BMCR 2015.10.31

Pyla-Kokkinokremos: A Late 13th Century BC Fortified Settlement in Cyprus: Excavations 2010-2011. Studies in Mediterranean archaeology Vol 141

, , Pyla-Kokkinokremos: A Late 13th Century BC Fortified Settlement in Cyprus: Excavations 2010-2011. Studies in Mediterranean archaeology Vol 141. Uppsala: Åströms Förlag, 2014. xxv, 260, 5 plans. ISBN 9789198153507. €80.00.

[The Table of Contents appears at the end of the review.]

Pyla Kokkinokremos on Cyprus, first examined by archaeologists in the early 1950s,1 then briefly excavated in the early 1980s,2 is a site which deserves much more attention and fieldwork than it has hitherto received. It certainly deserves a long-lasting and systematic excavation project, which might clarify several key problems concerning the dramatic character of the end of the Bronze Age in Cyprus and shed light on the so called “Sea Peoples” problem, an issue still very controversial in the archaeology of the East Mediterranean. A new research project is thus needed, especially one which can cover a much larger area by survey or excavation, and allow reconstruction of the full extent of the settlement and its organization. The new excavations, reported in this book, are welcomed in this context, though the scope and future are not quite clear. The project was directed by two scholars who have contributed a vast number of publications regarding the problem of the 1200 BC collapse in two regions: Cyprus and the Aegean. The involvement of an Aegean expert on the period (Athanasia Kanta) is especially appreciated, considering the reservations about Mycenaean involvement in the events around 1200 BC on the part of many scholars dealing with the issue on Cyprus.

The book under review reports comprehensively on the results of two excavation seasons, 2010 and 2011, directed by the both authors, and gives a brief and preliminary report on the work directed by Kanta in 2012. The main aim of this new project is to fill some of the aforementioned gaps in our knowledge of the site, and to enrich the volume of evidence for further analysis. We can only hope that the work will be continued and that in a short time we will receive the next publication(s), which will help to clarify the essential questions concerning the site itself, as well as the historical background of its foundation. Among the most intriguing problems, still waiting to be resolved, are the social and ethnic character of the community of Kokkinokremos, the size of the settlement and its topographic plan, which might allow us at last to analyze the inner topography of the settlement with differentiation between private, communal and public spaces, and the circumstances of its abandonment.

Chapter 1 presents the results of the 2010 and 2011 excavation seasons during which four architectural complexes were unearthed immediately southeast of the area excavated by Demas and Karageorghis in 1981–82. Of these four units only Complex G seems to be uncovered completely, Complex F is probably missing its front part, Complex H may extend more to the southeast of the excavated area, and Complex I may consist of two or three house units, which are, however, very eroded. These four excavated complexes are described room by room, with comprehensive data for stratigraphy, architecture and selected finds, mostly pottery. This part is very generously illustrated with photographs and plans. The photographs indicate careful digging procedures and show the problem of the site’s preservation, with deposits usually not exceeding 0.5 m in thickness. This part of the book will be an important source of information for archaeologists who are interested in the detailed analysis of a particular house or room use, and for further studies of the distribution of finds in an abandoned versus destroyed settlement.

Chapter 2, which presents the results of the 2012 season, gives the impression of being written in a rush. There are, for example, no plans of the excavated buildings. Considering, however, that the first results of work in the western part of the plateau was released only two years after excavation, we should be grateful to the excavators for including this report in the present volume.

The decision to expand the work to another part of the plateau comes from the excavators’ search for the settlement’s full extent. The aim of this strategy, explained in ten points (p. 103), suggests a long-lasting project. The short 2012 season shed light only on a few of the targeted questions. Nevertheless, the identification of a gate, the first so far unearthed at Kokkinokremos, and the discovery of clay tablets with the Cypro-Minoan script should be mentioned as important outcomes of the new phase of this project. We can only hope that the excavation will be continued and more data from this part of the plateau will be soon published. Especially frustrating is the absence of the 2012 structures on the general plan of the site (Fig.2.1). Additionally, the plan, based on the superb map published by Kargeorghis and Demas in 1984, is of poor quality, with messy and broken contours and without any scale. It is hoped that the future publications of Pyla Kokkinokremos will use the original 1984 map (and not its 2014 version !) with the location of every excavated area.

