Néolithique de Chypre. Actes du Colloque International Organisé
par le Départment des Antiquités de Chypre et l´École
Française d´Athènes, Nicosie 17-19 Mai, ed. JEAN
GUILAINE and ALAIN LE BRUN
In the last decade there have been several new archaeological discoveries in Cyprus that have drastically changed opinion about the island’s Neolithic occupants. The find of Neolithic sites which date about two millennia earlier than was already known urged further investigation about the Neolithic people of the island, as well as the rewriting of accounts of numerous facets. ‘Le Néolithique de Chypre’, the proceedings of an international conference in 2001, is a perfect example of this.
The first chapter of this book focuses on site reports and Guilaine summarises the finds of the Parekklisha-Shillourokambos site in the 9th until the end of 8th/beginning of 7th millennium BC. Then, Peltenburg continues with a paper on the 9th and late 8th/early 7th millennium BC wells from Kissonerga-Mylouthkia. These wells testify to a considerable energy invested in creating a built environment, typical of sedentary communities. Furthermore, investigation of their fills suggests the presence of a year-round occupied farming settlement nearby. Todd then presents a reappraisal of the Kalavasos-Tenta dating in light of the knowledge gained from the above mentioned sites. In contrast to previous thought the site’s earliest levels, consisting of some lightly built structures, date back to approximately 8100 BC. In fact, the architecture on top of the hill was also probably, much earlier than was first accepted, pre-dating approximately 7200 BC. Le Brun and Daune-Le Brun proceed with a summary of Khirokitia and Cape Andreas-Kastros illustrating a dichotomy in the settlement pattern. While the first site preserved impressive architectural remains the latter was little more than a fishing hamlet. Interestingly, Simons argues in a subsequent paper that the Khirokitia culture settlement pattern might have been much more complex than this simple two-tiered pattern. For example, he draws our attention to two sites where no architectural remains were found. The case for the small Ais Yiorkis site, with its presence of cattle bones (compare with below) is suggestive of a small ‘ranching’ site. However, we are left with many more questions about the architecture-free Kholetria-Ortos site, which appears to be a permanent occupation on the basis of palaeobotanical and faunal data. The latter case would benefit from further soil and sediment micromorphological research before it can be concluded that this settlement differs largely from Khirokitia.
Moving to the Ceramic Neolithic period section, Flourentzos examines the site of Paralimni-Nissia. Of note is that he addresses the site as of ‘Neolithic B period’, a term which has been superseded by the term Sotira culture or Ceramic Neolithic period since the eighties by most other researchers. It would have been useful if all contributors had used the same terminology and that this terminology had been clarified in the introduction of the volume. In any case, as the author illustrates, the finds of Paralimni represent the 5th and early 4th millennium BC. Several figurines are discussed but in the photographs it is not clear whether these are really figurines. Drawings of the artefact may have been more convincing. Mantzourani summarises the findings of the recent excavations at Kantou-Kouphovounos. Peltenburg subsequently takes a renewing approach and looks back at the previously excavated site of Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, investigating the ‘death and burial’ of the houses. In contrast to settlements of the Khirokitian and Early/Middle Bronze Age, the settlement of Vrysi and other Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites retain abundant on-floor artefact assemblages while houses were planned to be abandoned and rebuilt. Peltenburg suggests that the death of an occupant may have been the occasion for the removal of wealth goods from circulation, in a similar way to grave goods in the Early Neolithic and Early/Middle Bronze Age on Cyprus. Indeed, it is remarkable that precisely when goods in planned abandonment’s - i.e. ‘house burials’- appear, grave goods are generally lacking in Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic graves. Perhaps Peltenburg’s paper would be better suited in chapter 5 under the topic ‘symbolic behaviour’ (see below).
