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Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus

Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus

Edited by Edgar Peltenburg (Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean 2). Pp. x + 375, figs. 95, b&w pls. 42, tables 35. Brepols, Turnhout 2013. €100. ISBN 978-2-503-53498-5 (paper).

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The book under review is the second volume of a series of final reports of the international project Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (ARCANE). The ARCANE project reviewed chronology and material culture of the third millennium B.C.E. from Anatolia to Iran and from the Caucasus region to the southern Levant. While the other major chronology project of the last decades, the SCIEM 2000 project (Synchronization of Civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium BC) intended to provide a synchronized chronology in the eastern Mediterranean of the second millennium B.C.E. based on first appearances of key pottery wares, ARCANE aimed to redefine chronological terminology and the associated material culture for the third millennium B.C.E. As the authors state in the introduction to the volume, “the overall goal of ARCANE is to identify and, through its database, make accessible chronologically secure assemblages of archaeological materials, so that we obtain a more dependable framework in which to evaluate local developments and inter-regional connections in the east Mediterranean and Near East during the 3rd millennium BC” (6).

The present volume is divided into 10 chapters, starting with a general introduction to the ARCANE project and the application of the ARCANE methodology, on Cyprus in particular, followed by discussions of stratigraphy, pottery, settlement features, burial practices, metals, figurines and other objects, lithic artifacts, and radiocarbon evidence, and closing with concluding remarks. Thus, as such, this volume, accompanied by the downloadable ARCANE database, is a valuable introduction to third-millennium B.C.E. Cyprus.

The new chronological terminology introduced by the ARCANE project to the third-millennium B.C.E. ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean region is based on so-called benchmark inventories, defined as “sealed contexts with high chronological integrity, associated objects and, preferably, 14C dates” (2). The new chronological terminology is made up of “E” (for “early”) plus an acronym for the region; in this case, CY for Cyprus; thus, third-millennium B.C.E. Cyprus is, according to ARCANE terminology, divided into ECY1–5, based on benchmark inventories from 19 sites that were regarded as representative. Conventional chronological designations regard the first half of the third millennium B.C.E. as the Chalcolithic period and the second part as the Early Bronze Age, and it is important to note that by “considering both periods in a single work, this ARCANE volume seeks to overcome a traditional and misleading dichotomy in approaches to the island’s past” (1).

As visionary as this approach might be, its limitation is, of course, that this system is confined to the third millennium B.C.E. only. Up to now, there is no perspective for extending it to other periods, such as the second millennium B.C.E. Further, the introduction of new chronological terminology is always risky, and only time will show if it will be adopted by the scientific community. Another unavoidable limitation is that although the genesis of the chronological framework is now much more transparent than it used to be, it still is a gross simplification of actual development of material culture and society through time and space, since not only temporal but also geographical boundaries, both often established arbitrarily, are enforced. It remains questionable whether sound relative chronological phases over such vast regions as western Iran can be established at all. And although such an approach might seem feasible for a given isolated region (such as Cyprus), even here substantial regional variation was noted by the authors, and temporal or geographical dividing lines are not always as clear as they seem on maps or chronological charts. For instance, the dividing line between the region of the southern and northern Levant seems to be more a modern political border than an observable cultural divide.

Unfortunately, there are a number of limitations that hamper considerably the compilation of a new relative chronology for Cyprus. First, there is a marked divide between the ECY1–2 and ECY3–5 phases, since most sites fall either to ECY1–2 or to ECY3–5—only Kissonerga-Mosphilia covers ECY1–3, but it is abandoned during ECY4–5. Second, it has to be pointed out that 11 out of the 19 benchmark sites are cemeteries. Third, Cyprus lacks long stratigraphies that are common to other areas of the ARCANE project. But also, at the few sites on Cyprus that show development through several phases, usually the stratigraphy is 2 m or less and only Marki-Alonia has a long stratigraphic sequence spanning several centuries (17). Of 19 benchmark sites, only six have significant depositional accumulation, and only three have superimpositions of material belonging to more than one ECY phase, and the majority of benchmark inventories derives mostly from tombs. And finally, synchronization of Cypriot ARCANE phases with the rest of the Levant based on material culture is almost impossible, since Cyprus was almost isolated throughout the third millennium B.C.E. For the Chalcolithic ECY1–2 period, there is no evidence for any contact with the Levant; only a fragment of ECY1 pottery was found in EB II Tarsus (45 n. 13).

