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An offprint from

DevelOpment Of pre-StAte
COmmunItIeS In the AnCIent neAr eASt

edited by
Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire

© Oxbow Books 2010

ISBn 978-1-84217-407-4
Editors’ Preface vii
List of Contributors ix

1 The development of pre-state communities in the ancient Near East 1
Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire


2 Social complexity and archaeology: A contextual approach 11
Marc Verhoeven
3 Late Neolithic architectural renewal: The emergence of round houses in the northern Levant,
c. 6500–6000 BC 22
Peter M. M. G. Akkermans
4 Abandonment processes and closure ceremonies in prehistoric Cyprus: In search of ritual 29
Demetra Papaconstantinou
5 A different Chalcolithic: A central Cypriot scene 38
David Frankel
6 Thoughts on the function of ‘public buildings’ in the Early Bronze Age southern Levant 46
Hermann Genz


7 The Tell: Social archaeology and territorial space 55
Tony Wilkinson
8 Rethinking Kalopsidha: From specialisation to state marginalisation 63
Lindy Crewe
9 From kin to class – and back again! Changing paradigms of the early polity 72
Anne Porter
10 Different models of power structuring at the rise of hierarchical societies in the Near East:
Primary economy versus luxury and defence management 79
Marcella Frangipane
11 States of hegemony: Early forms of political control in Syria during the 3rd millennium BC 87
Lisa Cooper


12 A household affair? Pottery production in the Burnt Village at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad 97
Olivier Nieuwenhuyse
13 Late Cypriot ceramic production: Heterarchy or hierarchy? 106
Louise Steel
14 The domestication of stone: Early lime plaster technology in the Levant 117
Gordon Thomas
vi Contents

15 Domestication of plants and animals, domestication of symbols? 123

Danielle Stordeur
16 Herds lost in time: Animal remains from the 1969–1970 excavation seasons at the Ceramic Neolithic
settlement of Philia-Drakos Site A, Cyprus 131
Paul Croft


17 Agency in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A 141
Bill Finlayson
18 Understanding symbols: Putting meaning into the painted pottery of prehistoric northern Mesopotamia 147
Stuart Campbell
19 Gender and social complexity in prehistoric and protohistoric Cyprus 156
Diane Bolger
20 The painting process of White Painted and White Slip wares: Communities of practice 165
Louise C. Maguire
21 The ceramic industry of Deneia: Crafting community and place in Middle Bronze Age Cyprus 174
Jennifer M. Webb


22 Outside the corridor? The Neolithisation of Cyprus 185
Carole McCartney
23 Contextualising Neolithic Cyprus: Preliminary investigations into connections between Cyprus
and the Near East in the later Neolithic 197
Joanne Clarke
24 Was Çatalhöyük a centre? The implications of a late Aceramic Neolithic assemblage from the 207
neighbourhood of Çatalhöyük
Douglas Baird
25 The birth of ethnicity in Iran: Mesopotamian-Elamite cross-cultural relations in late prehistory 217
Andrew McCarthy



Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire

Archaeological research on the small-scale societies which (for general accounts of these developments, see Trigger
preceded the emergence of the earliest states in the Near 1989, chap. 9; and Renfrew and Bahn 2000, chap. 5; for
East has a long and complex history which we cannot hope more specific critiques, see McGuire 1983; Shennan 1993;
to review in detail in this brief introduction. However, it is Yoffee 1979; 1993; 2005; and Verhoeven, this volume). An
important to situate the papers in this volume within a broad increasingly widespread attitude to neo-evolutionism among
theoretical and methodological framework that distinguishes archaeologists today is perhaps best expressed by Yoffee,
them from earlier approaches based on generic typologies who has called it “an illusion of history” (2005, 231).
of social organisation and unilinear trajectories of socio- Critics of neo-evolutionism objected not only to the
economic development. In the first section of this chapter abstract or even fictive categories of analysis that comprise
we summarise those earlier approaches and review the the band-tribe-chiefdom-state model, but also to the uni-
challenges to unilinear models of social change which have linear direction of social change inherent in neo-evolutionary
continued to emerge over the last 20–30 years. In the second thought. The assumption that cultures inevitably pass through
section we consider some of the more recent approaches to a sequence of stages or steps from simple to complex, pre-
the study of pre-state societies in the Near East which have state to state, and that this occurs in a progressive stadial
effectively replaced the earlier models and which provide fashion, is no longer accepted by archaeologists today
a backdrop for the subsequent chapters of the book; these other than in the most general terms. In addition to the
are introduced in the third and final section. fact that evolutionary models cannot be sustained in the
face of the detailed evidence that has accumulated over
the last quarter of a century, neo-evolutionism can be
regarded as a ‘meta-narrative’ that reflects the ethnocentric
Challenging Traditional Models of Social bias of Western thought (Rowlands 1989, 36). As Yoffee,
Transformation in Pre-state Societies Feinman and others argued, archaeologists needed to find
Neo-evolutionary categories of social organisation, as alternative trajectories to social inequality and complexity
developed by anthropologists such as Service (1962, 1971) and to understand transitions between the two within specific
and Fried (1967) and further elaborated by Harris (1979) historical contexts (Yoffee 1993; Feinman 1995, 273–294;
and Johnson and Earle (1987), were based on a broad social see also Bender 1989, 87). It is now widely acknowledged
typology (bands-tribes-chiefdoms-states) that became highly that social change among early societies such as those of
influential in archaeological research during the 1970s the ancient Near East is likely to have been recursive and
and 1980s. While this tendency continued to some degree disruptive rather than unilinear, and that for a variety of
during the 1990s (e.g. Maisels 1990; Earle 1997), it began reasons change occurred at different rates and in different
to fall out of use during the late 1980s as doubts arose ways from region to region and even from locality to
among archaeologists concerning the ability of a limited locality (e.g. Renfrew 1984, 358–359; Shanks and Tilley
number of abstract societal types to account for the great 1987, 175–185; Price and Feinman 1989; Peltenburg 1993;
degree of variability and heterogeneity in past societies Miller, Rowlands and Tilley 1995).
2 Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire

In response to these and other like-minded criticisms, need to develop theories and methodologies that are more
many archaeologists have chosen to avoid the word in keeping with the nature of their own concerns, such as
‘evolution’ in their research vocabulary and to replace it the study of material culture and an understanding of long-
with other terms, such as ‘change’ or ‘transformation’ (e.g. term changes in human history (e.g. Plog 1974, preface and
Gledhill et al. 1995; Shanks and Tilley 1987), while others chap. 1; Renfrew 1984, 13; Yoffee 1993, 74; Gledhill et
have adopted multilinear models of social change which al. 1995, 27); at the same time, greater emphasis has been
highlight the variable paths to complexity demonstrated by placed on interpreting the evidence within social, rather than
the archaeological record (e.g. Sanders and Webster 1978; exclusively environmental or economic frameworks. We
Trigger 1985). A relatively small number of archaeologists, address some of these new perspectives in greater detail in
however, continue to use ‘evolution’ cautiously in the belief the following section.
that it still provides a useful framework for discussion if
carefully defined (e.g. Stein and Rothman 1994; Yoffee
2005). In the present volume the word ‘development’
has been adopted deliberately to circumvent the more Current Approaches to Pre-state Societies:
problematical connotations of ‘evolution’. ‘Development’, Diversity, Scale and Context
however, is not without its own connotations of progress, Over the last few decades the study of pre-state communities
so it should be stated from the outset that the use of that in the Near East has moved significantly beyond the abstract,
term in this book is not intended to imply a uni-directional stadial models of the 1970s and ’80s to adopt more nuanced
trajectory of social change. The view that ‘simple’ societies approaches based on the detailed evidence that has emerged
develop inevitably into increasingly complex forms of social from the numerous surveys and excavations in the region.
organisation needs to be investigated rather than assumed; These efforts have revealed the inability of broad typological
current approaches in archaeology acknowledge that there categories (such as band, tribe, chiefdom, state) to explain
were variable pathways to social complexity and that more the variability of social organisation and social relations
often than not these were circuitous. present in the archaeological record and have encouraged
The gradual move in archaeological interpretation away the formulation of new, socially-oriented research agendas
from broad evolutionary models of social complexity has centred on issues of diversity, scale and context.
been accompanied by a shift in focus from over-arching
systems or processes of social behaviour that emphasise
similarities between synchronous cultures, to smaller Diversity
scale research that demonstrates diversity both within and A renewed appreciation by Near Eastern archaeologists of
between them. At the same time, there has been a tendency the diversity of cultures, patterns of social interaction, and
in recent years to question the notion that external forces trajectories of socio-economic development has emerged
are primary causes of social change; while factors such from intensive fieldwork in the region during the last 25
as environment, population, climate and technology are years. This has resulted from a number of factors, not the
important ingredients in social complexity it is now widely least of which has been the extensive rescue work carried
felt that they cannot, in and of themselves, explain social out by local and foreign teams in association with several
change (see Bender 1978 for an early example of this view). large dam projects in south-eastern Turkey and northern
A further widespread criticism of ecosystems-based research Syria, which have led to the discovery of a multitude of
is the contention that it provides a deterministic view of new sites whose developmental patterns appear to have
social development that tends to leave people out of the differed considerably from those further to the south. It
equation (see, for example, Bender 1978; 1989; Shanks and has also resulted from the finer-grained methods of modern
Tilley 1987; Brumfiel 1992; Hodder 2004). archaeological fieldwork with its sophisticated means of
Taken together, the challenges to neo-evolutionary recovering, recording and analysing data, and the multitude
models briefly summarised above have resulted in the of specialists capable of generating detailed interpretations
emergence of new approaches to the study of past societies of the landscape, environment, technology, diet, material
that are not based exclusively on theories borrowed from culture, and many other aspects of social life. Dating methods
other social sciences (particularly social anthropology), have also been refined, so that the temporal relationships
a phenomenon which frequently “condemned the past to between sites have become more clearly visible. The result
resemble some aspect of the present” (Yoffee and Sherratt of all of these developments has been a greater emphasis
1993, 8). While it is generally agreed that ethnographic on difference and diversity that has made the traditional
evidence can provide valuable insights into the behaviour and classification of societies into a limited number of ‘types’
experiences of prehistoric communities, it cannot and should appear to be overly simplistic. Similarly, the diverse nature
not be applied uncritically. During the last 20 to 30 years, of the archaeological evidence for the development of
increasing numbers of archaeologists have underscored the complex society has encouraged archaeologists investigating
1. Introduction: The development of pre-state communities in the ancient Near East 3

social change among early communities in the Near East to issues over considerable expanses of time. Exclusive focus
move beyond the broad, programmatic schemes of research on short or medium range scales fails to take full advantage
based on a single evolutionary model. As we shall discuss of the longer term trajectories that archaeological evidence
later in this section, the ability to achieve a more nuanced can illuminate and that are essential for formulating
understanding of early societies is most successfully achieved theories of social change on a broader scale. Moreover,
by interpreting evidence within particular historical contexts while long-term developments cannot directly shape the
(Hodder 1986). As Gledhill et al. have observed, “In the end perceptions and behaviours of individuals over the short
there is no way to resolve the issue of state origins without term span of a human life, they can serve as “constraining
attempting a detailed reconstruction, via archaeological structures” that influence the range of possible behaviours
materials, of the critical transitions which gave birth to the and choices available to individuals and communities
first manifestations of ‘civilization’ ”(1995, 25). in the processes of daily life (Bintliff 1991, 7). These
and other innovative applications of Annalist thinking
to archaeological interpretation emphasise the multi-
Scale dimensional nature of time and its variability within and
The shift in focus from general to specific and from similarity between cultures. This view of time effectively serves to
to difference has underscored the importance of scale in ‘humanise’ the more abstract, objective approaches to the
archaeological research. As numerous studies over the last past by providing links between long-term trajectories of
few decades have shown, greater attention to the micro-scale social change and the shorter, more subjective time scales
is crucial for looking at society from the bottom up rather of individual experience (Gosden 1994, 9).
than the top down (e.g. Renfrew 1984; Renfrew and Bahn
2000, chap. 5); for constructing alternative pathways to the
accumulation of wealth, power and social inequality (e.g. Context
McGuire 1983; Bender 1989; Price and Feinman 1995); and The interpretation of evidence at different scales is closely
for understanding the processes by which complex society related to questions of archaeological context. The view
emerged and developed (e.g. Rowlands 1989; Stein and that it is essential to interpret the past in particular historical
Rothman 1994). Consequently, archaeological research has contexts (Hodder (1986, chap. 7) is now widely accepted,
become more specific by investigating particular groups, and contextual approaches have proved to be one of the
sub-groups and individuals, and the relationships between most successful means of overcoming the limitations of
them, rather than focussing on abstract categories such as broad evolutionary models of social change discussed above.
‘society’ or ‘culture’. Research on the micro-scale can be While context in archaeology occurs in a wide range of
approached by a variety of methods, such as examining dimensions, including temporal, spatial, typological and
the ways in which various sectors or groups within society depositional (Hodder 1986, 125), it can also be understood
functioned or changed, a process Stein and Rothman refer to include the broader cultural and theoretical frameworks
to as ‘organizational dynamics’ (1994, 1); focussing on the in which archaeologists interpret the past. The recognition
social practices of day-to-day existence (Bourdieu’s habitus; that archaeological interpretation is a process involving
see Bourdieu 1977); looking for evidence of individuals (e.g. an interactive or dialectical relationship between the
Knapp and Meskell 1997; Meskell 2002; Meskell and Joyce archaeologist and the evidence lies at the heart of current
2003); or investigating changes in the human life course research programmes and marks a radical departure with
(Gilchrist 1999, 88–100; 2004; Bolger 2004; 2008). All of traditional methods of archaeological inference. As Tilley
these approaches regard the seemingly mundane activities has stated, “contemporary archaeology is not a tabula rasa
of daily life as essential for understanding the relationships on which the context of the archaeological record simply
between people and the material world and demonstrate inscribes itself awaiting its meanings to be captured”
the need to develop theories of social change based on (1993, 9).
individuals and groups as active agents, rather than passive Interpreting evidence of past societies within broader
adapters to extrinsic environmental and economic forces. cultural and theoretical contexts places demands on
Temporal dimensions of scale are equally important. archaeologists for a “comprehensive internal study of
According to Annalist models, social change should ideally archaeological cultures” (Trigger 1989, 350) and for
be investigated at multiple scales (short, medium and greater emphasis on the social context of cultural change
long term trajectories) that operate simultaneously. The (Price and Feinman 1995, 9). The recognition that groups
coarse chronologies that most prehistorians are compelled and individuals can bring about transformations in social
to work with seem better suited to the investigation of organisation, for example, reveals the limitations of
long-term change, yet as several archaeologists have noted processual models in which the environment was regarded
(e.g. Hodder 1986, 93; Feinman 1994; Bolger 2008), few as a prime mover that motivated people to change in order
archaeologists have specifically addressed particular social to more successfully adapt. While it is, of course, important
4 Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire

to acknowledge the constraints placed on individuals and Part One: Social Organisation and Complexity
groups by climatic, environmental and demographic forces, in Pre-state Communities
the greater degree of engagement with ‘the social’ in current The first paper in this section, by Marc Verhoeven (Chapter
archaeological interpretation helps us to appreciate the 2), examines the concept of social complexity, a term which
complexity and indivisibility of human experience in past is still widely used by archaeologists, including many of
societies and to recognise the multiplicity of meanings that the contributors to this volume, to indicate differences in
can result by interpreting evidence within various contextual the socio-economic structures of prehistoric communities.
frameworks. He argues that words such as ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ are
It is fair to assert that a different kind of archaeology value-laden terms which serve to promote the continuation
has emerged from the focus on diversity, scale and context of neo-evolutionary thinking; they can also distort our
outlined in the previous pages. This new way of looking at the understanding of pre-state communities since various
past (which includes but is not limited to post-processualism) aspects of ‘complexity’, such as ritual behaviour, can be
includes research on individuals, personal relations, kinship identified in some ‘simple’ Neolithic societies. The questions
relations, social interactions, and individual and social raised in this paper form a useful framework for the more
identities; it considers questions of status, age, gender, specific treatments of social organisation that follow.
cognition, habitus, performance, the body and social memory; The other papers in this section consider various
it adopts a bottom up rather than a top down perspective; aspects of social organisation and social practice among
and it advocates a phenomenological approach centred on the particular prehistoric communities in Cyprus, the Levant,
active engagement of people with their environment (Renfrew and Mesopotamia. In Chapter 3, Peter Akkermans examines
and Bahn 2000, chap. 5). All of these areas of research the shift from rectangular to circular buildings in Syro-
fall within the rubric of social archaeology since to a large Mesopotamia, which began around the middle of the 7th
degree they are the result of human agency, inter-personal millennium or shortly afterwards and increased in importance
relationships and social networks. As shall become evident in during the 6th millennium. While a number of theories have
the following section, the various papers in this book can be been proposed to explain this change, Akkermans suggests
included in this new socially-oriented research agenda since that social characteristics, such as mobility and temporary
collectively they reflect a growing concern within the field habitation in small autonomous groups dispersed over the
of ancient Near Eastern archaeology for issues of agency, landscape, are of central importance to this discussion.
difference, identity, community, materiality, ritual practice In the following paper (Chapter 4) Demetra Papaconstan-
and cultural interaction, as well as their variations through tinou examines the life histories of houses in prehistory,
time and space. focussing in particular on evidence from the Late Neolithic
site of Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi in Cyprus. After addressing
issues of materiality, identity and ritual in the archaeological
The Development of Pre-state Communities record, she looks at the relationships between ritual and
in the Near East domestic life and underscores the need for archaeologists
The essays in this volume cover a variety of themes to look for different ways of ‘narrating’ the past by drawing
related to the development of pre-state communities in upon multiple strands of archaeological data.
Anatolia, Cyprus, the Levant and Mesopotamia. They have In Chapter 5, David Frankel presents evidence from
been grouped, however, not by chronological period or the recently excavated site of Politiko-Kokkinorotsos in
geographical setting but according to the particular issues central Cyprus during the Middle-Late Chalcolithic periods.
they address. In this way it is hoped that both the similarities After summarising the major features of the excavations,
and differences in theoretical and methodological approaches and comparing the results with better-known material
adopted by authors carrying out research in different regions from the south-west of the island, he offers an alternative
of the ancient Near East can be appreciated more readily. perspective on local economic patterns, cultural regionalism
The papers in Part 1 consider aspects of social organisation and chronology on the island during the first half of the 3rd
in pre-state communities while those in Part 2 investigate the millennium BC.
structure of early urban communities and the development The final paper in this section, by Hermann Genz (Chapter
of the state. The contributions in Part 3 examine the inter- 6), examines the interpretation of EB II–III settlements in
relationships between technology, economy and society and the Southern Levant as city-states, urban communities, or
those in Part 4 address various constructions of agency, corporate villages by questioning the function(s) of non-
identity and gender. Papers in the final section, Part 5, deal domestic structures which have traditionally been regarded
with issues of insularity, ethnicity and cultural interaction. as public buildings and temples. Since a number of sites
All of the papers are introduced briefly in the pages that in the region have buildings that do not fit neatly into
follow. these categories, the socio-political organisation of these
1. Introduction: The development of pre-state communities in the ancient Near East 5

communities is likely to have been more complex than has archaeological and textual evidence from Ebla and Mari
generally been acknowledged. in Syria to investigate the emergence and development
of early Near Eastern polities. By examining the social,
economic and political developments at these sites both
Part Two: Early Urban Communities before and after they exerted hegemonic authority over
and the Development of the State their surrounding regions, she highlights the importance of
The papers in this section investigate the structure and considering long-term changes in material culture in order
development of early urban communities in the Near to effectively understand patterns of behaviour associated
East, as well as the social processes by which particular with increasing levels of socio-economic complexity.
communities became, or failed to become, more complex
states. Chapter 7, by Tony Wilkinson, is concerned with
the social archaeology of the Middle Eastern tell. By Part Three: Technology, Economy and Society
examining multiple strands of evidence (i.e. stratigraphic These chapters investigate technological and economic
sequences, landscape archaeology, ethnographic evidence aspects of pre-state communities in Near Eastern society
and historical documents) Wilkinson considers the ways in within particular social and temporal frameworks. The first
which the settlement community as a corporate group may paper, by Olivier Nieuwenhuyse (Chapter 12), discusses
have functioned and developed through time. He concludes innovations in ceramic technology and style that transformed
that tells and the fields that surrounded them formed an ceramic assemblages across Upper Mesopotamia in the late
indivisible social and landscape unit in which the social and 7th millennium BC by focussing on pottery production at
economic processes of everyday life were carried out. the Burnt Village of Tell Sabi Abyad in northern Syria.
In Chapter 8, Lindy Crewe discusses the social and The detailed evidence for the production and use of pottery
economic forces that led to a concentration of power within at this site indicates a complex network of intra- and
the coastal centres of Cyprus during the Late Cypriot II inter-communal relationships involving the manufacture,
period by considering evidence from the site of Kalopsidha. consumption and exchange of raw materials and finished
This small urban community in eastern Cyprus, which was products, and furnishes insights into the ways in which
located inland, played an important role in international material culture was used actively by pre-state communities
relations during the transitional Middle Cypriot III–Late to create and maintain social identities.
Cypriot I period. Crewe suggests that this may be due In Chapter 13, Louise Steel considers some of the
to its possible specialisation as a cult or agricultural wider issues of socio-political organisation associated with
production centre, and that its eventual marginalisation and developments in ceramic production and craft specialisation
abandonment was closely linked to the emergence of nearby in Late Bronze Age Cyprus. After examining evidence for
Enkomi as a dominant urban coastal emporium. regionalism in ceramic traditions and tracing changes in
The paper by Anne Porter (Chapter 9) demonstrates ceramic production through time, she concludes that prior
the limitations of traditional models of the early state for to the 13th century BC the island was divided into small
explaining the emergence of early polities in the ancient regional groups that may reflect heterarchical rather than
Near East. On the basis of evidence concerning settlement hierarchical forms of social organisation. Only in the 13th
hierarchies, settlement morphologies and burial practices and 12th centuries did ceramic production on the island cut
in the Euphrates and Jazirah regions of Syria, she argues across regional boundaries, perhaps in connection with the
for kinship as a central attribute of social organisation increasingly centralised organisation of ceramic production
and explores the complex and seemingly contradictory and political control.
relationships between kinship and class that lay at the heart In the following chapter (Chapter 14), Gordon Thomas
of the transformation from pre-state to state level political considers the social practices and beliefs associated with the
organisation in these regions. creation and development of lime plaster technology in the
In Chapter 10, Marcella Frangipane examines the Neolithic period of the Levant. Following ideas developed
dialectical interplay of social and environmental factors that by Pierre Lemonnier and others, Thomas focusses on the
led to the development of different economic and political social variables of lime plaster technology rather than the
systems in the prehistoric Near East. By considering evidence functional aspects of its manufacture and use, and considers
for the growth of social complexity and political hierarchy the roles it is likely to have played in ritual and cognitive
in three different areas (northern Mesopotamia, southern dimensions of social behaviour at this time.
Mesopotamia and western Anatolia) she demonstrates the Drawing upon Jacques Cauvin’s concept of the ‘revolution
inability of unilinear models of social change to account for of symbols’, by which he characterised the origins of the
the variable trajectories of social and economic development Neolithic, Danielle Stordeur (Chapter 15) investigates
adopted in different regions. the relationships between the use of symbols and the
In the final paper (Chapter 11) Lisa Cooper looks at domestication of plants and animals in the Levant during
6 Diane Bolger and Louise C. Maguire

