How Many Tentacles? Octo-pus and x-pus in the Greek Bronze Age: A New Archaeozoological Approach

Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record - New Approaches, New Dimensions

Lucia Alberti [+-]
National Research Council of Italy (CNR)
Lucia Alberti, archaeologist, National Research Council of Italy (CNR), Institute for Heritage Sciences (ISPC). Her main fields of interest are Greek Bronze Age archaeology and the Mediterranean protohistory, with special reference to burial customs, landscape archaeology, and projects for the enhancement of historical sites.
Giambattista Bello [+-]
University of Bari
Giambattista Bello, marine biologist, worked for the Marine Biology Laboratory and Aquarium in Bari (Italy) and for the University of Bari, currently retired, but still active in research. His main field of research is teuthology, the science that studies cephalopods.

Description

The Mediterranean common octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was an important symbol in the Greek Bronze Age, and is a very widespread motif encountered on pottery, paintings, jewellery and so on, although its connotation is not fully understood. This cephalopod is one of the 13 autochthonous octopods living in the Mediterranean and the most easily observable because it can be found in very shallow waters. In agreement with its scientific and vernacular names – e.g. Greek: χταπόδι, English: octopus – the actual Octopus vulgaris has eight arms (or tentacles). However, in many Bronze Age representations, the common octopus is figured with a variable number of arms, including odd numbers which disrupt its natural bilateral symmetry: we can find octopuses with 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and also 10 tentacles. Through an integrated analysis of archaeological contexts, iconographies with ‘wrong’ numbers of tentacles, zoological identification and biological features, this paper will explore the various ways it was represented, as well as human-animal interactions and possible symbolic meanings of this truly fascinating animal.

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Citation

Alberti, Lucia ; Bello, Giambattista. How Many Tentacles? Octo-pus and x-pus in the Greek Bronze Age: A New Archaeozoological Approach. Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record - New Approaches, New Dimensions. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Feb 2021. ISBN 9781781799260. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=38877. Date accessed: 04 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.38877. Feb 2021

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