Natural Environment and human Settlement in Prehistoric by John Bintliff

By John Bintliff

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The Menelaion is likely, as the Palace of Menelaos, to have been the centre controlling the Sparta and Helos Plains. We do not know if the Megalopolis Basin to the NW was under Menelaos' control, though the Menelaion location is approximately equidistant from Helos and Megalopolis, to SE and NW respectively (and the Megalopolis Basin is part of the same Neogen lacustrine series as the Sparta Plain Neogen only separated from the latter by a low watershed - Philippson 446). This larger scale of consideration may be a significant factor in the predominance of the Menelaion location, though such an argument would fail to explain why ancient Sparta continued, in a similar location, to be the regional capital, before Helos was re-incorporated Into the Dorian state and when Megalopolis was beyond Spartan control.

In the network thus established there is no place for further major Mycenaean centres here. Sparta has less fertile plateau marls to N, NW and NE, and both Sparta and Menelaion centres could be said to be in an 'edge situation' to their best land, though the actual site of Sparta was and still is good cereal and olive land. The explanation for such a perimeter siting might simply rest In a desire to possess adjacent fertile fields while still occupying a site free from surprise attack. Sparta, as we saw, had its scarp and streams against this contingency, only very late in its history building proper defences; the Menelaion has cliffs and the river along much of its perimeter, and access is quite steep on the less sheer NW and S ends of the ridge - but In contrast to the frequent walls found at the Argos Plain Mycenaean centres, no defences have been detected for the Menelaion settlement, nor at Vaphio, Amyclai, probably absent also at prehistoric Agios Vassilios.

Our area of Laconla was surveyed by several 'acropolisorientated' archaeologists, and to be fair to them the main centres In the valley hitherto known are of this nature, and in the opinion of the present writer preclude other major centres co-existing on different terrain. However the sheer abundance of sherds amongst the low Neogen hills is a relatively untapped source for the prehistory of our region and the chance find of Kouphovouno by Von Vacano in a typical N and EH location of a low hillock, actually looking for N and EH sites, is probably but the tip of the iceberg.

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