Late Cypriote Period (1600-1050 BC)


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White Slip Ware

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Mycenaean ware imported to Cyprus

Cypriote imitation of Mycenaean ware

Period Overview: The Late Cypriote period is one of the most widely researched and studied periods of Cypriote history. Consequently, this brief overview will only touch on a few of the important issues for this era. For a comprehensive bibliography of the Late Cypriote period, please consult the bibliography page. The transition period (MC III-LC I) to the Late Bronze Age is clearly defined, however the phases following the transition phase, (LC I – LC IIB) as with the Middle Cypriote period, are often difficult to distinguish. However, there is an overwhelming amount of material evident during the LC II C and LC IIIA periods or in the 13 th and 12 th centuries BC.

There are major changes from the Middle to Late Bronze Age such as: significant population increase, a shift in settlement patterns to coastal sites, the development and maturation of the copper industry, the appearance of writing with Cypro-Minoan (although not deciphered, it is similar to Linear A), the introduction of prestige and luxury goods, urbanization, the inclusion of Cyprus in an impressive and extensive trade network, as well as changes in pottery. Ceramic types such as Base Ring Ware, White Slip Ware and Monochrome Ware are produced in the LC I period and these native wares dominant the ceramic industry for almost 400 years (1600-1200 BC). Important LC sites include: Enkomi, Toumba Tou Skourou, Hala Sultan Teke, Kourion, Athienou-Bamboulari tis Koukkouinnas, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios, Episkopi-Bamboula, Palaepaphos, Maroni-Voutres, Kouklia-Palaepaphos, Alassa-Pano Mandilares, Alassa-Paliotaverna, Myrtou-Pigadhes, Ayios Iakovos-Dhimia, Sanidha, Sinda, Apliki, Vouppes, Analiondas, Maa-Palaekastro and Pyla-Kokkinokremos.
View of Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios. Picture taken from Kalavasos-Tenta by author. This is is one of the many urban centers that flourished during the Late Cypriote II C period. The site is best known for a large pillar hall with huge pithoi that stored massive amounts of olive oil

Two immensely debatable issues in the Late Cypriote period are the reconstruction of the political situation and the question of Mycenaean settlement in the 12 th century. Most scholars recognize Alashiya as Cyprus, however there is question whether the term refers to the entire island or one city on the island. Although Alashiya was involved in a royal trade network with powerful neighbors such as Egypt according to textual documents, the archaeological record on Cyprus does not suggest any type of central authority during the period. Some scholars envision a central authority to some degree during LC I-LC IIB (possibly located at Enkomi), but regionalism and local elites appear to dominate the LC IIC period. There are a high number of Aegean characteristics that appear on Cyprus during the 12 th century or LC IIIA period. Traditional explanations interpret these changes as the result of Mycenaean refugees relocating to Cyprus after the crisis times in the Aegean around 1200. New studies have pointed out that some of these characteristics, such as the Mycenaean III C:1b pottery, are present on the island during the 14 th century or the LC IIC period. The question of the Mycenaean presence addresses issues of colonization, interaction and trade. These questions define a significant amount of scholarship on the period and are related to topics of trade and metallurgy, which will be discussed in more detail below.

Metallurgy may be the most important aspect to understanding the Cypriot Bronze Age. At least scholarship has treated it in this regard, as the copper sources on the island play a large role in interpreting external contacts, social hierarchy, state formation and urbanization, settlement patterns and site hierarchy, religious practices, Late Cypriot trade and trade for the entire Late Bronze Age Mediterranean. Scholars are quick to use the Cypriot copper sources as a means of explaining external interest on the island, which seem to be supported textually by references to Alashiya. The Alashiya issue plays an important role in understanding the metal industry as the name is documented in texts from the 18 th-11 th centuries. Almost all scholars agree that Alashiya can be attributed to Cyprus (except for Merrillees who suggests a Cilicia or a North Syrian location), and the Amarna tablets documents hundreds of talents of copper sent from Alashiya to Egypt. Alashiya is almost always referred to as a place with copper resources and the importance of Cypriot copper in the foreign markets is attested archaeologically as well as textually. Copper oxhide ingots are well known throughout the Mediterranean spanning from the Levant to Sardinia and from Egypt to Bulgaria. Although not all ingots are from Cyprus (especially the early ones that are found on Crete), most of the ingots from the 14 th-13 th centuries have been identified through lead isotope analysis as originating on Cyprus. 354 Cypriote ingots were found on the Uluburun wreck, 34 were found on the Cape Gelidonya wreck and over a 100 other Cypriot ingot fragments are known throughout the Mediterranean. Based on the distribution of the ingots and the massive amounts of copper sent as gift exchanges in the Amarna tablets, it is no wonder that most scholarship on Bronze Age Cyprus and Bronze Age trade is read in light of Cypriot metallurgy. The importance of the industry is acknowledged, however understanding the industry is more problematic.

