Frying pans

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For the modern utensil, see frying pan. For the flower, see Eschscholzia lobbii.

“Frying pan” with running spiral decoration, Early Cycladic I–II (ca. 2700 BC). From Syros?
Frying-pan with incised decoration of a ship. Early Cycladic II, Chalandriani, Syros (Keros-Syros culture, 2800-2300 BC)

Frying pans is the descriptive name for Early Cycladic II artifacts from the Aegean Islands, decorated round discs with a "handle", usually made from earthenware but sometimes stone (Frying pan (Karlsruhe 75/11) is an example). They are found especially during the Cycladic Grotta-Pelos and Keros-Syros cultures. Their purpose remains unknown, although they are usually interpreted as prestige goods.

They are typically highly decorated and were apparently carefully crafted. They have been found at sites throughout the Aegean but are not common: around 200 have been unearthed to date, all but a handful in pottery. They are usually found in graves, although they are very uncommon grave goods; the rarity of these objects has contributed to the difficulty in identifying their true purpose.[1]


Frying pans typically resemble skillets (hence the name 'frying pan') in that they have a diameter of 20 to 28 centimeters, a raised lip and a handle. However, all the decoration tends to be on the outside rim and on the base. The decoration is stamped or incised. The handles vary a great deal (more so on the mainland).

Two types of "frying pans" are distinguished. One the so-called "Kampos type" is Early Cycladic, characteristically with its straight side decorated with incised lines framing spirals; its rectangular handle with a crossbar; the main circular field commonly decorated with incised running spirals around a central star (ref. Dartmouth). The other is the "Syros type" with a concave undecorated side, and a two-pronged handle; decoration of main circular field with stamped concentric circles or spirals, often accompanied by incised depictions of longboats or what is sometimes interpreted as female genitalia.[2]

Common patterns and designs on these "frying pans" include:

  • large stars with circles or bands inside
  • triangular patterns in rows (very common, called "kerbschnitt")
  • concentric circles
  • wheel-like patterns
  • many small spirals grouped together
  • ships (with paddles and fish banners)

Proposed functions of "Frying Pans"[edit]

Proposed functions of "frying pans" vary widely, but some of the more common theories include scrying mirrors, drums, religious objects, or salt pans. No "frying pan" found yet shows any physical wear from being used as a cooking utensil (ex: an actual frying pan).

The plate interpretation is fairly neutral, as a plate could be anything from a decorative object to a religious one. It is unlikely that they are actual cooking utensils, as there is no signs of food or fire, and they are usually found in burial contexts. The drum theory is unlikely as one would expect a drum to have holes around the edges so that the hide could be stretched across it. Furthermore, with many of the handles found on these objects, it would be very hard for the drummer to hold the artifact in the style suggested.[3]

Prehistoric mirrors often have decorated backs, but are usually made of reflective materials rather than ceramic, although proponents of the mirror theory suggest that filled with water or oil, these objects could function as mirrors. A study concluded by experiment that the best reflection was provided by darkened olive oil.[4]

It remains undetermined if they served some symbolic or religious purpose, but the burial context may suggest that they did.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John E. Coleman, Frying Pans of the Early Bronze Age Aegean, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 89, (1985), pp. 191-219.
  2. ^ Dartmouth College: Early Cycladic pottery
  3. ^ John E. Coleman, Frying Pans of the Early Bronze Age Aegean, American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 89, (1985), pp. 191-219.
  4. ^ D. A. Papathanassoglou and CH. A. Georgouli, The ‘frying pans’ of the Early Bronze Age Aegean: an experimental approach to their possible use as liquid mirrors, Archaeometry, vol. 51, no. 4 (August 2009), pp.658–671.