Article

Death, Prestige, and Copper in Bronze Age Cyprus

109.3
Red Polished cult vessel from Bellapais Vounous on Cyprus.
Red Polished cult vessel from Bellapais Vounous on Cyprus.

From the mid third through the second millennium B.C., Bronze Age communities in Cyprus underwent important social transformations in conjunction with migration, changes in subsistence and technology, the development of a major copper industry, and the emergence of town-centered polities engaged in metallurgical production and long-distance trade. This paper examines mortuary evidence from the formative Early–Middle Cypriot Bronze periods (or the prehistoric Bronze Age) in order to explicate the ways in which social changes were expressed in ritual practices and, reflexively, the ways in which economic and sociopolitical developments were influenced by the dynamics of ritual performances. It is demonstrated that an elaborate suite of funerary rites involving multiple phases of mortuary treatment, collective burial, and costly prestige displays developed during these periods. It is argued that because these rites came to involve both extravagant and escalating levels of copper consumption in some communities, the social and ideological concerns enacted in mortuary practice created an important internal stimulus for the intensification of copper production and the development of local copper exchange networks. This, in turn, helped promote the development of a provisional infrastructure for the rise of elite-dominated, urban copper emporia during the Late Cypriot Bronze Age. Concurrently, the growing importance of exotic valuables within the prevailing prestige symbolism served as an incentive for emergent elites to establish coastal centers in order to control the trade in copper and imported goods.

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DOI: 10.3764/aja.109.3.341