The second part of the volume deals with papers on Cypriot Neolithic artefacts. Until recently detailed and systematic analysis of stone artefacts on Cyprus have not been research priorities. ‘Le Néolithique de Chypre’ certainly makes up for these arrears. Briois, McCartney, Philibert and Astruc discuss in detail Cypriot Neolithic lithic industries. Briois and McCartney found that the earliest assemblages from Shillourokambos, Mylouthkia and Tenta display obvious parallels to the mainland E/MPPNB assemblages. They both agree that later PPN periods at those sites show less mainland affinities. However, interestingly McCartney’s material indicates that some affinities with the mainland still existed in the later PPN periods while Briois stresses cultural isolation and independent Cypriot development. Subsequently, Philibert investigates the use of the 9th/8th millennium BC lithic artefacts from Shillourokambos through micro-wear analysis. She mostly found evidence of lithic tools used for acquiring plant material; however she found little evidence for animal processing related activities. The latter is an unexpected finding since there is a lot of evidence at Shillourokambos that animals were exploited. In a subsequent paper Astruc examines the 7th millennium BC chipped stone industry from Khirokitia. The relative homogenous lithic production at Khirokitia appears less developed than the one from Shillourokambos and different from mainland assemblages. Interestingly, micro-wear analysis indicated that the investigated Khirokitia sample was mainly used for two kinds of activities; domestic and cereal harvesting. It has been attested that there was a marked absence of lithic artefacts related to hunting, wood procurement and larger-scale activities. The absence of lithic projectiles is very surprising since archaeozoological evidence indicates the hunting of deer. Perhaps these projectiles were made of wood? Interestingly, lithic hunting projectiles have been found at the earlier site of Shillourokambos. However, the composite sickle from Khirokitia has some similarities with the earlier Shillourokambos type. Additionally, the presence of a very small number of obsidian artefacts from Anatolia attests to mainland contacts. Perrin and Manen in the next two chapters respectively explore the groundstone industry and stone bowls from Shillourokambos, mostly in a typological and technical descriptive way. Finally, Clarke investigates why Cypriot Ceramic Neolithic pottery is so different from mainland pottery while sporadic contact with the mainland was taking place. Statistical analysis on ceramic attributes from several sites on the island marked a great homogeneity in pottery shapes while the decoration suggests regional variations throughout the island. Homogeneity in pottery shapes indicates subconscious group cohesion across the island, while differing regional pottery decoration indicates the presence of several subconscious regional cohesive groups on the island. Clarke attempts to further document this subconscious island-wide group cohesion through the detailing of the life cycle of pottery. However the available evidence for most stadia is rather poor and needs more research, especially towards the procurement, cleaning, kneading and firing of the clay as well as the use of pottery.
The third part of the book is titled ‘Economy
of the first Cypriot farmers’; however it might have been better-titled
‘Archaeobotanical and archaeozoological studies’. In the
first chapter Thiébault reconstructs the vegetation around Shillourokambos
and Khirokithia through the use of anthracology which is praiseworthy
since so little is known about Cyprus’ former vegetation cover.
The investigated sample from Shillourokambos is very small
(870 fragments) and it is not clear from the table or text from how
many and which contexts the diagrams result. Maybe the relatively large
amount of Olea (olive) charcoal fragments at Shillourokambos
is related to the rather small number of samples investigated. A recent
anthracological study from contemporary Mylouthkia did not
record any pieces of Olea in 16 samples consisting of 482 fragments
(Asouti 2003, 75). Thiebault’s larger sample from Khirokitia seems
to better represent the surrounding vegetation. However we may note,
that the Pinus (pine) increase in samples of around 5700 BC
may not be due to the local expansion of Pinus, but rather
an indicator of hardwood depletion around the site and the import of
wood from the Troodos Mountains where softwoods grew. Willcox examines
the origins of Cypriot farming. He states that the forebearers of most
cereals (except for barley) were not native on Cyprus, which implies
that they were imported, probably from NE Anatolia. This took place
very early after the establishing phase of agriculture. His sub-title
‘what plants were introduced to the island at the end of the Xth
millennium’ implies that he considers the sites of Mylouthkia
and Shillourokambos as ‘founder’ sites on Cyprus.
In a later sentence however he mentions that we do not know this. Indeed,
we need to be careful not to repeat a previously made mistake; to subconsciously
think that we now found the oldest Neolithic sites in Cypriot archaeology.
