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Terracotta Statues and Figurines of Cypriote Type Found in the Aegean: Provenance Studies

Terracotta Statues and Figurines of Cypriote Type Found in the Aegean: Provenance Studies

Edited by Vassos Karageorghis, Nota Kourou, Vassilis Kilikoglou, and Michael D. Glascock. In collaboration with Jacqueline Karageorghis and Panagiota Marantidou. Pp. 256, figs. 5, b&w pls. 11, color pls. 40, tables 5, maps 2. A.G. Leventis Foundation, Nicosia 2009. €50. ISBN 978-9963-560-88-2 (paper).

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This book presents the final results of a collective work under the direction of Karageorghis and Kourou that aims at defining, through scientific provenance studies, the origin of Cypriote-type statuettes found in great numbers in the east Aegean during the Archaic period. Seven years after the publication of the first volume, which is devoted to the analysis of limestone statuettes (N. Kourou and V. Karageorghis, eds., Limestone Statuettes of Cypriote Type Found in the Aegean: Provenance Studies [Nicosia 2002]), this book concentrates on the neutron activation analysis (NAA) of terracotta figurines. The publication coincides with the edition of the acts of an international conference held at Samos on the subject of intercultural contacts between Cyprus and the east Aegean (V. Karageorghis and O. Kouka, Cyprus and the East Aegean: Intercultural Contacts from 3000 to 500 BC [Nicosia 2009]). The study has two important outcomes: first, it demonstrates that the vast majority of Cypriote-type terracottas found in Samos and Rhodes are of Cypriote clay and that they were produced in the southeastern region of the island; second, it states that some of the Cypriote-type terracottas found at the Heraion of Samos—handmade as well as moldmade figurines—were made from local, Samian clay. The latter result was, to say the least, unexpected.

The work is divided into three main sections and is lavishly illustrated. Thanks to the color plates, the reader gets a precise overview of the material aspect of each sampled figurine. After a general introduction, the first part presents the corpus of figurines and a review of previous studies on the topic; it is followed by a detailed examination of the various iconographic types attested in this class of terracottas found in the Aegean and their Cypriote counterparts. The second part consists of the NAA analysis and the interpretation of results. The samples are restricted to material from Samos and Rhodes (Camiros), two places that have yielded large numbers of figurines of this class. The Samos samples are by far the most numerous: they comprise 96 fragments (some of them of local manufacture, to establish a local control group); the Rhodes samples are limited to 13 fragments; and the Cypriote samples comprise 53 figurines. The statistical analysis of the compositional elements of the clay helped define distinct groups that are, on several grounds, attributed to distinct production areas. A detailed examination of these production groups follows. Finally, a three-page general conclusion summarizes the major issues of the work.

The book represents an important achievement, and its formal weaknesses are few. For example, one regrets that the long chapter on the typological comparison between Cypriote-type terracottas found in Cyprus and those found in the Aegean was written before the results of the scientific analysis were known (23–88). Some oversimplifications and shortcomings could have been avoided. Karageorghis et al.’s chemical Group III of terracottas from Cyprus represents the main production among the sampled figurines only, and not “of figurines in Cyprus” (147). Ialysos is not located on the island of Cos (13 and following), and we know a little bit more of its Cypriote material than the two figurines published by Maiuri in 1928 (105). (It would have been worth mentioning the contribution of A. Di Vita, “Chypre dans les dépôts votifs de Athana Ialisia,” in V. Karageorghis, ed., Proceedings of an International Symposium The Civilizations of the Aegean and Their Diffusion in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, 2000–600 BC”: 18–24 September 1989 [Larnaca 1990] 89–92).

Scientific analysis arouses pious reverence and, as a profane archaeologist, I am incompetent to judge its reliability. But let me pinpoint some surprising results. Handmade terracottas from Lapithos, for which distribution is strictly restricted to the Lapithos area, were proven to be manufactured in the southeastern region of Cyprus (193). A moldmade figurine from Samos, which is completely isolated and has absolutely no Cypriote parallel (be it from a technological, typological, or stylistic point of view), was proven to be made of Cypriote clay (103 [inv. no. SAH 94]). Since the method of analysis is based on the use of statistics, one may question the relationship between results and sampling. Of course, the latter depends on the availability of material, but a historical perspective could have guided the choice of sampled figurines. To take but the Cypriote corpus as an example, a sampling based on production groups (various typological and stylistic series that constitute coherent groups, wherever they were actually produced), and not on places of discovery, would have been more satisfactory. (This is the methodology followed in S. Fourrier, La coroplastie chypriote archaïque [Lyon 2007]; contra p. 12 in the volume under review.)

Archaic Cyprus was divided into several cultural and political entities (kingdoms), and the material culture of each was epitomized by distinct productions (e.g., ceramics, terra-cottas). As they are, the groups defined through the NAA fail to characterize major centers (e.g., Idalion, which may correspond to Karageorghis et al.’s Cypriote Group II), and they blend into indistinct “south-eastern region” productions from Salamis and Kition, which were distinct political and cultural entities [193]. To draw on a Greek parallel, we should replace “south-eastern Cypriote” with “Salaminian” or “Kitian” in the same way as we have replaced “Ionian” with “Milesian” or “Samian.” Similarly, we should not give a central role to the Arsos sanctuary at the expense of Salamis. No Archaic sculpture has ever been labeled “Didymean” instead of Milesian, despite that more sculptures are known from the Apollo sanctuary than from Miletus. The eastern Mediterranean of the Archaic period does not correspond to the open world described in the last pages of the book (205), and this is why the occurrence of the same assemblage of Cypriote-type limestone and terracotta statuettes in various East Greek locations is so significant.

Contextualized within this historical background, the results of the NAA raise many questions and open paths to further research. First, a closer examination of the material evidence is very much needed. For example, the identification of the use of the same mold for the production of terracottas found in diverse locations should rely on precise measurements; it is the only way to draw possible family trees of figurines. Did the Cypriote molds travel (172), or did Samian craftsmen take molds on imported Cypriote terracottas? If it is the latter, why did they make exact replicas of figurines that never ceased to be imported? The authors rightly underline the “profusion” of Cypriote terracotta imports, so why should local craftsmen manufacture faithful imitations of artifacts that were more easily imported (204)? If some of the so-called Mantelmann-type figurines were produced on Samos, what is the exact role of the island in the distribution of this class of figurines in the Aegean? These are some of the historical issues left unaddressed in this book. But the achievement and clear exposition of new scientific data help renew old scholarly debates, and, as such, this book makes an important contribution.

Sabine Fourrier
University of Lyon
Maison de l’Orient et de la Mediterranee—Jean Pouilloux
69365 Lyon Cedex 07

Book Review of Terracotta Statues and Figurines of Cypriote Type Found in the Aegean: Provenance Studies, edited by Vassos Karageorghis, Nota Kourou, Vassilis Kilikoglou, and Michael D. Glascock

Reviewed by Sabine Fourrier

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 4 (October 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Fourrier

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