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The Chronology of the Base-Ring Ware and Bichrome Wheelmade Ware

The Chronology of the Base-Ring Ware and Bichrome Wheelmade Ware

Edited by P. Åström. Pp. 247, figs. 58, pls. 16, tables 6. The Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, Stockholm 2001. SEK 239. ISBN 91-7402-320-9 (paper).


This volume comprises 17 papers about two distinctive ceramic wares of the Cypriot Late Bronze Age (LBA): Base Ring and Bichrome Wheelmade wares. These papers were presented at one of the conferences in recent years dealing with ceramic wares of the Late Cypriot (LC) period. These colloquia address chronological issues pertinent to the transition between the Middle and Late Bronze Ages in the east Mediterranean, at a time when the cultures/civilizations of Egypt, Syro-Palestine, Cyprus, and the Aegean were increasingly coming into contact through mercantile links. Cypriot pottery is particularly useful, as the LC ceramic repertoire is technologically and morphologically distinct from the Middle Cypriot (MC) assemblage and appears to belong to a novel cultural tradition. In contrast, the Levantine pottery tradition is characterized by cultural and technological continuity throughout the Middle Bronze Age (MBA)–Late Bronze Age, and does not provide a fine chronological marker.

The volume is divided into two sections: the first devoted to Base Ring Ware; the second to Bichrome Ware. Papers mainly address chronological issues—looking at stratigraphic evidence for the appearance of these wares in Cypriot and Levantine (primarily ‘Ajjul) contexts and the deposits from Ezbet Helmi and Tell el Dab‘a in Egypt. However, the important deposits of Cypriot ceramics from Ugarit were not included, nor were those from recent excavations in Lebanon. There is limited discussion of technological aspects—Herscher for the development of Base Ring Ware in Cyprus and Aloupi for the raw materials used to produce pigments for Bichrome Ware. Moreover, the cultural significance of the new styles in Cyprus and the underlying reasons for their eager adoption in Egypt and the Levant are rarely addressed.

Although problems with the traditional typological sequence for Base Ring Ware have been demonstrated by Vaughan (“Material and Technical Characterization of Base Ring Ware: A New Fabric Typology,” in J.A. Barlow, D.L. Bolger, and B. Kling, eds., Cypriot Ceramics: Reading the Prehistoric Record [Philadelphia 1991] 118–30), contributors to this volume chose to retain the established framework of Base Ring I and II. Herscher examines the technological development of Base Ring Ware during LC I, focusing on proto–Base Ring Ware. Her definition will be of considerable use in aiding identification in the field. Herscher also suggests a probable precursor to the Base Ring Ware: the Drab Polished Blue Core Ware identified at Episkopi Phaneromeni (producers of both exploited similar clay sources). Potters were experimenting with more advanced firing techniques, including higher firing temperatures and controlled reduction, laying the technological foundations for the development of Base Ring Ware. The social significance of a continuous cultural tradition alongside enormous technological advances and possibly significant changes in the organization of production, however, are not considered.

The majority of papers discussing Base Ring Ware concentrate on its chronological value (Eriksson, Manning, Merrillees), to arrive at an absolute date for the beginning of the Cypriot LBA. The cultural significance of this ware, either in Cyprus or as an export to Egypt and the Levant, receives less comment. In this respect, Bergoffen’s review of Base Ring imports to Tell el-‘Ajjul is especially important, particularly given the problems in examining material remains from the site (R.T. Sparks, PEQ 137 [2005] 23–9; L. Steel, JMA 25 [2002] 25–54). Bergoffen demonstrates the unusually early appearance of Base Ring at the site between MB IIC and LB IA. While chronological issues form her main focus, she also demonstrates how this material became integrated within LBA funerary practices at ‘Ajjul. The predominance of Base Ring jugs and juglets among LBA funerary equipment in the Lower Cemetery and the 18th-Dynasty Cemetery indicates that the exotic imports were readily available to a wide sector of the community, who eagerly absorbed them into mortuary rituals. Fischer’s contribution, on his more recent excavations at ‘Ajjul, is similarly important.

Nys’ résumé of the geographical and chronological distribution of Base Ring bull vases is supplemented by a detailed catalogue, but there is neither distribution map nor illustrations of the bull vases. Nys notes the preponderance of Base Ring bulls in wealthy Cypriot tomb groups in LC II; they were likewise readily adopted in Syro-Palestinian funerary contexts. She also notes their association with important public buildings in the Levant, such as the palace at Alalakh, and finds that Base Ring bulls from Cypriot settlement contexts tend to be associated with metallurgical installations. She does not discuss, however, the possible religious use of this form in Cyprus (J. Webb, Ritual Architecture, Iconography and Practice in the Late Cypriot Bronze Age [Jonsered 1999]).

The second part of the volume concerns Bichrome Wheelmade Ware. Artzy and Karageorghis provide useful overviews of previous research and the consequent development of confusion surrounding provenance and evolution. Both authors suggest that although the ware is demonstrably Cypriot in manufacture, its inspiration came from abroad, possibly from Cycladic Black and Red Ware. Åström proposes that, despite the tendency to assume a chronological priority for Bichrome Handmade Ware, evidence from Cyprus indicates that Bichrome Wheelmade Ware was introduced first, possibly by foreign potters. Subsequent Cypriot imitations resulted in the handmade version. However, Bichrome is just one of a number of wheelmade wares produced from LC I. Aloupi notes that the technological skill evident in the red and black decoration is not in itself an indicator of new potting skills being introduced to the island.

Although it is now generally accepted that Bichrome Ware was largely produced on Cyprus, both Karageorghis and Artzy refer to disparities between the results of the early petrographic and neutron activation analyses. Further research is warranted; petrographic analyses carried out on Bichrome from recent excavations at ‘Ajjul suggest a source of clay beds in the area surrounding the Troodos Mountains on the southern coast of Cyprus (Fischer).

Other papers examine stratigraphic evidence for the relative chronology of Bichrome Wheelmade Ware at Nitovikla (Hult) in Cyprus, and at Tell el Dab‘a (Bietak and Hein) and ‘Ajjul (Fischer). Chronological approaches can obscure the social significance of the ware in the earliest stage of the LBA; however, Hult hints that the development of a fine tableware in Cyprus might be associated with changing practices in the serving and consumption of liquids. Karageorghis observes the two different fabrics used to make the Bichrome Ware: one fine, the other coarse. However, this observation does not lead to an examination of differential patterns of distribution between funerary and settlement contexts. Likewise, the underlying impetus for the ready adoption of Bichrome Ware throughout coastal Syro-Palestine and into Egypt is not addressed.

For the most part, the papers are supplemented by clear illustrations. Nonetheless, more use could have been made of distribution maps as well as chronological tables. There is a series of color plates, but those illustrating the Base Ring fabrics identified by Vaughan are not clearly reproduced. On the whole, however, the volume is well produced; it provides a useful, up-to-date summary of these two Late Cypriot wares.

Louise Steel
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of Wales, Lampeter
Ceredigion SA48 7ED
United Kingdom

Book Review of The Chronology of the Base-Ring Ware and Bichrome Wheelmade Ware, edited by P. Åström

Reviewed by Louise Steel

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 112, No. 2 (April 2008)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1122.Steel

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