Exploiting a Damaged and Diminishing Resource: Survey, Sampling and Society at a Bronze Age Cemetery Complex in Cyprus

Article excerpt


Readers of Antiquity will be aware of the increasing destruction of archaeological sites through development and illegal excavation. Nowhere is this of greater concern than on the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus. There is a consequent imperative to develop appropriate research questions and field approaches to mitigate impacts and exploit surviving, if damaged, sites. In this paper we describe one such project, where an extensive area of Bronze Age tombs has been damaged by agricultural and housing development and subject to the depredations of looters for generations. By changing the focus of research, places widely considered of little scientific value can be shown to have significant potential.

The Bronze Age cemeteries which extend over 6ha beside Deneia village in north-west Cyprus (at localities Kafkalla, Kafkalla tis Malis and Mali) have been known since the early twentieth century (Figure 1). They belong to an island-wide tradition of extramural necropoli containing both pit and chamber tombs, typically with multiple burials and quantities of ceramic and other grave goods (Keswani 2004). While some rescue work has been carried out at Deneia (Astrom & Wright 1962; Hadjisavvas 1985; Nicolaou & Nicolaou 1988; Webb & Franke1 2001), most archaeologists have rejected the idea of working there, on the grounds that the extent of looting has caused irreparable damage. This owes as much to prevailing approaches to research as it does to the condition of the site.


Until the 1980s the archaeology of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in Cyprus was based almost entirely on evidence from cemeteries. This was the result of a number of factors; including imperatives to undertake rescue excavations once looters had identified cemeteries, the pressure (prior to 1960) to obtain museum pieces to repay support from institutional donors and a research focus on artefacts and typologies. Over the last 25 years, excavations at the settlements of Marki (Frankel & Webb 1996, 2006a, 2006b), Sotira (Swiny et al. 2003), Alambra (Coleman et al. 1996) and Pyrgos (Belgiorno 2004) (Figure 2) have provided a new research context in which different questions can be asked of the cemeteries. These include consideration of cemeteries as entities, replacing the traditional focus on complete tombgroups and artefacts. Allied to this is a different understanding of the nature of the archaeological record, which regards looting as a form of taphonomic process, akin to those which operate to construct the settlement record.

We came to Deneia following a long-term involvement with settlement archaeology (Frankel & Webb 2006a, 2006b), prepared to consider the cemeteries within similar conceptual frameworks (see also Sneddon 2002). In particular, we were interested in tracing the size, structure and growth of the cemeteries, as indicators of changes in population size and relationships within the associated settlement or settlements and between different regions. Samples of sherds, the mainstay of settlement archaeology, are no less valuable for this exercise than whole vessels, while the complete groups so valued by earlier archaeologists are less necessary when tombs are seen as equivalent to the transformed and partial assemblages typically found on settlement sites. This paper summarises and extends observations contained in the final report on our investigations at Deneia (Frankel & Webb 2007) and offers a particular reflection on the capacity of residual assemblages to contribute to an understanding of inter- and intra-site relationships.


Research strategies

Two stages of fieldwork at Deneia were planned. The first was an intensive surface survey, documenting the location of identifiable tomb shafts using a high-precision GPS and recording all visible features and associated ceramic material. This was carried out in 2003. …