Metallurgical evidence appears at Enkomi in the MC III/ LC I period at the so-called fortress on the northern part of the site. Over 400 tuyeres or clay pipes in addition to slag were found at the site. There is not another site in the MC III/LC I period that documents such metallurgical activity. This fact has lead many scholars to understand Enkomi as the primary center of Cyprus from the 16 th-14 th centuries. This is contrasted by the 13 th century when there is metallurgical activity in almost all of the LC IIC urban centers throughout the island. The prominence of Enkomi at this time and the metallurgical activity at the fortress has led to the identification of Enkomi having complete control of the copper sources at this time, although this conclusion is highly debatable.

Keswani and Knapp both argue for a four fold settlement hierarchy in the later LC period, whereby primary coastal urban sites control the mining industry. In the 13 th century (LC IIC), there is more regionalism and most scholars agree that there is no centralized state at this time. Such a pattern contrasts the evidence in the LC I-LC IIB where Enkomi seems to be dominant. In the absence of centralized government, the models of Keswani and Knapp help to explain how the industry was managed. Keswani imagined a hierarchy of primary centers at the coasts, inland sanctuary sites, mining villages and supportive agricultural sites. She argued for a two-fold redistribution model of staple and wealth finance. Agricultural sites would provide surpluses to those working in the mining villages and the sanctuaries, where there was storage. On the other hand, primary centers would distribute luxuries that were attained from trading to lower centers in exchange for copper ores. At the heart of Keswani’s model is the sanctuary (such as Athienou-Bamboulari tis Koukkouinnas, Kalopsidha, Myrtou-Pigadhes), which interacted with both the primary center and the mining and agricultural sites. The extracted copper would be sent to the sanctuary, which would pass it along to the primary center. Copper would be mined, roasted and smelted at the mine or mining village. Roasting was necessary to release sulfur from sulfide ores and after the initial smelting, impure copper and furnace conglomerate was sent to the primary centers for secondary processing which included resmelting and melting. Sites at Enkomi, Kition, Kalavasos, Maroni, Alassa, Hala Sultan Teke, Athienou, and Palaepaphos have evidence for secondary copper processing. There was no evidence for primary smelting in the coastal sites. In support of Keswani’s model, a mining village was identified by Knapp at Politiko-Phorades with possible supporting agricultural sites at Vouppes and Analiondas. Phorades yielded thousands of slag fragments and tuyeres however there was no architecture. Metallurgical activities are often found in association with sanctuaries and storage. The best documented association of metallurgy and religion is at Enkomi and Kition. This religious association may suggest a religious control over the industry.

One of the most perplexing things about the copper industry is the standardization of ingots in the 14 th and 13 th centuries. This is the time of urban regionalism and the absence of centralized control. However, according to the lead isotope analysis all of the ingots in the Mediterranean that date to the 13 th century and early 12 th century came from the ores around Apliki, Skouriotissa and Mavrovouni. If there is as much regionalism at this time as suspected, it is difficult to understand why all of the copper came from one location. Clearly our understanding of Cypriot metallurgy needs refinement in order to fully appreciate the trade in the LBA Mediterranean as well as a full understanding of the political organization of Late Bronze Age Cyprus.

Map of Cyprus showing sites from various periods. Several Late Bronze Age sites are shown.

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.