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Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus: Identity, Insularity and Connectivity, by A. Bernard Knapp
Oxford University Press. 2008. xxv +469pp, 66 b/w figures, ISBN 978-0-19-923737-1 ( 85)

Visible from the Asiatic mainland at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, inhabited, as Herodotus tells us, by a rich mixture of peoples, and sitting astride major sailing routes between Europe, North Africa and the Levant, the island of Cyprus attracts the attention of archaeologists who are constantly confronted by issues of the interaction between insular and intrusive groups. In focusing on two critical junctures of such interactions, namely the profound social transformations known to have occurred at the beginning and end of the Bronze Age, Bernard Knapp goes to the heart of current archaeological discourses on identity, insularity, connectivity and hybridization. Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus, therefore, transcends an archaeological narrative of an island’s development to critically engage with conceptual frameworks that, he contends, generally provide more meaningful insights into the archaeological record. By doing so, he brings the island’s archaeology more fully into current debates on archaeological theory and practice.

The core of the work, then, is a ‘provocative synthesis’ of the beginnings of the Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age, the latter viewed as a protohistoric period and so rightly incorporating what we know from indirect textual references. From this, it will be seen that the Prehistoric in the title of the book is somewhat of a misnomer as it refers essentially to the Early-Middle Bronze Age period c. 2700–1600 BC. Readers should not expect to find a comprehensive consideration of prehistoric Cyprus here, since it excludes the seven millennia or so that comprise the epi-palaeolithic, neolithic and part of the Chalcolithic periods of Cypriot prehistory. The Prehistoric and Protohistoric elements of the title in fact are shorthand labels for the chronological periods Prehistoric Bronze Age (PreBA) and Protohistoric Bronze Age (ProBA) used throughout. As Sharon (forthcoming) notes, this attempt to reform entrenched names has not enjoyed much support, so it’s useful to have concordances provided to the conventional Philia, Early, Middle and Late Cypriot terms (pp. 71, table 1, p. 133 table 3) which readers will come across in other studies.

The first two chapters set out the theoretical terminology that is subsequently deployed to inform and structure the discussion. The concepts treated here include insularity, social identity, ethnicity, migration, acculturation and hybridization. These are valuable discussions in which concepts are introduced and then shown how they play a part in archaeology. As succinct, stand-alone analyses, they should be of wider interest than just for Cypriot specialists. But more than that, they are fully, some might feel relentlessly, integrated into what follows rather than brandished as theoretical calling cards and then only referred to in a perfunctory way when it comes to evaluate the data. Of these concepts, hybridization recurs most frequently as a key construct in advancing the study of Bronze Age Cyprus. It would have been an appropriate part of the book’s sub-title, even though Chris Gosden (2004, 69) argues that hybridity and creolisation imply relatively fixed forms of identity that only come into existence in the Mediterranean from the 6th century BC. Its use here is part of a general trend to shift focus from traditional attempts to distinguish material culture into indigenous and foreign categories, that is from ethnicity and historical narratives, to the examination of the nuances of cultural interactions and selective adaptations of externally derived ideas.

The first core chapter (3) engages with a social approach to the start of the Bronze Age, questions of elite formation in conjunction with copper production and exchange, mortuary practices, figurative representations and individuals. But it is the debate concerning migration and/or indigenous triggers for the inception of major social and economic transformations that most exercises the author. And here we come to a St. Paul on the Road to Damascus moment, since, after arguing long and hard against it, Knapp has now converted to accepting the notion of Anatolian migrants onto the island. Why is not exactly explained. On the one hand, he regards Frankel’s (eg,) arguments as compelling for a foreign presence, but on the other, he dissects that evidence as ambiguous and ambivalent, preferring to see it as typical of hybridizing processes (114–129). In the later treatment of alleged Aegean immigration and the introduction of Greek to the island in the later part of the 2nd millennium, he shifts the goalposts in a similar manner. In other words, a recurring and rewarding perspective of this work is the assessment of what was traditionally regarded as indicative of migrants as evidence rather of hybridisation processes.

It would have been well to emphasize that the whole debate about profound change and social interaction at the start of the Bronze Age has a serious geographical fault line running through it. Innovations of the second half of the 3rd millennium in the north of the island are regarded as such in comparison to what we know of the preceding Late Chalcolithic. Almost all that evidence comes from the sites of Kissonerga and Lemba in the west, across the Troodos Mountains. We have virtually nothing from the relevant north to compare with developments in the Early Bronze Age, but there is a suspicion from the differential distribution of iconic cruciform figurines in the Middle Chalcolithic that the north was already different then. The export of Cypriot copper used for an axehead deposited in a c. 3000 BC hoard at Pella in Jordan is further evidence that the north may have diverged significantly from other parts of the island since copper-based objects are still rare elsewhere on the island (Philip et al. 2003). To imagine how radically the picture could change, one only has to look at contemporary Crete where foreigners at Poros and Aghia Photia on the north coast were apparently working metals (Day et al. 1998). To overcome the constraint of this fault line, therefore, and to set the debate in a more realistic context, we need evidence from securely stratified northern settlements of the early and mid-3rd millennium BC. The discussion of the traits for migrants or hybridization is helpful, but it should be mentioned that if we are to have spurred annular pendants as identity markers (127), then their manufacture at Kissonerga Period 4a well before the tentative appearance of Philia traits in 4b renders them as indigenous contributions, not intrusive ones (in general, see Bolger 2007 and Peltenburg 2007 for evidence on how much more complex the situation on the island was already in the first half of the 3rd millennium).