the Pre-pottery Neolithic A and B. Differences in the the prehistoric and protohistoric periods on the island. Her
symbolic repertoires of these two periods, which involved results suggest that gender constructs changed considerably
the replacement of animal figures during the Pre-pottery over time but did not necessarily follow a straightforward
Nelithic B by representations of human figures, are used path.
as metaphors for shifting patterns of social and economic In the following chapter (Chapter 20), Louise Maguire
development as agriculture and herding became part of moves beyond the standard typological study of prehistoric
everyday life. pottery in Bronze Age Cyprus by presenting a systematic
In the final chapter of this section (Chapter 16), Paul reconstruction of the painting processes of White Painted
Croft considers patterns of animal exploitation in the Late ware. On the basis of a detailed analysis of brushstroke
Neolithic period of Cyprus by analysing faunal evidence sequences on more than 200 vessels, she shows that major
from the site of Philia-Drakos A, which he has examined differences existed in various regions of the island that were
recently for the first time. While Croft’s study of this the result of the positioning of the pot during the painting
material is not yet complete, he postulates on the basis process, and that these practices changed over time. The
of an initial sample that the faunal patterns observed at complete transformation of communities of practice that
Philia conform to the standard pattern of very heavily occurred at the end of the Middle Bronze Age reflects a
deer dominated animal economies observed at other Late wider picture of social transformation which took place on
Neolithic sites on the island. It is hoped that continued study the island at this time.
of the animal remains from this important site will establish The final chapter in this section (Chapter 21), by
in greater detail the ways in which various communities in Jennifer Webb, investigates the ceramic industry at the
Late Neolithic Cyprus functioned and interacted. Middle Bronze Age site of Deneia in north-western Cyprus.
Drawing on the extensive body of published material from
the cemeteries at this site, she explores the use of form and
Part Four: Agency, Identity and Gender decoration to produce the assertive ceramic style which is a
The papers in this section, which concern themes of agency, marked feature at the site and considers the ways in which
identity and gender, address some of the current issues in community-specific styles, forms and motifs were used to
contemporary social archaeology. The first paper, by Bill craft social identities and to assert and maintain community
Finlayson (Chapter 17), adopts a ‘bottom up’ approach to affiliations.
the growth of sedentism, agriculture and materiality during
the Pre-pottery Neolithic A period. By focussing on internal
social processes, such as agency, and considering detailed Part Five: Insularity, Ethnicity and Cultural
archaeological evidence at the local scale, he demonstrates Interaction
how our understanding of the important transformations that Like the papers in the previous section, those in this
occurred at this time can be enhanced by looking at various final section of the book (Part 5) address issues that are
ways that Neolithic people inhabited their world. of current concern in social archaeology. The paper by
In the following paper (Chapter 18) Stuart Campbell McCartney (Chapter 22) looks at processes of Neolithisation
investigates the symbolic aspects of prehistoric painted in Cyprus and challenges traditional concepts of early
pottery from northern Mesopotamia. While painted decor- island communities based on a priori assumptions about
ation of the Samarran, Halaf and Ubaid periods has ‘insularity’, ‘island colonisation’ and ‘isolation’. Using
traditionally been used to define cultural divisions or multiple strands of evidence (e.g. economic practices, stone
chronological periods, little research has been carried out to tool technology and the built environment), she argues for
interpret the meaning of the motifs and designs used in this an historical approach that places Neolithic Cyprus within a
pottery. Campbell explores various methods of extracting wider Near Eastern context, and concludes that patterns of
meaning from abstract geometric motifs and considers the increasing sedentism, materialism and village development
ways in which pottery can play an important role in the on the island follow similar trajectories to those observed
development of social interaction and integration among in other regions of the Near East.
pre-urban communities. The paper by Joanne Clarke (Chapter 23) addresses many
The paper by Diane Bolger (Chapter 19) considers long- of the same issues raised by McCartney by questioning
term changes in gender and social identity in Cyprus from traditional assumptions about the ‘insularity’ of Cypriot
the Neolithic period to the Early Iron Age. After discussing communities during the later Neolithic period. Recent
the ways in which genderless narratives of the past distort research in the central Levant, she argues, warrants a
our understanding of ancient societies, she argues for a reconsideration of the island’s insularity and isolation after
contextual approach that draws upon multiple strands of the Pre-pottery Neolithic B. By looking at evidence for
evidence (mortuary, figurative, material, etc.) in order to chipped and ground stone technologies, pottery manufacture,
shed greater light on the changes in gender constructs during settlement organisation, economy and environment, she
1. Introduction: The development of pre-state communities in the ancient Near East 7

maintains that a complete cessation of interaction between Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge,
island and mainland is a highly unlikely scenario and that Cambridge University Press.
cultural connections with the Levant probably continued at Brumfiel, E. 1992. Distinguished lecture in archaeology: Breaking
this time. and entering the ecosystem − gender, class and faction steal the
show. American Anthropologist 94(3), 551–567.
In the following chapter (Chapter 24), Douglas Baird
Earle, T. 1997. How Chiefs Come To Power: The Political Economy
investigates the social and economic relationships between
in Prehistory. Stanford (CA), Stanford University Press.
the Neolithic community of Çatalhöyük and contemporary Feinman, G. M. 1994. Social boundaries and political change:
settlements in the surrounding region. Through a comparative A comparative perspective. In G. Stein and M. Rothman
study of flint and obsidian technology, he tests the proposal (eds) Chiefdoms and Early States in the Near East: The
made by some archaeologists that Çatalhöyük served as a Organizational Dynamics of Complexity, 225–236. Madison,
center of economic production. Since there is little evidence Prehistory Press.
to suggest that Çatalhöyük played a distinctive role in terms Feinman, G. M. 1995. The emergence of inequality: A focus on
of the distribution of chipped stone, he proposes that its strategies and processes. In T. D. Price and G. Feinman (eds)
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through which material flowed around the landscape and Fried, M. 1967. The Evolution of Political Society. New York,
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Iran through a stylistic and statistical analysis of 4th and to Social Archeology. Oxford, Blackwell.
3rd millennium seals from Susa. His results suggest that Gledhill, J., B. Bender and M. T. Larsen (eds) 1995. State and
two distinctive craft traditions at this site, a Mesopotamian Society: The Emergence and Development of Social Hierarchy
and a proto-Elamite style, co-existed during the 4th and Political Centralization (1st paperback ed.; orig. hardcover
millennium and became more sharply divergent during the published by Unwin Hyman in 1988.) London, Routledge.
3rd millennium. He concludes that these differences were Gosden, C. 1994. Social Being and Time. Oxford, Blackwell.
based on ethnic distinctions and that ethnicity may have Harris, M. 1979. Cultural Materialism. New York, Random
been an important aspect, or even a defining quality, of the
Hodder, I. 1986. Reading the Past: Current Approaches to
expression of state-level identity in Iran at this time.
Interpretation in Archaeology. Cambridge, Cambridge Uni-
As this body of papers demonstrates, unilinear models versity Press.
of social change, which for many years were entrenched Hodder, I. 2004. The “social” in archaeological theory: An
in the archaeological literature, have undergone a profound historical and contemporary perspective. In L. Meskell and
transformation. They are being replaced by more socially- R. Preucel (eds) A Companion to Social Archaeology, 23–42.
oriented approaches that cannot be reduced to a single Oxford, Blackwell.
explanatory model, but which embrace a wide variety of Johnson, A. W. and T. Earle 1987. The Evolution of Human
theories and methods. Through their joint concern with issues Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State. Stanford
of diversity, scale and context, they are beginning to shed (CA), Stanford University Press.
new light on the ways in which pre-state communities in the Knapp, A. B. and L. Meskell 1997. Bodies of evidence on
prehistoric Cyprus. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 7(2),
ancient Near East functioned, interacted and changed.
Maisels, C. K. 1990. The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting
and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities and the State in the Near
East. London and New York, Routledge.
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Madison, Prehistory Press.





Marc Verhoeven

Introduction or development of complex society (e.g. Rothman 2004)

The notion of complexity is commonly used by archaeologists or the evolution of early states (e.g. Stein and Rothman
to indicate differences in the socio-economic structure of 1994; Yoffee 2005). The term ‘civilisation’ is less common
ancient societies. The use of the term implies that there are in academic circles nowadays, but major publications have
non-complex (simple) and complex societies, with the latter used it to structure their narratives. Oates and Oates (1976)
having evolved out of the former (e.g. ‘the rise of socio- and Redman (1978), for instance, speak of the “rise of
economic complexity’). In many cases, therefore, the use of civilization,” Maisels of the “emergence” (1990) and “cradle”
the concept of complexity is a form of (neo-)evolutionary (1993) of civilisation, and Algaze (1993) of the “dynamics
thinking. More particularly, in Near Eastern archaeology and expansion of early Mesopotamian civilization.” In fact,
the term ‘complexity’ surfaces time and again in relation to these publications are not only structured by this notion; they
societies dated to the Bronze Age and later, i.e. to (incipient) are largely founded on it. For example, in the first chapter
states and ‘civilisation’. of his book Redman (1978, 1) writes:
Complexity, however, is a very subjective term which The Agricultural and Urban Transformations as they occurred in
immediately leads one’s thoughts in specific directions. the ancient Near East are among the truly significant milestones
But what exactly is it? Is there an alternative to using the in the history of humankind. The social changes that these
notion of complexity in terms of successive types of society? processes fostered influenced all aspects of society and formed
Are there perhaps different forms of complexity? In this the structure out of which today’s world has emerged. The Near
contribution these issues will be explored. First, to set the East has been selected as the geographical setting in which to
stage, a critical account of what has been termed the ‘rise examine the rise of civilization because changes took place
there at a very early date, perhaps earlier than anywhere else
of civilisation in the Near East’ is given. This is followed
in the world. In addition to this temporal priority, the history
by a discussion of social complexity and a critique of the
and prehistory of the Near East directly affected the emergence
common use of the notion of social evolution. In the second and growth of Western civilization.
part of the paper two examples are presented of complex
(ritual) contexts in communities that are generally regarded Although this was written more than 30 years ago and,
as (socio-economically) non-complex. as already indicated, the term ‘civilisation’ seems to be
less common nowadays in academic contexts, it is still
regularly used in popular media, and I suspect that Redman’s
ideas are still shared by a large number of Near Eastern
The Rise of Civilisation? archaeologists, especially those dealing with the historic
For many years, Near Eastern archaeology has been periods. Moreover, many prehistorians dealing with the
preoccupied with the rise of socio-economic complexity so-called Neolithic Revolution explicitly or implicitly use
and the development of states and civilisation. It is one of the idea of a rise of civilisation as well (e.g. Özdoğan and
the most popular themes in introductory books as well as in Başgelen 1999; Hauptmann and Özdoğan 2007). There are
academic teaching. Frequently one reads about the evolution three main problems with this idea. Firstly, like the notion
12 Marc Verhoeven

of complexity, the term ‘civilisation’ is very subjective and units can be households, political associations or villages.
involves a value judgement. For most people it means to Moreover, Rothman distinguishes two axes of complexity: a
be civilised, but what, then, about people who did or do horizontal axis made up of the individual parts of the system
not live in civilisations? Were and are they uncivilised? (segregation); and a vertical axis consisting of hierarchical
Not many would probably dare to say this nowadays, but levels (centralisation or integration). These horizontal
the notion of civilisation, consciously or unconsciously, and vertical dimensions of complexity are still widely
sets up a qualitative difference. Secondly, the concept of used in analyses. However, because it has been realised
a ‘rise of civilisation’ is teleological, i.e. it supposes that that complexity consists of many potentially independent
‘pre-civilised’, pre-state, and pre-historic communities variables, further divisions have been made, which have
and cultures were designed for or directed toward a final enabled the analysis and distinction of different forms and
result: (modern Western) civilisation. In other words, in degrees of social complexity (e.g. McGuire 1983; Blanton
an explicitly evolutionary fashion, prehistoric societies are et al. 1993).
treated as stages towards more developed conditions and However, as R. Chapman (2003, 84) notes, the most
not as societies in their own right. Thirdly, the use of the basic distinction is that between ‘surface’ traits (e.g. vertical
notion of ‘civilisation’ often goes hand in hand with that social differentiation) and ‘deep’ traits (e.g. segregation and
of complexity, generally without mentioning what exactly integration). I argue that the ‘surface’ traits are dominant
is meant by it (but see Rothman 1994). In fact, ‘complex in the popular conception of complex societies, more
society’ is nowadays frequently used as a synonym for particularly the surface traits of stratified societies (chiefdoms
civilisation. Just like the term ‘civilisation’, the terms and states). Thus, among other things, urbanisation, large
‘emerging complexity’, ‘complex society’ and so on populations, craft specialisation, social differentiation,
implicitly make a distinction between non-complex (simple) hereditary ranking, centralised production, long-distance
and complex societies, with the former being regarded as trade, writing, bureaucracy, formalisation of law and the
somehow inferior to the latter. In the following pages I wish monopoly on the right to use force (i.e. characteristics of
to address some of the problems related to this dichotomous chiefdoms and/or states: see e.g. Nelson 1995; R. Chapman
way of thinking and to argue for a more nuanced use of the 2003, 7, 91) are regarded as typical for complex societies
notion of complexity. and social complexity. However, as we shall see, when
‘deep’, structural traits are used, and when it is accepted
that, according to context, different degrees of complexity
can exist within the same society, almost any society can be
Social Complexity regarded as complex in some or many respects. In fact, some
Complexity is an intricate issue which is studied in many have even argued that social processes are too complex and
different disciplines outside the social sciences, e.g. biology, particular to be rigorously modelled in terms of complexity
computer science, physics, mathematics. In this contribution (e.g. Stewart 2001).
I shall obviously be concerned with social complexity, i.e.
complexity in past human societies (e.g. Randsborg 1981;
van der Leeuw 1981; Price and Feinman 1995). This is
a huge field of study (there is even a Journal of Social Social Evolution
Complexity), but for the purposes of this paper I shall limit It is clear that the notion of social complexity is firmly
myself to terminology and the problems of the concept of embedded in that of social (or cultural) evolution,
social complexity. characterised by subsequent stages from simple to complex
There are many different definitions of complexity, with increasing degrees of technological, social and economic
but recurrently it is stated that it denotes a whole made complexity (e.g. R. Chapman 2003, 4–8). In fact, the ‘rise
up of differentiated and interrelated parts: the more of civilisation’ discussed above is wholly based on an
parts and the more connections between parts, the more evolutionary framework in which societies are progressively
complex the system or society. Flannery (1972) was one ranked according to their socio-economic complexity (e.g.
of the first archaeologists to explicitly use the concept of Redman 1978, fig. 6.13). Such evolutionary schemes go
social complexity. He argued that there were two main back to anthropological thinking in the 19th century (e.g.
dimensions to be distinguished: segregation, the degree Tylor 1871; Morgan 1877; Spencer 1967 [1897]; see also
of differentiation and specialisation within a system; and Childe 1951), but the most famous models are those of
centralisation, the degree to which the parts of the system Service (1962) and Fried (1967), both of which are mainly
were interrelated. In an analysis of chiefdoms and early based on the ethnographic record. Service paid particular
states in the Near East, Rothman (1994, 4) used Flannery’s attention to the social structure of societies whereas Fried
ideas to define complexity as: “... the degree of functional emphasised the role of political factors in social evolution.
differentiation among societal units or sub-systems.” Such Table 2.1 presents an overview of the various stages
2. Social complexity and archaeology: A contextual approach 13

Service Fried proposed while Table 2.2 lists the main characteristics of
organisation society Social complexity these stages (see R. Chapman 2003, 34–38 for an overview).
Although the models of Service and Fried have been
severely criticised, the succession of band-tribe-chiefdom-
state (Service) or egalitarian, ranked, stratified, and state-
STRATIFIED societies (Fried) is still widely used in archaeology (e.g.
Earle 1991; Rowlands and Kristiansen 1998). As Shanks
CHIEFDOM increasing and Tilley (1987, 144) have noted, from the 19th century
onwards social-evolutionary schemes have had seven main
RANKED characteristics: (1) a totalising holism, a focus on the entire
history of humanity; (2) gradualism, social change as a
TRIBE continuous and cumulative process; (3) universality, change
as a generic and natural process shaping humanity and
social institutions; (4) potentiality, change as endogenous
and inherent in human societies: (5) directionality, change
BAND low
as a unified process (not cyclical or random), leading to
Table 2.1 The social evolutionary frameworks of Service (1962) optimal situations; (6) determinism, change as irreversibly
and Fried (1967). and inevitably leading from the simple to the complex or

Stage Social structure Subsistence and economy Social hierarchy Demography

STATE - specialised, - no equal access to use of legitimised force to establish and - urbanisation;
(Service and Fried) bureaucratic resources maintain authority of leadership; - rise in population
government - complex of institutions by means density
- class society of which power of society is
organised on a basis superior to
STRATIFIED - no equal access to - status differences grounded in - urbanisation;
SOCIETY resources economic differences - rise in population
(Fried) - increased warfare density

CHIEFDOM (Service) increase in size of - greater productivity; - central control of social, economic - rise in population
residence groups; - mobilisation of human and religious activities; density
- complex and labour - chiefs with ascribed statuses and
organised society rules of succession;
- increase in hierarchy and inequality
RANKED SOCIETY - equal access to resources; - low degree of social ranking; - increased sedentism;
(Fried) - division of labour by age - competitive feasting - rise in population
and sex; density
- limited specialisation;
- redistribution by chiefs;
- agriculture;

TRIBE - larger number of - hunter-gatherers & - egalitarian; - increased sedentism;

(Service) kinship segments, pastoralists; - situational leadership - rise in population
each composed of - self-sufficient; density
families; - agriculture
- non-residential
groups (clans, etc.)
- rituals
BAND & - based on kinship - hunter-gatherers - egalitarian; - low population
EGALITARIAN (Service (nuclear family); - self-sufficient; - situational leadership density;
and Fried) - absence of political, - labour division by age - mobile
legal or religious and sex;
groups - communal access to

Table 2.2 Main characteristics of the social evolutionary frameworks of Service (1962) and Fried (1967).
14 Marc Verhoeven

from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous; and (7) causal is guided and restricted by tradition, rules and repetition
reductionism, the notion that everywhere and at every time (Firth 1951, 222; Verhoeven forthcoming).
change was subject to the same causal laws.
These seven characteristics can all be turned into
criticisms on the basis of the fact that they are over-
generalising, ethnocentric (modern Western), essentialist and Complex Hunter-gatherers
acontextual. In fact, there are many examples of societies In traditional evolutionary schemes, such as those of
that do not fit evolutionist typologies (see e.g. R. Chapman Service and Fried, hunter-gatherers are representatives of
2003, 41–44). Moreover, social evolutionary models hardly the simplest social systems; they are at the very base of
leave any room for contingency. Such models, then, are human evolution. As indicated in Table 2.2, according to
implicitly teleological, based on the idea that humanity such schemes, their social structure is based on kinship;
is moving towards a predefined and predetermined goal. they are egalitarian and lack political, legal or religious
Moreover, diffusion and cultural contact between societies groups; they are self-sufficient; they have a low population
are largely ignored. How does such contact effect change? density; and they are mobile. However, as is well known,
Finally, there is no real place for agency, with humans there are many examples of hunter-gatherer communities
being regarded as subjects in an evolutionary process over that are far from simple and that in fact have many
which they have no control (Johnson 1999, 142; see also characteristics of so-called complex societies. Hence they
Smith 1973). are often called ‘complex hunter-gatherers’ (Price and
Social evolution, then, does not necessarily lead towards Brown 1985). Perhaps one of the most famous examples
more social complexity, however the latter is defined. are the historically documented Indian tribes of the North-
Furthermore, complex societies are not always marked by west Coast of America, marked by hereditary social ranking,
social and spatial hierarchies or by social, political and sedentary villages, dense populations, craft specialisation,
economic centralisation. Multiple hierarchies can exist as warfare, private ownership, wealth differences and even
well as hierarchies that have a limited power only. In the slavery (e.g. Lightfoot 1993 cited in R. Chapman 2003, 85).
lowland Maya society, for instance, the political system was A prime example from prehistory are the Jomon of Japan
highly stratified and centrally controlled, while the economic (c. 13000–2200 BP), hunter-gatherers who lived in large
organisation was horizontally structured (Potter and King sedentary or semi-sedentary settlements, made elaborate
1995). The latter is an example of what has been termed pottery and probably cultivated nut trees. Moreover, circles
a ‘heterarchy’. This term denotes social situations where of standing stones, thousands of human figurines, dental
everybody shares the same horizontal position of power mutilation and elaborate decorative ‘art’ styles, among
and authority. More specifically, Crumley (1979, 144) has other things, are indicative of complex ritual and symbolic
defined heterarchy as “... the relation of elements to one activities and beliefs (Habu 2004).
another when they are unranked ... when they possess the These symbolic and ritual contexts are rarely mentioned
potential for being ranked in a number of different ways.” in studies of hunter-gatherer complexity. I shall give an
A heterarchy may be parallel to a hierarchy, subsumed by ethnographic example of complex ritual practice in what
it, or contain hierarchies, but the two kinds of structure are has been regarded as one of the most simple communities
not mutually exclusive. In fact, each level in a hierachical on earth, the (now virtually extinct) Selk’nam Indians of
system is composed of a potentially heterarchical unit Tierra del Fuego in southern Patagonia.
(Crumley 1979; 1995). The concept of heterarchy makes
us aware that within the same society different types of
social, economic, political, or any other complexity may The Selk’nam
exist. Complexity, then, is a multi-dimensional issue that The Austrian anthropologist Martin Gusinde was the first
needs to be contextualised and problematised in order to to systematically describe and analyse the indians of Tierra
make sense of social situations and social change. del Fuego, which he did in three volumes published from
In the remaining part of this paper I shall give two brief 1931 to 1939 (Gusinde 1931). Like other hunting-gathering
examples, one ethnographic and one archaeological, that peoples of Patagonia (e.g. the Yamana, Haush and Alakaluf),
indicate that social complexity is not or not only the outcome the Selk’nam (formerly also known as the Ona) were
of social evolution or the prerogative of stratified or ‘complex marked by an extremely limited (simple) material culture.
societies’, but that different forms of complexity (the ‘deep In 1928 Lothrop wrote, “Perhaps no feature of Ona life is
traits’ mentioned above) can occur in any society. The more striking to us than their apparent unpreparedness to
focus shall be on ritual, used here to indicate performances face the rigors of the Fuegian climate, especially as regards
which are distinguished in both space and time, marked by their house and their clothes” (Lothrop 1928, 51). Indeed,
explicit material and immaterial symbolism, and often (but instead of dwellings they originally used plain windbreaks
not always) related to the supernatural in which behaviour made of Guanaco hides. These skins also served as their
2. Social complexity and archaeology: A contextual approach 15

