Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.10.18

James R. Stewart, Corpus of Cypriot Artefacts of the Early Bronze Age, Part III:1 (edited by Eve Stewart).   Jonsered:  Paul Astroms Forlag, 1999.  Pp. xvi, 124.  ISBN 91-7081-159-8.  400 SEK.  

Reviewed by David W. Rupp, Brock University, Canada (
Word count: 772 words

What can one say about a selected catalogue raisoné of Cypriot Early (and Middle) Bronze Age Red Polished ware ceramics of just four types/subtypes of open shape vessels that came from funerary assemblages? That it has pithy, detailed entries present in a staccato-like format of facts, phrases and references? That each entry has a at least one line high quality drawing/profile and an acceptable B/W photograph (not to mention a color frontispiece)? That there is no introduction to or explanation of the catalog, let alone a conclusion? That this is a part of a larger study which is not described in any fashion? That it is not an "easy read" even for a Cypriot ceramic specialist? While such comments may make readers wonder why any one would want to "read" this volume even in a cursory fashion in a library they would be mistaken to believe there is no intrinsic value here. Throughout the catalog, J.R. Stewart has scattered many noteworthy as well as interesting points and observations. These occur in the laconic introductions to the four different ceramic "classes" covered by the catalog, in the discussions of the individual entries and in the analyses of the decorative motifs as well as their syntax of use. These are based on his extensive excavation experiences in Cyprus, his broad knowledge of the Cypriot Bronze Age ceramic repertory and his intuitions/insights that evolved from the former two. The editor, E. Stewart, should be commended for making all of this available to researchers studying the Cypriot Bronze Age.

The vessels under consideration here are all small- to medium-sized open shapes used to contain various liquids for short periods of time. These are divided somewhat arbitrarily into four separate but closely related "classes." "Class X" has 12 types/subtypes of so-called "milk bowls." Stewart supports Sir J. Myres' assertion that these vessels with tubular side spouts were used mostly for separating cream from milk in goat husbandry. He believes, however, that the round-based bowls ("Group C") "were employed for a less innocuous purpose connected with the enjoyable evil of strong drink." (1) For the basket-handled bowls ("Group D") Stewart points out their similarities in shape and fabric to those found in the "Yortan culture" of western Turkey. In the end, he sees this as a result of parallel but independent developments copying probably in each case a prototype in basketry. The 9 types/subtypes of basins ("Class XI") are postulated to have been used mainly as "communal feeding troughs" (47) for individuals seated around them or "like the modern carving dish or stewpot." (47) One type, "Group G," he thinks could have been used for panning for gold in the river torrents of the Troodos mountains. "Cream bowls" (2 types in "Class XII") are "derived by analogy from Class X since cream could have been drawn off from the surface by way of the trough spout at the rim." (69) The greater width to depth would have facilitated the settling of the cream. The fourth class ("XIII," with 12 types/subtypes of bowls is a general category for those vessels which were not included in the previous classes. He admits to being "over-meticulous in the typology" (74) here. The so-called "Tulip bowl" ("Groups B, B2 and B3") Stewart believes based on the nature of the shape and on the manner of decoration was used for pouring a liquid in ritual context. He gives an extensive presentation of the decorative motifs and their syntax of use here. The possible symbolic meaning(s) of these motifs is commented on as well. Many are seen to have "heavenly significance." (89) When Stewart believes that the discussion warrants it, he also tabulates the geographical and the chronological distributive patterns of some of the types/subtypes. This leads to discussions of possible "workshops" and "schools" of production as well as their probable locations.

While this volume fulfills as well as it can the aims of the series it is a part of (i.e. a corpus which documents vessels and artifacts in known collections mostly outside of Cyprus) it highlights an underlying inherent problem: most of this material comes from tomb assemblages, often not properly excavated. Therefore, the place of manufacture, the function(s), and the cultural meanings of these vessels can not be understood fully without having a well-excavated and fully published corpus of the totality of the ceramic assemblages from a series of settlements througout the island for each major chronological phase for comparison. As a result, any conclusions that one wishes to draw from studies such as this concerning typology, chronology, distribution, iconography, function, etc. must be seen as very tentative and quite possibly skewed.

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