The second core chapter (4) adopts a sociohistorical approach to the Late Bronze Age. Some of its features are re-iterated in chapter 6 which also treats the same period from the perspective of textual references to Alashia which is widely regarded as referring to all or part of the island of Cyprus. What is refreshingly new here, however, is the integration of archaeological and textual evidence, a process that raises intriguing challenges for interpretations of both sets of evidence.

Knapp advocates the existence of a unified and centralised state that controlled the whole island in Late Cypriot I and II times. This is the most comprehensive argument for the case to date, and it has certainly been helped by the discovery of tablets at Ugarit that refer to a later 13th century BC king of Alashia named Kushmeshusha who exported copper ingots. The state is depicted as a corporation with all elements keyed into the smooth running of an ideal line management, especially for the production and export of copper. Thus, villages are ‘agricultural support villages’, high status individuals ‘managerial elites’, others ‘labourers and producers’ There’s little understanding of the acknowledged misfits in what at times feels like an Orwellian landscape. At the head of the 4-tier settlement system are coastal urban centres, although the large size claimed for some of these is questionable (cf. Iacovou 2007). As Graeber (2006, 71) states in another context, the effect of this dominating focus on the political economy is to reduce human beings to automatons competing over abstractions like ‘wealth’ and ‘power’.

The inference of a unified state is still contentious, for, as many others have argued, there is a relatively homogeneous distribution of wealth objects in graves and we still lack ruler-centred symbols, dynastic iconography and an unmistakable palace, the characteristic feature of acknowledged archaic states. The absence of the last should perhaps have been addressed here since it is constantly argued that the construction of elite identity on the island entailed the establishment of an ideology based in part on concepts drawn from Near Eastern sources. Palaces were the norm in those Near Eastern states.

The study is a milestone in the investigation of the Cypriot Bronze Age. But it would be a pity if it only became a must for Cypriot specialists. They will find many thoughtful insights by persevering through the occasionally dense prose, even though some of the work will be familiar, a reformulation of the many papers Knapp has contributed on this subject since the 1980s. But the structural framework and concepts developed here are of much wider value, particularly for Mediterranean island archaeology. Indeed, the implications of this case study and directions for future research on the latter are the subject of the last chapter. The book has a high standard of copy-editing, graphics are relevant (the map on p. 6 however has an incorrect scale that makes Cyprus only 50 instead of 200 km long, and Ugarit is erroneously placed north of the Orontes) and the well-structured index is a model search engine.

Edgar Peltenburg
University of Edinburgh


Bolger, D., 2007. Cultural interaction in 3rd millennium B.C. Cyprus: evidence of ceramics, in Antoniadou, S. & Pace, A. (eds), Mediterranean Crossroads. Athens: Pierides Foundation, 162–186

Day, P., Wilson, D. & Kiriatzi, E., 1998. Pots, labels and people: Burying ethnicity in the cemetery of Aghia Photia, Siteias, in K. Branigan (ed.), Cemetery and Society in the Aegean Bronze Age. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 133–149

Frankel, D., 2005. Becoming Bronze Age: Acculturation and enculturation in 3rd millennium BCE Cyprus, in Clarke J. (ed.), Archaeological Perspectives on the Transmission and Transformation of Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Levant Supplementary Series 2. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 18–24

Gosden, C., 2004. Archaeology and Colonialism. Cultural Contact from 5000 BC to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Graeber, D., 2006. Turning modes of production inside out, or ‘why capitalism is a transformation of slavery’. Critique of Anthropology 26(1), 61–85

Iacovou, M., 2007. Site Size Estimates and the Diversity Factor in Late Cypriot Settlement Histories. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 348, 1–23

Peltenburg, E., 2007, East Mediterranean interaction in the 3rd millennium BC, in Antoniadou, S. & Pace, A. (eds), Mediterranean Crossroads. Athens: Pierides Foundation, 139–159

Philip, G., Clogg P., & Dungworth, D., 2003. Copper metallurgy in the Jordan Valley from the third to the first millennia BC: Chemical, metallographic and lead isotope analyses of artefacts from Pella. Levant 35, 71–100

Sharon, I., forthcoming. Chronology and Terminology, in Margreet L. Steiner & Ann E. Killebrew (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant (ca. 8000 – 332 BCE). Oxford: Oxford University Press

Review submitted: July 2008

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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