Main elements Element composition Element detail

Cosmos (1) 4 skies (4x1A) Páhuil, Shenu, Sheit, Télil (4x1B)
Hut (2) 7 hutposts (7x2A) Páhuil, Shenu, Shéit, Télil, Keyáishk, Wechúsh, Jóichik, (7x2B)
Lineages (3) 3 lineages (3x3A) 3 sho'on (3x3B)
Initiates (4) young men (4A)* kloketen (4B)*
Spirits (5) 2 main spirits (2x5A) at least 30 Shoorts (men), Xalpen (effigy) (31x5B)
Shaman (6) 1 shaman (1x6A) ? (6B)
Body decoration (7) painting, masks, dress (3x7A) at least 30 forms of abstract paintings on bodies on kloketen and Shoorts,
application of feathers, 2 types of masks (tolon, asl) (33x7B)
Connections main elements 1-2 / 1-3 / 2-3 / 4-5 / 4-6 / 4-7 / 5-6 / 5-7 (n=8)
Connections element composition 1A-2A-1A-2A-1A-2A-1A-2A / 1A-3A-1A-3A-1A-3A / 2A-3A-2A-3A-2A-3A / 4A-5A-4A-5A / 4A-6A / 4A-7A-
4A-7A-4A-7A / 5A-6A-5A-6A / 5A-7A-5A-7A-5A-7A-5A-7A-5A-7A-5A-7A (n=40)
Connections element detail 1B-2B-1B-2B-1B-2B-1B-2B / 1B-3B-1B-3B-1B-3B / 2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B / 4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B-
4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B-4B-5B** / 4B-6B / 4B-7B-4B-7B-4B-7B-4B-7B-4B-7B*** / 5B-6B-5B-6B-5B-6B-
5B-6B-5B-6B-5B-6B-5B-6B-5B-6B-5B-6B-5B** / 5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-7B-5B-
7B-5B-7B**+*** (n=83)

Table 2.3 The structure of the Selk’nam Hain ritual (based on A. Chapman 1997). * = group of initiates counted as 1; ** = based on 10
spirits; *** = based on 5 types of body decoration.

clothing, worn loosely over their otherwise naked bodies,

with the fur on the outside. They had only few domestic
tools, such as simple storage bags, baskets, scrapers and awls
and their weapons were bows and arrows. On encountering
Fuegians aboard Captain Fitzroy’s Beagle in 1831, Darwin,
the godfather of evolutionism, exclaimed: “I could not have
believed how wide was the difference between savage
and civilized man. It is greater than between a wild and
domesticated animal ...” (Darwin 1839, 228 quoted in Beer
1997, 149). Notwithstanding their indeed poor material
culture, the ritual life of the Selk’nam was very complex.
In fact, it is too complicated to even properly summarise
here. Therefore, mainly by means of some citations from
an analysis of the so-called Hain ritual (A. Chapman 1982,
1997) and a scheme (Table 2.3), I shall provide a taste of
this complexity.


The Hain ritual was a rite de passage, a coming-of-age
ceremony for young men during which the otherwise
wandering family groups congregated. Both the ceremony
and the sacred hut that was the focus of the rituals were
called Hain. The objective of the extended ritual was to
instruct the male initiates (kloketen) in the moral behaviour,
oral tradition and subsistence activities of Selk’nam society.
The two principal spirits of the Hain ritual were Shoort and Fig. 2.1 Main participants of the Selk’nam Hain ritual: the two
Xalpen. Xalpen was the only (female) spirit represented Shoorts of the north and left skies. Typically the men representing
by an effigy. Shoort was represented by fantastically and the spirits (which are primarily manifestations of the sun) are
abstractly painted and masked male human actors (Fig. 2.1), naked and decorated by painted abstract symbols. The masks are
who actively terrorised the initiates and women (except the guanco-leather hoods stuffed with vegetal matter (after photo taken
wives and in-laws of the shamans). Among the audience by Gusinde 1931, re-published by A. Chapman, 1997, fig. 71).
16 Marc Verhoeven

the mothers of the kloketens played prominent ceremonial elements. Clearly, as already indicated by the citations, we
roles. Shamans seem to have been the principal directors have here a very complex cosmology, religious system and
of the ritual. The Hain ceremony could last an entire year ritual practice in a politically egalitarian hunter-gatherer
or even longer. society that would be deemed ‘simple’ according to standard
The Hain hut symbolised both the cosmos and the social evolutionary schemes.
social system. Its four principal posts were aligned in Our second example of ritually complex contexts in a
a circle at the cardinal points or ‘skies’ (sho’on). These presumed socially/politically unstratified society comes
posts represented the ‘centres of the skies’, the places of from the prehistory of the Near East, the early Neolithic
creation in the universe (‘wombs’). Three additional posts site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.
were set up between these main features. Each of the seven
posts represented a number of territories and lineages (A.
Chapman 1997, 88–89): Göbekli Tepe
The four skies were thought of as ‘invisible cordilleras of Göbekli Tepe (‘navel mountain’) is located near the city of
infinity’. The east sky, whose post was named Páhuil (a Haush Urfa in south-eastern Turkey in a rather desolated area at the
word) was the most magnificent yet the most treacherous of top of a large limestone ridge. The site consists of several
all. Its great slippery cordillera was surrounded by a sea of mounds, the total area of occupation measuring about 300
boiling water. The magnificent cordillera of the west sky was m in diameter. Since 1995, excavations covering an area of
the centre, or womb, of the wind (Shenu), for whom the west approximately 5000 km2 have been mainly carried out on
post of the Hain was named. The sun (Krren) was associated the south-eastern mound. Göbekli Tepe dates from between
with the west sky, and Shenu was his brother. Shenu had assisted c. 9100–8500 cal BC, i.e. from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
his brother Krren, then a powerful shaman, when they attacked (PPNA) to the Middle/Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)
the Hain of the matriarchy and its dominant leader, the female
shaman Moon (Kreeh). In the beautiful cordillera of the south
As is well known, Göbekli Tepe has yielded spectacular
sky lived Owl (Sheit), for whom the south post was named.
His mighty brother Snow (Hosh) also lived there with his sister evidence of what were undoubtedly ritual practices, indicated
Moon, once sovereign of the famed matriarchy, who had been by several stone buildings with megalithic decorated T-
defeated by her husband Sun. Finally, the cordillera of the north shaped pillars and a large stone sculpture depicting various
sky was the home of Sea (Kox) and his sister Rain (Chalu). humans and animals. Given that some of the T-shaped pillars
Here the mystical Flamingo (Télil) was honoured as the north (like those found in a ‘cult building’ at the nearby Early-
post of the Hain. The souls (kaspi) of humans returned at death Middle PPNB site Nevali Çori: e.g. Hauptmann 1993, 1999;
to these wombs, the skies, with which each person had been Hauptmann and Schmidt 2007) were marked by bent human
identified during his or her lifetime. In the wombs of the vast arms at the sides and hands and possible indications of dress
outer space the souls were reunited with the eternal forces of at the front (all in bas-relief), it is highly likely that they
the universe.
depict humans, the body being represented by the vertical
The Selk’nam cosmology was not only materialised in the part and the head by the horizontal part of the ‘T’. Rich
Hain hut but also played an important role in the power and samples of wild plants and animals and the absence of houses
symbolism of Shoorts (A. Chapman 1997, 100): and evidence for animal or plant domestication indicate
that Göbekli Tepe was occupied by hunter-gatherers (e.g.
While all appear to be manifestations of the sun symbol, some
have different functions and status. But there is a prototype Schmidt 2001; 2005; 2006; 2007; Hauptmann and Schmidt
Shoort who is represented by the k’tétu ..., a small white owl ... 2007). In standard social-evolutionary classifications, the
As a mythological being K’tétu had been a powerful shaman. people using this site would probably be expected to be
He belonged to the west sky, the sky of the sun, was ‘very part of a band or a tribe.
perfect’, handsome and muscular, and played the part of Shoort
particularly well during the first men’s (mythological) Hain. ANIMALS THAT MATTER: RITUAL PRACTICE
Later he was transformed into this owl. The Shoort personage The functions and meanings of the buildings and sculptures
of the real Hain was decorated to depict the patterns of the is still puzzling and far from clear, but for the moment the
owl’s feathers: white bands around the eyes of his mask, white excavator, Klaus Schmidt, suggests that the site was a central
knees and white splotches of paint on his body.
place for hunter-gatherer communities; a place where,
These examples suffice to show that the Hain ritual and first and foremost, rituals related to death were carried
associated Selk’nam cosmology are very complex. This out (though so far, no burials have been found), possibly
is indicated in Table 2.3, which presents a general scheme under the direction of shamans. The T-shaped pillars would
of the complex structure of the Hain ceremony, especially have depicted supernatural beings or ancestors, who were
of the connections (physical and/or non-material) between protected by the dangerous animals depicted on the pillars.
the various constituents. A conservative estimate indicates At the end of their use-life the buildings were deliberately
that there were up to 83 connections between the various filled and buried, possibly reinforcing their role in death
2. Social complexity and archaeology: A contextual approach 17

cults (Schmidt 2006; 2007). Whatever the precise meaning

of the buildings and sculpture, it seems to be clear that here
we have unmistakable and spectacular evidence for ritual
activities (see e.g. Verhoeven 2002).
In the following paragraphs, based mainly on the work
of Schmidt (2006; 2007), I shall deal with the rich and
complex iconography on the large T-shaped pillars (Fig. 2.2).
I shall also focus on PPNA level III in which the oval stone
buildings A, B, C and D have been excavated (on the basis of
geophysical research, it is estimated that at least 20 additional
buildings are present at the site). The largest building (C)
measures approximately 30 × 25 m, while the smallest
building (B) measures about 15 × 15 m. To date, a total of
38 stone pillars have been recovered from these structures.
The pillars are situated within or against the stone walls
and benches where they surround two larger free-standing
central pillars (except in building A: see fig. 76 in Schmidt
2006). On the basis of the designs on the pillars, buildings A
and B are known as the Snake-pillar Building and the Fox-
pillar Building respectively (a smaller rectangular building
of the later PPNB level IIA has been termed the Lion-pillar
Building). The pillars in buildings A–D have been listed in
Tables 2.4 and 2.5); on the basis of published information
(no detailed analyses are available yet), I attempt to present
the decorations of each pillar in order to assess the degrees
of iconographic and ritual complexity.
As indicated in Tables 2.4–2.5, the maximum number
of different symbols on a pillar is seven, and symbols
are present in 55 cases. At least 48 different symbols are
present on the pillars in 20 buildings. Building B was
particularly rich in connections between different elements.
As the majority of the pillars are partly hidden in walls,
and as not all of them have been excavated down to their
bases, many more symbols and connections are probably
present. In fact, many other objects, features and contexts
have been found with undoubtedly highly symbolic and,
most probably, ritual functions and meanings, mainly large
animal, human and human-animal statues. The ongoing
excavations will undoubtedly reveal more such features.
While it is as yet not possible to reliably estimate the
number of connections between the different elements of
the ritual ‘system’, the presence of at least 20 buildings
and at least 38 (probably anthropomorphic) pillars with at
least 48 different (animal and abstract) symbols in varying
combinations, surely indicates that the buildings at Göbekli
Tepe were quite complex symbolic structures. In fact, we
can say that they were part of a complex symbolic, ritual
and religious ‘universe’.

Fig 2.2 View of the front part of one of the large T-shaped stone
Conclusions pillars in a ritual building at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe (pillar
It is undeniable that on a global scale there has been a 33 in Building D): symbolic connections between different animals:
general evolution from small-scale, politically largely an insect and snakes (after Schmidt 2006, fig. 91).
18 Marc Verhoeven

Building A Symbol 1 Symbol 2 Symbol 3 Symbol 4 Symbol 5 Symbol 6 Symbol 7 Total

1 snakes wild sheep 2
2 bull fox crane bird? bucranium snake 5
3 ? ?
4 ? ?
5 snake 1
17 'head' 1
Building B
6 reptile, snake 2
7 ? ?
8 ? ?
9 fox ?
10 fox ?
14 fox? ?
15 ? ?
16 ? ?
34 ? ?
Building C
11 bear, lion, 1
12 wild boar fox birds abstract net 4
13 ? ?
23 wild boar 1
24 ? ?
25 ? ?
26 wild boar 1
27 ? ?
28 wild boar half moon 'baulk' 1
29 ? ?
35 ? ?

Table 2.4 The iconography of the pillars (indicated by numbers) in Buildings A–C of Level III (PPNA) at Göbekli Tepe. ? = no symbols
recovered so far. Based on Schmidt 2006; 2007.

undifferentiated and principally egalitarian societies to our examples can be presented in the Near East, such as the
current (western) highly complex way of living. As heuristic complex hunter-gatherers of the Epi-Palaeolithic Natufian
devices, therefore, terms like band, tribe, chiefdom, and culture and early farmers and pastoralists at Late Neolithic
state are useful for giving an idea about the general nature Çatalhöyük and Tell Sabi Abyad I (see e.g. Verhoeven 2000;
of societies. However, such social-evolutionary schemes 2004; Hodder 2006).
are over-generalising, ethnocentric (modern Western), In assessing degrees of complexity, then, we should look
essentialist and acontextual. Moreover, depending on at ‘deep’, structural traits (e.g. by counting the connections
contexts, complexity has many dimensions. As we have between different elements) instead of using the pre-
seen, societies that are materially and politically perhaps established surface traits such as economic and political
not complex (i.e. simple), such as the sub-recent Selk’nam characteristics of types of societies. The alternative to
in Patagonia or the hunter-gatherers at early Neolithic using complexity to refer to a sequence of societal types
Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey, can nevertheless is to acknowledge that according to context (material,
be very complex in other respects. In fact, many other technological, symbolical, ritual, etc.) there can be different
2. Social complexity and archaeology: A contextual approach 19

Building C Symbol 1 Symbol 2 Symbol 3 Symbol 4 Symbol 5 Symbol 6 Symbol 7 Total

36 ? ?
37 ? ?
39 ? ?
Building D
18 human arms fox H-symbol circle half-moon 5
19 snake 1
20 snake bull fox 3
21 gazelle onager? lion, 3
22 fox snake hare? 3
30 onager? snakes H-symbol 3
31 human arms bucranium 2
32 ? ?
33 fox snakes cranes? birds spider insect H-symbol 7
38 bull fox wild boar cranes? Ibis? bird bucranium 7
39 ? ?
40 ? ?
41 ? ?
42 ? ?
43 crane birds? H-symbol 2
Total 55

Table 2.5 The iconography of the pillars (indicated by numbers) in Buildings C–D of Level III (PPNA) at Göbekli Tepe. ? = no symbols
recovered so far. Based on Schmidt 2006; 2007.

levels of complexity in any community or society. In other their editorial assistance. Mikko Kriek made the drawings
words, there are different forms of complexity. Communities and Ans Bulles corrected the English text.
or societies are not complex or simple; rather, they have both
complex and non-complex dimensions. In such a contextual
approach it is explicitly acknowledged that social complexity
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NORTHERN LEVANT, c. 6500–6000 BC

Peter M. M. G. Akkermans

Round houses are a characteristic feature of the 6th Yarim Tepe II–III in Iraq. These rectangular buildings, it has
millennium BC in Syro-Mesopotamia (all dates in this been suggested, were special-purpose installations, serving
paper are calibrated dates BC). Substantial evidence for as the communities’ communal granaries or storehouses
this kind of architecture first came to light at Yunus in (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003, 117).
south-eastern Anatolia and, in particular, at Tell Arpachiyah Because of their extreme abundance at the 6th millen-
in Northern Iraq in the early 1930s. Ever since then, the nium Halaf sites, the tholoi have always been considered
circular structures have usually been referred to as tholoi archetypical of this culture and period. It is important
(singular tholos) on the basis of some broad but misleading to realise, however, that the distribution of these round
parallels in layout with Mycenaean tombs of a much later buildings cuts across the traditional cultural boundaries
date (Mallowan and Rose 1935, 25). Two basic types are created by archaeologists in every possible way: not only
found: buildings simply made of one circular room; and more do the circular dwellings appear to have had a much longer
complex, keyhole-shaped buildings consisting of a circular history, going back as far as the mid-7th millennium BC,
room enlarged by a rectangular antechamber. Generally they but they also occur roughly contemporarily in places alien
have a diameter between 3 and 5 m although both smaller to the Halaf culture, such as the Yarmukian sites of the
and much larger ones occur as well. The walls were made southern Levant (e.g. Gopher 1995). The Late Neolithic
of mud brick or pisé, either laid on stone foundations or tholoi, it appears, were not simply part of the ‘checklist’
simply set on the surface without any support whatsoever. of a specific archaeological construct (culture, period and
The walls carried a mud plaster often covered by a thin region) but served in many different circumstances.
white gypsum coating, giving the buildings a bright white Reviews of the round buildings of the 6th millennium
appearance. The tholoi are usually thought to have had Halaf culture are relatively numerous (e.g. Akkermans
beehive-shaped superstructures made wholly of mud bricks, 1989; Breniquet 1996; Tsuneki and Miyake 1998), but very
but flat or pitched roofs made of reeds and other organic little has been said until now about the tholoi of the 7th
materials were probably used as well. millennium BC. The latter structures are astounding finds
By the mid-6th millennium, circular structures with or if only because of their great and unexpected antiquity.
without a rectangular antechamber were immensely popular Hence the purpose of this article is to briefly consider the
in the hamlets and villages of the Halaf culture over much of nature and origins of the earliest round dwellings in Late
northern Syria, south-eastern Anatolia and Iraq. Sites of this Neolithic Syria, c. 6500–6000 BC, primarily on the basis of
period tended to consist almost exclusively of round houses the excavations at the site of Tell Sabi Abyad on the Balikh.
although rectangular structures still occurred in (very) The paper is in honour of Eddie Peltenburg, who has been a
modest numbers. A few such rectangular buildings made of friend for many years as well as an outstanding researcher in
very small cellular rooms, for example, were located amidst the field of Near Eastern archaeology, and who happens to
a mass of round houses at Çavi Tarlası in south-eastern share an interest in prehistoric round houses, particularly on
Anatolia, at Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria and at the mounds of the island of Cyprus (see, for example, Peltenburg 2004).
3. Late Neolithic architectural renewal: The emergence of round houses in the northern Levant 23

Fig. 3.1 Map of Syria and the location of Tell Sabi Abyad.

