The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory through the Bronze Age.

Author:Keswani, Priscilla
Position:Book review

The Archaeology of Cyprus: From Earliest Prehistory through the Bronze Age. By A. BERNARD KNAPP. Cambridge World Archaeology. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2013. Pp. xx + 640 (illus.). $38.99 (paper).

In the four decades that have passed since Bernard Knapp completed his doctoral thesis (1979), archaeological research on Cyprus has greatly advanced our knowledge about the earliest human presence on the island and the subsequent millennia in which agricultural villages became established and the first urban settlements arose. Concurrently, the long-favored art-historical and culture-historical approaches to the study of Cyprus's past have been augmented, if not entirely supplanted, by scientifically informed field methodologies and problem-oriented research designs. Meanwhile, a vibrant and contentious theoretical literature concerning the economic, sociopolitical, and ideological transformations that took place during the 10,000 years preceding the Cypriot Iron Age has burgeoned. Comprehensive, long-term overviews of Cypriot prehistory have been scarce, however, and while students entering the field in the past decade will have benefited from admirable prior works by Steel (2004) and Knapp (2008, 2010), Knapp's newest effort provides an updated and well-researched synthesis of both archaeological evidence and theoretical discourse in Cypriot archaeology.

In the first two chapters Knapp describes the physical landscape in which the prehistoric occupation of Cyprus was established and the historical and interpretive contexts in which archaeological research has been undertaken. In chapter 1 (Introduction) he criticizes the longstanding propensity of archaeologists to interpret key aspects of Cypriot cultural development in terms of external factors--migration, diffusion, and colonization. He defines his alternative approach as one that focuses upon issues of materiality and identity ". . . to show how people used material 'things' consciously to fashion an insular identity (or identities) and to establish distinctive, island-specific social, economic and political practices" (p. 2). In chapter 2 he presents a short history of archaeological exploration on Cyprus and the historical biases that have affected it. He also addresses the chronological schema of Cypriot archaeology, voicing his well-known objections to the use of Bronze Age period designations based on pottery typology and seriations and his own preference for the terms "Prehistoric" and "Protohistoric" Bronze Age rather than the more widely used Early, Middle, and Late Cypriot periods, each with their own tripartite sub-periods and further divisions.

The most dramatic recent discoveries in Cypriot archaeology pertain to the earliest eras of the island's prehistory, the Epipaleolithic and Early Aceramic Neolithic (EAN) periods, of which Knapp presents a studious and detailed overview in chapter 3. While claims for Paleolithic occupation remain disputed, the evidence for at least seasonal Late Epipaleolithic visits to Cyprus has mounted since the initial discovery of human activity at Akrotiri Aetokremnos. There, in the tenth millennium Cal B.C., people probably from the Levantine mainland may have hunted indigenous Pleisticene fauna (pygmy hippos and dwarf elephants) as well as pigs that were introduced onto the island. A number of other undated sites with microlithic tool assemblages have also been identified in both coastal and inland areas that were frequented by fisher-foragers as the Younger Dryas climatic event brought on colder, drier conditions and diminished resource availability in the Levant. Investigations of ninthmillennium sites such as Ayia Varvara Asprokremmos and Ayios Tychonas Klimonas have revealed occupations characterized by semi-subterranean circular structures, lithic assemblages comparable to those of Levantine PPNA sites, and a peculiar reliance on a single species of fauna, the small Cypriot wild boar. In the context of rising sea levels and coastal flooding thought to have affected mainland areas, it is likely that mobile foragers visited these and other locations in Cyprus repeatedly, setting the stage for the more permanent and evidently well-planned eighth-millennium colonization of the island by farmers, who brought with them the typical Neolithic complex of cultivated or domesticated cereals and legumes, herds of cattle...

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