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New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology

April 2021 (125.2)

Book Review

New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology

Edited by Catherine Kearns and Sturt W. Manning. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 2019. Pp. vii + 302. $55. ISBN 978-1-50173269-0 (cloth).

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Archaeology, as a protean discipline that requires both quantitative data collection and qualitative interpretive approaches, has often been influenced by wider epistemological changes. Thus, at certain inflection points, paradigmatic shifts can be perceived that shed new light on old problems, spur the use of novel methods to uncover unconventional evidence, or inspire fresh theoretical debates (e.g., as explored for Greece as part of Cambridge’s New Directions in Archaeology series in I. Morris, ed., Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies, Cambridge University Press 1994). In recent years, the archaeology of Cyprus—an elusive island located at the nexus of Mediterranean cultural trends—has undergone changes that reflect the influence of both mainstream and Cyprus-specific approaches to longstanding archaeological questions. Such transformations are the focus of Kearns and Manning’s insightful volume, New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology, which provides a fascinating overview of how a new generation of scholars is reimagining Cypriot archaeology’s past, present, and future.

The volume publishes papers originally delivered by a cohort of younger international scholars at the eponymous conference held 10–12 April 2014 at Cornell University. As outlined in the introduction (“New Directions in Method and Theory”), the editors’ goal is to reflect on the recent development of Cypriot archaeology and to assess how archaeological practices have been altered according to three main “registers” (3). The first register concerns the re-evaluation of established chronologies, artifact typologies, and long-term histories. The second register involves the application of interdisciplinary approaches to archaeological questions in ways that combine method and theory through the use of up-to-date archaeometry techniques and digital tools. A third register stresses the use of theoretical approaches that move beyond cultural historical analyses and examine Cypriot material culture in terms of landscapes, social practice, and agency. Kearns and Manning position these registers in relation to perennial topics in Cypriot archaeology: the nature of Cyprus’ insularity, the processes of state formation, and the ways in which the island’s natural resources and strategic location have shaped societal developments and identities over the longue durée. They also emphasize the “Cyprocentric” (3) turn in scholarship, which integrates local agency and Cyprus-specific social and geographic variables into explanations of cultural change that have traditionally relied on external stimuli.

The book’s chronological scope stretches from the Neolithic to the Iron Age because, for the editors, the examination of prehistory occupies a “leading position . . . at the vanguard of Cypriot research” (5). This sentiment seems valid since these eras possess some of the most challenging questions in Cypriot archaeology: the transformation of culture between the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, the increase in sociopolitical complexity in the early Late Bronze Age, and the development of the Iron Age city-kingdoms (or, as they have recently been reconceptualized by Maria Iacovou, “polis-states”). Hence, the volume is chronologically arranged in three sections of three chapters each to explore how these transitions played out across space and time.

Following a keynote chapter by eminent prehistorian David Frankel (“Exploring Diversity in Bronze Age Cyprus”) on the oft-overlooked variability of evidentiary typologies (especially ceramics), the first section concentrates on “The Context and Matter of Prehistory.” Charalambos Paraskeva’s chapter (“The Middle Chalcolithic to Middle Bronze Age Chronology of Cyprus: Refinements and Reconstructions”) focuses on the perennial issue of refining chronological parameters. He draws on his doctoral dissertation research and work on the ARCANE Project to provide calibrated absolute dating models bolstered by Bayesian analysis, executed using the University of Oxford’s OxCal program, for the Middle Chalcolithic through Middle Bronze Age. By analyzing more than 120 radiocarbon samples from a range of Cypriot sites, Paraskeva convincingly refines the dates for some of prehistoric Cyprus’ key transitional cultural periods. Moreover, he shows how the combination of contextualized material culture studies in tandem with absolute dates can provide fresh views on the nature and rate of cultural change, especially with regard to perceived overlaps, abutments, or gaps between cultural phases.

Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou’s chapter (“The Fabric Next Door: A Comparative Study of Pottery Technology and Composition at the Early and Middle Bronze Age Settlements of Marki Alonia and Alambra Mouttes”) involves the use of petrographic (enhanced by X-ray fluorescence) and stylistic analyses to offer intriguing insights on ceramic production, technology, and distribution at two neighboring and roughly contemporary sites. She compares Red Polished Fine Wares and Coarse Wares to show that during the Early Cypriot (EC) III to Middle Cypriot (MC) II periods, villages in Cyprus’ south and central regions shared technological knowledge and clay fabrics for the local creation of ceramic wares. However, she also proves that imported wares were present and that they came from a number of different production centers outside the region. Dikomitou-Eliadou’s observations indicate that—except for some cooking pots—most fabric choices did not correspond to specific pot types, and that some form of “elementary specialization” (94) in pottery production for quotidian use likely existed in Early to Middle Cypriot villages, a process that led to increased ceramic standardization across the island by EC III.