Seventh Millennium Origins

The long held belief that the northern Levantine tholoi
originated in the Halaf epoch (c. 5900–5300 BC), and not
before, derived principally from the absence of any such
structures in occupations of an earlier, pre-Halaf, date
(although it must be added that the absence of evidence was
primarily negative in the sense that the number of excavated
sites of this earlier period were minimal). However,
excavations since the start of the 1990s at several sites in
Syria, such as Tell Sabi Abyad, Tell Halula, Tell el-Kerkh
and Chagar Bazar, have begun to explore settlement strata
of the late 7th millennium BC which, significantly, contained
circular architecture. Most relevant in this respect is the
extensive fieldwork at Tell Sabi Abyad in the Balikh region Fig. 3.2 This building with the hearth opposite the entrance is
of northern Syria (Fig. 3.1), which has revealed a great one of the earliest circular structures found at Tell Sabi Abyad so
number of round dwellings in association with rectangular far (Operation III, Level 3A, c. 6400 BC). The man in it is sitting
buildings in occupation levels predating the onset of the next to the hearth. Note the relatively wide wall and the restricted
Halaf culture by many hundreds of years. The site has interior diameter (3 m).
provided the earliest Late Neolithic circular architecture
known in the Levant so far.
The earliest round structures at Tell Sabi Abyad (Fig. (or Pottery Neolithic) occupations, radiocarbon dated to
3.2) occurred in the extensive exposure termed Operation between c. 7000 and 6200 BC (cf Akkermans et al. 2006).
III on the north-western part of the mound where work Although the stratigraphic analysis is still in progress,
succeeded in establishing a long sequence of Late Neolithic at least 13 main levels of settlement (often divided into
24 Peter M. M. G. Akkermans

the round structures occurred in very small numbers (the

paucity of round buildings has nothing to do with sample
size but is a reality when taking into account the very
large area of excavation, i.e. over 1800 m2). A total of six
tholoi have been found so far, in Operation III Levels 5C
to 2B, respectively. In each of these strata only a single
circular building stood amidst a range of large and small,
single or multi-roomed, rectangular features. Moreover,
their occurrence was not continuous in the sense that there
were intermediate sub-levels without round buildings.
Depositional and radiocarbon evidence suggests that the
tholoi were relatively short-lived and used over perhaps one
generation at most, then abandoned and left to the elements
(in view of the collapsed wall debris in them).
Fig. 3.3 The wall of the round house in Operation III, Level 2C,
Only in one case did the round buildings show evidence
c. 6300 BC. A typical tholos wall, showing crumbly, orange,
of remodelling or reconstruction in the same place: the Level
irregularly-shaped clay slabs joined by a solid, gray mortar. Different
sources of clay must have been in use. 2B tholos was (partially) founded upon the remains of the
lower, Level 2C tholos. Significantly, the rectangular, multi-
roomed architecture situated on either side of the tholos
had also been rebuilt in roughly the same place and on the
sublevels) were identified, some of them occurring in the same alignment, suggesting a continuous use of architectural
broad horizontal exposures high on the mound, others in the space over an extended span of time, perhaps by one
deep but relatively narrow soundings on the slope. family. In this case, it seems, there was a straightforward,
Circular buildings occur at Tell Sabi Abyad at an mutual relationship between both the round and rectangular
astonishingly early date, i.e. in Operation III from Level architecture on the spot; both types of building may have
5 onwards, c. 6500/6450 BC according to a number of served the needs of one and the same group of people
radiocarbon dates. These earliest tholoi were between 3 and although probably for different purposes when taking into
5 m in diameter with walls about 40–50 cm thick, made of account the difference in layout. The link is less clear in the
both sizeable, greyish to reddish-brown, irregularly shaped case of the other tholoi, which all stood isolated in the yards
clay slabs and what seem to have been small, handmade at some distance from the rectangular buildings.
mud bricks joined by a distinct grey mortar (Fig. 3.3).
Different sources of clay must have been exploited for
building purposes, each with its own qualities. There were
no particular foundations other than thick layers of mortar Round Houses in the late Seventh Millennium,
into which the first layer of bricks of different sizes was 6200–6000 BC
pressed. Entrance to these buildings was through narrow The long-lived settlement in the north-western part of Tell
doorways about 45 cm wide, which were preferably located Sabi Abyad (Operation III) came to an end at about 6200
in the south wall. Low clay thresholds were also present. BC. The desertion did not involve a total abandonment
Although it cannot be proved due to matters of preservation, of the site, however. Two new foci of occupation were
it is tempting to regard these doorways as low portholes as founded, partly on virgin soil, partly on slope wash at the
such features were the usual kind of passage in the local foot of the original mound (Operations I and II). Late 7th
settlements of this period (Akkermans et al. 2006). millennium settlement also included parts of the slope of
The buildings were covered inside and outside with the original site to the east and south although not always
a red or grey, often renewed mud plaster, which in once permanently. Interestingly, the shift in the area of habitation
instance carried a thick white gypsum coating. Two tholoi seems to coincide with many innovations and changes in
had a mud brick platform about 30 cm high, one covering the local organisation of settlement, architecture, material
about one fourth, the other about one third of the building’s culture, economy, etc. (cf Akkermans et al. 2006). One
interior. Two other tholoi contained a horseshoe-shaped of those changes involved a substantial increase in the
hearth close to the wall opposite the doorway, each almost use of round architecture although always in association
1 m long and 0.5 m wide (cf Fig. 3.1). Their floors consisted with rectangular buildings. While, as we have seen, only a
of a smoothed layer of burnt clay on a foundation of large handful of circular structures were employed in the early
sherds. One hearth had a partly intact, beehive-shaped roof levels, there were dozens of such buildings in the layers of
made of clay slabs, 55 cm high. the late 7th millennium, c. 6200–6000 BC.
In these early levels of settlement, c. 6500–6200 BC, The round houses of this period were between 2.5 and
3. Late Neolithic architectural renewal: The emergence of round houses in the northern Levant 25

Fig. 3.5 Spatial segmentation is a characteristic of the tholoi

from the late 7th millennium onwards. This round building, 4 m
Fig. 3.4 A relatively large tholos, about 4.6 m across (interior), with in interior diameter, has been divided in roughly two halves. The
a repeatedly renewed, horseshoe-shaped hearth east of the entrance. division wall was supported by a small buttress. A small circular,
Tell Sabi Abyad, Operation I, Level 7B, c. 6100/6050 BC. pedestal-shaped hearth stood in the eastern half. Tell Sabi Abyad,
Operation I, Level 7A, c. 6050 BC.

5.5 m in exterior diameter (Fig. 3.4). Their mud-brick or pedestal shaped fireplace in its centre, slightly raised above
pisé walls, about 25–45 cm wide, carried a mud plaster the floor. It was covered with a layer of white plaster with
both inside and outside, occasionally coated with a thin, a shallow, red-burnt hollow in the centre. Fireplaces also
white gypsum layer. The floors consisted of tramped earth, stood outside the tholoi, right next to their entrance or set
sometimes with an additional clay plaster or a layer of against their wall. Sometimes half of a large, broken pottery
pottery sherds pressed into the mud for additional strength. jar laid on its side was used as a fireplace.
Remarkably, in a few cases the plaster on the wall and floor Installations such as platforms, seats or benches were
had been heavily burnt. This reddish, burnt plaster was a virtually absent. In one tholos there was a low, white-
characteristic trait of many circular buildings at Tell Sabi plastered bench or dais about 30 cm high and 40 cm wide set
Abyad in the early 6th millennium Halaf period, but it was against the wall between the hearth and the doorway. A large
apparently used in the late 7th millennium as well. I assume jar neck had been sunk into it upside down, perhaps for use
that it served as a solid, hard coating, keeping out moisture as a stove (ashes and charcoal were in it; cf Nieuwenhuyse
and vermin (Akkermans 1989, 59). The tholoi walls stood 2007, 59).
directly on the slope of the mound without any foundation, Compartmentalisation was a main characteristic of many
and as a consequence the bases of the walls sometimes (albeit not all) round houses in the late 7th millennium. The
differed by as much as half a metre in elevation. In order interior space was divided by one or more walls into smaller
to create a flat surface for living and working, the tholoi compartments for living and working (Fig. 3.5), some of
interiors were planed with fresh clay or wall fragments from which were provided with doorways while others were not
other (collapsed) structures. The entrances to the tholoi were (access to them must have been high up in the wall). The
between 40 and 45 cm wide and were usually provided partition walls may have extended up to the roof level,
with a low clay threshold. In several instances the threshold creating small rooms and alcoves; alternatively, they may
contained a perforated limestone or a re-used fragment from have been in the form of low barriers demarcating grain bins
a basalt grinding slab with signs of hollowing and polishing, or other special-purpose installations. Very often the dividers
which probably served as a pivot stone. Occasionally, a were little more than two short walls perpendicular to the
sherd pavement lay in front of the doorway. The passages tholos wall, delimiting a roughly triangular compartment of
were usually to the south or to the west, occasionally to the such restricted size that it cannot have served any purpose
north but never to the east. other than storage.
Set against their wall, some tholoi had a rounded or Also new was the occasional addition of a rectangular
horseshoe shaped hearth as large as 1.8 m across with a antechamber to the circular room. Such keyhole shaped
smoothed, burnt clay floor on small limestones packed in buildings were a common feature at many sites of the
mud (cf Fig. 3.4). The hearths had been renewed often, up 6th millennium Halaf culture, but their occurrence in
to 12 times in one case, indicative of long use. In a few 7th millennium deposits is most unusual. In the case of
cases, shallow pits entirely filled with ashes were sunk into Tell Sabi Abyad, the few examples known so far seem to
the floor next to the hearth. One building had a small, round have been initially free-standing circular structures, which
26 Peter M. M. G. Akkermans

Fig. 3.6 A unique find at Tell Sabi Abyad: the small, white-plastered
tholos about 2.3 m across (interior), flanked on either side by a Fig. 3.7 Postcard from the late 1930s showing a beehive village
rectangular room. Operation I, Level 5B, c. 5960 BC. in the countryside northeast of Aleppo in Syria. Reconstructions
of the prehistoric round houses and the settlements in which they
stood are commonly based on analogies with the modern, local
villages shown on pictures like this. However, caution in the use
of such analogies is required because Neolithic communities were
were extended at a later time by means of a rectangular highly varied and their building strategies were the result of specific
room or incorporated into a much larger, multi-roomed historical and environmental circumstances.
rectilinear building. One small tholos in the south-eastern
area (Operation I, Level 5) had a circular, white-plastered
room about 3 m in diameter flanked on either side by a
rectangular room, each measuring roughly 1 by 1.5 m (Fig. about 20–30 years (Akkermans and Nieuwenhuyse in press)
3.6). The lack of bondage between the walls suggested that the buildings were often used for a short time then simply
the side rooms were added to the tholos at a somewhat later left to decay. Quite a number of them appear to have been
time. Access to the building was from the south through the supplanted two or three times by new ones founded upon
main circular room. One rectangular side room was almost the lower, levelled building remains. Their construction
completely occupied by a large horseshoe shaped oven with required little investment in terms of time and energy; the
a domed cover. work could probably be completed by five or six persons
The tholoi are usually thought to have had a vaulted within a week or so (cf Akkermans 1993, 302).
roof made entirely of mud bricks, primarily on the basis of
assumed parallels with the ‘beehive villages’ which until
recently dotted the countryside of northern Syria and south-
eastern Anatolia (Fig. 3.7; see also Copeland 1955; Aurenche Late Neolithic Round Houses in Perspective
1981). However, it is doubtful whether this perspective The earliest architecture of the Epipalaeolithic to Neolithic
is correct. Not only is there no historical relationship Near East consisted of round or oval, sometimes semi-
whatsoever between the two forms of architecture, but the subterranean dwellings 3–6 m in diameter. By 9000 BC
archaeological evidence itself suggests either a flat or a the round houses were slowly replaced by rectangular
pitched roof made of timber and reeds rather than a beehive structures in many shapes and sizes, which remained
shaped mud brick cover. Sunk into the floor in the centre predominant for several thousand years. The recurrence
of several tholoi at Tell Sabi Abyad was a concentration of of circular monocellular buildings around the middle of
limestone boulders, which probably served as a foundation the 7th millennium has no immediate cultural or technical
for a wooden post upholding the roof (cf Akkermans 1989, roots; it implies both an innovation in architectural design
32; 1993, 63). Other round buildings at the site contained and a fundamental departure from the long lived tradition
clay fragments with impressions of reeds and wooden poles of rectilinear construction.
in their room fill, clearly showing that their roofs were In the first 200 or 300 years of their existence, the round
made of wooden rafters covered by reed mats, which in houses were little more than a sporadic supplement to the
turn were probably covered by a thick mud layer (a kind existing architectural repertoire in the villages of the Late
of construction also used in the rectangular structures at Neolithic, increasing swiftly in importance only after c. 6200
the site). BC. Apparently it took many generations for these buildings
Both stratigraphic and radiocarbon evidence at Tell Sabi to gain widespread use and acceptance, perhaps because
Abyad suggest that the late 7th millennium tholoi had a there was initially little need for them or because a social
restricted lifespan. Within a single building phase lasting for resistance of some sort accompanied their introduction.
3. Late Neolithic architectural renewal: The emergence of round houses in the northern Levant 27

Alternatively, we may consider the scarcity of round a degrading natural environment and differences in social
buildings in the early levels as intentional and meaningful, structure and community organisation (cf Akkermans and
related to the use of these structures in the communities. Schwartz 2003, 103–131 and references therein). The late
The tholoi were unique with respect to their layout and 7th millennium communities themselves remained as they
conspicuous appearance, as well as their highly restricted were before, i.e. predominantly small and dispersed, in the
occurrence. Hence, they may have served specific purposes order of 0.5–1 ha, with the number of inhabitants restricted
very different from the usual rectangular architecture which to a few dozen. The architectural change, however, was
stood abundantly around them. The persistent presence of slow but radical in the sense that it entailed the virtually
a single round building in each of the upper occupational complete replacement of the large, multicellular, rectilinear
phases at Tell Sabi Abyad is indicative of the limited yet edifices by small, monocellular, round structures. Although
steady demand for these special purpose installations and the once dominant rectangular houses did not disappear
their success over a prolonged period of time. altogether, they were given a new meaning as buildings
However, it is still very difficult to establish what the primarily intended for storage rather than domestic living
assumed special function of the earliest tholoi might have and working. In light of the above, an entirely new
entailed. There were no artefacts or installations in the architectural rationale – either utilitarian, societal and/or
buildings other than those mentioned above to provide ideological – came into existence in many parts of the Levant
clues to their use. Tholoi were carefully raised architectural in the late 7th millennium, which focussed on small group
features, but this was the case for most if not all of the size and corporate efforts: the round houses were meant to
rectangular structures as well. Their occasional white plaster accommodate a single person or a small household of five or
and hearths are other traits shared with the many rectilinear six individuals at the most while the storage buildings were
buildings in the vicinity, suggesting regular, domestic for the benefit of the entire group, whether that community
arrangements. Any activity in the round buildings must have was a single household or several such units (Akkermans
been on a relatively small scale, involving only a few people, and Schwartz 2003, 151).
given their single room and restricted size. It is tempting The new architecture often seems to have had a transient
to attribute ritual significance to these rare and exceptional character. Although the rectilinear storage buildings may
structures although there is no proof to either confirm or have remained in use for 20 or 30 years with little or
reject this idea. Were the circular buildings simply another no noticeable modification, the circular structures were
form of domestic architecture of this period? used briefly then replaced, often in the same place and
The early tholoi scarcely differed from the many circular alignment. Only the larger tholoi experienced a more
structures so characteristic of the late 7th and, especially, sustained occupation, given the repeated renewal of their
6th millennium BC. There is widespread agreement that the central hearths. It is tempting to assume that many of the
tholoi of this period principally served domestic purposes round buildings were used seasonally and subsequently left
(eating, drinking, sleeping, socialising, etc.). The abundant to their fate, especially because their construction required
occurrence of the tholoi, the hearths and other installations little investment in terms of time and labour. In this respect,
often found in them, and the nature and distribution of it seems that the circular architecture of the late 7th and 6th
artefacts in and around them are all mentioned as indicators millennia cannot be detached from another trait typical of
of their use in daily life, i.e. as ordinary dwellings for living this period, i.e. the focus upon mobility and the temporary
and working, granaries, storerooms or animal pens (see, for living in small and autonomous groups dispersed over the
example, Oates and Oates 1976; Breniquet 1996). Moreover, landscape. Tholoi, it seems, were easily established and
in the case of 7th millennium Tell Sabi Abyad it has been easily deserted and so were the settlements in which they
argued that the larger tholoi must have been houses because stood so prominently.
they contained the most extensive (single room) interior
spaces and as such were the only local features suitable
for constant habitation. The rectangular buildings at the
site of this period are considered primarily to represent References
storehouses divided into many (very) small, cellular rooms Akkermans, P. M. M. G. 1989. Tell Sabi Abyad: Stratigraphy
(Verhoeven 1999). and architecture. In P. M. M. G. Akkermans (ed.) Excavations
at Tell Sabi Abyad: Prehistoric Investigations in the Balikh
The shift from rectangular to circular buildings, which
Valley, Northern Syria, 17–75. British Archaeological Reports
began around the middle of the 7th millennium or shortly International Series 468. Oxford, British Archaeological
afterwards and which steadily increased in importance in Reports.
the course of time, has not yet been satisfactorily explained. Akkermans, P. M. M. G. 1993. Villages in the Steppe: Late Neo-
A variety of perspectives have been proposed, ranging from lithic Settlement and Subsistence in the Balikh Valley, Northern
a revival of much older building traditions that had still Syria. Ann Arbor, International Monographs in Prehistory.
survived in remote hinterlands to adaptations resulting from Akkermans, P. M. M. G. and O. P. Nieuwenhuyse (eds) in press.
28 Peter M. M. G. Akkermans

Excavations at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad: Interim Report of Society in the Holy Land, 205–225. London, Leicester
on the Archaeological Research (1994–1999) in the Balikh University Press.
Valley, Syria. Turnhout, Brepols. Mallowan, M. E. L. and J. C. Rose 1935. Excavations at Tell
Akkermans, P. M. M. G. and G. M. Schwartz 2003. The Archaeol- Arpachiyah, 1933. Iraq 2, 1–178.
ogy of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Nieuwenhuyse, O. P. 2007. Plain and Painted Pottery: The
Society, ca. 16,000–300 BC. Cambridge, Cambridge University Rise of Neolithic Ceramic Styles on the Syrian and Northern
Press. Mesopotamian Plains. Turnhout, Brepols.
Akkermans, P. M. M. G., R. Cappers, C. Cavallo, O. Nieuwenhuyse, Oates, D. and J. Oates 1976. The Rise of Civilization. Oxford,
B. Nilhamn, and I. Otte 2006. Investigating the early Pottery Elsevier-Phaidon.
Neolithic of northern Syria: New evidence from Tell Sabi Peltenburg, E. 2004. Social space in early sedentary communities
Abyad. American Journal of Archaeology 110, 123–156. of southwest Asia and Cyprus. In E. Peltenburg and A. Wasse
Aurenche, O. 1981. La maison orientale: L’architecture du Proche (eds) Neolithic Revolution: New Perspectives on Southwest
Orient ancien des origines au milieu du quatriéme millenaire. Asia in Light of Recent Discoveries on Cyprus, 71–89. Oxford,
Paris, Geuthner. Oxbow.
Breniquet, C. 1996. La disparition de la culture de Halaf: Les Tsuneki, A. and Y. Miyake (eds) 1998. Excavations at Tell Umm
origines de la culture d’Obeid dans le nord de la Mésopotamie. Qseir in Middle Khabur Valley, North Syria: Report of the 1996
Paris, Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations. Season. Tsukuba, University of Tsukuba.
Copeland, P.W. 1955. Beehive villages of north Syria. Antiquity Verhoeven, M. 1999. An Archaeological Ethnography of a
29, 21–24. Neolithic Community: Space, Place and Social Relations in the
Gopher, A. 1995. Early pottery-bearing groups in Israel: The Burnt Village at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria. Istanbul, Nederlands
Pottery Neolithic period. In T. E. Levy (ed.) The Archaeology Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut.



Demetra Papaconstantinou

While it remains correct to state that the archaeology of similar case since from the moment of their appearance
neolithic Cyprus is mainly the archaeology of domestic they manage, quietly but persistently, to revolutionise
units, the prolific record of that period allows us, through the archaeological research and change the way archaeology
evaluation of conditions of abandonment, to investigate elusive perceives its object of study. For decades archaeologists
sociocultural levels of explanation. To accomplish that, we need
have reconstructed and narrated the history of the sites they
to treat house evidence as an interactive part of the totality of
excavated as if everything they were finding, apart from the
human experience.
(Peltenburg 2003b, 118) obvious cases of eroded deposits, had a systemic coherence
and value and was the direct reflection of the socio-political
Perhaps one of the most fascinating moments in research systems of the communities they examined. Today, however,
is when you realise that the questions you have been with the work that has been done on depositional and
investigating for so long and for which you thought you abandonment processes in ethnoarchaeology, it is almost
had found convincing answers, viewed from a different impossible to make such connections without acknowledging
perspective, lead to a completely different field of inquiry the fact that any kind of interpretation about the past is in
and an entirely new range of interpretations. This is one way or another filtered through these processes.
undoubtedly the most fascinating but at the same time the Research on prehistoric Cyprus has been very quick to
most frustrating and disturbing moment of research, one respond to this kind of concern, and a significant number
that makes you wonder about your conceptual constraints of projects have been conducted that are sensitive to
at any given time and at the same time emphasises in depositional and abandonment processes (Frankel and Webb
the best possible way the significance of interacting and 1996; Peltenburg et al. 1998; Daune-Le Brun 2008). Even
experimenting with new ideas. more significant is the fact these attempts are progressing
The archaeology of prehistoric Cyprus has many such to the final stage of publication and are therefore being
moments to offer. Owing to the wealth of its material and ‘materialised’ into well integrated practice.
presenting a really intensive and well practiced archaeological One of the most significant patterns to have emerged out
activity by several committed researchers, archaeological of this interest seems to be the identification of divergent
evidence from Cypriot prehistory offers a remarkable record practices in relation to floor assemblages among the main
for the application of different perspectives, one which often phases in the prehistory of the island, with emphasis
competes with its revelations and with the findings of new shifting over time between burials and houses. During the
excavations. Recent investigations on the Aceramic phase Chalcolithic period there was an abundance of usable items
of the island with reference to its colonisation, based on on abandoned floors, in contrast to the rather poor burial
the recovery of new material (Guilaine and Briois 2001; depositions, while in the Aceramic and Early Bronze Age
Peltenburg et al. 2003) and the re-examination of material periods these same artefacts were discarded away from the
from older excavations (McCartney 2006), present one of abandoned floors (Peltenburg 2003b, 114–115, table 2).
the most remarkable examples of this phenomenon. And this The present paper attempts to contribute to the above
is just one example. by reviewing the depositional practices at a specific
Depositional and abandonment processes constitute a site and discussing possible ways of understanding and
30 Demetra Papaconstantinou

defining closure ceremonies in the prehistoric record. As a material possessions were burned, comprising per-
framework for that exercise, a brief comment on the role sonal possessions or broken and no longer usable
of ethnoarchaeological data in depositional processes is objects.
necessary. • examples where, in order to avoid the mass destruction
of household objects, a dying person was moved to an
empty, makeshift structure, which was later burned.
• cases in which groups who were practicing differential
Discard and Abandonment in Ethnoarchaeology:
disposal of the deceased’s possessions left some
Putting Our Knowledge to Work
objects destroyed or abandoned on house floors
The study of formation processes constitutes one of the while other objects were interred with the individual,
most powerful influences processual thinking has had on dumped in specialised refuse areas or redistributed.
archaeology, and since the 1960s it has generated extensive • cases where objects were deposited upon abandon-
discussions between archaeologists and ethnoarchaeologists ment as ‘offerings’ for an individual buried beneath
concerning the nature of the archaeological evidence and the the floor.
relationship between human behaviour and material culture
Indicative of the interpretative limits that these models
(David and Kramer 2001; Cameron 2006). Apart from the
present for archaeological research is the phrase that follows
importance of taphonomy and the specialised studies that
LaMotta and Schiffer’s final assessment, that “much more
concentrate on the formation of sediments, ethnoarchaeology
comparative research needs to be conducted on specific
was recognised as a new field that would be able to help
processes of ritual deposition before we will be able to
archaeologists address and find solutions to these questions.
fully recognise the end-products of these behaviours in the
As such, it produced a new and useful vocabulary for the
archaeological record” (1999, 24).
identification and description of the different behavioural
Perhaps, in order to gain maximum input, one ought
patterns involved in formation process: de facto refuse,
to be looking at another set of cautionary tales that
primary deposition, secondary deposition/refuse, curation
ethnoarchaeology has to offer, and one that has more
behaviour, curate and discard strategies, planned/unplanned
practical implications. I refer to insights that have to do
abandonment, artifact scavenging, collecting and recycling,
with the very nature of depositional processes and which are
and ritual depletion or ritual/assemblage enrichment.
usually overlooked (LaMotta and Schiffer 1999, 24–25; see
This vocabulary was created primarily to describe two
also Allison 1999, 11–12). These include the fact that:
of the most important behavioural patterns of deposition:
discard and abandonment, patterns that according to • primary deposition of objects at their locations of use
ethnoarchaeological experience are significant not only is a fairly rare phenomenon and it is more likely that
because they reflect the life history of house floors, but we are usually dealing with abandonment or post-
because they refer to daily practices that frequently have a abandonment processes
strong symbolic content and are “guided by the social and • artefact assemblages contained within stratigraphically
symbolic fabrics of society” (Cameron 2006, 27). In support distinct proveniences are not qualitatively comparable
of that perspective, Richard Bradley has gone so far as to in all cases, and that house assemblage formation
state that “the archaeological record only retains the amount processes are not created equally;
of order that it does because of the very conventions by • a number of causes may generate similar abandonment
which it was formed” (2005, 208–209), and therefore the processes;
formality that certain archaeological patterns often contain • several ritual abandonment processes might actually
constitutes the reflection of ritualised actions. resemble other forms of cultural deposition, especially
Ethnoarchaeology has indeed a long list of cautionary provisional and de facto refuse deposition;
tales to present in relation to ritualised activities and • instances of ritual accretion and depletion may have
abandonment processes, activities which are usually related altered the content of an assemblage dramatically; and,
to the death of an occupant of a house. LaMotta and Schiffer finally
have presented an extensive list of these kinds of cases • both floor and fill deposits may be created by the
(1999, 23–25): same or similar depositional processes, and that these
• cases where houses were burned upon abandonment, deposits may be stratigraphically indistinguishable.
usually as a result of the death of one or more of the These statements, if taken seriously at an interpretative
occupants, or were systematically depleted before level, would certainly be enough to rewrite the history of
being burned, with foreign objects occasionally many of the archaeological sites that have been excavated
deposited on house floors as part of the abandonment so far. Currently, however, when they are addressed, they
ritual. usually result in rigorous taphonomic analysis and, as
• other cases where only a portion of the deceased’s Bradley observes, they are used in order to mark the limits
4. Abandonment processes and closure ceremonies in prehistoric Cyprus: In search of ritual 31

