Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.20

Stuart Swiny, George (Rip) Rapp, Ellen Herscher, Sotira Kaminoudhia: an Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus. Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute Monograph 4; American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report 8.   Boston:  American Schools of Oriental Research, 2003.  Pp. xxviii, 600.  ISBN 0-89757-064-2.  $99.95.  

Contributors: Carol Schulte Campbell, Paul Croft, Julie Hansen, Steve O. Held, Alice Kingsnorth, David S. Reese, Sarah Vaughan, Clark A. Walz and Wouter van Warmelo

Reviewed by Gerald Cadogan, University of Reading (

This report of the excavation of a settlement and two burial grounds of the later 3rd millennium BC in southern Cyprus is an impressive and beautifully presented scholarly publication, and rich in helpful drawings -- and yet it is somewhat disquieting.

It is impressive for the meticulous and lucid presentation of the often exiguous evidence, including discussions of the settlement (Stuart Swiny), pottery (Ellen Herscher) and knapped stone (Alice Kingsnorth) that are immediately essential points of departure for further exploration and elucidation of the period. This holds particularly for Herscher on the pottery where, after years of study and reflection, she analyses, orders and explains artefacts that are essential for understanding the (patchy) development of early Cyprus, with such finesse that the reader is gathered into a new comprehension of how Cypriot culture worked and interacted in ceramic terms across the island, despite (or because of ?) its traditions of strong regional variation (on which she is an authority). She is also attractively unafraid of saying how she has changed her mind over the years.

Sotira is the present day village (or parish), about 15 km west of Limassol, and Kaminoudhia the place name of the site of the excavations within the parish. Sotira has long been known for the late Porphyrios Dikaios's excavation of a Neolithic settlement at Teppes, about 400 m from Kaminoudhia, which gave rise to the term "Sotira culture". The Sotira culture, however, flourished one and a half to two millennia before the Philia and Early Cypriot occupation of Kaminoudhia.

An introductory chapter by George (Rip) Rapp and Swiny leads to a good comprehensive account of the settlement and its architecture by Swiny, who identifies two phases: I, of the beginnings of Early Cypriot (EC I/II); and II, of EC III (but not right up till the end of that period, as we learn later). He includes valuable discussions of Kaminoudhia within the Cypriot building tradition (ancient and, to some extent, modern) and as compared to the contemporary architecture of the Near East and the Aegean in a section entitled 'Foreign relations' -- although it is not clear to what extent any actual relations happened in building practices, as against similar responses to similar conditions (as he rightly points out). (In looking for parallels, he overemphasises [70] the EM I domestic architecture preserved at Knossos, which amounts to little more than the Palace Well.1)

It would also have been valuable to have had more interpretation from him of the contribution of Kaminoudhia to assessing in social terms the extraordinary move during the 3rd millennium BC from round houses, which had been the standard Cypriot dwellings for several thousand years, to (sub-)rectangular houses, which became the new norm -- a fundamental change in the story of Cyprus. Note here that Neolithic Sotira Teppes managed, exceptionally, to have both circular and nearly rectangular houses, which could have some relevance to interpreting Kaminoudhia. The Teppes houses, however, continued the free-standing, single-room pattern of the round houses, while Kaminoudhia had moved on to multi-room, probably agglutinative buildings.

Chapter 3 by Swiny and Herscher is about the two burial grounds, on either side of a small valley. The tombs cover Philia as well as phases I and II of the settlement. Note that the settlement area for the Philia burials has not yet been identified, so we do not know where the Philia people lived at Kaminoudhia. Chapter 4 is Herscher's meaty account of the pottery that has already been discussed, followed by Sarah Vaughan on analysing it petrographically so as to identify provenance and, possibly, exchange. There follow valuable chapters by Swiny on the ground stone objects (including "gaming stones"), Kingsnorth on the knapped stone, Swiny on the metal objects (which include Philia material from the tombs and also arsenical as well as pure copper), and Clark A. Walz and Swiny on the trerracotta objects. Human remains are well described by Carola Schulte Campbell (who reports porotic hyperostosis, which probabaly indicates malaria) and the animal remains by Paul Croft, who identifies plenty of beef consumption plus pig and caprines, and deer which would have been hunted. Julie Hansen then covers the plant remains and David S. Reese the molluscs.