The title of chapter 3, “The site and architecture of Pyla in their historical settings”, by Kanta, suggests that the chapter focuses on 1) the unusual location of the settlement itself in the contemporary historic context, and 2) similarities of some architectural features to other examples from eastern Mediterranean sites contemporary or immediately preceding Kokkinokremos’ foundation. Unfortunately, the author has gone in a different direction, looking for comparanda almost exclusively in the Aegean (mostly Crete), comparing Pyla Kokkinokremos (c. 1200 BC) with Afroditi’s Kefali (c. 3000/2900BC), and Chamaizi (c. 1800 BC), both on Crete (p. 119). The comparisons of these different sites, representing different concepts, functions, scales, and different historical backgrounds, makes little sense. Searching for other parallels for entrances, hearths, windows, corridors and floors, again in chronologically distant sites of Myrtos, Kato Zakros, Malia, Mochlos, and Monastiraki, all on Crete, is equally misguided. This chapter is disappointing and perhaps some ideas might be developed and properly explained in another book concerning the Aegean and Cypriot architecture through the third and second millennia BC.

The next two chapters (4 and 5), written by Karageorghis, include catalogues of finds and a comprehensive commentary on most important groups of pottery and other objects. The author follows here the model of presentation and analysis from his 1984 publication of Kokkinokremos. Many finds are illustrated in high quality drawings and photographs in 22 plates (some in colour).

Chapter 6 (“Summary and historical conclusions”), written by Karageorghis, is an especially important contribution to the continuing debate on the causes and character of the changes on Cyprus in the late 13th century BC. Here, the author gives a short review of ideas by other scholars about this problem, and then updates and revises his earlier interpretation of the site, confronting his adversaries with well argued facts and evidence that are often ignored by those who reject any role of immigration and/or invasion in the changes around 1200 BC. The most important revisions of Karageorghis’ earlier hypothesis concern two points, 1) the length of the settlement’s use and dating, which is extended from 25–30 years, c. 1230–1200 BC, as proposed in 1984, to “about 50 years or less”, between the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 12th century BC (p. 162), and 2) the origins of the inhabitants who are seen now by the author as the local people “from the neighbouring settlements” with “a sizeable portion of foreigners” (p. 159).

Karageorghis also gives an interesting review of archaeological sites dated to the period immediately before Kokkinokremos was founded. It appears that the area around the site had been well populated and it is plausible that part of the Kokkinokremos’ inhabitants came from the neighbouring coastal area. The foundation of a new large defensible settlement would represent, in this scenario, a concentration of local Cypriot population, joined with immigrants from beyond Cyprus, mostly but not exclusively from the Aegean. Karageorghis reconstructs Kokkinokremos as an extensive settlement covering the entire plateau, and inhabited by ca. 200 families (p. 158). Whereas his estimation of population seems reasonable, there are some problems with the settlement size. According to Karageorghis, Kokkinokremos covered the entire plateau, in his estimation about 24 ha. However, my measurement, using the plan from 1984, gives the size between 5 and 7 ha, which is in accordance with the size proposed by Kanta in Chapter 2 (p. 104).

Pyla Kokkinokremos was not an ordinary settlement with a historical and environmental background related to the pattern before and after. Its sudden foundation and short life, during the period reconstructed from written and archaeological sources as the “collapse” or “crisis” years, indicate that the community behind the foundation was well-organized, perhaps multi-ethnic, and probably controlled by a strong authority. This community was concerned first and foremost for security and land control, at the price of everyday comforts. Kokkinokremos’ location, reminds us of the topography of several Cretan sites founded around the same time, for example Kastrokefala Almyrou and Zakros Kato Kastellas. Elsewhere Karageorghis has given a very interesting interpretation of these sites’ origin as being founded by newcomers.3 Although the reality may have been more complicated, as is clearly acknowledged by Karageorghis in Chapter 6 (p. 159), and the local population’s involvement with strong external elements seems at the moment the most plausible hypothesis for the sudden construction of such a large settlement at that very place, recent strong criticism of Karageorghis’ hypothesis, for example by Steel 4 and Knapp 5, is not justified. Steel’s and Knapp’s argue that the location of Kokkinokremos was determined by control of trade between the interior and coast, but that does not explain why the site was founded at that very moment (and not before or after). Nor do theytake into account similar changes in settlement location in neighbouring regions like Crete, which provides an excellent contemporary parallel for Pyla Kokkinokremos (but also for another defensive Cypriot site, that of Maa Palaeokastro). The status of Kokkinokremos among the other neighbouring settlements, with their much deeper roots in the regional settlement history, may have been extraordinary and it is an interesting historical phenomenon that the status of the land where the site is located remains, after more than three thousand years, still extraordinary (within a foreign military base), entirely or at least partly thanks to the same strategic value of the location.