of what archaeological interpretation can achieve (2005, structures with irregular plans, a rich inventory of domestic
208). Furthermore, from an archaeological point of view, installations (hearths, fireplaces, bins and benches), and
there seems to be great concern with the fact that house floor on-floor tool assemblages. Owing to its exceptionally deep
assemblages in archaeology present the aggregate of different stratigraphy and the variety of material culture recovered,
actions of many individuals, i.e. a ‘palimpsest of activities’ the site has been the subject of many studies for the spatial
and as such cannot be perceived with the conventional manner arrangements and the depositional behavioural patterns it
used in anthropology or history as particular occurrences presents, exploring patterns of intergenerational competition
(Allison 1999; Bradley 2005; Lucas 2008). (Peltenburg 1982; 1993) and revealing the dynamic nature
In their attempt to put ethnoarchaeological research to and the continuous alterations in the life cycles of buildings
work for archaeology, scholars often seek alternative modes (Papaconstantinou 2002).
of interaction. Schlanger, for example, has suggested that we In one of the most recent re-examinations (Peltenburg
probably need to “discuss kinds of prehistoric abandonment 2003b), the evidence from Vrysi has been compared to
behaviours, instead of the effects of some abandonment ethnographic cases of closure ceremonies upon the death
practices on the assemblages we study” (1991, 460–473) of the occupant of a house based on repeated inventories
while Lucas, more recently, has questioned the conventional of on-floor usable materials, which in many cases seem
manner in which we think of events in archaeology as to diverge from the economising functionalistic principles
particular occurrences and has suggested that “rather than of planned abandonment processually characterised in
thinking about how objects can be interpreted in terms of ethnoarchaeology by depleted floors (Cameron and Tomka
the event, we ought to be thinking about how an event could 2003). The large numbers of intact objects, which were
be interpreted in terms of objects” (2008, 62). covered with thick, artifact-free, sterile deposits, are
Within that context, the following discussion will attempt considered to indicate a deliberate act rather than the regular
to re-examine material from a Late Neolithic site in Cyprus, wall collapse of a deserted building that had become a
placing emphasis on the event of the abandonment of its dumping ground (Peltenburg 2003b, 108–113). As such they
structures and exploring the possibilities that this type of resemble closure ceremonies that “may have been following
analysis can offer for future research. the death of an important occupant who was buried outside
her/his building but whose objects were largely retained in
what then became a memorial” (Peltenburg 2003b, 117),
emphasising major concerns with renewal and continuity.
By placing emphasis on the significance of the explor-
Abandonment Processes and Material ation of events in archaeology, as suggested by Lucas
Engagement in Archaeology: The Case of Ayios (2008), and by recognising in the abandonment of structures
Epiktitos-Vrysi the manifestation of one of the most clear events revealed
Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi (henceforth Vrysi) is a Late Neolithic by the archaeological record, the following discussion
settlement dating to the 5th millennium BC and located will concentrate on the comparison of the layers between
on a coastal promontory extending from the foothills of floors. This will be carried out according to the stratigraphic
the Kyrenia Mountains on the north coast of the island description of the site in the publication, and will explore
(Peltenburg 1982). It is part of the Ceramic Neolithic trad- the different types of depositional behaviour in each
ition which appeared after a gap of 500 to 1000 years from structure in an attempt to understand the conventions and
its predecessor, the Aceramic Neolithic, and is characterised formalities that may have characterised their life cycles. A
by a number of settlements (Vrysi, Sotira-Teppes, Klepini- brief description of the abandonment processes that seem
Troulli, Kantou-Koufovounos, Paralimni-Nissia) with quite to have taken place in the life history of the houses at Vrysi
distinctive pottery styles but similar intra-site arrangements raises significant issues for the understanding of such events
of clusters of freestanding houses usually identified as in the archaeological record (Tables 4.1 and 4.2).
general purpose habitation units (Peltenburg and Spanou If we compare the vocabulary used in ethnoarchaeology
1999; Bolger 2003, 26–29; Steel 2004, 63–74). with that formulated by archaeological observation in the
Vrysi is somewhat unique because the area in which it is field, there are clear distinctions concerning not only the
located is divided by a number of deep hollows and ridges, degree of intentionality but also the variety of processes that
most probably of natural origin, and as a result habitation might intervene between the use and re-use of buildings.
developed mostly within semi-subterranean hollows, form- Hence the archaeological list of events connected to the
ing a long succession of superimposed layers (Fig. 4.1). The abandonment of a structure involves a variety of processes
part of the settlement revealed by the excavation is divided that are not evident in the ethnoarchaeological record.
by a central ridge into two sectors, north and south, with These include the immediate re-use and re-surfacing of a
habitation starting initially from the north and extending to floor (House 1, floor 4b; House 2A, floor 3; House 3, floor
the south. Occupation in the area consists of single-roomed 5); the various ways a superstructure can collapse (roof
32 Demetra Papaconstantinou

Fig. 4.1 Plan and aerial photograph of Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi (after Peltenburg 1982).

and wall collapse: House 1, floor 5); removal of roof and areas cut by later features and eroded (House 5, floor 1;
demolition of the upper walls (House 1, floor 4a, floor 1); House 4a, floor 1b; House 2b, floor 1).
partial collapse (House 6, floor 2); and a number of different Furthermore, it is clear that the life histories of specific
post-abandonment activities, such as floors which were buildings are characterised by several types of ‘planned
left open as a dumping ground (House 7, floor 1), areas of actions’ which are quite different from each other. House 1,
continuous, ephemeral occupation (House 1, floor 5; House for example, presents a history of readily identifiable floors
6, floor 2; House 2b, floors 4a–b; House 3, floor 4), and with short periods of immediate re-use and re-surfacing and
4. Abandonment processes and closure ceremonies in prehistoric Cyprus: In search of ritual 33

House/ Succession of abandonment episodes House/floor Succession of abandonment episodes

House 2A
House 1 Floor 4b Re-surfacing
Floor 5 Roof and wall collapse Floor 4a Deep fill– not sterile
Fill-traces of temporary occupation Floor 3 Resurfacing
Floor 4b Re-surfacing Floor 2 Collapse of superstructure
Floor 4a Sterile deposit Ephemeral occupation – Deep fill
Floor 1 Erosion
Floor 3 Re-surfacing
Floor 2 Sterile deposit House 2b
Floor 1 Roof collapse –
Floor 5 Re-surfacing
Sterile deposit – collapse of superstructure
Floor 4a-b Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 3 Deep sterile fill
House 5 Collapsed superstructure?
Floor 2 Re-surfacing Floor 2 Re-surfacing
Floor 1 Collapse of superstructure Floor 1 Disturbed – pit cut
Disturbance – pit cut in rabble Fill – not sterile
Traces of occupation - erosion
House 6
Floor 3 Rubbish deposit primarily of debris House 3
Floor 2 Collapsed partly Floor 5 Re-surfacing- floor make up
Floor 1 Series of ephemeral floors Floor 4 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 3 Deep fill- not sterile
House 7 Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation Floor 1 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 1 Collapse of superstructure Eroded – cut by pit
Depression above the collapse - overlying dump
House 4a
House Floor 3 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
12 Floor 2 Partly collapsed
Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation Disturbance – erosion Partly eroded
Floor 1 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation Disturbance - erosion Floors 1b Re-surfacing
Disturbance – pit and ditch cut
Table 4.1 Abandonment processes, Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, North Floors 1a Re-surfacing - disturbance
Sector (interpretation based on Peltenburg 1982, 21–53). Shaded
areas indicate the lack of distinguishable floors and the existence House 4b
of a continuous build up of occupation. Bold in ‘Succession of Floor 2 Collapse of superstructure
Occupational debris
abandonment episodes’ column indicates the characteristics of the Floor 1 Erosion - Disturbance
layer immediately above the floor.
House 9
Floor 2 Deep fill – not sterile - Roof collapse?
Floor 1 Disturbance – pit cut
longer episodes of abandonment in which the floor was
covered with sterile, artifact-free deposits. Other buildings, Table 4.2 Abandonment processes, Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, South
on the contrary, display different processes, with evidence of Sector (interpretation based on Peltenburg 1982, 21–53). Shaded
areas indicate the lack of distinguishable floors and the existence
continuous, indistinguishable layers of occupation and the
of a continuous build up of occupation. Bold in ‘Succession of
absence of sterile fills (Houses 6 and 7 in the north sector; abandonment episodes’ column indicates the characteristics of the
Houses 2A and 3 in the south sector). layer immediately above the floor.
If we add to those patterns the evidence from the type
of discard processes observed in relation to floors, the list
of intentional acts is further enriched (Tables 4.3 and 4.4).
Evidence from usable objects left on floors, in many cases of activities in the layers between the floors has an equally
forming clusters, is related to a variety of abandonment significant role to play in discussions about abandonment.
processes, such as floors which were covered with sterile Refined methods of analysis of microstratigraphy could
deposits (House 1, floor 4a), short resurfacing episodes further enhance our knowledge of these processes, but even
(House 5, floor 2), and partial collapse (House 6, floor 2) at the level of ‘crude’ stratigraphic analysis just attempted, it
while the best preserved case of an in situ artifact assemblage is clear that abandonment processes vary significantly from
comes from a house in which there was no prior tradition floor to floor. In fact, one can say that apart from the one
of similar discard behaviour (House 2A, floor 3). case that has been identified by the excavator as de facto
This small exercise indicates that focussing on a few deposition, based on evidence of a sudden roof collapse
isolated cases of the best preserved floor assemblages (House 1, floor 5: Peltenburg 2003b, 108–109), most of the
in order to understand abandonment processes is quite a behavioural abandonment processes appear to be intentional.
restrictive practice for archaeology, and that the aggregation Therefore the challenge for archaeology is not to distinguish
34 Demetra Papaconstantinou

House/floor Curate and discard strategies Number of finds Succession of abandonment episodes

House 1
Floor 5 scatter 25 Roof and wall collapse
Fill-traces of temporary occupation
Floor 4b scatter 9 Re-surfacing
Floor 4a identifiable pattern 42 Sterile deposit
Floor 3 scatter 15 Re-surfacing
Floor 2 Sterile deposit
Floor 1 roof collapse
sterile deposit-collapse of superstructure

House 5
Floor 2 identifiable pattern 40 Re-surfacing
Floor 1 scatter 14 Collapse of superstructure
Disturbance – pit cut in rabble

House 6
Floor 3 Rubbish deposit primarily of debris
Floor 2 identifiable pattern 30 Collapsed partly
Floor 1 Series of ephemeral floors

House 7
Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 1 Collapse of superstructure
Depression above the collapse - overlying dump

House 12
Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Disturbance - erosion
Floor 1 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Disturbance - erosion

Table 4.3 Curate and discard strategies, Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, North Sector (data after Peltenburg 1982, 22–52). Shaded areas indicate
the lack of distinguishable floors and the existence of a continuous build up of occupation. The number of finds is not calculated for these
floors. The distinction between identifiable patterns and scattered objects refers to cases where patterns in the distribution of objects could
be discerned, due to their concentration against walls around domestic installations (hearths, benches and bins). The finds are mostly
bone and stone tools.

between planned and unplanned abandonment behaviour, as (see also Renfrew 2004, 30). In this respect House 1 at
ethnoarchaeology does, but to identify the type of planned Vrysi must indeed have been a significant building in
abandonment processes and its relationship to the deposition the history of the settlement since it was sealed off twice
of artifacts. (floors 4a, 2), in the first case together with two identifiable
Having extended our knowledge of abandonment pro- pillars of phallic shape. However, while its use, re-use and
cesses in the archaeological record, we realise that the transformation from domestic alterations (re-surfacing) to
distinction between abandonment and discard in closure more ritualised instances of abandonment (identified by
deposits refers in practice to two kinds of behavioural the deliberate deposition of usable on-floor assemblages
patterns: behaviour that has to do with the abandonment of a and sterile, object-free, fills) certainly indicate “renewing
building, i.e. how buildings ended their lives; and behaviour senses of identity” (Peltenburg 2003b, 117), these occur on
that has to do with the role of material culture in that process a rather limited, domestic scale.
of abandonment, i.e. patterns that refer to the low or high The abandonment of a house is the clearest event of change
contextual integrity of house-floor assemblages. that exists in the archaeological record. Since houses in the
Viewed from this perspective, the different types of Neolithic period seem to indicate simultaneously material
abandonment in the life history of buildings provide and symbolic roles (Peltenburg 1982; 2003a; Watkins 2004;
archaeologists with a meaningful pattern against which floor Koutrafouri 2008), the termination of the life-cycle of a house
assemblages can be examined, and on the basis of which does not only reflect practical needs but also the symbolic
a variety of stories can be told. This approach does not connection to its occupants and therefore to their death. If
contradict our choice of highlighting specific occurrences we accept that ritual is a communication system of ritualised
in the archaeological record, but it sets them in a wider actions by practitioners who “have acted in view of dealing
context and helps us realise that the occurrences reserved emotionally with situations of the reality, of understanding
in special deposits constitute only a small component of and explaining themselves and their world, so that order, in
the repertoire of artifacts and behaviours one can observe the way they understand it, can be maintained” (Koutrafouri
4. Abandonment processes and closure ceremonies in prehistoric Cyprus: In search of ritual 35

House/floor Curate and discard strategies Number of finds Succession of abandonment episodes

House 2A
Floor 4b scatter 2 Re-surfacing
Floor 4a scatter 9 Deep fill– not sterile
Floor 3 identifiable pattern / in situ finds 20 Resurfacing
Floor 2 scatter 3 Collapse of superstructure
Ephemeral occupation - Deep fill
Floor 1 - Erosion

House 2b
Floor 5 scatter 8 Re-surfacing
Floor 4a-b Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 3 Deep sterile fill
Collapsed superstructure?
Floor 2 scatter 8 Re-surfacing
Floor 1 31 Disturbed – pit cut
Fill - not sterile fill
Traces of occupation - erosion

House 3
Floor 5 Re-surfacing – floor make up
Floor 4 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 3 scatter 3 Deep fill- not sterile
Floor 2 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 1 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Eroded – cut by pit

House 4a
Floor 3 Re-surfacing - Continuous occupation
Floor 2 scatter 5 Partly collapsed
Partly Eroded
Floors 1b scatter 3 Re-surfacing
Disturbance – pit and ditch cut
Floor 1a scatter 22 Re-surfacing – disturbance

House 4b
Floor 2 scatter 5 Collapse of superstructure
Occupational debris
Floor 1 scatter 5 Erosion - Disturbance

House 9
Floor 2 Deep fill – not sterile - Roof collapse?
Floor 1 6 Disturbance – pit cut

Table 4.4 Curate and discard strategies, Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, South Sector (data after Peltenburg 1982, 22–52). Shaded areas indicate
the lack of distinguishable floors and the existence of a continuous build up of occupation. The number of finds is not calculated for these
floors. The distinction between identifiable patterns and scattered objects refers to cases where patterns in the distribution of objects could
be discerned, due to their concentration against walls around domestic installations (hearths, benches and bins). The finds are mostly
bone and stone tools.

2008, 95–96, 108), then the abandonment of a house as an particular site? and 2) Why is it doing so at this specific time
event that created a new reality, and most probably had to of the prehistory of the island, the Late Neolithic period?
be dealt with emotionally, can be seen as the ideal case for For the first question assessments are difficult. The only
the exploration of such ritualised actions. observations one can make are that the deposition of usable
The question about the role of material culture in artifacts is related to specific ‘events’ in the life history of
abandonment processes, however, still remains, especially houses; and that they do not seem to follow a widespread
since patterns from Vrysi have no parallel in previous pattern of community beliefs about the way houses end their
periods and because ethnoarchaeological evidence, while lives. The characteristics of a ritual that seeks to formulate
identifying the role of possessions in closure deposits as a sense of the interrelated nature of things and to reinforce
a common feature of the whole ritual, makes no reference values that assume coherent interrelations, and they do so
to how that material engagement came about. We seem to by virtue of their symbols, activities, organization, timing
have two questions here: 1) Why is material culture taking and relationships to other activities (Bell 1997), do not
up a new role in the closure of some of the buildings at a seem to coincide with the restricted patterns observed to
36 Demetra Papaconstantinou

date at Vrysi. Hence the important archaeological question Abandonment Processes in Archaeology:
for the time being is not so much why certain houses The Value Lies in between
were associated with specific depositional patterns (i.e.
on-floor, usable artefacts) but why the renewal of identity To more fully comprehend major episodes of house demise
and rebuilding, it is necessary to contextualize such activities.
and the termination of the symbolic and domestic use of
For example, the ethnographic record supplies instances of
that house had to be expressed through the deposition of abandonment ritual that strongly influenced the character of
usable items. assemblages.
This brings us to the second issue, i.e. the specific timing.
To address this question we should probably look at an (Peltenburg 2003b, 113)
even wider archaeological context. According to Clarke, The above extract succinctly addresses the paradox that
the evidence of stylistic behaviour, which characterises the characterises archaeological research in relation to an
decorative schemes in the pottery of the island during this understanding of abandonment processes. The closest
period, is the manifestation of symbolic style as a form of context we are trained to look at for the interpretation of
“formal variation in material culture which is personally archaeological patterns is not the one we have in the field,
based and which carries information supporting individual but that provided to us by the ethnographic record. To a
identity” (Clarke 2001, 72, citing Wiessner 1983, 258). certain degree this is understandable. “We see what we
If this is the case, then one could suggest that this new have seen,” as Bradley once said (1997), and it is almost
environment of engagement with a certain type of material impossible to recognise patterns in the field without referring
culture (pottery) through which individual identity is to something we already know (otherwise we would not
expressed triggered an entirely new relationship with have the words to describe them). Too much reliance on
movable artifacts and accelerated notions of property and the ethnoarchaeological record, however, might simply
possession in the construction of identity. This relationship, shift emphasis from the identification of cult areas to
which was unattested previously, did not have to be that of closure deposits and neglect a significant body of
manifested only through pottery, but precisely because evidence that is available in the field. In acknowledging
pottery was so important for symbolic reasons, it could be this, we might need to act as historians or anthropologists
applied in the depositional practices regarding other types when we get to the floor, but for the deposits between the
of artifacts (for a similar discussion, see Hodder 2006). floors we must realise that we are pretty much on our own.
Consequently, if architecture in the Aceramic Neolithic Exhausting this unique field of inquiry might be the only
period had been a means of external symbolic storage, as chance we have to let history surprise us. Alongside the
has been suggested by Watkins (2004), then what we witness long ethnographic index of patterns with ritual deposits,
in the Ceramic Neolithic phase is “a new range of artifacts archaeology can contribute an equally significant index of
itself undertaking a measure of external symbolic storage the types of abandonment processes one can observe in the
and facilitating the development of new value systems” field. In this respect, archaeological depositional patterns
(Renfrew 2004, 25). One could even go a step further have yet to be revealed.
by suggesting that during the Ceramic Neolithic period
houses lost their primacy as external symbolic storage as
portable artifacts began to take over, reinforcing individual
identity. The abundance of artifacts in burials and the Acknowledgements
eventual placement of burials outside of the settlements, I would like to thank Professor Trevor Watkins and Dr.
a phenomenon that is manifested in later periods, might Vasiliki Koutrafouri as well as an anonymous reviewer for
therefore indicate two things: 1) the restrictive role that a their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper. Part of
simultaneously material and symbolic house can play in the this work was presented in the “Seminars for Interdisciplinary
construction of individual identity, especially when the latter Communication” in Athens (April 2008) and in The Sixth
needs to be manifested to the rest of the community; and World Archaeological Congress in Dublin (June 2008). I
2) the fact that burial practices in cemeteries, by becoming am indebted to the participants of those meetings for the
an ‘institutional fact’ and assuming an institutional role, feedback I gained there. Last but not least, I would like to
can more effectively serve larger sections of society and express my gratitude to Eddie Peltenburg for being such a
can provide a more coherent basis for rituals involving great source of inspiration and for the guidance and support
the whole of the community. If this is the case, then the he has so generously offered me all these years.
deliberate deposition of usable artifacts on floors during
the Late Neolithic is yet another example of a symbolic
act that reinforces the role of movable artifacts at a time
before cemeteries and graves goods become institutional
facts (Renfrew 2001; 2004).
4. Abandonment processes and closure ceremonies in prehistoric Cyprus: In search of ritual 37

