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Revisiting an ancient craft in a contested region: The analytical paradigm of prehistoric pottery from Cyprus

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Revisiting the ancient pottery of the north coast of Cyprus

The analysis of pottery from a contested region unveils secrets about the Bronze Age ceramicists that lived across the island.

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The Lapithos region on the north coast of Cyprus has been home to a distinguished pottery industry spanning thousands of years. Yet archaeological research here has been impossible since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. However, pottery from Lapithos has been kept for decades in the Cyprus Museum storerooms. An EU-funded project, ReCyPot, has been analysing some of these ancient ceramics, to uncover secrets about the Bronze Age societies that lived on the island. Pottery is a near-universal product of societies around the world, and as such is the overwhelmingly dominant category of material recovered from most archaeological sites. This makes it an ideal record for past societies. “As there are not any written accounts about this distant period, and our only source of information is the material remains recovered in excavations, the role of pottery, as the most abundant material category, becomes crucial,” says Maria Dikomitou Eliadou, who was the lead researcher of the ReCyPot project as a Marie Skłodowska-Research fellow at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

Ceramics as ancient records

ReCyPot focused on the earliest pottery products from the region, dating to the Early and Middle Bronze Age (2250-1700 BC). During this time, Lapithos was likely a port community and the main gateway of the island connecting Cyprus to other regions in the eastern Mediterranean. The research revealed new insights into the prehistoric technological capabilities in Lapithos and the rest of Cyprus. The composition of the ceramic fabrics, and the production processes used in Lapithos showed a higher level of detail and finesse, but also certain similarities with the pots produced elsewhere on the island. Lapithos pottery was distinguished for its style, and decorative features. “Perhaps the most surprising result is the fact that the same ceramic fabrics – using similar raw materials – were produced in Lapithos for centuries, without any significant changes. This denotes the perseverance of ceramic traditions, as well as the strong bond of humans with their natural environment,” says Dikomitou Eliadou. The findings confirm the premise that smaller and larger pottery workshops operated across the island, reflecting communities that differed in size and organisation, and an island-wide economy. “The sheer number of these exquisite vessels found in tombs suggests a considerable scale of production that can only be associated with a well-organised manufacturing that is far beyond the level of household making. It implies well-equipped and organised workshops,” notes Dikomitou Eliadou.

Distributed knowledge

Dikomitou Eliadou was grateful for the EU funding, and for being able to access state-of-the-art analytical equipment. “It allowed me to undertake collaborative work with other scholars and benefit from their expertise in the field of archaeological sciences,” she says. The fellowship broadened her knowledge on the use of various science-based methodologies. “I consider myself very lucky for the opportunity to be a MSCA fellow,” she says. Dikomitou Eliadou is continuing her research in Cyprus, while managing a new MSCA ITN at the Cyprus Institute. “This new project focuses on the interdisciplinary study of premodern plasters and ceramics from the eastern Mediterranean, and in its framework, Early-Stage Researchers will receive training inter alia in the fascinating world of ceramic analysis,” she adds.

Keywords

ReCyPot, pottery, ancient, ceramics, industry, millenia, port, Lapithos, Bronze Age

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