A few remarks have to be addressed about the plans at the end of the volume. It is obvious that the original versions of those were of a superb quality, which matched the standard of the state plan of the excavated houses published by Karageorghis and Demas in 1984. However, their reproduction in a smaller size has made most of the numeral and letter labels unreadable (Plans 1 and 2) or readable only with magnifying glass (Plans 3 and 4). The complexes are not numbered on any of the four plans and the reader must analyze them together with the plans included into the text (Chapter 1) in order to make any sense. Inconsistency is a problem. A complete plan for Complex G is not provided. It is also difficult to understand why many details concerning the finds, elevation, and surface structure were removed from some of the plans in Chapter I, but left in the plans at the end of the volume (which are reproduced in much smaller size). Using the 1984 plan as a model would have been much more helpful to the readers.

Despite a few weaknesses discussed above, this book is a very valuable publication of one of the most important archaeological sites in the region. It must be carefully read and referred to by everybody studying the “Crisis Years” around 1200 BC, but it should also be ready by other scholars interested in more general aspects of the settlement history in the eastern Mediterranean. Let us hope that the project will be continued and more of the site will be unearthed before it is completely destroyed by nature and human activity.

Table of Contents

1. Pyla-Kokkinoremos 2010, 2011. The excavation and architecture, by Athanasia Kanta
1.1 The excavations of 2010 and 2011
1.2 The complexes uncovered in 2010 and 2011
1.3 Stratigraphy and architecture
1.4 The excavated complexes and individual rooms
2. Pyla-Kokkinokremos 2012, by Athanasia Kanta
2.1 Problems needing clarification
2.2 The excavations of 2012
3. The site and architecture of Pyla in their historical setting, by Athanasia Kanta
4. Inventory of objects, diagnostic sherds and sherd trays, by Vassos Karageorghis and Artemis Georgiou
5. Commentary on the objects, by Vassos Karageorghis and Artemis Georgiou
6. Summary and historical conclusions, by Vassos Karageorghis
Appendix I. Late Helladic IIIB and Late Minoan IIIB amphoroid kraters from Pyla-Kokkinokremos, by Vassos Karageorghis
Appendix II. Marked pottery at Pyla-Kokkinokremos, 2010-2011, by Nicolle Hirschfeld
Appendix III. The ‘Canaanite jars’, by Artemis Georgiou
Appendix IV. Petrographic analysis of Late Cypriot cooking pots and Late Minoan pottery from Pyla-Kokkinokremos, by Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, Evangelia Kiriatzi and Athanasios K. Vionis
Appendix V. Chemical analyses of copper alloy artefacts from Pyla-Kokkinokremos using portable X-Ray Fluorescence, by Andreas Charalambous and Vasiliki Kassianidou
Appendix VI. A bronze plaque from Pyla-Kokkinokremos decorated with a nude female figurine of the Qadesh type, by Jacqueline Karageorghis
Appendix VII. Ground stone tools from Pyla-Kokkinokremos, by Alison McCaig
Appendix VIII. The Quaternary environment of the Pyla-Kokkinokremos area, by Zomenia Zomeni
Appendix IX. Neutron Activation Analysis of no. 60, by Hans Mommsen


1. Dikaios, P. Enkomi: Excavations 1948–1958, vol. II, Mainz, 895–907.

2. Karageorghis, V. and Demas, M. 1984, Pyla Kokkinokremos: A Late 13th Century B.C. Fortified Settlement in Cyprus, Nicosia.

3. Karageorghis, V. 2001, Patterns of Fortified Settlements in the Aegean and Cyprus c. 1200 B.C., in Karageorghis, V. and Morris, C.E. (eds.), Defensive Settlements of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean after c. 1200 B.C., Nicosia, 1–10.

4. Steel, L. 2004, Cyprus Before History: From the Earliest Settlers to the End of the Bronze Age, London, 188.

5. Knapp, A.B. 2008, Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus: Identity, Insularity and Connectivity, Oxford, 238.