Society in Ancient Cyprus, 33–52. CAARI Monograph Series

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David Frankel

Introduction In this brief paper I will take recent work at a small

The development of archaeology is the product of many Chalcolithic site in central Cyprus as a starting point to
factors; as new techniques emerge, explanatory fashions consider the question of diversity in the Chalcolithic,
come and go and new sites expand our database. Within this treading warily as befits a Bronze Age poacher in Eddie’s
mix individual scholars have a major influence through the Chalcolithic preserves.
new material they expose and the way they define issues
and problem domains. This is certainly true for prehistoric
Cyprus where for over 30 years Eddie Peltenburg has laid
out for us a material world of sites and artefacts and a virtual
world of ideas and explanatory models. The projects he has The summary that follows is largely based on excavations
managed at Kissonerga, Lemba and Souskiou define much carried out in 2006 and 2007 by Jenny Webb and myself,
of what we now understand as Chalcolithic Cyprus. This, and studied with the very able assistance of Paul Croft
inevitably, has not only expanded but also structures our and Carole McCartney upon whose insights I have drawn
views of this cultural system and its evolution. Our current extensively (Webb et al. in press; Webb in press).
models of Chalcolithic sites and strategies are largely based
on these substantial villages of the southwest: here the
excavation of richer, more archaeologically productive sites The Site
forms a selective filter which can only be modified by the Politiko-Kokkinorotsos (henceforth Kokkinorotsos) is a
gradual expansion of archaeological research. small site in the northern foothills of the Troodos, two
Material culture, primarily pottery, still has a primary kilometres west of Politiko (Fig. 5.1). It is situated on the
role to play in establishing temporal variation. Our standard interface between the igneous formations of the Troodos and
procedures, of necessity, inherently assume uniform patterns the sedimentary structures of the northern half of Cyprus, in
of change. In the absence of independent dating this the narrow valley of the Koufos River as it flows out of the
inevitably militates against explorations of synchronic foothills to join the Pedeios, one of the main rivers which
differences. These may take many forms and be the product flow across the centre of the island. The site is defined by a
of varied influences. The scale and nature of stylistic and discrete surface scatter of pottery of about 500 m2 in area.
technological variation may reflect geographic distance Although originally thought on the basis of surface finds
and corresponding degrees of social interaction. Raw to have material from the later 3rd millennium (Given and
material usage may be a matter of cultural choice or of Knapp 2003, 192–197, 265–266 as Politiko-Phournia),
availability; so too may be alternative economic strategies. 12 AMS dates show that it was only used between about
Here environmental factors come into play to influence or 2880 and 2670 cal BC. No extant traces of structures were
structure cultural choices. Alongside these are variations located, but very large quantities of pottery, stone and bone
in types of sites and their associated arrays of material come from the fill of three irregular pits and an extremely
culture. large natural hollow (Fig. 5.2). All appears to be secondary
5. A different Chalcolithic: A central Cypriot scene 39

to the predominant fabric in Middle Chalcolithic Period 3B

at Kissonerga-Mosphilia and on other Middle Chalcolithic
sites in the south and southwest. The unpainted pottery and
the coarse ware used for low-fired flat-based pans or trays
are also generally within the common Middle Chalcolithic
In the field five general varieties of unpainted pottery
were recognised, separated from one another largely on the
basis of surface colour. In other respects, however, they do
not form discrete groups. While there is some association
of these fabrics with particular shapes, technologically they
Fig. 5.1 Map of Cyprus showing the location of Politiko- do not differ significantly. A Principal Components Analysis
Kokkinorotsos and other relevant sites. shows the broad overlap of the five unpainted varieties in
attributes of fabric and surface treatment (Fig. 5.4). Of these,
Fabric E is the most distinctive. This finer quality variety is
distinguished by a lustrous all black surface and small vessel
size. All the unpainted fabrics are, however, best viewed as
varieties or diffuse sub-sets within a common range and so
belong to a single tradition of ceramic production.
The most common shapes are those seen at all other
Middle Chalcolithic sites: deep spouted holemouth jars,
tubular-spouted vessels, large storage jars and small and
medium-sized bowls. These suggest that a wide array of
activities, including the use of finer quality and decorated
vessels, were carried out at the site, broadly similar to those
seen elsewhere.

Flora and Fauna

Both wild and cultivated species are represented in the
plant remains. Their quantification is difficult, given the
Fig. 5.2 General view of the site and excavations at Politiko- exigencies of deposition, fragmentation and sampling, but
nuts predominate. It is likely that these represent the har-
vesting of wild plants; the same may be true for fruits such
as olive, fig and grape. Barley and wheat are well represented
and are most likely to be cultivated crops although they may
or even tertiary redeposition, perhaps a result of material not have been grown near Kokkinorotsos.
from middens and other discard contexts being shovelled The fauna from the site are of particular importance.
into holes and hollows to level the area during a short and Paul Croft’s analysis of 150 kg of animal bone (including
deliberate episode of clearance. more than 7,000 identifiable pieces of large mammalian
Several explanations can be advanced for the lack bone) shows that it was dominated by fallow deer (Dama
of structural evidence at Kokkinorotsos. One is that the mesopotamica). Deer make up three-quarters of identified
Chalcolithic buildings were entirely, perhaps deliberately, fragments in the assemblage; almost all the remainder
demolished in the 3rd millennium. A second is that they were sheep with a small number of goats and pigs (Fig.
were removed in later times by erosion and other landscape 5.5). Although deer are the major contributor to the diet
transformations. A third is that there never were any other at contemporary sites, they do not dominate to the same
than ephemeral, light, perhaps temporary structures at the extent as at Kokkinorotsos. Equally, if not more importantly,
site. These, too, could have been deliberately demolished. however, is the total concentration on hunting: unlike
other Middle Chalcolithic sites, none of the animals at
Kokkinorotsos appear to have been herded.
Pottery Two lines of evidence point toward this. One is based on
Over one tonne of pottery was recovered from the excavated estimates of the ages at which animals were killed. The age
area (Fig. 5.3). The great majority is unpainted, but there profiles of caprines and deer are very similar, matching those
is a significant component of Red on White ware, similar of hunted deer elsewhere (as at Bronze Age Marki-Alonia)
40 David Frankel

Fig. 5.3 A selection of sherds from Politiko-Kokkinorotsos.

5. A different Chalcolithic: A central Cypriot scene 41

Fig. 5.4 Principle Components Analysis of pottery attributes showing

Fig. 5.5 Relative importance of animal species at Politiko-
the general overlap of varieties of pottery.
Kokkinorotsos compared with Middle Chalcolithic Kissonerga-
Mosphilia and Lemba-Lakkous (data from Croft 1985; 1998).

and differing significantly from those expected of herded

animals. The other is the representation of body parts. Once
again these fit with a pattern characteristic of hunting where
those elements with less meat (such as the head and lower
limbs) are normally left at the kill site and are therefore
under-represented in site assemblages.

Stone Tools
Carole McCartney’s analysis of the assemblage of 5,704
chipped stone artefacts demonstrates that the full range of
activities associated with core reduction and tool production
is represented. Although some types were probably brought
ready-made to the site, most were manufactured and
rejuvenated there. Three-quarters of the chipped stone Fig. 5.6 Proportional occurrence of the main chipped stone artefacts
artefacts are of Lefkara basal chert, a moderate to good types at Politiko-Kokkinorotsos.
quality raw material probably collected from the local river
bed. This, and the other types of stone, can all be found in
the vicinity of the site.
Knappers at Kokkinorotsos employed a simple core signs of silica gloss such as would result from harvesting
technology that fits well within the Cypriot Chalcolithic. or cutting plants.
It is primarily a flake-based industry with few blades or Most of the varied types of ground stone tools were made
bladelets. The tool assemblage is heavily dominated by three from readily available igneous rocks. The most common
major classes: pièces esquillées, scrapers and burins, which are rubbers or querns, accounting for over a quarter of the
together make up two-thirds of the tools (Fig. 5.6). All can sample. Other heavy duty tools such as pounders are also
be associated with butchery or with processing animals. well represented, but there are comparatively few cutting
Pièces esquillées are likely to have been used as wedges or wood-working tools (Fig. 5.7). While all tool types show
for splitting bone, the scrapers for cleaning hides, and the high rates of breakage, this was particularly true of rubbers,
burins for working with antler or bone. Most other chipped querns and bowls, all of which were incomplete. These
stone tool types are found in smaller quantities, suggesting were clearly among the most intensively utilised as well
that a relatively limited range of activities were carried out as the most common artefacts in the assemblage. The high
at the site. There are, for example, very few pieces showing breakage rate of simple pounders also suggests heavy use.
42 David Frankel

Ambeikou-Ayios Georghios in the Cyprus Museum. There

are, in addition, a handful of Dentalium and other shells
and a picrolite bead. Although the function of the dozens of
modified sherds remains unclear, they, together with these
other items, show that some general activities seen on other
Chalcolithic sites also took place at Kokkinorotsos.

Activities and Function

At first sight various elements at Kokkinorotsos tell different
stories. The lack of structures, the exclusive presence
of hunted animals, and the high proportion of chipped
stone tools associated with butchery or processing animal
products, together with the lack of agricultural tools or
those appropriate for forest clearance or timber-working,
all strongly point to a site used intermittently, perhaps
seasonally, specifically for hunting. The timing of mouflon
culling indicates that this was likely to have been in the
spring and summer. Other artefacts – the storage jars, the
spouted pottery vessels useful for handling liquids, the
domesticated cereals and the grinding equipment – indicate
that a variety of activities were carried out and other types
of food were prepared and consumed. The finer, decorated
pottery figurines and personal items such as beads also
indicate a broader range of behaviour.
These varied aspects can, however, be reconciled. The
site is best understood as primarily a hunters’ camp; a base
used, perhaps seasonally, for forays into the surrounding
woodland and for preparing hides and other products from
the resulting quarry. The pottery and other material suggest
that these were not brief periods of use, but that the site
Fig. 5.7 Proportional occurrence of main functional categories
was occupied for longer periods, perhaps weeks or even
of ground stone tools from Politiko-Kokkinorotsos compared with
months at a time, possibly by family groups rather than by
Middle and Late Chalcolithic Kissonerga-Mosphilia and Lemba-
Lakkous (data from Elliott 1985; Elliott-Xenophontos 1998). hunters alone. The pottery is likely, therefore, to have been
brought to the site along with agricultural produce and other
supplies from a more permanent larger settlement, perhaps
situated some distance away, either closer to the coast or
Other Items in the more open and productive floodplain of the Pedeios
Alongside the more common artefact types noted above a River, perhaps in the vicinity of Nicosia. In such a model
small number of bone and antler tools were recovered. The Kokkinorotsos functioned as one, special purpose component
former include spatulate implements and points showing of a Chalcolithic economic and settlement system built around
evidence of the application of considerable pressure during a larger, more permanently occupied agro-pastoral village.
use, and a needle. The latter are principally cut from antlers
with evidence of concentric grooving and snapping to
facilitate beam removal. While these clearly indicate on-site
processing, the number of worked fragments is very small in Kokkinorotsos in Context
comparison to the size of the faunal sample, suggesting that Limited material and uncertain dating inhibit other discussions
antler working was not a major activity at Kokkinorotsos. of variability in the archaeological record of Neolithic
A few other items are of less immediately practical and Chalcolithic Cyprus. For example, in the absence of
utility. These include fragments of two Red on White independent dating differences between contemporary sites
anthropomorphic figurines similar to examples from Middle in the presence or proportional occurrence of diagnostic
Chalcolithic levels at Kissonerga-Mosphilia and Souskiou- pottery are hard to assess (cf Stanley Price 1979, 43). This is
Vathyrkakas (Goring 1991; 1998, 154–158; 2006) as well made more difficult by the uneven representation of material
as other sites, including an unpublished fragment from from different parts of the island.
5. A different Chalcolithic: A central Cypriot scene 43

Regional variation is a common theme in Cypriot One approach to understanding Chalcolithic settlement
prehistory (Frankel 2009), but we have still to come to terms history emphasises periodic collapse with a local fissioning
with what spatial differences in material culture (generally or restructuring of specific systems due to social forces;
pottery) mean in terms of social relationships at different another explains broader-scale developments by reference to
scales of distance and intensity. In some cases divergence climatic deterioration or amelioration. Following the latter
may be the result of inherent processes of cultural ‘drift’ approach, the settlement hiatus between the Middle and
as new types or varieties develop in separated areas and Late Chalcolithic at Kissonerga-Mosphilia and other south-
gradually become increasingly common. The rate and degree western sites is attributed to a decline in resource availability
of these developments can vary considerably, confusing our (Peltenburg 1993). The occupation of Kokkinorotsos at this
ability to establish contemporaneity or levels of interaction. time could then be regarded as a symptom of a widespread
Where other mechanisms come into play varied degrees of reversion to low intensity occupation and an increased
material difference can signal degrees of social interaction, emphasis on mobile hunting strategies, such as that which
defining for us – and possibly for people of the time – social may have characterised the early phases of the Early
identity at a different scale (Webb, this volume). There is Chalcolithic (Clarke 2007; Wasse 2007, 62).
at present no reason to see the latter aspect as significant in This would account for the size, location and nature of
the regional variations in ceramics during the Chalcolithic. the excavated remains and the concentration on hunting
While specific longer distance chains of connection linking although not for the importation of cereals and other goods.
different parts of the island are indicated by the presence In addition, any broad climatic deterioration would have had
of picrolite and marine shells at Kokkinorotsos, general an even greater impact in the centre of the island than in the
relationships and an associated diffusion of techniques and better favoured environments in the southern coastal plains.
styles account for the broad similarity of the pottery and It is therefore unlikely that such a settlement collapse in the
other material culture. south would have led to an increase in activity in poorer
The ceramic assemblage at Kokkinorotsos is, not areas. At a different scale, specific catastrophic events are
surprisingly, most similar to material from other sites in also sometimes adduced to explain disruptions to established
the central region of Cyprus, notably Ambelikou-Ayios patterns (Peltenburg 1978; 1982, 65; Stanley Price 1979,
Georghios, Philia-Drakos site B and Kyra-Alonia, which 73–77; Todd and Croft 2004, 222, 225). Although it is
contain the same array of unpainted, painted and coarse possible that the localised impact of natural disasters such
fabrics (Dikaios 1962, 141–155). In these central lowland as earthquakes might have had a short-lived effect on
and foothill sites unpainted wares dominate. This contrasts particular settlements, these need not have had more than
with the southwest where a high proportion of painted pottery transient effects. Elsewhere in the world, even where more
is seen as characteristic of the earlier third millennium (i.e. devastating events such as volcanic eruptions blanket land
the Middle Chalcolithic) and only replaced by monochrome with lava or ash, the effects are not always negative and
wares in the Late Chalcolithic. Many years ago, on the may be surprisingly short-lived, while the social context
basis of very limited evidence, Stanley Price argued for a is a critical factor in determining responses (Sheets 1979,
distinctly different trajectory of pottery change in different 555–58; Grattan and Torrence 2007).
parts of the island. North of the Troodos an earlier emphasis Seen in this way, neither more general nor very specific
on monochrome pottery preceded a greater use of painted natural factors provide an adequate explanation for island-
wares – the reverse of the sequence in the south (Stanley wide developments involving the emergence of sites
Price 1979, 38, 46, figs 8–9). Such broad regional variations like Kokkinorotsos. Rather than being seen primarily
in pottery production provide one possible explanation for as a response to environmental events, it is more likely
the low representation of painted pottery at Kokkinorotsos that small-scale, periodically inhabited hunting villages
at a time when these wares dominated elsewhere. like Kokkinorotsos may always have been part of the
The consistency of the 12 radiocarbon dates place Chalcolithic landscape and one of a number of site types
occupation between 2900 and 2700 cal BC. While the in contemporary use.
closest Chalcolithic sites (Ambelikou, Kyra and Philia) At other Chalcolithic sites a mixture of wild and
are likely to be broadly contemporary, its period of use domesticated animals are in evidence with a concomitant
therefore falls within an apparent hiatus between Middle and variation in the proportional representation of sets of stone
Late Chalcolithic in the sequence at Kissonerga-Mosphilia tools associated with butchery (Fig. 5.8). The variability
and elsewhere. Apart from the central Cypriot sites, only between assemblages in these two aspects is such that no
the recently excavated site of Souskiou-Laona fills the simple chronological trend can be observed. Kokkinorotsos
chronological gap (Peltenburg personal communication). differs in demonstrating a total focus on hunted, wild
This raises the question of whether the site represents a animals. As discussed above, this is best explained by
specific response to particular events or is part of a more regarding Kokkinorotsos as a special purpose hunting station
deeply embedded, longer-lasting tradition. while other sites had a more varied function.
44 David Frankel

Variation in functional site types is more evident in some

periods of Cypriot prehistory than in others. This is in part
a product of site survival and identification together with
the history of research. It may also be that some cultural
systems had more clearly distinct settlement types than did
others. So, for example, several functional site types are
well recognised for the Late Bronze Age, including urban
centres, mining sites and agricultural villages (Catling 1962;
Keswani 1993; Webb and Frankel 1994; Knapp 1997), but
as yet no such structured differences have been identified
during most of the Early and Middle Cypriot periods.
Kokkinorotsos, seen in this analysis as a special-purpose
hunting station distinct from a primary, permanent agro-
pastoral village, opens up the possibility that community
territories may have been made up of a series of sites,
each the focus of particular activities appropriate to their
ecological setting. In this way a main contribution of
Kokkinorotsos to our understanding of the Chalcolithic is to
Fig. 5.8 Proportions of chipped stone artefact types associated with
expose more of the complexity and variability in the cultural
butchery compared with the estimated contribution of deer to the system. It expands the frameworks, providing, perhaps,
meat supply at Chalcolithic sites. more questions than answers: but that, surely, is the nature
of all archaeological research.

This explanation also fits with the lack of formal Acknowledgements

structures at Kokkinorotsos, in contrast to the ‘classic’ As on so many occasions I am especially grateful to Jenny
Middle Chalcolithic sites where large, well built circular Webb, co-director of the Kokkinorotsos project. I have
houses are the norm both in the south-west and north of the also relied heavily on the work of Paul Croft and Carole
Troodos. Some other sites, such as those near Kalavasos, McCartney, who provided the essential documentation,
also appear to lack evidence of substantial above ground analysis and insights regarding the animal bones and chipped
buildings (Todd and Croft 2004; Clarke et al. 2007), stone on which any understanding of the site depends.
which may either have been entirely destroyed, have yet Funding was provided by the Australian Research Council
to be found or never existed (cf Todd 1987, 29). There is, with additional support from La Trobe University.
however, a wider variety of pits and tunnels in the Kalavasos
sites, features also common in the Early Chalcolithic.
These sometimes have internal features which indicate
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Hermann Genz

Introduction In the light of this controversy it is somewhat surprising

With his excavations at Jerablus Tahtani Eddie Peltenburg that little work has been done on the nature and function of
has greatly enhanced our understanding of the emergence the so-called public buildings that have been excavated at
and development of complex societies in the Northern a number of Early Bronze Age II–III sites in the Southern
Levant. Although in contemporary societies of the Southern Levant (Fig. 6.1). While the study of domestic households
Levant no elite tombs comparable with Tomb 302 at Jerablus has made great progress in recent years (Chesson 1997; Ilan
Tahtani (Peltenburg 1999) are attested, the presence of 2001; Chesson 2003), public buildings are still often only
a number of public buildings suggests that elites there described according to their architectural layout (Kempinski
played a somewhat different, but equally decisive role in 1992a; 1992b). This is certainly due to the fact that for
the emergence of complexity. earlier excavations contextual information for the contents
In the traditional view, the transition from the Early Bronze of the buildings and individual rooms is mostly lacking. A
Age I to the Early Bronze Age II, dated to c. 3100 cal BC few examples from recent excavations, however, offer new
according to recent radiocarbon dates, marks the beginning insights into the possible functions of these buildings.
of urban settlements in the Southern Levant (Kempinski
1978; Kenyon 1979, 84–86; Esse 1989; Miroschedji 1989;
Mazar 1990, 108). These urban settlements are characterised
by a dense population concentration in an area restricted by Temples
fortification walls, and especially by the presence of public Although a multitude of papers deal with Early Bronze
buildings, generally called ‘palaces’ and ‘temples’. Age temples of the Southern Levant (Amiran 1981; Mazar
It has only recently become clear that the urbanisation 1990, 125–126; Kempinski 1992a; Miroschedji 1993; Philip
of the Southern Levant followed quite a different trajectory 2001, 175–176), there is still insufficient evidence for a
from that of Mesopotamia and that the urban sites of the clear definition of their precise function. In recent years
Southern Levant are not simply down-scaled versions of more systematic definitions of how to identify cult buildings
Mesopotamian cities (Falconer and Savage 1995; Chesson in the archaeological record have greatly enhanced our
and Philip 2003, 8). Thus the earlier idea of secondary understanding of religion and cult practice in pre-literate
state formation triggered by developments in Mesopotamia societies (Renfrew 1985, 11–26; Alon and Levy 1989).
(Kempinski 1978; Kenyon 1979, 84–86) is no longer However, not all of these can be directly applied to the
acceptable. Early Bronze Age Southern Levant for a variety of reasons
Recently even the existence of truly urban settlements in further discussed below.
the Southern Levant during the Early Bronze Age has been The majority of scholars have focussed on architectural
questioned (Philip 2001; Chesson and Philip 2003), and plans as the major element for defining temples. There seems
other models such as ‘corporate village’, ‘heterarchy’ and to be a general agreement that the layout of Early Bronze
‘middle range society’ have been suggested to describe the Age temples in the Southern Levant followed the broadroom
Early Bronze Age settlements of the Southern Levant. model, but when it comes to the identification of specific
6. Thoughts on the function of ‘public buildings’ in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant 47

Therefore the discussion of temples will be restricted to

the most completely excavated examples: temples 4040,
5192, 5269 and the circular platform from stratum XV at
Megiddo (Loud 1948, 78–84; Kempinski 1989, 28–35; Esse
1991, 87–89) and the sacred precinct in the Upper City of
Khirbet ez-Zeraqon (Mittmann 1994, 13–14; Genz 2002,
94–96; see Fig. 6.2), both of which date to Early Bronze Age
III. Both at Megiddo and at Khirbet ez-Zeraqon the cultic
complexes are situated in the highest parts of the settlements.
Although their layout is different, both complexes consist of
three major broadroom structures and a large circular stone
platform, and both are enclosed by a wall.
The broadroom structures at Megiddo and Khirbet ez-
Zeraqon are remarkably similar, showing a main rectangular
room with the entrance in one of the long walls and benches
or podia opposite the entrance. Two stone slabs placed on
the axis of the room served as bases for wooden pillars
supporting the roof. At both sites the broadrooms had
anterooms. At Megiddo these were entirely open to the
front and only had two pillar bases indicating that they also
were roofed. At Khirbet ez-Zeraqon, however, the antae of
buildings B0.4 and B0.5 showed a right-angle bend and thus
partly closed the anterooms. Nevertheless, as at Megiddo
two stone pillar bases were attested. Only building B0.1
in Khirbet ez-Zeraqon differs in its layout as it lacks an
anteroom. Instead it has a narrow rectangular room attached
to the back of the main room.
There seems to be general agreement that the buildings
just discussed indeed served as temples. Their specific
ground plans, and the fact that they lack installations such
Fig. 6.1 Early Bronze Age II–III sites with public buildings
mentioned in the text.
as ovens, fireplaces and grinding installations, preclude
their identification as domestic buildings. The podia
opposite the entrances definitely served as focal points in
the main rooms. While it is generally assumed that these
buildings as temples, opinions still widely differ. Thus, for podia served to display the images of deities, it needs to
instance, the so-called sacred area at Arad (Amiran 1981, be pointed out that neither Megiddo, Khirbet ez-Zeraqon
49) is now generally regarded as a domestic structure (Mazar nor any other presumed Early Bronze Age temple from
1990, 126; Kempinski 1992a, 57). Also the ‘bâtiment blanc’ the Southern Levant has provided any evidence for such
at Tel Yarmuth, first identified as a temple (Miroschedji images. It may be assumed, of course, that such images
1988, 40–41; 1993, 208–211) has been stripped of that status consisted of perishable materials such as wood. However,
by the excavator himself (Miroschedji 1999, 9–10). Lastly, even the (admittedly scanty) iconographic evidence of the
the suggestion that the ‘Acropolis Building’ at cAi/et-Tell Early Bronze Age Southern Levant, such as clay figurines or
was converted from a temple to a palace at the transition cylinder seal impressions (Ben-Tor 1977; Miroschedji 1993,
from the Early Bronze Age II to the Early Bronze Age III 211–212), does not depict any images of divinities. The
(Callaway 1972, 292–293) rests more on speculations than anthropomorphic figures which are occasionally depicted
on hard evidence. It has to be noted that no other case of are more likely to be human worshippers. Thus we not
the conversion of a religious to a secular building is attested only lack information on how Early Bronze Age divinities
for the Bronze Age Near East. were depicted, but we do not even know whether they were
Many problems connected with the identification of depicted at all. Based on evidence mainly dating back to
cult buildings and the interpretation of their function are the Chalcolithic period, de Miroschedji (1993, 213–216)
generally based on incomplete excavation and publication has reconstructed a divine couple for the Early Bronze
as well as, for the earlier excavations, a lack of detailed Age comprising a female deity connected with water and a
recording of objects and other materials associated with male deity represented by horned animals such as rams or
these buildings. ibexes. Definite proof for such a divine couple in the Early
48 Hermann Genz

Fig. 6.2 Plan of the upper city of Khirbet ez-Zeraqon, Jordan (after Genz 2002, fig. 2).