The transition from the ECY1–2 to ECY3–5 phases, or the transition from the Chalcolithic period to the Philia facies and the Early Bronze Age, marks a major break in the development of the island. It is accompanied by significant changes in settlement pattern, burial customs, and pottery production. For example, this break saw the transition from round to rectilinear building plans, as demonstrated by Papaconstantinou in her chapter on settlement planning and architecture (129–60); the change from presence of intramural burials during ECY1–2 to complete absence during ECY3–5, as shown by Keswani in her contribution on burial practices (161–229); and the development from the cold technology of hammering and annealing copper during ECY1–2 to smelting and casting during ECY3–5, as described by Kassianidou in the chapter on metals (231–49). The break between ECY1–2 and ECY4–5 is dated to 2500/2400 B.C.E., based on radiocarbon evidence considered in this volume and is thus roughly contemporary with the end of the urbanized Early Bronze Age II–III period in the southern Levant ca. 2500 B.C.E. (J. Regev et al., “Chronology of the Early Bronze Age in the Southern Levant: New Analysis for a High Chronology,” Radiocarbon 54 [2012] 525–66; F. Höflmayer et al., “Radiocarbon Evidence for the Early Bronze Age Levant: Tell Fadous-Kfarabida (Lebanon) and the End of the Early Bronze III Period,” Radiocarbon 56 [2014] 529–42).

Because of the relative isolation of Cyprus during the third millennium B.C.E. and the lack of connections to better-dated chronological sequences in the Levant, the chapter on radiocarbon dating by Peltenburg, Frankel, and Paraskeva is of considerable importance (313–38). Six of the 19 benchmark sites provided radiocarbon dates, and three additional sites (Kythrea-Ayios Dhimitrianos, Politiko-Kokkinorotsos, and Stroumpi-Agios Andronikos) have been considered. Substantial tables give the radiocarbon dates together with contextual information, relative dating, and references. The dates are presented site-by-site, and where a sufficient stratigraphy was available, Bayesian models were produced. Finally, a single model for the entire ECY1–5 sequence was created. There are, however, certain limitations. For this study, radiocarbon evidence has been taken into account without a sound methodology of distinguishing possibly long-lived charcoal dates (which would only provide a terminus post quem) from measurements run on short-lived matter such as seeds. The authors selected outliers by hand and removed them if they did not pass the 60% agreement index, instead of using the outlier analysis available in OxCal.

Therefore, the reader should also take into account two recent studies by Sturt Manning on third-millennium B.C.E. Cypriot chronology, in which, based on a larger number of radiocarbon dates, several models are presented, arguing for a slightly later end of the Philia facies (the ECY4 phase) ca. 2200–2150 B.C.E. (instead of 2300/2250 B.C.E., as suggested in the volume under review [338]), thus indicating that it may be contemporary with the onset of the 4.2 ka BP climatic event (S. Manning, “A New Radiocarbon Chronology for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus,” in A.B. Knapp, The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory Through the Bronze Age [Cambridge 2013]  485–553; “Cyprus at 2200 BC: Rethinking the Chronology of the Cypriot Early Bronze Age,” in A.B. Knapp et al., eds., J.R.B. Stewart: An Archaeological Legacy [Uppsala 2013] 1–21).

Nevertheless, despite these small limitations, this volume is of considerable importance for Cypriot archaeology of the third millennium B.C.E. and should not be missed in archaeological libraries.

Felix Höflmayer
The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Book Review of Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus, edited by Edgar Peltenburg

Reviewed by Felix Höflmayer

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Hoflmayer

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