Online Review: Book

Eastern Mediterranean Metallurgy and Metalwork in the Second Millennium BC: A Conference in Honour of James D. Muhly, Nicosia, 10th–11th October 2009


Edited by Vasiliki Kassianidou and George Papasavvas. Pp. xvi + 258, color pls. 16, figs. 154, tables 24. Oxbow Books, Oxford 2012. $120. ISBN 978-1-84217-453-1 (cloth).

This edited volume publishes 24 papers from an international conference honoring James Muhly, where he also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cyprus. This publication is Muhly’s second Festschrift and a testament to his impact on Cypriot archaeology and ancient metallurgy. The topics therein supplement those of the first, though there is some overlap (cf. P. Betancourt and S. Ferrence, eds., Metallurgy: Understanding How, Learning Why. Studies in Honor of James D. Muhly [Philadelphia 2011]; for a review of the book, see N.G. Blackwell, AJA 116 [2012] Collectively, the Festschriften illustrate the diverse scholarly interests and wide-ranging influence of Muhly’s career.

This volume aims to compare the archaeometallurgical remains, workshops, and technology on second-millennium B.C.E. Cyprus with that of neighboring regions. The strength of the volume is its wide geographical coverage of the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., Cyprus, the Levant, Egypt) and beyond (e.g., Crete, the Cyclades, Sardinia, Jordan, Iran, southeast Asia), but not all areas are treated with equal focus. Central/southern Anatolia and mainland Greece are left out, though Giumlia-Mair’s analysis (ch. 11) of a silver cup with an alloyed inlay from Enkomi (Cyprus) touches on Hittite and Mycenaean links tangentially. Because of space limitations, this review forgoes addressing each paper in favor of assessing and summarizing the publication around three main topics: (1) the Cypriot copper industry in the early second millennium B.C.E.; (2) the production and regulation of Cypriot copper during the apex of Late Bronze Age (LBA) trade; and (3) the metal­working evidence found outside of the island and its impact, if any, on understanding Cypriot metallurgy.

Several papers address the copper-working industry on Middle Bronze Age (MBA) Cyprus, a time when 19th-century texts from Mari tell us that copper was being exported from Alashiya, a name most scholars equate with Cyprus. The Middle Cypriot (MC) archaeological record hardly supports an advanced copper industry, and so the localized nature of the island’s remains must be considered in conjunction with all external signs of internationalism (Knapp [ch. 3]). The scale of MC copper production and its ability to meet foreign demand is thus unclear. Belgiorno, Ferro, and Loepp (ch. 4) present critical material for this question, asserting that Pyrgos-Mavrorachi had several early (pre-1800 B.C.E.) smelting workshops. Because of scant traces at other MC sites, it remains to be seen whether Pyrgos-Mavrorachi is an accurate indicator of island-wide metallurgical practices. Foreign interest in Cypriot copper, however, is apparent by the early second millennium B.C.E., and several papers hypothesize that Aegeanists sought out Cypriot copper at that time. For example, Betancourt (ch. 13) argues that Crete’s interest in the eastern Mediterranean began by the early MBA in response to decreased contact with the Cyclades and the dwindling metal sources there. The metallurgical developments at Poros-Katsambas, near Knossos, offer a similar picture (Dimopoulou [ch. 14]). By the Protopalatial period, enhanced metalworking activity with larger crucibles was well underway, alluding to stronger demand from eastern copper sources at a time when Cycladic copper was on the decline. Bassiakos and Tselios (ch. 16) trace a substantial falloff in Aegean copper production (e.g., smelting sites) from the third to second millennia, indicating that the MBA Aegean had to turn east for copper once its easily exploited ores were exhausted.

The second issue that characterizes the volume is Cyprus’ response to the interconnected Mediterranean during the LBA. While the publication does not offer a definitive answer for how the Late Cypriot (LC) copper industry was organized, the collective picture that emerges, at least to this reviewer, is that Cyprus possessed two categories of copper: (1) an exportable, tightly controlled metal mined from one source and (2) metal designated for island-wide production and consumption from a variety of ores. This distinction also suggests that copper-working stages used in the LC I period may not have sufficed for the more complex LC II industry.

The provenance of oxhide ingots, a much-discussed topic, is the key to differentiating copper types. Decades of lead isotope analysis indicate that post-1400 B.C.E. oxhide ingots are consistent with a single Cypriot ore body: Apliki, from which copper was exploited intensively for bulk production (Gale and Stos-Gale [ch. 8]). This apparent restriction is perplexing, given the island’s plentiful copper sources, but Apliki’s geology may have been particularly advantageous for mining. With the casting location for the oxide ingots unknown, Gale and Stos-Gale propose that ingots—instead of semiprocessed ore—were transported from Apliki to urban coastal sites that served as gateway communities but not production sites of oxhide ingots. This hypothesis is plausible since few slags at Enkomi and other urban sites match the Apliki lead isotope fingerprint. The scenario differs from copper working during LC I, when secondary processing occurred at Enkomi (Kassianidou [ch. 10]), and the primary smelting was conducted elsewhere (e.g., Politico-Phorades). Gale and Stos-Gale’s assertion that the Apliki region produced finished oxhide ingots thus casts doubt on the assumption that the LC I arrangement continued into the LC II period.

