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Bridging the gap: The Lost Centuries of Cypriot Archaeology between Rome and the Crusaders

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BRIDGE (Bridging the gap: The Lost Centuries of Cypriot Archaeology between Rome and the Crusaders)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2018-10-31

“Bridging the Gap” focused on five centuries in Cypriot archaeology — between the end of Roman control over the island and its annexation to the Crusader Levant (mid 7th-12th centuries AD) — which are known as the ‘Gap Period’ because of the near-absence of material culture remains and document-sources.

The underlying assumption was that the gap was perceived rather than real, and can be resolved by identifying material culture that had been neglected, or not identified. The particular material culture that was identified as the signature-corpus for the period, was hand-made pottery which appears at the beginning of the period. The primary aim was therefore to create a chronological typology for this corpus, that will help resolve the five ‘lost centuries’. The results could then be used to identify settlement patterns and highlight socio-economic processes through the period, in particular the disintegration and recovery of local and regional production and distribution systems.

Yet the project had implications beyond Cyprus. Gap periods in the archaeological record exist across time and geography throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Often they have material-culture fingerprint similar to the one in Cyprus, as hand-made pottery manufacture replaces centralised workshops mass-producing pottery on the fast wheel, and a new path of development begins. The key role of hand-made pottery — often the only material culture that is found in sites of such crisis periods — has been acknowledged in a few seminal papers over the last two decades, but the challenge of turning this corpus into a research tool has not been taken. The common notion is still that hand-made pottery represents non-specialised manufacture, shows no coherent development, and consequently cannot be used as interpretational tool.

The project therefore had three objectives, all associated with the resolution of gaps in the archaeological record through studies of ceramics. The first one was particular to Cyprus, the other two had impact on the discipline as a whole:
1. to bridge the five-centuries gap in Cypriot archaeology;
A scheme of chronological-development of hand-made pottery through the gap period was established, and can be applied in excavations and survey projects on the island.

2. to establish a methodology for studying gap periods in societies with heavy reliance on pottery;
The methodology that was developed during the project to identify the 'missing' assemblage, and establish stages of chronological-development for it, was phrased as a model that can be applied in comparable cases.

3. to demonstrate the validity of a craft-specialisation model for handmade pottery;
Parameters that are visible in the pottery itself — morphological and technological — and that can be used to identify craft specialisation in hand-made pottery, were identified and applied to the hand-made pottery of the gap period.
Execution of the first, Cyprus-specific objective, was the pre-requisit for undertaking the other two. A database was constructed to reflect parameters of change over time in the hand-made pottery. It was populated with finds from publications, and from nine sites that had datable contexts, or long sequences that allowed identifying relative chronology. A chronological development scheme was formulalted. The middle of the gap period (the 9th/10th centuries) is still far from understood, but it is possible now to identify the 7th-8th/9th centuries, and the 10th/11th-12th as distinct entities, with internal development. We are also aware now of regional differences, and have some insights into the organisation of pottery-production during the period.

The methodology that was developed for the first objective, was phrased as a model that can be applied in comparable gap-periods.
The model was presented at an international workshop in Copenhagen: 'Mind the Gap! Ceramic Studies and Discontinuities in the Archaeological Record', which was part of the project.
An article ‘In Search of Lost Centuries: the Hand-Made Pottery of Cyprus between Rome and the Crusaders’ will be published in the peer-reviewed journal HEROM.

The ability to distinguish gradations of craft-specialisation in the manufacture of hand-made pottery played an central part in the methodology that was developed for resolving the gap. It was therefore the subject of a dedicated research within the project, in collaboration with the Fitch Laboratory in Athens.
The results will be published in an article co-authored with K. Winther-Jacobsen from the University of Copenhagen, M. Dikomitou-Eliadou from the University of Cyprus, and Noemi Müller from the Fitch Laboratory.
In the context of Cypriot archaeology, the framework of chronological development that resulted from the project is now being applied to active archaeological projects, and can be used to re-assess old collections as well as future ones. This will lead to a better understanding of the history of individual sites and of landscape use in Late Antiquity. In particular it will be possible to examine changing patterns of landscape use.

The database of the project will be available as an open-access resource, on the web-page of the project and linked to other projects, e.g. the Levantine Ceramic Project (LCP), an international network based in Boston University, which is being continuously accessed and updated by archaeologists working in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the wider context, the two articles that result from the project offer innovative methodologies to resolve comparable gaps in the archaeological record, and to process and interpret hand-made ceramics from archaeological contexts of late periods. These methodologies are applicable well outside the study case in Cyprus.

The impact of these article will be enhanced by the collective publication of the papers from the workshop 'Mind the Gap! Ceramic Studies and Discontinuities in the Archaeological Record', in a single issue of the journal HEROM.