Manning then combines the “full suite of twenty-first century advancements in interdisciplinary archaeology” (7) in his chapter (“Environment and Sociopolitical Complexity on Prehistoric Cyprus: Observations, Trajectories, and Sketch”) to provide a revolutionary reinterpretation of the advent of social hierarchy in prehistoric Cyprus. He draws from research on Near Eastern agricultural marginality and suggests that Cypriots’ expansion into economically challenging landscapes via the use of draft animals and plows as part of the “secondary products revolution” (115) led to the creation of hierarchies, not through violence, but through elites’ “stealth” (117) accumulation of land. Contrary to A.B. Knapp’s views (“Revolution Within Evolution: The Emergence of a ‘Secondary State’ on Protohistoric Bronze Age Cyprus,” Levant 45.1, 2013, 19–44) that such sociopolitical developments were linked to the exploitation of copper during the late Middle Cypriot period, Manning posits (118) that the Philia facies stage (ca. 2500–2200 BCE), when cultural and technological changes may have arrived from Anatolia, catalyzed social hierarchies. Thus, by the early second millennium BCE, when the climate became less arid, the societal developments burgeoning on Cyprus’ north coast may have influenced the creation of larger agropastoral communities farther to the south, where elites could consolidate power through the performance of trust-building activities, such as feasts or funerals.

The volume’s second part, “Bronze Age Complexities,” reexamines Late Bronze Age assemblages to reveal the era’s emergent political economies and extra-insular trading connections. Eilis Monahan and Matthew Spigelman’s chapter (“Negotiating a New Landscape: Middle Bronze Age Fortresses as a Component of the Cypriot Political Assemblage”) considers the processes underlying the “under-theorized” (133) appearance of fortified sites during the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition (ca. 1750–1450 BCE). Previously, sites located on topographical prominences with wide walls, bastions, and reinforced entryways were interpreted as defensive edifices built by regional elites overseeing copper resources. The sites then went out of use when Cyprus was incorporated into the kingdom of Alashiya, a polity—presumed to be Cyprus or part of it—mentioned in the Egyptian Amarna letters. The authors incorporate Bruno Latour’s actor network theory and Manuel DeLanda’s views on new materiality to reenvision the fortresses as active social elements whose meaning can be better understood as part of a late Middle Bronze Age assemblage of people, things, and landscapes. By analyzing the liminal locations, multiuse design, and artifacts from the sites of Phlamoudhi Vounari, Korovia Nitovikla, and others, the authors suggest that the fortresses were stabilizing social features within a diverse suite of interconnected—though ultimately destabilizing—developments, such as increased foreign trade, intensive craft production, and a rise in internecine violence. In sum, the forts enabled the rise of a legitimated political authority, which, perhaps paradoxically, obviated the forts’ role within the subsequent Late Bronze Age social assemblage.

Georgia Marina Andreou’s chapter (“Gray Economics in Late Bronze Age Cyprus”) attempts to transcend traditional interpretations of Cyprus’ copper-dominated and export-oriented Late Bronze Age economy by applying the concept of “gray economics.” She seeks to identify material evidence for the small-scale, informal economic interactions that are often overlooked at large sites like Kalavassos Ayios Dhimitrios, and that may have also contributed to community cohesion and economic expansion. Through an analysis of changing settlement patterns and funerary artifacts from the Maroni, Kouris, and Vasilikos River valleys, as well as textual evidence from Amarna and Ugarit, Andreou suggests that informal, gray economic practices occurred in tandem with formal state ones and that they led to a more decentralized form of social organization than has previously been assumed. Although Andreou admits that the material evidence for gray economics remains sparse and understudied, her broader theoretical argument is compelling.

