BMCR 2020.09.32

New directions in Cypriot archaeology

, , New directions in Cypriot archaeology. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2019. 312 pages. ISBN 9781501732690. $55.00.

The contributions in this volume comprise the papers and the keynote presented at a conference held at Cornell University in spring 2014. The title of this edited volume, as mentioned in the first pages, refers back to an edited volume by N. Robertson, entitled The Archaeology of Cyprus: Recent Developments, from a conference held in 1971.[1] The introduction outlines the aim of the book and is followed by the keynote paper and nine papers organized within three themes: “The Context and Matter of Prehistory”, “Bronze Age Complexities”, and “Diachronic Landscapes”, without a concluding chapter. The three themes give a clearer idea about the content of the book, which despite its title largely concentrates on the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, and specifically, on the transitions between periods and “sub-periods.”[2] The introduction by Kearns and Manning reviews the major changes in Cypriot Archaeology since Robertson’s 1975 volume, such as the impact of the 1974 Turkish military intervention and occupation, which caused the displacement of projects from north to south, and the impact of processual archaeology. They set out the themes they see as the focus of the last decade: chronology, archaeometry, and sociopolitical change, matching the three sections of the book.

The keynote paper from David Frankel looks at how the interpretation of general trends and particular events are threaded together in Cypriot Bronze Age archaeology. He discusses how the framing of the questions we (as archaeologists) ask influences our interpretation and understanding of the past. He argues cogently for a stronger concern about the scale of evidence before proceeding to interpretation. Although the Frankel does not refer to the papers that follow, the question of scale is central to all the papers. His arguments are mostly based on figures reproduced from his previous publications; a closer presentation of the figures would have allowed less acquainted researchers to better follow the arguments. They mainly display percentages without indicating the number of cases, making it difficult to evaluate the strength of the analysis of the data supporting the line of arguments.

The following three contributions are grouped into the section on prehistory. Charalambos Paraskeva focuses on the refinement of the chronology from the Middle Chalcolithic to the Middle Bronze Age. The author is to be praised for the precise account about how radiocarbon dates may be modeled, as it is far from an easy task. For those not versed in the topic, it may be difficult to grasp all the details of a paper devoted purely to Bayesian Modeling, but it illustrates well how this area of research has developed in recent years showing respective caveats, problems and solutions.  It is also a useful reference case for more “traditional” archaeologists, recalling that any chronology represents a mixture of a researcher’s choices, interpretation, and data availability as well as access to computational power. A wider perspective on how the results may change our understanding of the prehistory of Cyprus would have been beneficial to the paper. Paraskeva shares his raw data,[3] a practice that the other papers of the book regrettably do not follow. In the next contribution, Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou compares red-polished wares using petrographic analysis from two sites in central Cyprus (Marki and Alambra, Early-Middle Cypriot period). She highlights the continuity in production from the Early Bronze Age into Middle Bronze Age between the two sites. She provides analytical evidence on the similitude of manufacturing techniques, concluding that it indicates the existence of common knowledge. The paper ends by addressing the question of the scale of the specialization in ceramic production in Early and Middle Bronze Age Cyprus. Confirming the increase in manufacturing standardization in locally made pottery, she links that standardization to population increase within settlements and higher production rates of pottery. In the last paper of this section, Sturt Manning leads us to take a new perspective on an old problem, the emergence of “hierarchical classes” and complexity during the 3rd and 2nd millennia in Cyprus. He hypothesizes that the “secondary products revolution”, especially animal traction and plow field technologies, allowed communities to intensify their exploitation of nearby lands that were previously only sporadically used, leading to the creation of new surplus for some and eventually to gradual concentration of wealth and power. This paper brings together well-assembled ecological, climatological and technological data with human interactions  in a capitalist-based model of the society.

The next section, entitled “Bronze Age Complexity”, starts with a contribution on the active and passive role of Middle Bronze Age fortresses, widening the scope of interpretation in time, space and knowledge. In a clearly written paper, the authors, Eilis Monahan and Matthew Spigelman look at how Middle Bronze Age fortresses were catalysts to the emergence of more hierarchical societies in a bottom-up process. Presenting the interweaving of landscape, creation of space, and craft specialization (copper trade), the paper subtly illustrates the changes in the role of fortresses. Addressing Manning’s paper would have been a nice addition. The next chapter from Georgia Marina Andreou, “Gray Economics in Late Bronze Age Cyprus”, invites us to think about the organization of the economy in the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean. Her paper looks into different lines of evidence (settlement patterns, activities, sites and burials) to disentangle informal (“gray”) from formal economies, aiming at showing the important role played by gray economies and how they were dependent on more formal economies. Focusing on only one line of evidence instead of this large array (landscape, economic  organisation, built environment, burials, textual evidence) would have provided more conclusive arguments to highlight the theoretical framework explained at the beginning. The paper is a welcome reminder that looking at unobtrusive ties will provide “weak signals” that nonetheless played a role in societies. Concluding this section, Artemis Georgiou brings a narrower focus by investigating the changes that occurred at one site during a single period. Based on her extensive knowledge of the site of Palaepaphos and its microregion, she successfully brings together data from surveys and excavations. She shows in great detail how settlement patterns evolve from smaller inland settlements to settlements closer to the coast and finally to the nucleation at Palaepaphos at the dawn of the Late Cypriot period.