If Apliki was the primary source of ingots, a regulating agency—an individual or a cooperation/federation—must have overseen ore smelting, manufacture, and product distribution. Control would be easier if procurement and production were limited to one spot. In textual records, this authority is the Alashiyan king, but archaeology fails to support any sort of hierarchical political configuration on Cyprus. Cyprus’ copper obtained a reputation impressive enough, according to Lo Schiavo (ch. 15), to attract ships from Sardinia on a regular basis, facilitating the Nuragic adoption of Cypriot metalworking practices and tools in addition to the acquisition of oxhide ingots.

Papasavvas (ch. 12) considers the relative dearth of metal objects on Cyprus in comparison with the volume of exported copper. The LC mortuary record illustrates the changing nature of local consumption, as bronze objects were gradually replaced by foreign luxury items (Pilides [ch. 9]). The quantity of copper/bronze objects on Cyprus increased throughout the 13th century B.C.E., a shift that Papasavvas associates with “private mercantile enterprises” (120). The export of standard, regulated oxhide ingots, however, continued into this period (LC IIC), thereby demonstrating different systems of copper production at play. LC II metalworking is ubiquitous on Cyprus, but most sites utilized a variety of copper sources (including limited amounts of Apliki copper) to meet local demands. Copious remains from secondary smelting activities come from Kalavasos–Ayios Dhimitrios (South [ch. 5]); inefficient primary and secondary smelting operations are attested at nearby Maroni-Vournes (Doonan, Cadogan, and Sewell [ch. 6]). Yet neither LC town based its economy solely on metallurgy. Iacovou (ch. 7) hypothesizes that the raison d’être for the monumental Palaepaphos sanctuary was its proximity to copper mines (25 km distant), but its role in trading metal is unclear.

Finally, papers about practices in the eastern Mediterranean beyond Cyprus enhance the metallurgical picture of the LBA and Early Iron Age (EIA). Given the similarities between Ugarit and Enkomi, the book is significantly enriched by papers on Ugaritic metallurgy. Bell (ch. 19) highlights Akkadian texts from Ugarit’s quartier résidential that record private acquisition and trade of tin, copper, and bronze. These merchants took advantage of the shift from palatial control to “privatization” (185), a scenario that may be applicable to 12th-century Enkomi as well. Dardaillon (ch. 18) summarizes the extensive metallurgical traces—some unpublished—from LBA Ugarit. This lucid overview enhances comparisons with metalworking at Enkomi. Farther north, Alalakh exhibits several Cypriot links (Yener [ch. 17]), but a metallurgical one is unconvincing.

Rehren and Pusch (ch. 22) review the bronze foundries at Qantir/Pi-Ramesse (Egypt), which generated large batches of bronze. The sheer output of these workshops implies differing scales of use. New Kingdom Egypt separated specialized products from mainstream bronze—reminiscent of how Cyprus seems to have divided copper for foreign and intra-island consumption. A clay fragment of an oxhide ingot mold found in an 11th-century slag heap (Timna Site 30, Israel) brings the number of known oxhide molds to two. Ben-Yosef (ch. 20) concludes that the Timna mold shows EIA Levantine familiarity with Mediterranean markets and products, including that of oxhide ingots, and demonstrates that casting could occur in clay. Levy, Ben-Yosef, and Najjar (ch. 21) recount the extensive findings of the Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project (ELRAP) in the Faynan (Jordan), notably the smelting site of Khirbat en-Nahas (12th–ninth century B.C.E.). Perhaps Timna and the Faynan were exploited gradually due, in part, to the turmoil of the LBA–EIA Mediterranean, but this question remains unanswered.

Tin and iron are the focus of two papers. Pigott’s article (ch. 23), an addendum to his earlier paper for Muhly (“Sources of Tin and the Tin Trade in Southwest Asia: Recent Research and Its Relevance to Current Understanding,” in Betancourt and Ferrence [2011] 273–91), features Deh Hosein (western Iran) and its potential role in supplying tin to the Near East and Mediterranean. The article also summarizes the origin of tin-bronzes in southeast Asia, a useful overview regardless of geographical interest. Veldhuijzen’s discussion (ch. 24) of the changing role of iron rounds out the volume. Originally a second-millennium prestige item, iron attained utilitarian status by the Levantine 10th century B.C.E., when regular, localized ironworking transpired in earnest. The impetus for the adoption of iron is uncertain but is likely connected to LBA–EIA socioeconomic changes.

In presenting the latest research of leading scholars on eastern Mediterranean metalworking, this volume should be considered alongside Muhly’s earlier Festschrift. Several of the Cypriot topics are longstanding issues that remain unresolved, a result of differing viewpoints offered by the textual, archaeological, and scientific evidence. Scholars have yet to reconcile all of these sources, but this publication’s evaluation of metallurgy across a broad area effectively contextualizes the Cypriot industry and its diachronic developments.

Nicholas G. Blackwell
American School of Classical Studies at Athens
106 76 Athens

Book Review of Eastern Mediterranean Metallurgy and Metalwork in the Second Millennium BC: A Conference in Honour of James D. Muhly, Nicosia, 10th–11th October 2009, edited by Vasiliki Kassianidou and George Papasavvas
Reviewed by Nicholas G. Blackwell
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 118, Number 2 (April 2014), published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1182.Blackwell

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