The transition from a world without states to a world dominated by states is one of the most significant developments in human history since states constitute the dominant unit through with international interactions occur. Although in many parts of the world the study of this transition has been at the forefront of archaeological and anthropological research, in Greece it has been slow to develop despite the fact that early Greek states have significant potential in contributing new knowledge to the world-wide study of state formation.

Although archaeologists agree that Mycenaean states were formed through the unification of previously independent regional polities, the specific mechanisms that affected this process are not clear. For a long time, hierarchy and socio-political stratification were considered the main forces driving state formation, an approach shaped by the fact that the available evidence derived from a few main palatial capitals. Recent models have, however, shifted the focus from the "center" to the "hinterland" and highlighted the need for a systematic and interdisciplinary investigation of non-palatial settlements.

In this project Dr. Cosmopoulos adopts a "bottom-up" approach to the study of state formation and expansion in early Greece. With funding from NSF he will conduct a systematic and interdisciplinary investigation of Iklaina, a secondary center of the Mycenaean state of Pylos. Through a combination of survey, excavation, and scientific analyses he plans to: 1) produce the datasets necessary to test existing models about the emergence of Mycenaean states; 2) investigate the dynamic relationship of centers to hinterlands; and 3) develop cross-cultural models useful in understanding state formation and expansion in other parts of the world.

The broader impacts of the project concern three main areas: 1) large-scale collaborative research: the project allows scientists to coordinate their skills in a major research program and to interact with colleagues from other fields and other countries. Furthermore, the project builds on work conducted by previous projects in the area and combines archaeological fieldwork (survey, excavation, scientific analyses) with the study of the available textual and literary evidence. Finally, it applies anthropological theories in the study of state formation in Greece. 2) education: the project serves as the training field for a large number of graduate and undergraduate students. Since the inception of the project, 680 undergraduate and 33 graduate students (of whom about 70% women and 5% African Americans) have been trained in archaeological theory and field techniques. 3) preservation of cultural heritage: because the area of Pylos is increasingly being destroyed by developers, tourists, and looters, the excavation, conservation, and proper guarding of the archaeological site at Iklaina will salvage one of the most promising ancient sites of the area.

Project Report

The transition from a world without states to a world dominated by states is one of the most fascinating chapters in human history. The purpose of the Iklaina Archaeological Project (IKAP) is to investigate how this transition happened in ancient Greece. The project, carried out under the auspices of the Athens Archaeological Society and organized by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, investigates Iklaina, an important district capital of the Mycenaean (ca. 1600-1100 BC) kingdom of Pylos, whose legendary king Nestor figures prominently in Homer's Iliad adn the story of the Trojan War. Systematic excavation at Iklaina, supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal and private organizations, is unearthing impressive remains that help us understand how states were formed. Sofar we have uncovered two monumental buildings, a massive "Cyclopean" Terrace, a paved courtyard, an open-air shrine, paved roads, and several houses and workshops. All these remains not only allow us to reconstruct life in a district capital of the period, but also to understand how Iklaina was integrated into the state of Pylos and by extension what processes led to the formation of states in early Greece. The evidence collected until now suggests that the state of Pylos was formed through a process of forceful integration of preexisting independent chiefdoms, probably around 1400 BC. After their integration, these chiefdoms became the districts of the new state and their capitals maintained part of their previous autonomy and became district capitals. The project also has generated a wealth of new information regarding the economic and sociopolitical organization of a Mycenaean capital, before and after its annexation by a larger state. Keeping in mind that the analysis of the finds is not complete, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn. For example, the even distribution of wealth in residences, the existence of household-based storage facilities, and of monumental public works (including a centrally located paved courtyard suitable for communal rituals), as well as the wide distribution of staple foods and the lack of exotic objects in the settlement suggest that elite groups used heterarchical (corporate) rather than hierarchical (network) power strategies. Concerning the degree of palatial control in the post-annexation period, the specialized production of crops and animals, the standardization in the exploitation of animal resources, and the recurring patterns in the age, sex, slaughtering and culling practices of animals suggest considerable palatial control, whereas the high frequency of specific plant and animal species which would suggest intensification. Besides the issue of state formation, the discoveries of the project have challenged current knowledge about bureaucracy and literacy in Greece. A clay tablet inscribed in the Linear B system of writing was found in a very early context and is the earliest known tablet from the Greek Mainland; because such tablets (which are usually financial records of Mycenaean governments) have never been found before outside the main/primary capitals and never in early contexts, this discovery indicates that literacy and bureaucracy were earlier and more widespread in Greece than what we had thought until now. The Iklaina project is an ongoing project and excavation will continue until 2018.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Missouri-Saint Louis
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code