Chapter 14 on the geology by Rapp includes a useful general account of the geology of the island. Steve O. Held reports in chapter 15 the 'meager returns' of a field survey in the locale, indicating that it was not a 'prime settlement area' through time but rather a backwater -- an interesting result to pull together with the Philia presence. Wouter van Warmelo complements this with a rich (modern) environmental survey, with valuable lists of birds, flora, fauna, insects etc.

The last chapter by Herscher and Swiny is an important account of the chronology of Kaminoudhia's three phases (Philia, I, II) in relation to the rest of Cyprus. If austerely chronological, it is extremely valuable.

But in the end the book is also disquieting, because there is no attempt by the editors to write a comprehensive concluding chapter on the contributions that this excavation has brought. Readers -- especially readers of BMCR who are on the whole not prehistorians, but this applies also to those who are -- need a wrap-up, first, of the evidence for what happened at Sotira between 2500 and 2000 BC (including the gaps, inconsistencies and uncertainties) and, second, of how the three editors see the Sotira story as affecting the picture of Cyprus as a whole, and perhaps points beyond. The lack of such interpretation -- as useful to the authors as to the readers -- detracts, sadly, from the project's achieving its full potential. It also does not help archaeology, which is a discipline that must always have in mind how to explain itself to ever broader audiences, who are usually eager to learn and who one way or another provide the funds for what is quite an expensive form of research in the humanities.

Behind the absence of general, contextual conclusions may lie an apparent desire of the editors to present as "objective" and detached a report as possible, that is without prejudicial labelling and avoids anything that might be criticised as fantasy (which can have the unfortunate effect that they can appear also to be avoiding imagination -- which I know not to be the case). The title of the book, for instance, calls Kaminoudhia just a 'site' -- at one level a correct characterisation in modern, external "scientific" terms, at another a disappointment as the 'site' was, in internal terms, a settlement (or we could even be bold and say village), a place where people -- humans -- lived and died. Likewise, the rooms and open areas are dubbed 'units'. Again, it appears safe and certain, if recalling property developers' jargon (units is a shorthand that can cover apartments and townhouses en masse). But there is also a considerable danger of belittling the complexity of the ancients' daily life by herding them into units, especially when these 'units' interconnect through doorways and passages, raising the question to what extent they are units at all.

Perhaps this is being overly hard. I do not wish that. I do wish, however, that the editors of an information-packed report that is excellent in so many respects -- and all the technical ones -- had given us their thoughts on how Kaminoudhia affects our understanding of later 3rd millennium BC life in Cyprus at local, regional and island levels. We want to know their views, especially on such matters as the nature of the Philia phenomenon, a distinct and much debated cultural happening that many (as here) see as a phase between Late Chalcolithic and Early Cypriot, although Jennifer M. Webb and David Frankel have recently opted for the more fluid 'Philia facies', that is as 'a distinct set without inherent implications for the explanation of chronological relationships, spatial separation, or cultural boundedness'.2 Their words reverberate -- and should reverberate more in this book. Kaminoudhia is one of the very few Philia places to the south and west of the Troodos massif, when the Philia concentration is in northern and northwestern Cyprus, down to Marki in the central Mesaoria Plain south of Nicosia. And the prime aim of the project was to investigate 'the ill-defined beginnings of the Early Cypriot period, which correspond then to the so-called "Philia Phase"'(3). How did Kaminoudhia and the other outliers connect with the main body? What does Kaminoudhia tell us about changing settlement patterns, people moving to new places, and the possible reasons (the hunt for copper, war, pressure on land, and other social stress etc?) that could have driven them? Or what other story do they propose? What history can we extract from the ceramic links with the north of the island?


1.   For apparently EM I architecture elsewhere in Crete, in the White Mountains, see Peter Warren and J. Tzedhakis, Debla, an Early Minoan settlement in western Crete, Annual of the British School at Athens 69, 1974, 299-342.
2.   Jennifer M. Webb and David Frankel, Characterizing the Philia facies: material culture, chronology, and the origin of the Bronze Age in Cyprus, American Journal of Archaeology 103, 1999, 3-43. The quotation from this fundamental discussion comes from p. 4.

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