurines, of both schematic and relatively naturalistic types, which invite comparison with contemporary examples in the same material from the Cyclades (see following handout).

Much less frequent are representational forms used as elements in seal designs or as painted patterns on pottery. The two-dimensional pictorial motifs used on both these classes of object usually take the form of insects (especially spiders), although one example of a man-made object – a round-bottomed beak-spouted jug – is also attested. The only true “scene” in the pictorial art of the Korakou culture is a fragmentarily preserved depiction of a quadruped (again a bovid or caprid?) suckling its young, an impressed design on a hearth rim from Tiryns. The absence of the human form from Peloponnesian art of this period is striking.

Lerna III: The Type Site for the Northeastern Peloponnese

Lerna House of the Tiles

The House of the Tiles

Measuring ca. 25 x 12 m., the building consists basically of two large halls and two smaller rooms on the major axis with long corridors along both sides and benches outside. There are entryways on all four sides. The building was two-storeyed and had a low pitched roof covered with terracotta tiles except along the eaves where the tiles were of schist. A stone socle (ca. 0.45 m. high for the exterior walls, a little lower for the interior ones) served as a footing for a baked mudbrick superstructure. The bricks are 0.35 m. square in plan and 0.13 m. thick. Wood was used for the treads of the stairs and for sheathing [and so slightly thickening, with respect to the adjacent walls] the jambs of most doorways; wood was also used for the beams and rafters that carried the waterproofing clay and the capping tiles of the roof. Yellow clay was used to make up floor surfaces and to stucco the exterior walls. Reddish-brown clay was used in a thin coating over the floors and for plastering the interior walls. The walls, with two minor exceptions at the northwest corner, are uniformly 0.90 m. thick. The walls in the east hall received their final coat of plaster and the wall surfaces there are divided into rectangular panels by incised lines. The walls above the staircase in the north corridor also received their final coat of plaster. The remaining walls of the building were left unfinished, coated only with “combed” reddish-brown clay.

Of the two stairways, the northern provides access from the exterior of the building only and leads up to the east along the length of the north corridor. The southern stair leads up from the west hall on the interior in a southerly direction to a small landing in the south corridor, from which it would have continued up to the west along the length of the south corridor.

Two rooms are accessible only from the exterior, one at the northwest corner (I) and one in the middle of the south side (XI). Both rooms are located close to benches which run along the exterior of the long sides of the building. Neither room had its walls plastered. The southern room was the only room in the building to have any contents of significance at the time of the building’s destruction by fire: much pottery as well as many sealings and a good deal of black, carbonized material, presumably the contents of containers made from perishable materials to which the sealings had been attached.

The Fortifications

There are at least four detectable stages:

(1) A single wall running along the same line as the northern of the two walls in the later compartmentalized fortification system. This wall’s rough north (i.e. interior) face indicates that it may have been only a retaining wall for a raised settlement platform. Alternatively, this wall may have been the stone substructure of a mudbrick fortification wall.

(2) A rectangular projection (Q-R) was added to the south of the earlier wall, and from this projection a horseshoe-shaped tower (U) still further to the south could be entered. The stone socles of the walls of this phase are characterized by herringbone masonry. The superstructure of the walls was in mudbrick. A stone staircase led up from east to west just to the west of the new projecting elements towards a now no longer preserved gateway. These fortifications were destroyed by fire.

(3) A southern, outer wall was constructed at this time. The western compartments (A-D) of the wall possibly also belong to this phase. Tower U was demolished, and a new solid Tower V was constructed just to the west. Tower V itself went through a number of stages (first rectangular, later with rounded corners). The earlier stairway went out of use. Very possibly, a second tower was built projecting from the wall a good deal further west.

(4) The west end of the earlier compartment/casemate wall system was drawn inwards from the earlier line of A-D to the line of Building EV (i.e. J-L). Spurwalls were added in between compartments Q-R and S-T at the eastern end of the system.

The whole fortification system was in ruins when the House of the Tiles was under construction. After its destruction in turn, the House of the Tiles was covered with a circular tumulus and its area was not encroached upon for several building phases of early Lerna IV (= Tiryns culture of EH III).



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