Island Archaeology of the Early Cyclades by Cyprian Broodbank.
The Aegean island group of the Cyclades is mostly known to non-Aegeanists for the enigmatic Early Bronze Age marble figurines (the Cycladic figurines). These were rediscovered in the 20th century by modern artists and were subsequently elevated to the status of desirable collectors' items; as a result of the created demand, the vast majority of Early Cycladic cemeteries were looted, destroying thus for ever a unique source of information for Prehistoric Cyclades. Yet, there is much more to prehistoric Cyclades than Cycladic figurines, and this important book makes the most of it. It is an extremely thorough, sophisticated, well-written and illustrated, and up-to-date re-evaluation of the prehistory of Cyclades; its chronological range spans from the late Pleistocene, when the islands were visited occasionally by mainlanders (who exploited the obsidian sources), through to their incorporation into the "Minoan" world system in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC).
The starting point of this book is that, paradoxically, all major syntheses on the archaeology of early Cyclades to date, failed to appreciate that early Cycladic history is primarily island history. In other words (and here the title of the book is of essence), this book adopts an island archaeology approach, and aims at using Cyclades as a case study to contribute to the broader field of the archaeology of islands, a field that in the recent years has been mostly developed using primarily Oceanic and, to a lesser extent, Caribbean evidence. One of the book's main thesis is that "The brightest future surely lies in the development of an island archaeology (informed by island biogeography as and when appropriate) that explores how island space, environment, time and culture can be most convincingly woven together into island archaeology" (p. 32). Island biogeography is indeed one of the main influences in this work, and the author makes extensive use of modeling to elucidate patterns of colonisation and social interaction. The author is well aware of the limitations and problems of island biogeography and is keen to point to failures and traps of the approach, as well as to the insights. He states, for example, time and again that the "islands as laboratories" idea, a cornerstone of island biogeography, does not work in the Cyclades (where does it?), and that the islandscape rather than the individual island should be the appropriate unit of analysis. The influence of this approach is more prominent in the early chapters of the book where he discusses the early colonisation of the islands in the late Neolithic (c. 5000 BC), a theme which occupies a large part of the book; this colonisation, according to Broodbank, followed two routes, an earlier one from the SE Aegean, and a later, NW one from Attica-Euboia.
In the later chapters the book investigates issues such as the interaction and exchange networks, maritime technology, processes for the creation and destruction of value (using Appadurai's "tournaments of value" ideas), the role of the individual, bodily manipulation and decoration, drinking habits and etiquette, along with at times detailed discussions of pottery typologies. This fascinating kaleidoscopic journey ends with a discussion of the transformation of the Cycladic islandscape at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, a change that the author attributes to the adoption of a "radically new seafaring technology in the form of the first deep-hulled sailing ships" (p. 341) via East Mediterranean and Crete.
Central to the whole discussion is the application of the model of "proximal point analysis" which "predicts patterns of connection between points distributed in space" (p. 180), based on the principle that "communities or other groups of people will interact most intensely with their closest neighbours" (p. 181). This predictive model, however, is not only tested using detailed empirical evidence, but is also combined with Halstead's "social storage" approach which sees the exchange of low-bulk, high-value artefacts and commodities as a flexible mechanism of social interaction across space and time.
Some readers will perhaps be less convinced that predictive modeling is as fruitful as the author believes it can be. Others would have liked to see more on the micro-scale and the social practices of deposition, bodily modification, eating and drinking, and bodily perceptions of seascapes and islandscapes, tantalising and fascinating glimpses of which we get especially in chapter 8. This is all more important, given that most previous major syntheses on Aegean prehistory in the last thirty-years or so have been mostly top-down, abstract, modelling exercises. Some of us who work in the periphery of the Cycladic islandscape may also be slightly frustrated at times, since the author often tends to see "Minoan states" and "emerging civilisations" when he looks southwards to Crete or northwards and westwards to mainland Greece; such concepts sit uneasily within his beautifully complex, lively, inhabited Cycladic world.
Yet, these are relatively minor points which do not diminish the importance of this work, a major achievement which deserves to be read widely and well beyond the circles of archaeologists who work in the Aegean. The paperback edition (already out) will hopefully help this book to reach the wide audiences it deserves.
Review Submitted: October 2002
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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