Early Cypriote Period (2350-1900 BC)

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Red Polished ware II

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Period Overview: The Early Cypriot Period designates the era between 2350 and 1900 BC. The Early Cypriote period has often been difficult to differentiate between its neighboring time periods, the Philia and Middle Cypriote phases. However, it is now clearly recognized that the Philia phase was a precursor to the Early Bronze Age as Marki-Alonia has stratigraphical evidence of Philia phases before Early Cypriote I and I levels. Likewise, the Early and Middle Cypriote periods often blend together making it easier to deal with the two periods as one instead of two.

The Early Cypriote period is very different from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods on the island although there are similarities with the Philia phase. Many of the EC sites are located on the north coast, however most of the evidence of the Early Bronze Age comes from cemeteries and there is a unfortunate dearth of settlement evidence. Well known Early Cypriote sites are found at Vounous, Lapithos, Kotchati, Marki-Alonia, Sotira-Kaminoudhia and Alambra. (See map for location of some of these sites) Vounous and Lapithos, both along the northern coast, have yielded the most impressive remains from the period in the form of large cemeteries using chamber tombs. These chamber tombs have turned up significant amount of rich copper objects many in the form of weapons (one tomb at Lapithos had over 80 copper objects with 15 individuals). The interpretation of these copper artifacts heavily influences one's analysis of the EC social organization. Keswani has proposed an elite copper model whereby local elites in the EC continually exploited copper resources and deposited finished products in burials to promote their prestige and stabilize their elite status. Keswani argues that it is the result of these local factors that cause the copper industry to reach its peak in the Late Bronze Age. Essentially, Keswani envisions an internal development in the evolution of the copper industry instead of more traditional explanations of external interests and exploitations of the copper. On the other hand, some scholars argue for an egalitarian Early Cypriote society despite the disparity with some burial goods. Such arguments point to the limited settlement architecture at Marki-Alonia as supporting an egalitarian rather than stratified society. Furthermore, some argue that the burials with rich grave goods at Vounous and Lapithos were used over a long period of time and it is impossible to determine if the communal, rich chamber tombs are the result of deposition accumulation over time or a few very wealthy individuals.

Other characteristics of the Early Cypriote period include the introduction of plank figurines (in the red polished ware) and small models. One model from Kotchati shows a circular sanctuary with bullheads attached to the model sanctuary walls, demonstrating that religious practices and a new ideology was present. Another terracotta model from Vounous shows a plowing scene with cattle, which emphasizes one of the most important features of the Early Cypriote period: the use of cattle. With the re-introduction of cattle to the island, agriculture relied on the plow instead of hoe cultivation. There were a number of effects of plowing including the secondary use of livestock animals, an increasing disparity of wealth and thus the development of different social groups as well as increases in the population. The importance of cattle and its indication of wealth are apparent in some of the art from the period. Animal heads appear on pottery as well as the previously mentioned models and zoomorphic representations are more common in coroplastic art than human ones.

The catalyst for the interest, development and spread of copper metallurgy is still debated, however it is obvious that the importance of the copper industry in the Early Cypriote period was just the beginning of an extremely fruitful economic era on Cyprus that reached its peak near the end of the Bronze Age. Furthermore, the EC period demonstrated more contact with the external world than any other previous period.

fMap of Cyprus showing sites of various periods. Notice location of EC sites Lapithos, Vounous, Alambra and Sotira.

Map taken from Karageorghis, V. 2000. Ancient Art from Cyprus. The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, pg xiv.