The Middle to Late Bronze Age transition from agropastoral, village-oriented lifestyles to copper export–oriented and coastal urban settings is explored by Artemis Georgiou through a study of settlement nucleation at Palaepaphos, the site of a later Iron Age kingdom and the famous Sanctuary of Aphrodite (“Tracing the Foundation Horizon of Palaepaphos: New Research on the Early History of the Paphos Region”). Although some MC III ceramic finds have been retrieved at the key site of Kouklia, Georgiou draws on diachronic surveys, excavations, and doctoral theses to analyze how regional settlement patterns can shed light on Palaepaphos’ early development. Her research reports a paucity of sites in the Early Cypriot period, a “surge” of sites from MC III to Late Cypriot (LC) IA (especially in the region of the Troodos foothills), and then a decrease of sites with a shift to coastal ones in the LC IB. For Georgiou, the transformation of Palaepaphos from a small “gateway” village in LC IA to an export-oriented emporion in LC IB was the result of a demographic movement away from metal-processing sites in favor of socially stratified coastal settlements with maritime connections to eastern Mediterranean ports.

The volume’s final part is entitled “Diachronic Landscapes,” as the analytical focus now shifts to a discussion of Cyprus’ Geometric and Iron Age social geography via innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to spatiality. Furthermore, each scholar problematizes “landscape” not as merely a backdrop for historical events, but as an arena for iterative practices that is constructed and reconstructed through interactions between people and their surroundings. Anna Satraki’s chapter (“Alambra: From ‘A Middle Bronze Age Settlement in Cyprus’ to a Royal District”) concentrates on reconstructing the long-term settlement history of one of Cyprus’ most geographically transitional microregions: the south-central Mesaoria plain and the eastern foothills of the Troodos mountains, home to the Bronze Age sites of Alambra and Ayios Sozomenos, and the Iron Age polity of Idalion. She points out that the typical geographical criteria—such as, access to mining areas, riverine watersheds, and seaports—that supported the formation of other Iron Age polities, like Palaepaphos or Kourion, did not fully apply in the southern Mesaoria. Instead, Satraki shows that the region’s political center shifted locations diachronically vis-à-vis the need to interact with coastal ports for copper exportation, first perhaps with Enkomi and then with Kition. By the Early Iron Age, Idalion arose as the region’s political center with its own kings, coinage, and a political landscape marked by cemeteries and sanctuaries, a regional preeminence that was solidified when the kingdom was united with the southern port of Kition during the fifth century BCE.

The next landscape under analysis is terra incognita for most Cypriot archaeologists due to its continued geopolitical inaccessibility: the northern coastal plain at Lapithos. Stella Diakou’s diachronic analysis of the region’s Iron Age development (“The Archaeology of the North Coast of Cyprus: The Evidence from Lapithos”) is revelatory, not only because it integrates GIS-based spatial analysis with landscape theory, but also since it emphasizes the importance of working with legacy data from politically fractured landscapes. Through her study of previously excavated tomb groups and their finds, Diakou is able to reconstruct a dynamic mortuary landscape in which the cemeteries’ extramural locations, tomb chamber design, and grave goods seem similar to styles found throughout the island. The discovery of imported artifacts in some tombs, such as gold objects, also indicate a degree of Iron Age social stratification. Although no major settlement evidence is extant, Diakou’s study of this transitional region, located between the copper-producing Cypriot interior and the sea route to Anatolia, reveals a landscape in flux where cemeteries may represent a range of community clusters, or, at specific moments, more nucleated settlements.

Kearns’ archaeometric study of the effect of climate on social development (“Discerning ‘Favorable’ Environments: Science, Survey Archaeology, and the Cypriot Iron Age”) further examines how human needs interacted with resources and geographical spaces to forge Cyprus’ Iron Age landscapes. Kearns’ unique approach is important since it challenges both the notion of an immutable environmental past devoid of sudden shocks and the primacy of human activities, such as state formation, as the leading cause of landscape change. Through the stable isotope analysis of charcoal samples from a range of sites and periods within the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys, Kearns argues that the relatively arid climatic conditions that marked the Cypriot Late Bronze Age may have gradually given way to an Iron Age landscape supported by increased levels of precipitation and human accessibility to water. This climatic change likely created a “favorable” (269) environment for agricultural development that is archaeologically reflected in increased numbers of settlements, technological innovations (e.g., hillside terracing; metallurgy, indicated by the presence of slag heaps), and fresh forms of social display within tombs and at extraurban sanctuaries—all developments that could foster the creation of the city-kingdoms, the Cypriot Iron Age’s main form of political organization. Even though continued research is required, Kearns’ paleoclimate approach suggests that a correlation exists between environmental shifts and major sociopolitical developments, and that future studies of Cypriot history should consider how both humans and the environment play recursive roles in shaping archaeological landscapes.

