Contexts for Cruciforms: Figurines of Prehistoric Cyprus. (News & Notes)

By Crewe, Lindy; Peltenburg, Edgar et al. | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Contexts for Cruciforms: Figurines of Prehistoric Cyprus. (News & Notes)


Crewe, Lindy, Peltenburg, Edgar, Spanou, Sorina, Antiquity


Striking anthropomorphic figurines in the shape of cruciforms are the hallmark of the Cypriot Erimi Culture during the 4th millennium BC (a Campo 1994). Carvers achieved the shape by extending outstretched arms, elongating necks and abbreviating and tucking the legs into a squatting posture. Occasional depiction of breasts suggests that at least some were intended to depict the female body. But the symbolism is much more complex since carvers elaborated their creations. For example, they transformed arms into a horizontal figure or balanced one figure acrobatically on the head of another.

There is little contextual information to account for the genesis, florescence and meanings of these stylized representations. They attracted looters ever since Dikaios (1934) published an example sporting a duplicate of itself worn as a neck pendant. A breakthrough came when Iliffe and Mitford, who were excavating the Temple of Aphrodite at Palaepaphos in the 1950s, briefly investigated a nearby cemetery. Three Erimi Culture tombs yielded cruciforms, but the figures from this and subsequent operations remain poorly known (Christou 1989). Their work unleashed intensified looting, and many cruciforms were attributed to that cemetery, even though clandestine operations elsewhere also yielded cruciforms. Our appreciation of the role of these island-wide symbols, therefore, is thwarted by the rarity of critical published associations.

To help resolve this issue, the Lemba Archaeological Research Centre (LARC) conducted excavations at the cemetery of Souskiou-Laona from which figurines have apparently been looted. The highly unusual site is located on a discrete limestone outcrop atop a prominent, narrow ridge immediately east of the Dhiarizos River in western Cyprus (FIGURE 1). Tombs are cut into an outcrop which rises above the ridge to a height of 1-3 m and measures approximately 25 m east-west and 40 m north-south.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

During the 2001 season, a total of 42 shaft tombs were investigated, approximately one-third of the cemetery. The most characteristic type was that of straight-sided shaft graves with a subrectangular aperture belling out to an oval flat-bottomed base and an upper depression for the reception of a capstone. Another distinct type has a small subrectangular shaft and a concave oval base (FIGURE 2).

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Although many of the tombs had been emptied by looters, we recovered two partially looted tombs with undisturbed burials and two intact tombs, complete with capstones. These provide evidence that Souskiou funerary traditions included both single and multiple inhumations. Tombs demonstrate Chalcolithic re-use. Primary interments had been displaced to the northern end of the tomb, along with associated grave goods, and other burials were subsequently inserted in a crouched position. The small, intact tombs contained grave goods; one a single Red-on-White bowl and the other segmented faience beads from a bracelet or necklace (FIGURE 3). The only osteological evidence from these sealed tombs was a single infant tooth, and it is possible that the smaller tombs were intended for infant burials. …

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