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Art and Society in Cyprus from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age

Art and Society in Cyprus from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age

By Joanna S. Smith. Pp. xviii + 397, figs. 85, tables 4, plans 13, maps 2. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2009. $90. ISBN 978-0-521-51367-8 (cloth).

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Joanna Smith’s Art and Society in Cyprus from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age is a welcome addition to the growing number of studies about this transitional period in the eastern Mediterranean. Though this period witnessed significant upheaval, new scholarship highlights forms of continuity, diminishing past emphasis on a strict divide between the Bronze and Iron Ages. Smith’s regional study is a careful and systematic reevaluation of the full material record of Kition, a cosmopolitan harbor city and key site for evaluating this critical period on Cyprus. Kition is an ideal case study because of its extensive published remains that date from the 13th century B.C.E. down to its rule by the Phoenicians at the end of the eighth century and beyond. Smith’s methodology and conclusions for Kition can be applied to other Cypriot sites—hence the broad title of her book.

The introduction reviews the historical setting and provides an overview of the major themes. The first part of the book (chs. 1–4) investigates how patterns of administrative tools and visual imagery can provide insight into the ancient inhabitants’ approaches to problem solving. The second part (chs. 5–7) explores the stratigraphy, ceramic typologies, and chronologies in light of recent scholarship, providing a critical reading of the current foundation for studying Iron Age Cyprus. Ultimately, Smith offers an innovative approach to structuring material culture, one closer to the people who made and used the objects themselves.

Chapter 2, “Setting the Record,” deals with objects associated with administration in order to locate centers of power at Kition. Smith’s critical and diachronic review of the architecture, the relationship of buildings and spaces, and associated finds yields important new interpretations of the use of these spaces. For example, Temples 2 and 4 are identified as areas associated with craft activity and storage. The author concludes that in the Late Bronze Age (Floors IV–I), symbols of administration are found in multiple locations, suggesting a decentralization of administration. A significant change in this pattern of control occurs in the Iron Age, beginning with Floor 3, when new symbols of power as well as resources are centralized in one building (Temple 1), likely because of increasing concern for security. The centralization is complete by Floor 2A, when Kition appears to be hierarchically organized under a single Phoenician authority.

In chapters 3 and 4 (“Sizing Up Images,” “The Human Perspective”) Smith applies a new approach to the artistic record that allows for a reconstruction of the ancient inhabitants’ worldviews and methods of problem solving. Smith’s analysis is grounded in context, with special attention to scale and association with other images from Kition. The discussion of miniaturization and three-dimensionality are particularly insightful, offering innovative ways of interpreting small-scale objects.

Smith’s diachronic analysis highlights the dramatic change visible in the material record that occurred between Floors 3 and 2A at the end of the eighth century. Prior to Floor 3, there seems to have been dual sacred areas associated with the need to order time. Temenos A/Room 16 was associated with a female deity whose cult had visible links to the past, while Temple 5 was linked to a male deity whose cult looked to the future through divination (evidenced by the narcotic use of opium, notched scapulae used for scapulamancy, and games of chance). Smith identifies several ritual objects (masks, females with upraised arms, ring kernoi, building models, and objects associated with divination) that facilitated communication between mortals and the divine by deliberately blurring the division between the two realms. At the end of the eighth century, this system was replaced by a single official sacred space (Temple 1), dedicated solely to the male god Baal. All this suggests a change in political and divine authority that replaced a system of balancing various forms of power, which had been in place since the Late Bronze Age.

The second part of the book focuses on the evidence for continuous settlement and the scholarly framework used to establish the traditional chronology. In chapters 5 (“Deposits & Pots”) and 6 (“Pits & Imports”), Smith systematically evaluates the stratified archaeological deposits from the three major excavations conducted at Kition (by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition, the French mission, and the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus). Smith’s revised chronological sequence of continuous habitation is one of the most valuable contributions of this study to Cypriot archaeology. Based on the traditional chronology of Kition-Kathari proposed by Karageorghis, the settlement has been reconstructed as a thriving urban center from the 13th century until ca. 1000 B.C.E. (Floors IV–I), when the site was abandoned for more than 150 years because of the silting up of the harbor. The ruined site was then rebuilt ca. 800 B.C.E. by the Phoenicians. The primary evidence for this gap in occupation is the lack of Gjerstad’s Type II ceramics, associated with the Cypro-Geometric II period (ca. 950–850 B.C.E.).

Smith’s meticulous reexamination of the stratigraphy, deposits, ceramics, and architecture in light of the most up-to-date work on Cypriot ceramics and chronology provides a logical solution to the Cypro-Geometric II gap at Kition and elsewhere. Smith convincingly argues that Type II ceramics should not be classified as a separate type with chronological significance, but rather should belong with Type I ceramics. According to Smith’s revised chronology, Kition was transformed from a Cypriot city with merchant Phoenicians in residence to one governed by Assyrian-backed Phoenician rulers at the end of the eighth century. The buildings of Floor 3 (ca. 850–707 B.C.E.), built by local inhabitants, were destroyed by fire at the end of this phase, likely because of conflict over the establishment of Phoenician control. Floor 2A (ca. 707–550 B.C.E.) is the first stratum associated with the establishment of Kition as a Phoenician center of power, evidenced by the erection of the Stele of Sargon II in 707 B.C.E.

Chapter 7 (“From Scholars to Potters”) challenges the philosophical basis of the standard framework for interpreting archaeological remains on the island, specifically the classification system developed by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition. Using a regional approach with close attention to the pots themselves, Smith uses Type II ceramics to reconstruct Iron Age pottery production. One highlight is the insightful discussion of the change of ceramic production from households to larger-scale workshop industries associated with sanctuaries in Cypro-Geometric III, a period associated with a flourishing of sanctuaries, urban centers, and craft industries.

Smith’s close study of the relationship between art and society opens up new avenues for Cypriot studies and has broader significance for scholars of the eastern Mediterranean as well. This work is a model of meticulous reexamination of old material, applying new approaches that yield new conclusions. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this study is the development of a new Iron Age chronology for Cyprus, which has significant implications for the history of early Cyprus and will surely be adopted by future scholars. Although thoroughly grounded in a careful reading of the material record, the book’s great strength comes from Smith’s ability to contextualize details within the broader historical record by seeking to understand the people and their lives, thoughts, and actions.

Erin Walcek Averett
Department of Fine and Performing Arts
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, Nebraska 68178

Book Review of Art and Society in Cyprus from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age, by Joanna S. Smith

Reviewed by Erin Walcek Averett

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 2 (April 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1152.Averett

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