In the last section, “Diachronic Landscapes,” Anna Satraki leads the reader to the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age at the site of Alambra, which complements Artemis Georgiou’s paper. While Georgiou’s looked at the coast, this paper offers a glimpse into how the hinterland interconnects with the coast (and with the Mediterranean world). Bringing together archaeological evidence from Alambra, Idalion, and Kition, she shows how the settlement status evolves from core to periphery, and how territories are recomposed together in bigger units or split in smaller features over time. Stella Diakou locates the cemeteries from Lapithos and manages to illustrate successfully the change in occupation patterns from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Her work illustrates with clear maps how sites and places have been abandoned and created, demonstrating the diversity of human trajectories on the island. The last contribution, from the co-editor Catherine Kearns, looks at the intersection of environment, landscape and archaeology. Criticizing environmental determinism,[4] Kearns seeks to balance the general view on the correlation between climate and human activity by stressing that a “better” environment may be “worse” for some people and vice versa. Despite her disruptive claims, she frames her article in a traditional way, first presenting “metric-data” (here δ13 data to assess water availability/abundance) and then analyzing survey data from the Maroni Valley (east of Amathus). Based on an on-going research project, the author illustrates the difficulty of comparing these data and encourages a closer look and a tighter articulation of the two lines of evidence. She warns against an oversimplified and preconceived conclusion that a climate without droughts leads to stability and economic growth. Finally, the author closes her paper (and with it, the volume) with a sentence in the last paragraph that in the opinion of the reviewer brings together all the papers well: “An integrated methodology offers a counternarrative to the hypothesized centripetal power projected from the would-be city-kingdoms over dependent hinterlands and instead underscores the heterogeneity and accumulation of local practices in relation to preceding landscape modifications or to novel attempts at place-making” (p. 287).

Re-framing a discussion is important and all the contributions in the book show the readers that any broad model of interpretation cannot resist its downscaling to specific cases and granular data.  The authors raise a common concern in highlighting “local history”. The different contributions spotlight many breaks in landscape use and occupation patterns, rendering a vivid image of the island and changing the paradigm from a uniform biotope. The main weakness of this book is its lack of cohesion. The aim of the conference was to expose and publicize current research from early career scholars from Cyprus, Israel and the United States rather than to gather and discuss specific topics. This is an indication that the papers were planned and prepared separately; there are disappointingly few cross-references to the other papers of the volume. While the book focuses on current research in Cyprus, and the papers often conclude by acknowledging they are work in progress without definitive conclusions, it is in itself (in my opinion) a great achievement. The papers demonstrate the necessity of changing old paradigms while favoring more modest and nuanced approaches and multiple regional trajectories.

Maps are well done. The editors and the authors provide at least one introductory map for each chapter with sites mentioned in the text, a very welcome feature that that should appear in more edited volumes.

Overall, this well-crafted volume highlights the varied forms of human trajectories at different time on an insular context. Its strength lies in showcasing how research on “small scale” areas provides a substantial amount of data to enrich the narratives about the human past and its diversity during all periods, at any scale.

Authors and titles

Front Matter (p. i-iv)
Table of Contents (p. v-vi)
List of Contributors (p. vii-x)
Introduction: Catherine Kearns and Sturt W. Manning, New Directions in Method and Theory (p. 1-15)

Keynote: David Frankel, Exploring Diversity in Bronze Age Cyprus (p. 16-42)
Part I: The Context and Matter of Prehistory
Charalambos Paraskeva, The Middle Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age Chronology of Cyprus: Refinements and Reconstructions (p. 45-74)
Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, The Fabric Next Door: A Comparative Study of Pottery Technology and Composition at the Early and Middle Bronze Age Settlements of Marki Alonia and Alambra Mouttes (p. 75-98)
Sturt W. Manning, Environment and Sociopolitical Complexity on Prehistoric Cyprus: Observations, Trajectories, and Sketch (p. 99-130)

Part II: Bronze Age Complexities
Eilis Monahan and Matthew Spigelman, Negotiating a New Landscape: Middle Bronze Age Fortresses as a Component of the Cypriot Political Assemblage (p. 133-159)
Georgia Marina Andreou, Gray Economics in Late Bronze Age Cyprus (p. 160-189)
Artemis Georgiou, Tracing the Foundation Horizon of Palaepaphos: New Research on the Early History of the Paphos Region (p. 190-218)

Part III Diachronic Landscapes
Anna Satraki, Alambra: From “A Middle Bronze Age Settlement in Cyprus” to a Royal District (p. 221-240)
Stella Diakou, The Archaeology of the North Coast of Cyprus: The Evidence from Lapithos (p. 241-265)
Catherine Kearns, Discerning “Favorable” Environments: Science, Survey Archaeology, and the Cypriot Iron Age (p. 266-294)
Index (p. 295-302)


[1] Robertson, N. (ed) 1975. The Archaeology of Cyprus: Recent Developments, Park Ridge: Noyes Press.

[2]  “Sub-period” such as EC III − MC II (Early Cypriot III − Middle Cypriot II). The Cypriot time framing and abbreviations are evenly and consistently used throughout the book.

[3] Charalambos Paraskeva. (2019). The Middle Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age Chronology of Cyprus: Refinements and Reconstructions – Supplementary Material (Version 1.0) [Data set]. Zenodo.

[4] Also now: Arponen, V., Dörfler, W., Feeser, I., Grimm, S., Groß, D., Hinz, M., Knitter, D., Müller-Scheeßel, N., Ott, K., and Ribeiro, A. (2019). “Environmental determinism and archaeology. Understanding and evaluating determinism in research design”. Archaeological Dialogues, 26(1), 1-9. doi:10.1017/S1380203819000059.