Agro-Pastoralist Colonization of Cyprus in the 10th Millennium BP: Initial Assessments

By Peltenburg, Edgar; Colledge, Sue et al. | Antiquity, December 2000 | Go to article overview
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Agro-Pastoralist Colonization of Cyprus in the 10th Millennium BP: Initial Assessments

Peltenburg, Edgar, Colledge, Sue, Croft, Paul, Jackson, Adam, Mccartney, Carole, Murray, Mary Anne, Antiquity

A startling variety of new evidence from Cyprus demonstrates that the introduction of the Neolithic occurred in the 10th millennium BP, over a millennium earlier than often assumed in studies of Mediterranean island colonizations (e.g. Stanley Price 1977; Cherry 1990). On the basis of evidence summarized below, we propose that the introduction of agro-pastoralism was by migration rather than a result of adaptations by indigenous foragers. The process does not fit the wave of advance model used to account for the spread of farming in Europe (Ammerman & Cavalli-Sforza 1984), nor its modification, jump dispersal (Van Andel & Runnels 1995), but is the outcome of regional environmental change. All dates in this paper are uncalibrated BP.

Low visibility sites of agro-pastoralist colonists

The origins of the Aceramic Neolithic Khirokitian culture have long been debated (Held 1992; LeBrun 1989; Stanley Price 1977; Watkins 1973). Cherry (1990: 194) suggested that relevant evidence belonging to the period between the 11th-millennium BP foragers of Aetokremnos (Simmons et al. 1999) and the 8th/7th-millennia BP Khirokitian might be found on low visibility sites that had escaped detection. Such sites have recently come to light. The earliest, and currently the most informative sites, Kissonerga-Mylouthkia (hereafter Mylouthkia) and Parekklisha-Shillourokambos (hereafter Shillourokambos), were founded in the second half of the 10th millennium BP (FIGURES 1, 2).


Mylouthkia is a multi-period coastal site in the southwest of the island. Lemba Archaeological Project excavations from 1989 to 2000 revealed five wells, a semi-subterranean structure and three pits belonging to the Aceramic Neolithic. Period lA well 116 has a coherent set of three later 10th-millennium BP AMS dates from barley and other short-lived cereal grains (FIGURE 2). AMS results from charred seeds in Period 1B well 133 date it to the late 9th millennium BP. The wells are thus amongst the earliest known in the world. Details are reported in Peltenburg et al. in press; forthcoming a; forthcoming b.

Since 1992, Jean Guilaine's excavations at Shillourokambos have also yielded mainly negative features including probable wells, pits and posthole alignments (Briois et al. 1997; Guilaine et al. 1998; 2000). Thirteen charcoal-derived [sup.14]C dates belonging to the 10th-9th millennium BP point to a long continuity of occupation which the excavators have divided into four periods (FIGURE 2 and Vigne et al. in press). Of particular note are a 76-sq. m enclosure defined by palisade trenches and a feline head sculpted in serpentine. Upstanding curvilinear stone architecture appears at least by the Late Phase, dated to the end of the 9th millennium BP.

As argued elsewhere (Peltenburg et al. forthcoming b), four other sites shown on FIGURE 1 may now also be considered as pre-Khirokitian. Kalavasos-Tenta (henceforth Tenta) `top of site' has dates consistent with Mylouthkia 1B and Shillourokambos Middle/Late Phase (FIGURE 2). Its hierarchically organized settlement plan was ultimately derived from PPNA Syria (Todd 1987: figure 20; cf. Stordeur 1999: 142, figure 8b).

Other southwest Asiatic introductions, some discussed below, concern symbolic behaviour (maceheads, engraved pebbles, figurative artwork and skull treatments) and the economic sphere (an unalloyed Neolithic subsistence package of plants and animals). The integrity of what is essentially a PPN economic and cultural system point strongly to a transfer of EPPNB agro-pastoralists from southwest Asia. There are no signs of restructuring by putative indigenes to suit their own ideology.

In order to assess this case for migration, we comment on salient features of the new sequence: water wells, the chipped stone, mortuary practices, flora and fauna. To provide a framework for discussion, we use the term Cypro-PPNB shown in the proposed chronological scheme of FIGURE 3.

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Agro-Pastoralist Colonization of Cyprus in the 10th Millennium BP: Initial Assessments


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