Kearns and Manning should be commended for bringing together a diverse range of new voices to explore how the application of postprocessual theory, digital and geospatial approaches, and scientific analyses represent new, pluralistic directions in Cypriot archaeology. One of the volume’s best features is that each of its contributors applies innovative approaches critically, not just to experiment with avant-garde analytical trends, but in the pursuit of middle-range theories and scientific tools that can help scholars envision how social change plausibly occurred. In this sense, “these are exciting times for Cypriot archaeology” (5) as new analytical methods are revolutionizing how many of ancient Cyprus’ cultural processes are interpreted. The volume also contributes to the “Cyprocentric” turn in Cypriot studies where the island’s people emerge as active agents in negotiating the landscapes, technological innovations, and social networks that linked them to external peoples and states. Moreover, a new materialist perspective is present. Pots and architecture are viewed as active elements in assemblages that are recursively shaped by humans, even as these same assemblages shape human action. All these investigative paths show how the archaeology of Cyprus is good to think with, both for Cypriot archaeologists and those working in other parts of the Mediterranean littoral marked by similar longue durée features.

At the same time, this volume is not for the novice in Cypriot archaeology or archaeological science. For example, a reader might be better prepared to navigate the chapters’ important conclusions by reviewing some of the recent scholarship with which several authors are in dialogue, most notably that of Iacovou, Knapp, Edgar Peltenberg, Jennifer Webb, and Frankel. Likewise, some background knowledge of Bayesian analysis, absolute dating, GIS systems, petrography, or the use of stable isotope analysis to construct paleoclimate patterns, might be helpful.

As discussed above, the editors’ use of “New Directions” in the title signals that the volume aims to reexamine Cypriot archaeological antiquity, which typically encompasses the periods from prehistory to at least Late Roman. However, it seems like the addition of a subtitle that would elucidate the volume’s prehistoric chronological scope might have been appropriate, even though the chapters deal with issues and methods that are equally valuable to archaeologists working in later periods. Another analytical angle that could have been added might have been a chapter on Cyprus’ role in the maritime world of the prehistoric eastern Mediterranean (e.g., along the lines of A.B. Knapp, Seafaring and Seafarers in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean, Sidestone Press 2018). On a related note, current advances in Cypriot maritime archaeology, such as the methods and theories utilized in the research of Stella Demesticha or Justin Leidwanger, might have been touched on as well. Although imported objects are frequently discussed, especially in reference to the emergence of social complexity, an overview chapter on Cypriots’ external contacts with Anatolia, the Levant, the Aegean, and Egypt might have added an enhanced regional perspective on local developments. In addition, given its significance to discourse related to Cypriot state formation, a chapter on the current state of research on prehistoric copper exploitation and trade might have been beneficial, perhaps by an expert like Vasiliki Kassianidou. Finally, besides Diakou’s chapter on the Lapithos tombs, not much is said about the unfortunate and lingering effects of modern Cyprus’ political divisions on archaeology and the imbalance of research between the island’s north and south. Such topics arguably affect the charting of new directions in Cypriot archaeology and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

In terms of the volume’s readability, most chapters are well written, but here and there jargon and awkward phrasing can obscure significant points. The images are black and white, which renders some charts difficult to read (e.g., figs. 3.5, 3.6), and deprives pictures of ceramics (with the exception of the cover) and petrographic sections of their characteristic colors. On the other hand, the copyediting is excellent, the index is detailed, the bibliographies are rich and complete, and the book’s design is elegant. Overall, despite the volume’s chronological and spatial specificity, Kearns and Manning more than achieve their goal of providing a “synthetic perspective on our current milieu and its salient methodological and theoretical trends” (3). As such, New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology is a must-read for Cypriot archaeologists and should prove thought-provoking to Mediterranean prehistorians and island archaeologists of all stripes.

Jody Michael Gordon
School of Sciences and Humanities
Wentworth Institute of Technology

Book Review of New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology, edited by Catherine Kearns and Sturt W. Manning. Ithaca
Reviewed by Jody Michael Gordon
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 2 (April 2021)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1252.Gordon

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