Bronze Age is still lacking, however. In addition, it has to and goat. It remains unclear what happened to the rest
be pointed out that in Stratum XV at Megiddo three temples of the meat, but it can be assumed that it was consumed
existed simultaneously. either by the specialists who conducted or supervised the
Regardless of what happened inside the broadroom ceremonies, or even by all the participants. In this respect it
buildings, the restricted space inside the rooms suggests is interesting to note that B0.2, very likely a service building
only a small number of participants at a time; thus access situated directly north of the altar in Khirbet ez-Zeraqon,
to the buildings clearly must have been limited to specific contained installations and pottery vessels connected to
groups of the community. food preparation (Genz 2002, 95) although again for only
The round stone platforms attested at Megiddo and Khirbet a limited number of people due to its rather small size and
ez-Zeraqon are generally interpreted as altars. Indeed, the the presence of only a few cooking pots.
remains of burnt animal bones were directly associated with Except for the animal sacrifices there is little evidence
this structure at Khirbet ez-Zeraqon (Mittmann 1994, 13; for other kinds of offerings. Philip (2001, 176) has noted
B. Dechert, personal communication). Unfortunately, no the general absence of offering pits in Early Bronze Age
evidence is available for Megiddo, but it seems reasonable to temples in contrast to their marked presence in Middle and
assume that both structures served the same purpose, namely Late Bronze Age cultic contexts. The only exception could
as altars for animal sacrifices. At Khirbet ez-Zeraqon the be the deposit of 21 semi-complete or complete vessels
large courtyard around the platform allowed the participation deposited in a stone-lined pit (R0.11/i0.3) in the courtyard
of larger numbers of people in such events. The majority of the cultic complex at Khirbet ez-Zeraqon (Genz 2002,
of the burnt bones consist of the lower leg bones of sheep 95–96 and pl. 3–8).
6. Thoughts on the function of ‘public buildings’ in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant 49

Also noteworthy is the general absence of ritual objects. Tell es-Saidiyeh it is not even clear whether we are dealing
In addition to a lack of all kinds of cult images, other with one building (Tubb et al. 1996, 20) or two buildings
objects, such as incense burners or offering stands, which separated by an open space as the most recent report suggests
characterise later Middle and Late Bronze Age temples, are (Tubb et al. 1997, 64).
not attested in the Early Bronze Age. The only exception is All of these public buildings consist of a large number of
again found at Khirbet ez-Zeraqon where the occurrence of rooms of varying sizes connected by courtyards and corridors.
small ceramic bowls with snake applications is restricted While the buildings at Tel Yarmuth and possibly at Megiddo
to the cultic complex in the Upper City (Genz 2002, 102). seem to have been erected according to a preconceived plan
Thus they may be interpreted as vessels with a specific (Miroschedji 1999, 10; 2001), at Khirbet ez-Zeraqon different
cultic function. building stages can clearly be recognised, as building B0.8
Philip (2001, 176) has observed that Early Bronze was added some time after the more solidly executed parts
Age temples in the Southern Levant are never associated B0.7 and B0.10 had been erected (Fig. 6.2). Access to these
with storage and administrative features. Thus it can buildings seems to have been restricted as demonstrated
be concluded that temples had an exclusively religious by the walls surrounding ‘palace B’ at Tel Yarmuth and
function. Among the rituals performed, animal sacrifices building 3177 at Megiddo. Also, for the building at Khirbet
and food consumption, very likely for a limited number of ez-Zeraqon only one entrance has been identified. The careful
participants, can be identified as the main activities in the and solid construction of these buildings, as well as their
cultic complexes. While some of the criteria established layout, clearly shows that they were at least partly constructed
by Renfrew (1985, 11–26) for the identification of cult for representational purposes such as receptions. Indeed,
buildings are thus fulfilled, such as special location, special evidence for food consumption on a larger scale is attested
layout, the existence of boundary walls between sacred at Tell es-Saidiyeh (Tubb et al. 1997, 62). However, the most
and profane areas, and the presence of focal points in the prominent function of these buildings was for storage. At
buildings, others are lacking, especially evidence for cultic Tel Yarmuth more than 150 large pithoi were discovered in
paraphernalia, religious symbols and images of divinities. the rooms of ‘palace B’ (Miroschedji 1999, 11–12) while at
Khirbet ez-Zeraqon (Genz 2002, 96–97 and pl. 25–37) and
at Tell es-Saidiyeh (Tubb et al. 1997, 59–62) large numbers
of storage vessels were found.
Palaces The quantity of goods stored in ‘palace B’ at Tel Yarmuth
Non-religious public buildings have traditionally been clearly must have exceeded the needs of the people possibly
termed ‘palaces’ (Mazar 1990, 123; Kempinski 1992b, 78). living in this building. It has to be kept in mind that the
This term generally implies that these buildings served as inhabitants of the domestic dwellings kept their own
elite residences as indeed is attested for Near Eastern palaces supplies as attested by numerous pithoi and storage jars
from the Middle Bronze Age onwards. The Early Bronze discovered in such buildings (Genz 2002, 99–104). Thus
Age in the Southern Levant, however, is characterised by in the administrative complexes the surplus not needed for
a notable lack of features associated with elites, such as immediate consumption seems to have been stored. The
prestige objects made of precious or exotic materials or nature of the vessels discovered suggests mainly the storage
elaborate and richly furnished tombs (Genz 2000, 58; Philip of valuable liquids such as oil or wine (Genz 2003). It is
2001, 165). It is therefore advisable to use a more general not known whether these commodities were collected in the
term for these buildings such as ‘administrative structures’ administrative buildings for trade or for other purposes, and
as has been suggested by Philip (2001, 176–178). Such the methods of recording and administrating these goods
administrative structures are so far only known from four remain unclear. While marking systems such as cylinder
sites: ‘palace 3177’ at Megiddo (Loud 1948, 70–76; Esse seal impressions (Flender 2000) and incised signs on pots
1991, 83–84; Kempinski 1992b, 78); ‘palace B’ in Tel (Genz 2001) are widely attested during the Early Bronze
Yarmuth (Miroschedji 1999, 10–12); the ‘palace’ in the Age in the Southern Levant, they cannot yet be conclusively
Upper City of Khirbet ez-Zeraqon (Mittmann 1994, 14; linked to the administrative buildings as they also frequently
Genz 2002, 96; see Fig. 6.2); and the so-called commercial occur in domestic dwellings.
building in Field 1 from stratum L2 on the Lower tell at Tell
es-Saidiyeh (Tubb et al. 1997, 55–65). While the former
three date to the Early Bronze Age III, the building at Tell
es-Saidiyeh is firmly dated to Early Bronze Age II. Other Buildings of a Public Nature
Only ‘palace B’ at Tel Yarmuth has been completely The so-called ‘granary’ from Early Bronze Age III levels at
excavated. The incomplete exposure of the other three Beth Yerah is thus far unique in the Southern Levant, but its
buildings makes a study of their layout and an interpretation interpretation as a granary is generally accepted (Esse 1991,
of their function rather difficult. In the case of the building at 53; Kempinski 1992b, 75–78; Mazar 2001). According
50 Hermann Genz

Fig. 6.3 Plan of the lower city of Khirbet ez-Zeraqon, Jordan (after Douglas 2007, fig. 4).

to Mazar’s calculations (2001, 458), its storage capacity the gate house of the city gate (Douglas 2007, 46–47 and
considerably exceeded the needs of the city’s inhabitants, Abb. 3–4; see Fig. 6.3). The layout of the building, as
especially if additional storage in domestic dwellings is well as the fact that it did not contain any installations for
taken into consideration. Thus it is very likely that only the food storage and preparation, precludes its interpretation
surplus not needed for immediate consumption was stored as a domestic building. Instead the building seems to have
in this building, either for trading or as a reserve for times been linked to the city gate. This is suggested by the close
of famine. proximity of the two structures, but even more so by the fact
The broadroom in the centre of the structure has been that B1.5 was abandoned and replaced by a large open court
interpreted as a sanctuary by some scholars (see Mazar shortly before the city gate went out of use by being blocked
2001, 454–455) although this interpretation is by no means (Douglas 2007, Abb. 5). Unfortunately, the lack of in situ
secure. Unlike temples in Mesopotamia there is so far no finds in B1.5 prevents a secure determination of its specific
other evidence that temples in the Southern Levant had any function. The building may have had a military function to
control over agricultural production, as mentioned above. accommodate off-duty guards, or an administrative function
A completely different type of public building was for the registration of the flow of goods and people through
excavated in the Lower City of Khirbet ez-Zeraqon, dating the gate.
to the later parts of the Early Bronze Age II and the earlier An almost identical building is attested in Tel Yarmuth
parts of the Early Bronze Age III (Douglas 2007, 7). Situated with the ‘bâtiment blanc’ (Miroschedji 1988, 35–41; 1999,
directly east of the Lower City gate, building B1.5 consists 9–10), and there the building is also situated reasonably
of a large rectangular room with a row of column bases close to a city gate; thus a similar function as for B1.5 at
along its axis and a large courtyard between the room and Khirbet ez-Zeraqon may be suggested.
6. Thoughts on the function of ‘public buildings’ in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant 51

Conclusions Chesson, M. S. and G. Philip 2003. Tales of the city? ‘Urbanism’

in the Early Bronze Age Levant from Mediterranean and
Although admittedly few public buildings from urban
Levantine perspectives. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology
settlements in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant 16, 3–16.
have been discovered so far, it has to be kept in mind Douglas, K. 2007. Die Befestigung der Unterstadt von Hirbet
that extremely few sites have been excavated on a large ez-Zeraqon (Deutsch-jordanische Ausgrabungen in Hirbet ez-
scale. It can be assumed that public buildings formed a Zeraqon 1984–1994. Endberichte Band III/1. Abhandlungen des
regular component of at least medium to large-sized urban Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 27(3). Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz.
settlements in the Southern Levant during the Early Bronze Esse, D. L. 1989. Secondary state formation and collapse in Early
Age II–III. A surprisingly large variety of public buildings Bronze Age Palestine. In P. de Miroschedji (ed.) L’urbanisation
is attested, ranging from religious to administrative and de la Palestine à l’âge du Bronze ancien. Bilan et perspectives
storage structures. Even with the limited amount of public des recherches actuelles. Actes du Colloque d’Emmaüs
buildings available, some kind of standardised plan for (20–24 octobre 1986), 81–96. British Archaeological Reports
International Series 527. Oxford, British Archaeological
buildings of different functions can be discerned in the
Southern Levant and even beyond. The existence of a larger Esse, D. L. 1991. Subsistence, Trade and Social Change in Early
variety of presumably standardised public buildings seems Bronze Age Palestine. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations
to suggest the existence of more complex societies organised 50. Chicago, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
beyond the level of kinship ties in the Southern Levant Falconer, S. E. and S. Savage 1995. Heartlands and hinterlands:
than has been acknowledged in recent discussions (Philip Alternative trajectories of early urbanization in Mesopotamia
2001; Chesson 2003). While this does not imply a return and the southern Levant. American Antiquity 60, 37–58.
to the city-state model prevalent before the 1990s (Esse Flender, M. 2000. Cylinder seal impressed vessels of the Early
1989; Miroschedji 1989), it certainly suggests that elites Bronze Age III in northern Palestine. In G. Philip and D. Baird
had important functions in economic and administrative (eds) Ceramics and Change in the Early Bronze Age of the
processes, as suggested by Joffe (1993). Elites in these Southern Levant, 295–313. Levantine Archaeology 2. Sheffield,
Sheffield Academic Press.
societies do not seem to have invested their wealth in
Genz, H. 2000. The organization of Early Bronze Age metal-
prestige objects and elaborate burial structures but rather working in the southern Levant. Paléorient 26, 55–65.
in the economic and administrative sector. This suggestion Genz, H. 2001. Early Bronze Age potmarks from Khirbat az-
is in accordance with the staple finance model, which has Zayraq n: Some aspects concerning their meaning. Studies in
previously been proposed for the Early Bronze Age society the History and Archaeology of Jordan 7, 217–228.
of the Southern Levant (Philip 2001; Genz 2003). In Genz, H. 2002. Die frühbronzezeitliche Keramik von Hirbet
order to fully understand the socio-political and economic ez-Zeraqon, Nordjordanien. Mit Studien zur Chronologie
developments of societies during the Early Bronze Age in und funktionalen Deutung frühbronzezeitlicher Keramik in
the Southern Levant, public buildings should not be treated der südlichen Levante (Deutsch-jordanische Ausgrabungen
as exceptions but as integral parts of the social systems in Hirbet ez-Zeraqon 1984–1994. Endberichte Band V.
which produced them. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 27(2). Wies-
baden, Harrassowitz.
Genz, H. 2003. Cash crop production and storage in the Early
Bronze Age southern Levant. Journal of Mediterranean
Archaeology 16, 59–78.
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Tony Wilkinson

Introduction Tells and their landscapes were probably different from

The tell is the dominant feature of the archaeological region to region, even within the same area. Whereas
landscape of the northern Fertile Crescent, and in recent some will have been dominated by palaces and temples,
years excavations have enabled archaeologists to make others would mainly have comprised domestic houses,
great strides in the understanding of the social archaeology storage, or cult structures. For example, in the region of
of the tell. This paper is dedicated to Eddie Peltenburg, who Tell Beydar the Beydar cuneiform texts implicitly assess the
among Near Eastern archaeologists has been a vigorous agricultural potential of the subordinate tells by referring
proponent of the need to extract social interpretations from to the numbers of draft animals (Widell 2004), but they
archaeological data. Whereas the excavators of settlement also highlight that one of those sites, Sulum, was a centre
and burial sites have progressed significantly in their quest of religion (Sallaberger and Ur 2004). Although it is not
for a new social archaeology, archaeological surveyors, on known which site corresponds to ancient Sulum, all tells in
the other hand, have tended to focus upon the landscape the Tell Beydar complex appear at least superficially similar,
and economic features associated with tells and related sites and from surface inspection it is not evident which could be
rather than on the social archaeology of their surrounding a religious centre and which were devoted to agricultural
landscape. This paper therefore attempts to address this production. Similarly, the site of Gre Virike in the Turkish
imbalance by examining the immediate landscape of tells middle Euphrates, although in appearance a conventional
in the northern Fertile Crescent, bringing together field tell, also probably functioned as some form of cultic place
evidence, ethnography and texts to distil some of the near Carchemish (Ökse 2007, 100).
common factors in the social archaeology of the tell. This paper illustrates how land was probably configured
One feature that has emerged from archaeological around typical small to medium sized tells in Upper
surveys in recent years is that settlement patterns in the Mesopotamia, and how the inferred land tenure provides
Near East fluctuated through time between nucleated and clues concerning the social structure of the community that
dispersed modes (Wilkinson 1995). In a paper published occupied the tell. The essay also draws together threads from
in 2000, Edgar Peltenburg demonstrated that the tell, as a earlier arguments that point to supposedly ‘ancient’ forms of
nucleated community, was a widespread feature across the land holding, and attempts to bring these in alignment with
Near East and eastern Mediterranean, and that alternations results derived from ethnographic studies and archaeological
between nucleated tell-based communities and dispersed surveys of the landscape of the Fertile Crescent.
settlement were important factors in understanding cycles Fundamental to this discussion is land tenure. Many
of settlement over long spans of time. scholars have used cuneiform texts to analyse land tenure
Before embarking on this narrative, it is necessary to describe the shapes of fields, as well as to show how land
to caution that tells were hardly likely to be socially or was allocated for private holdings, estates or communally
functionally uniform. As Postgate (1982, 310) has argued organised land. Less effort, however, has been spent
for Assyrian rural society, one should be careful about on analysing these topics within an overall landscape
imposing a “false homogeneity” on ancient communities. framework. Although such an ambitious treatment is beyond
56 Tony Wilkinson

the scope of this paper, preliminary analysis suggests how

the archaeological landscape, land tenure and the social
archaeology of the settlements themselves can be viewed
within one overall framework. Land tenure is important to
this narrative because of the role it plays in linking together
field evidence, cuneiform texts and social archaeology, and
also because land-use practices have the capacity to mediate
between social groups and the environment.
Initially, this paper summarises the layout of a typical
tell-type settlement in the northern Fertile Crescent and
outlines the field evidence for the surrounding agricultural
landscape. This is followed by a discussion of some
key features of land tenure interpreted from cuneiform
texts. Finally, the ethnographic evidence from traditional
agricultural communities in the Levant is harnessed to
outline equivalent features or processes and to suggest
how these flesh out the interpretations of the landscape
of Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The perspective is from the
outside looking in: no attempt is made to tackle the abundant
evidence of tell communities derived from excavations.
Fig. 7.1 The archaeological landscape to the NE of Tell Beydar
showing the inferred cultivation, the limits of that cultivation
(inferred from the fade-out zone of hollow ways) and what were
Field Evidence probably the common grazing lands in between (redrawn from
The tell is one of the most familiar and conspicuous features original unpublished map by Jason Ur).
of the Near Eastern landscape. In Upper Mesopotamia,
many tells attained their maximum size and bulk in the
3rd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age). Most are of
relatively limited size, being usually 1–10 ha in area, similarly concludes that the population lived within nucleated
although some Upper Mesopotamian tells attain 50 ha in settlements and walked out to their fields (1994, 40). The
area with surrounding walled quarters that take the overall significance of this will be discussed below.
settlement up to some 120 or even 160 ha (Stein 2004, In those parts of Upper Mesopotamia where landscape
67). Tells are usually topographically constrained, and features are well preserved, settlement territories can be
even when they do have lower or outer towns, only in inferred from the configuration of hollow ways that radiated
exceptional circumstances do small dispersed settlements from the central tell. Such features, which appear to have
occur immediately beyond the limits of the tell. One such functioned both to gain access to the fields and as droveways
unusual case is found at the site of Tell Brak where an along which the flocks and draft animals moved, often fade
extensive outer settlement as well as numerous small outliers out some 3–5 km from the central tell, thereby implying
of Late Chalcolithic 3–4 (3900–3400 cal BC) settlement the existence of an approximate boundary to the cultivated
occur a short distance beyond the limits of the main tell land (Fig. 7.1; Wilkinson 1994; Ur 2003). Moreover, the
(Ur et al. 2007). Intensive survey away from many tells has distinctive radial pattern of such hollow ways demonstrates
demonstrated that although extensive pottery scatters may that the main locus of movement was out from the settlement
occur, recognisable sites are scarce within what appear to towards the fields, outlying pastures, and in some cases to
have been the fields surrounding the tell. Again, exceptions the neighbouring settlements and centres. Unfortunately,
can be cited, specifically the small early 3rd millennium such hollow ways are only preserved in the less transformed
site of Hajji Ibrahim, which appears to have been a small landscapes of the Khabur basin and neighbouring parts of
fortified granary in the vicinity of Tell Sweyhat along the north-western Iraq. On the other hand, in western Syria
Syrian Euphrates (Danti 1997, 89–92). and southern Turkey, intensive surveys demonstrate that
That many archaeological mounds were genuinely the main area around the tell was apparently devoid of
nucleated settlements is hinted at by textual evidence from settlements (Philip et al. 2005; Casana 2007). Consequently,
Babylonia indicating that houses tended to be located adjacent it is reasonable to infer that such areas within a walking
to houses and fields were adjacent to fields (Leemans 1982, distance of the tell (some 2–3 km) were probably also given
248; but see Steinkeller 2006 for an alternative view of the over to fields.
region of Umma). For the Amuq plain, Magness-Gardiner In favourable circumstances, intensive field survey has
7. The Tell: Social archaeology and territorial space 57

