Neighbours: Negotiating Space in a Prehistoric Village

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The site of Marki in Cyprus was occupied for 500 to 600 years from the beginning of the Bronze Age (about 2400 BC) through to Middle Cypriot II (about 1800 BC) (Frankel & Webb 1996, 2000) (Figure 1). During this time the village grew in size from a small community of a few households to a larger settlement with streets, before declining in size and finally being abandoned. This expansion, and an analysis based on the associated cemeteries, suggests a founding population of a few dozen people, expanding to reach a maximum of about 400 inhabitants (Figure 2; Frankel & Webb 2001; Webb & Frankel 2004). The excavated area covers about 2000[m.sup.2] of the 6 hectare site and includes evidence of all periods from the earliest occupation to final phases, by which time the focus of settlement had shifted some hundreds of metres to the south-east. Site economy was linked to nearby copper ore deposits in the northern foothills of the Troodos Mountains. From the beginning, however, the community was fully self-sustaining, with a focus on cereal agriculture, animal husbandry and the local production of ceramics, textiles and ground and chipped stone tools.


Excavations at Marki have allowed us to follow the inhabitants' changing use of space at this settlement in unusual detail. In particular, we can observe how the space available to each family unit was enlarged, contracted, modified or abandoned in each successive phase of occupation. This has produced a detailed picture of an evolving community over a period of some five hundred years. Against a background of demographic growth and increasing economic stability, families can be seen successfully negotiating with their neighbours in response to both particular circumstances and broader processes of economic and social change within a long-lasting tradition.

Defining the households and their sequence

Within the excavated area a total of 33 discrete architectural households (here referred to as compounds) have been identified. Some of these were in use for hundreds of years, others for considerably shorter periods. Many, but not all, of the compounds consist of a walled rectangular courtyard with small enclosed rooms built of mud-brick on stone foundations located toward the rear. Interior rooms were typically furnished with plaster wall benches, hearths, clay ovens, central posts and/or solidly built pot emplacements which were set deeply into the floor alongside walls. These installations are for the most part absent in courtyard areas, with the exception of pot emplacements, which, in the latter context, are set away from walls and appear in clusters (perhaps not all in simultaneous use). At times, lanes and passageways provided access through the settlement. In addition, parts of the excavated area were left as undifferentiated or peripheral open space. In the earliest episodes, at least, these contained informal structures represented by post-holes. Finally, buildings sometimes remained as partially standing ruins after they were abandoned. Some confidence in our identification of these various spatial units is provided by differences in pottery fragmentation, as measured by the average weight of individual sherds in each depositional context (Figure 3).


The history of the site is complex (Webb 1995, 1998), with most compounds undergoing internal processes of restructuring, renovation and rebuilding. To some extent these can be seen as prompted by the natural decay of mud-brick buildings, which in more recent times in Cyprus rarely lasted as long as a century (Christodoulou 1959: 65). While some walls remained in use through successive episodes, others were entirely or almost entirely removed, leaving only the lowest courses of stone and occasionally one or two courses of mud-brick. New walls were normally built directly on surviving wall-stumps or offset a half-wall width to one side (Figure 4). …