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The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory Through the Bronze Age

The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory Through the Bronze Age

By A. Bernard Knapp (Cambridge World Archaeology). Pp. xx + 640, figs. 138, tables 3. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013. $38.99. ISBN 978-0-521-72347-3 (paper).

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This book is a comprehensive account of the prehistory of Cyprus, structured and formatted in accordance with the Cambridge World Archaeology series. The sheer volume of the material covered is already a kudos-worthy accomplishment; still, Knapp also offers his readers a glimpse into the basic tenets and issues of 21st-century archaeological practice in a manner that transcends the boundaries, geographical and disciplinary, of the Mediterranean region.

The first two chapters (“Introduction, Chronology, Current Research” and “Interpretative Context” [1–42]) present the underlying spatial and temporal dimensions of the volume and, at times, are reminiscent of the successful precedent set by Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea (Blackwell 2000). Unavoidably, this is repeated information for the expert, but it offers a comprehensive and invaluable insight to the nonexpert who might approach the prehistory of Cyprus without prior knowledge. A useful element is the association of environmental factors with archaeological realities or hypotheses.

Chapters 3–7 present the archaeological evidence of each (archaeological) time period, from the first traces of human presence and action in the Paleolithic down to the end of the Cypriot Bronze Age in a chronological manner, starting with “The Contested Palaeolithic” (43), a discussion of the still-ambiguous evidence on the era, comparing the Cypriot data with the recent Plakias Stone Age Project on Crete (46–7). Evidence is presented by site, corroborated by maps of sites per era and figures of characteristic artifacts, and followed by a general assessment of the era discussed. Naturally, depending on the material evidence and research priorities for each archaeological period presented, the set of accompanying theoretical issues, as set out in the introduction, varies from one chapter to another. Chapter 7 (“Protohistoric Bronze Age Cyprus”), presenting the Cypriot Late Bronze Age, is notably longer than the preceding four chapters. The reason is twofold: first, the material available for this time and the complexity reflected on the archaeological record calls for equally complex interpretive frames and discussions; second is Knapp’s own involvement and focus on especially this archaeological period. The chapter ends with the inevitable for Late Bronze Age Mediterranean archaeology, a discussion of the Sea Peoples, their legacy, and documentary as well as iconographic evidence for their existence and impact (447–51). A broader issue also presented here convincingly, of which Knapp is a strong proponent, is the process of cultural hybridization as an alternative to migration, occupation, and colonization (454–70).

In the first part of the concluding chapter (ch. 8), Knapp presents a short version of the preceding 400 pages or so; in the second part, the author returns to the issues of (insular) identity, connectivity, and materiality, a pet project, it seems, for Knapp throughout his prolific career.

The volume is accompanied by an equally detailed appendix by Manning (485–534), an expert on Mediterranean chronologies and radiocarbon dating, compiling all known radiocarbon dates (ranging in the 300s) for Cypriot prehistory. Fully integrated into the digital publication era, the book provides access to supporting online material for the appendix, where sources and relevant information concerning the data can be accessed. This is a welcome addition, not solely for practitioners of Cypriot prehistory but any archaeologist working in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, a nearly 100-page bibliography and a carefully assembled detailed index facilitate the book’s use as a reference work.

In summary, Knapp states the twofold raison d’être of the book in his introduction: the book first covers the wealth of material unearthed and/or interpreted in the past 30 years and second responds to the realization that a synthetic work of the aforementioned material was lacking. Already in the introduction (1–2), Knapp presents in a lucid and brief manner the set of research questions and key themes that guided his writing. Prominent, among others, are issues of insularity, mobility (of people and things), the shaping of identities, and first and foremost the materiality of things and its manifestations. These issues are then repeatedly discussed throughout the book and linked to the archaeological material presented for each era. Moreover, Knapp does not hesitate to discuss the ideologically charged sensitive reality of Cypriot archaeology conducted on an island politically and practically divided since 1974, an admirable decision amid the rising concerns about the role of archaeology and its practitioners in a world of conflict that the 21st century increasingly appears to be.

The book’s editing is thorough, but minor corrigenda include, for example: a missing epsilon in the dedication line “συνέχια”; an extra “p” in Christian Jürgensen Thomsen’s name (25); the use of plural “Emporia” instead of singular “Emporion” (Greek) for the site of Ampurias (Spanish) or Empúries (Catalan) in Spain (32).

Finally, more figures would enhance the text (there are 138 carefully selected figures in total), especially for a scholar working elsewhere and delving into the unique world of Cypriot prehistory for the first time, although it is understandable for a work of this size that a larger number of figures would increase the book’s already considerable size and production cost.

To sum up, Knapp’s book is an ideal reference work for island archaeology, Mediterranean prehistory, and anyone interested in the idea and practice of contemporary archaeology. In a concise and critical manner, the basic tenets and issues of the archaeological inquiry are presented, accompanied by associated archaeological (complemented, where possible, by documentary) evidence. Last but not least, the book is a balanced amalgam of archaeological evidence and theory, written in a personal but not idiosyncratic style, by an archaeologist whose devotion to Cyprus, its archaeology, and its people is evident throughout and who writes about sites and landscapes he has personally inspected and/or researched.

All in all, as Sir Samuel White Baker would have it, referring to Captain Savile’s take on Cyprus (Cyprus, as I Saw It in 1879 [x]): “It is impossible to praise the latter work too highly, as every authority, whether ancient or modern, has been studied, and the information thus carefully collected has been classed under special headings and offered to the reader in a concise and graphic form which renders it perfect as a book of reference.”

Athena Hadji
University of the Aegean
161 21 Athens

Book Review of The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory Through the Bronze Age, by A. Bernard Knapp

Reviewed by Athena Hadji

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Hadji

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