It seems to me that there exist several indications of an earlier colonisation
of Cyprus. In a later paper, Vigne et al. investigated the
ungulates of Shillourokambos and also concluded that domestication
spread very rapidly westward from the Euphrates valley or nearby to
Cyprus. Of note is that evidence of a domestic group of sus
(pig) as well as a wild group were found, the latter implying earlier
importation to Cyprus. Furthermore, the culling pattern of fallow deer
and goat suggests the hunting of feral populations, while cattle and
sheep were probably husbanded. Therefore Vigne et al. conclude that
the domestic status of animals was more unstable than we presently imagine.
Davis in a subsequent chapter tries to answer many intriguing questions
about Neolithic archaeozoology on Cyprus. He suggests that Neolithic
people came to Cyprus because there was pressure on the wildlife in
the Levant. Moreover, he also suggests that the introduction of the
pig on Cyprus might have led to the extinction of the pygmy hippopotami,
since both are ecologically very similar, which is a tantalising idea.
In a later paper Croft treats the archaeozoloogical remains from three
Neolithic sites in the Paphos region from the late 8th until the late
6th millennium BC. Of special interest is his radiocarbon-confirmed
find of cattle bones from 7th millennium BC Ayios Yiorkis.
Finally, Desse and Desse-Berset summarise their results on the fish
remains from Cap Andreas-Kastros, Khirokitia and Shillourokambos.
While at the first mentioned site a relatively broad spectrum of fish
remains were found indicative of a specialisation towards fishing, the
latter two only had a restricted number of fish species indicating that
fishing there was less important.
A fifth, also rather small, chapter deals with symbolic ideology. Guilaine first treats the ornamental or ‘symbolic objects’ from Shillourokambos mostly by describing them. Of particular interest is the find of several picrolite objects in layers post-dating 7500 BC when external influences became rarer. Le Brun in a subsequent paper documents the closure of a building at Aceramic Neolithic Khirokitia and details a similar ritual closure as Peltenburg.
‘Views to the Near East’ (chapter 6) is also rather small. This mainly deals with the earliest Neolithic evidence on Cyprus and looks for parallels with the mainland in order to locate potential colonisers. Firstly, Stordeur looks for similarities between architecture and artefacts from the Levant and Cyprus. She mentions that round houses, so typical for the early prehistory of Cyprus, in the Levant predate the earliest known occupation evidence on Cyprus. Moreover, she reports some Cypriot artefacts with mainland PPNA affinities and some with PPNB similarities and hence states that it is too early to conclude from where the Cypriot Neolithic originates. To me it seems most probable that migrants brought the round house tradition with them before this tradition ceased on the mainland, i.e. before 8500-8000 BC. This would imply that colonists arrived earlier than we have evidence for at present. In a subsequent chapter Coqueugniot beautifully summarises the lithic industries of the Near East from the 9th until the 7th millennium BC. The 9th millennium BC Cypriot lithic industry shows important similarities with cultures of the Syro-Anatolian region. However, at subsequent Cypriot sites, the lithic industry rapidly diverges from mainland industries. Due to these later divergences Coqueugniot holds the opinion that it cannot be called Cypro-PPNB as some researchers do. He suggests that we call it Cypro-PPN with phases or with facies or horizons. In my opinion however, using the prefix ‘Cypro’ with the terminology used for the Levant, makes it clear that there are some similarities (especially in the EPPNB), but also that it is different from the mainland sequence and that the Cypro-LPPNB is a local ‘Cypro’-development from the Cypro-EPPNB. Perrot’s paper continues with a narrative summary of the Neolithic developments of the Near East, including the new evidence from Cyprus. Unfortunately, the article lacks all references and therefore contains a many statements that cannot be checked.
Overall, the volume is an excellent summary of the present knowledge of the Neolithic on Cyprus. It covers a variety of themes and important new data in a trim lay-out and editing. The book also poses many new questions some of which are mentioned in the concluding chapter by Guilaine and Le Brun.
Review Submitted: November 2004
The views expressed in
this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews
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