Academic journal article Antiquity

Ceramics, Trade, Provenience and Geology: Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age

Academic journal article Antiquity

Ceramics, Trade, Provenience and Geology: Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age

Article excerpt


During the Late Bronze Age (LBA; c. 1500-1200 BC) the eastern Mediterranean underwent large scale economic and political changes (Sherratt 1998; Oren 2000). These transformations involved the elaboration of a metals-based economy supporting a dense and complex network that linked Europe, Africa and Asia for the first time (Edens 1992). In an environment where the palatial societies of the Hittites, Mycenaeans and Egyptians were major beneficiaries of this early maritime 'World System', Cyprus stands out as a key supplier (Knapp 2013). The distribution of Cypriot oxhide' copper ingots (both as artefacts and in representations) highlights the island's importance in the operation of the wider metals-based exchange system (Gale 1991; Budd 1995). In addition to the exploitation of raw materials (i.e. precious minerals, ivory, wood), many other novel manufactured goods also circulated in the LBA economy (Keswani 1993, 1997).

Evaluating the social and political dynamics associated with ancient economies is one of the most challenging issues in archaeology. Analytically, a fundamental challenge is identifying the origin of the goods exchanged. In this paper we use a case study from the eastern Mediterranean to illustrate a robust and systematic approach to establishing provenance for trade ceramics and understanding the scope of geospatial uncertainty. Three features make Late Bronze Age (LBA) Cyprus a useful case study: first, it was a major producer of a wide range of ceramics that were prominent in eastern Mediterranean trade at this time (Barlow et al. 1991; Karageorghis 2001; Astrom 2008), and Cypriot polities played a key role in defining the economic dynamics of the LBA eastern Mediterranean. Second, legacy Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) datasets exist for a relatively large and diverse sample of Cypriot ceramics. And lastly, Cyprus has a highly complex but well defined geology with excellent potential for direct geochemical linkage with this ceramic corpus.

Cyprus has a dense archaeological record with a long history of excavations (Astrom 1994; Knapp 2013), and hence provides an exceptional record of the regional distribution of ceramics. In part due to this record, Cyprus is also one of the first areas where archaeologists collaboratively pursued larger analytical studies to understand regional trade and exchange (Knapp & Cherry 1994). Considerable progress has been made characterising Cypriot archaeological ceramics using elemental and mineralogical analytical techniques, which in some cases have linked types to specific locales (Vaughan 1987, 1991; Rautman et al. 1999; Gomez et al. 2002; Coren et al. 2003; Rautman & Neff 2006; Tschegg et al. 2009). A number of synthetic studies have produced relatively fine-grained geopolitical interpretations of LBA dynamics within Cyprus (e.g. Keswani 1993, 1997; Knapp 2013). However, a general shortcoming of this work is that few connections have been made between the geopolitical interpretations and the potential geospatial range and diversity of Cypriot LBA ceramic production.

The goal of this study is to identify the geochemical provenience of well-known and widely traded Cypriot ceramic types (e.g. White Slipped, Base Ring, Bichrome Wheelmade) to explicate further the patterns of exchange for elite goods in the LBA eastern Mediterranean. A more specific focus is to identify the geographic origin of a class of LBA ritual ceramic (Red Lustrous Wheelmade Ware (RLW); Eriksson 1991). RLW was one of the most widely traded ceramic types of the LBA and has variously been argued to have been produced in an as-yet unidentified location within Cyprus, as well as in other locations around the eastern Mediterranean (Eriksson 1993).

Methodologically, this study underlines how defining ceramic provenience in terms of geological precincts enables a more robust and systematic evaluation of the relationship between geographical scale and ceramic type diversity. …

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