also demonstrated that some major tells were surrounded both Adams (1982, 11) and Diakonoff (1975, 131), most
by low-density scatters of potsherds that are inferred to texts relate to the state and temple sectors of the urban
have resulted to a significant degree from the spreading of centres of power rather than to the rural communities that
midden material and domestic refuse on the fields as fertilizer. formed the matrix of Upper Mesopotamian society. In terms
Such ‘field scatters’ are by no means universal, however, of land tenure Postgate has reminded us that: “…clearly
and many tells show little evidence for them. For example, most existing entitlement to land would be unwritten,
sample transects laid out around sites in the Amuq plain though fixed by custom, and the need for documentary proof
(Turkey) and in the Homs region (Syria) show negligible probably crept in with the gradual encroachment of urban
off-site scatters of the Bronze Age, whereas those around Tell landlords” (1982, 311–312). In other words, the societies
Hammam et-Turkmen in the Balikh and Kurban Höyük in that are often studied by archaeologists are not explicitly
Turkey show only very sparse scatters of Early Bronze Age discussed in many texts. A similar silence may be observed
ceramics (Casana and Wilkinson 2005; Philip et al. 2005; in documentation from Ottoman Syria indicating that when
Wilkinson 1990; 1998). In these cases, if off-site scatters are land was re-distributed communally, peasants held no
present in significant amounts, they consist of later pottery, written title to their shares (Admiralty 1944, 266). When
mainly of Hellenistic, Roman, or Late Roman/Byzantine lands are discussed in the texts, as in the Nuzi texts, the
date. Nevertheless, where field scatters are of Early Bronze discussion may be couched in the form of unusual practices,
Age date, they demonstrably focus upon the central tell from such as adoption, that are seemingly developed perhaps
which they were presumably spread (Wilkinson 1989). to avoid customary law (Zaccagnini 1999). Nevertheless,
Finally, estimates of the populations that could be many archaeologists and ancient historians refer back,
supported by the inferred field areas suggest that where often rather vaguely, to an ‘early’ phase of rural settlement
hollow ways and textual records occur in the same area, in which the village communities were organised along
the estimated population of the central tells could be communal lines. For Lamberg-Karlovsky (1999, 179–180)
approximately supported by the inferred field catchments, this was during the ceramic Neolithic, that is the Hassuna
as well as by the number of draft animals recorded on and Samarra periods, when there is archaeological evidence
the texts (Wilkinson et al. 2007; Ur and Wilkinson 2008). for communal storage facilities. Steinkeller (1999), mainly
However, the larger settlements, such as Tell Beydar and discussing southern Mesopotamia, maintains that this phase
Brak, were surrounded by relatively smaller cultivated areas continued until the Late Uruk period, whereas Diakonoff
in proportion to their site area than the smaller tells, and these (1975, 132) sees such arrangements as continuing until at
smaller tells were capable of generating surplus agricultural least the Old Babylonian period, ending by the early 1st
production. This suggests that the smaller tells produced a millennium BC when Neo-Assyrian administrative practices
surplus of cereals that went to the main centres to sustain resulted in a major transformation of land holding. Finally,
the larger populations and public institutions, either as tax or Fales (1984, 8) argues that such a communal phase of village
some equivalent measure of surplus. The Beydar texts suggest land holding continued until the last two centuries of the
that the settlements in the region of Beydar/Nabada were Neo-Assyrian empire.
assessed in the form of the number of plough animals from Referring to this broad span of time, Adams states: “Hence
each site (Widell 2004, 721–723; Ur and Wilkinson 2008, it serves here merely to underline that communal forms of
313–314) and that this may have related to the agricultural de facto tenure, as distinguished from whatever forms of
capacity of each village, as discussed below. titular ownership of land may be formally recognised by
In sum, the landscape evidence suggests that tells were law, are surely a very ancient, complex and widely occurring
nucleated communities that were surrounded by a definable institution. They deserve to be taken fully into account in
area of cultivated fields accessed by radial pathways from any reconstruction of early Mesopotamian agriculture”
the settlement with un-bounded lands (presumably pasture (1982, 10). The practice of communal ownership by the
and scrub woodland) beyond. Such fields were sufficient to village community then begs the question as to who was
supply the inhabitants of the central communities with staple the ultimate owner of the land. Whereas Diakonoff (1975)
foods, and the entire assemblage – tell, outlying fields, and and Jankowska (1969) consider the lands of villages in the
pasture – went together as a single, and perhaps indivisible, region of Assur and Nuzi as forming the communal property
unit of the landscape. of the “village commune”, Postgate regards the “ultimate
owner” as the crown or the Assyrian palace (1982, 310).
Fortunately, hints concerning the nature of village land
holdings come from Bronze Age texts excavated from
Historical Evidence Alalakh, Ebla and other sites in northern Syria and southern
Unfortunately, cuneiform texts are not explicit in describing Turkey. Such texts refer to or hint that villages were
how the land associated with the smaller rural communities transferred between rulers together with their population,
in rain-fed northern Mesopotamia was used. As stated by their surrounding lands and the revenues derived from
58 Tony Wilkinson

Fig. 7.2 The village of Bar Elias in Lebanon, an example of a village that had been under musha’ cultivation in the 19th century AD
(after Weulersse 1946, fig. 37).

them (Wiseman 1953, 47–48; Zaccagnini 1989; Magness- necessary to examine how such land holdings may have
Gardiner 1994, 40; Schloen 2001, 306–307). This practice been operated in practice.
was also attested around Early Bronze Age Ebla where
land grants included entire villages and their populations.
Nevertheless, ultimate ownership appears to have been in
the hands of the king and his family within what may be Traditional Patterns of Land Holding and the
termed a patrimonial state (Steinkeller 1999, 300; Schloen Community
2001). In other words, these ancient rural communities can In the early 1980s significant attention was paid to the
be regarded as forming one unit that could be exchanged possibility that communal forms of land-holding, similar
at will, without it being necessary to negotiate over details to those of open field agriculture in Europe, were also
of land ownership. characteristic of rural communities in the Near East (Adams
Although a compelling case can be made for equating 1982, 8). Such systems, known as musha’, musha‘ or
the rural communities referred to in the Alalakh texts with mesha’a, were a common form of agriculture in the Levant
those composite landscape units of tell, tracks, fields and in the 19th century and were considered by some scholars to
surrounding pastures evident in the Khabur basin, it is have stretched back to ‘ancient times’ (Warriner 1948, 20;
7. The Tell: Social archaeology and territorial space 59

Granott 1952, 213; Seeden and Kaddour 1984). In musha’ ‘many hands make light work’; in other words, there are
agriculture, the cultivated lands of the village (or most of tangible benefits to combining labour for certain tasks or
them) were held by the village community, that is by a group for sharing labour-saving devices such as plough teams. 3)
of elders, the sheikh, the heads of the main households, clans Communality of enforcement, which includes defence and
or even all the males of the village. The area of land was the requirement of having an overall strong figure, such as
frequently assessed in terms of the faddan, the amount of a sheikh, a chief or the lord of the manor, as head of the
land that could be ploughed in one day by a pair of draft community.
animals (usually oxen). In terms of the community of the tell, the inhabitants
A particularly common mode of land distribution was may have been linked by common ancestry, as well as
for the individual parcels of land to be redistributed among being bound together by collaboration for the common
the households by the casting of lots. According to Granott good. Defence would have been in the hands of either a
(1952, 229), although initially lots were drawn every year, single figure, the head of the clan, or a group of elders, who
they may later have been apportioned every two years and were representative of the kinship or social groups of the
as much as nine year intervals, with the result that in some village. Such communities would not only be defended by
cases the interval was increased to permanent use. Without the community and its head, but would also be physically
delving further into the rather extensive literature on musha’ bounded by its wall, which would not only provide defence
agriculture, it is necessary to emphasise that because the and a clear delimitation as to the limits of the community,
land was held in common, it was not only very difficult to but would also serve to constrain the sediments of redundant
alienate or sell individual parcels of land to outsiders, but buildings, thereby maintaining the distinctive morphology
equally the tax burden from the land could be shared among of the tell. In addition to such constraints, monumentality
the shareholders so that the entire village and its territory would have been contributed by the house of the chief or
could be assessed as a single unit. local ruler, public buildings, and storage structures, the entire
Fortunately, maps of musha’ field systems, or post-musha’ site being rendered immobile perhaps by the sanctity of cult
landscapes that have been ‘frozen in time’ (Weulersse 1946) buildings and/or water sources.
have been published, so that it is possible to view their basic At a general level, the agricultural landscape of a
elements. For example, the village of Bar Elias in Lebanon musha’ community approximates to that of a nucleated
shows a tightly clustered nucleated village (with its tell) village in western Europe, as well as to reconstructions of
surrounded by a highly fragmented landscape of small the agricultural landscape surrounding the Bronze Age tell
field parcels, which were exclusively devoted to cultivation (compare Roberts 1996, fig. 2.5, with reconstructions in
and were bereft of habitations or other structures (Fig. 7.2; Wilkinson 1994 and 2003). Although one must be wary of
Weulersse 1946, fig. 37). This lack of outlying settlement is uncritically extrapolating ethnographic practices back into
congruent with the land tenure. This is because in musha’ the past, many studies of musha’ systems provide valuable
systems individual parcels of land are rotated regularly, with hints as to how society may have functioned within a system
the result that no individual ‘owns’ the land or can therefore of collective land management. First of all, it is evident that
settle on it. In addition to the dense matrix of fields, one or musha’ as a collective way of land distribution is not simply
two radial features led away from the village of Bar Elias, an economic system. Thus Fischbach (2000, 201) maintains
and at the time of mapping were infilled with small field that, “Especially in musha’ villages, property ownership
parcels (Fig. 7.2). Before they became infilled, these features was integrally linked with social relations. Persons owned
appear to have originally been broad radial tracks similar abstract shares in the total village land, shares that had
to the hollow ways or drove-ways that radiate from Upper been originally determined as part of a collective village
Mesopotamian tells. decision. The terms of reference for landed property were
Although the regular reallocation of land, as well as ease thus socially constructed.” In traditional collective villages
of access to fields, provides a compelling reason for the in Egypt, not only did everyone know everyone else, but
clustering of settlements, it would be overly simplistic to also there was a tendency for members of the community to
ascribe settlement nucleation to just one factor, namely land create solidarity by working for a common interest (Gerber
tenure. Rather, geographers frequently posit a number of 1987, 144, citing the work of Ayrout).
inter-related factors as contributing to settlement nucleation. Not only did musha’ often function within a patriarchal
According to B. K. Roberts (1996, 35–37) there are three social system, but it has also been seen as a way of preserving
social conditions of nucleation: 1) Communality of assent, the integrity of the village community (Granott 1952, 215).
namely those social aspects of life that stem from ties The musha’ village was specifically structured so that it
of kinship, whether assumed or created; often these are was a self-contained unit; it was difficult for non-villagers
represented by the patrimonial household as recognised to acquire village land or to penetrate it socially (Schaebler
by Weber (1978) and more recently Schloen (2001). 2) 2000, 289). Marriage to someone within the village was also
Communality to economise, perhaps over-simplified as preferable to someone from without (Gerber 1987, 144), and
60 Tony Wilkinson

families combined into larger groups termed hamula (clan). share-holders were unlikely to either intensify agricultural
This was conceived as a form of mutual protection, within production or invest in the land. Hence manuring, as well
which there was a desire to keep the family property intact as the construction of field enclosure walls or buildings,
(Granott 1952, 216). Such communities epitomised Roberts’ was discouraged (Granott 1952, 218, 246; Fischbach 2000,
concepts of communality because “They lived together, 85). Because such features provide a physical signature,
they worked together, and when the need arose they were they are significant archaeologically, and are potentially
comrades in self defence”….“The chief force which held recognisable in the landscape. In other words, when we
the community together and the shield of its integrity was start to see archaeological signatures of enclosure walls,
the common ownership of the soil….” (Granott 1952, 216). buildings and manuring, it is likely that the landscape had
Moreover, “Its essence was that social groups of different switched from some form of communal administration to
sizes held their land as an indivisible possession” (Granott private or institutional land holdings that allowed investment
1952: 215). to take place.
Such systems hint that Bronze Age rural settlements As observed above, the area immediately surrounding
could also be interpreted as indivisible possessions that many tells in upper Mesopotamia and the northern Levant
could therefore be exchanged together with their population is relatively bereft of archaeological sites or features. Field
and immediate territories. The above can be used to provide boundaries are not in evidence, nor are settlements or
a linking argument, namely that communally organised land- individual buildings very common. However, the latter do
tenure systems represent social systems that were nucleated occur, and when they are recognised, as in the area of Tell
and indivisibly bound to their surrounding territory. Sweyhat, their presence may well be significant in terms of
the pattern of land holding. As observed above, field scatters,
which frequently result from ancient fertilisation and are
indicators of investment in the land, are present around
Conclusions certain sites but are not present around all Bronze Age tells.
The above narrative has discussed the role of the tell as a The absence or presence of field scatters might therefore
nucleated community in which collective action probably result from the practice of collective re-distribution of land
played a significant role in the agricultural systems around (no field scatters) or a switch to institutional or private land
the tell. This echoes conclusions drawn by Peltenburg in his holding (field scatters). Unfortunately, because field scatters
consideration of the mobilisation of labour in the erection will only register when settlement refuse or midden material
of fortified structures along the Euphrates. These can be is scattered upon fields, such an elementary equation is
interpreted not just as service facilities: “Their construction, not entirely valid. Midden material would only have been
involving pooled labour in a joint enterprise that also was used as fertilizer when the community was without animal
a unifying end in itself, exhibits settlement nucleation dung as a result of the dung being burned as fuel because
as a means to integration and creation of new identities” all the scrub or woodland in the region had been removed.
(Peltenburg 2007, 14). Consequently, there are both palaeoecological and socio-
In some studies there has been a tendency for the economic reasons behind the appearance of field scatters.
communal village system to be perceived as a form of overly Nevertheless, a compelling case can be made for
romanticised ethnographic analogy. For example, Weulersse viewing the smaller tells, specifically those that are without
described these musha’ type systems as “extremely robust, field scatters, as being representative of communities that
healthy and balanced (social) and economic organizations” practiced a form of communal agriculture. This would
(Seeden and Kaddour 1984, 504). On the other hand, such accord with the observation made by Adams (1982, 8) that in
systems were prone to disputes over the allocation of the Ottoman period musha’ villages occurred in transitional
shares, which led to local conflicts. In addition, depending areas between fully sedentary intensively cultivated areas
upon the way the musha’ was administered, practices of around the larger towns and regions further to the east that
divided inheritance could result in the land parcels becoming were given over to pastoral nomads. Thus Tell al-Hawa and
progressively reduced in size. However, this criticism could Hamoukar in north-western Iraq and north-eastern Syria
be levelled at private land holdings as well. respectively, where 3rd millennium field scatters are dense
Musha’ communities have also been regarded as unecon- and extensive (Wilkinson 1994; Ur 2002), could be viewed
omical in their use of land because they tended to practice as the larger towns around which agriculture was intensive
the system of biennial fallow, which although beneficial as a (and under the administration of institutions, estates or even
system for conserving soil moisture, left half the land fallow given over to private land holdings). Conversely, smaller
every year. Moreover, collective re-distribution of the land tells, such as Tell Judeidah, Kurban Höyük and others in
meant that there was no incentive to improve the soil because the Homs and Tell Beydar areas around which field scatters
others would “reap the fruits of his initiative” (Granott are rare or absent, might represent a form of collective, low-
1952, 218). In other words, under collective ownership, the intensity agriculture equivalent to the musha’ system.
7. The Tell: Social archaeology and territorial space 61

Such communities may not have lived in an agricultural in Mesopotamian rural communities. In J. N. Postgate, I.
paradise, however, because it is likely that they were subject Dandamayev, H. Gershevitch, G. Klengel, G. Komoróczy and
to taxation. As indicated in the Beydar texts, the presence of M. T. Larsen (eds) Societies and Languages of the Ancient Near
lists of draft animals suggests that some form of census was East. Studies in Honour of I.M. Diakonoff, 1–14. Warminster,
Aris & Phillips.
required. In the case of the Beydar area, the neighbouring
Admiralty. 1944. Syria. British Admiralty Geographical Handbook
smaller tells were apparently producing a surplus cereal
Series, BR 513. British Naval Intelligence Division.
production, which may have been a ‘tax’ that went to the Casana, J. J. 2007. Structural transformations in settlement systems
main town or city, in this case Beydar and Brak, Nabada and of the northern Levant. American Journal of Archaeology 112,
Nagar respectively (Wilkinson et al. 2007; Ur and Wilkinson 195–222.
2008). Whether indicative of taxation or not, the assessment Casana, J. and T. J. Wilkinson 2005. Settlement and landscapes in
of 19th and early 20th century land holdings as faddans the Amuq Region. In K. Aslihan Yener (ed.) The Archaeology of
(i.e. the amount of land that can be ploughed by a pair of the Amuq Plain, 25–65, 203–280. Oriental Institute Publications
oxen in one day) is indicative of the strength or wealth of 131. Chicago, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
the community. As Schaebler has stated, “The faddan was Danti, M. 1997. Regional surveys and excavations. In R. L. Zettler
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Tell es-Sweyhat, 1989–1995 Preliminary Report, 85–94.
even a standard indication of surface area; it was rather
Philadelphia, Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology
a social unit of measurement testifying to the productive
(MASCA), University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology
strength or wealth of village or individual” (2000, 258); and Anthropology.
and “Land in musha‘ communities is clearly more than a Diakonoff, I. M. 1975. The rural community in the ancient Near
means of production. It is rather the very expression of the East. Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient
community. A village is expressed in a given number of 18(2), 121–133.
faddans” (2000, 288). In other words, the counts of plough Fales, M. 1984. A survey of Neo-Assyrian land sales. In T. Khalidi
animals in the Beydar texts, rather than relating to the direct (ed.) Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle
administration of these subordinate places, might equally East, 1–13. Beirut, American University of Beirut Press.
be an assessment of the productive strength of the outlying Fischbach, M. R. 2000. State, Society and Land in Jordan. Leiden,
villages, or for taxation. Brill.
Gerber, H. 1987. The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East.
In sum, evidence from landscape surveys, historical texts
Boulder (CO), Lynne Rienner.
and ethnography converge on the conclusion that the tells
Granott, A. 1952. The Land System of Palestine in History and
and the fields that surrounded them formed an indivisible Structure. London, Eyre and Spottiswood.
social and landscape unit. Moreover, the tell not only Jankowska, N. B. 1969. Communal self-government and the king
represented a nucleated community, but one that was a of the state of Arrapha. Journal of the Economic and Social
strong, probably patrimonial social group, which exercised History of the Orient 12, 233–82.
some form of collective redistribution of land. The land Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. 1999. Households, land tenure
was not simply an economic resource, but it was viewed and communication systems in the 6th–4th millennia of
as a collective good and was part of the social processes of Greater Mesopotamia. In M. Hudson and B. A. Levine (eds)
everyday life for a community that clustered together for Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East,
its own perceived common advantage. 167–201. Peabody Museum Bulletin 7. Cambridge (MA),
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard
Leemans, W. F. 1982. The pattern of settlement in the Babylonian
Acknowledgements countryside. In J. N. Postgate, I. Dandamayev, H. Gershevitch,
H. Klengel, G. Komoróczy and M. T. Larsen (eds) Societies
This paper is dedicated to Eddie Peltenburg, whose research
and Languages of the Ancient Near East: Studies in Honour of
has contributed significantly to my own thoughts on the
I. M. Diakonoff, 246–249. Warminster, Aris and Phillips.
development of the social archaeology of the ancient Magness-Gardiner, B. 1994. Urban-rural relations in Bronze Age
Near East. This paper also draws on research from the Syria: Evidence from Alalah Level VII palace archives. In G.
Modeling Ancient Settlement Systems (MASS) project, M. Schwartz and S. E. Falconer (eds) Archaeological Views
and I specifically wish to thank McGuire Gibson, David from the Countryside: Village Communities in Early Complex
Schloen, Tate Paulette, Jesse Casana and Jason Ur for various Societies, 37–47. Washington DC, Smithsonian Institution
discussions relating to this topic over the past ten years. Press.
Ökse, A. Tuba 2007. A ‘high’ terrace at Gre Virike to the north
of Carchemish: A power of local rulers as founders? In E.
Peltenburg (ed.) Euphrates River Valley Settlement: The
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Lindy Crewe

Introduction explained as either a destruction of the site by people who

This paper is offered to Eddie Peltenburg in thanks for all then settled at Enkomi or a relocation by the inhabitants to
his generous support and valued advice over the years as Enkomi (Åström 1966, 140). Through the later twentieth
doctoral supervisor and beyond. The title is a reference to century and beyond, excavations in the Levant and Egypt
Eddie’s paper, “From isolation to state formation in Cyprus, (recently summarised in Maguire 2009) have continued to
c. 3500–1500 BC” (1996), which was my entry point into produce evidence that the majority of the earliest pottery
the complexities of Late Cypriot social complexity. This exports found outside of Cyprus during the mainland
paper examined the earliest manifestations of ‘statehood’ Middle Bronze horizon originated in the east and can be
on Cyprus at the Middle–Late Cypriot transition, centred tied particularly to styles found at Kalopsidha and apparently
on the evidence from Enkomi and the construction of a produced there (Åström 1966, 8).
series of apparently contemporary ‘fortifications’ located Due to the limited resolution and scope of the data,
at key points around the island. These structures, and the discussed below, examination of the Kalopsidha evidence
majority of other sites yielding evidence for the beginning of leaves us with more questions than answers. Indeed, why
the Late Cypriot period, remain enigmatic and inaccessible Kalopsidha? If copper is considered to be central to Cypriot
to archaeologists. social transformations (Muhly 1986; Knapp 1988 and
Since the 1920s when a house of Bronze Age date was Peltenburg 1996 amongst others) why does a site located
excavated and published by Einar Gjerstad at Kalopsidha well inland and far from the copper sources play such
(1926), the site has played a pivotal role in reconstructing a leading role? Did it in fact play the primary role that
Bronze Age Cypriot society. Whether this is truly due to pottery styles found abroad would seem to indicate? My
the site’s exceptional nature or through a mere accident of aim here is not to speculate on how Kalopsidha gained the
excavation is a question that is unlikely to be resolved in the special position it apparently occupied by the end of the
near future, but by asking different questions of the data and Middle Cypriot (henceforth MC) period but to consider
re-examining the material more recent research continues how the waning fortunes of the site can inform on the
to allow new interpretations (e.g. Frankel 1974; Barlow wider picture of social transformation on Cyprus. I would
1985; Pilides 1996; Webb 1999; Maguire 2009). Further like to reconsider the material culture evidence, particularly
excavations at Kalopsidha in 1959 by Paul Åström (1966) the styles, technologies and types of pottery that feature
increased the site’s status as a leading early participant in strongly at the site. One of the most intriguing features of
relations with the surrounding eastern Mediterranean region the Kalopsidha assemblage is the apparent contradiction
and provided additional evidence for the abandonment between the precocious adoption of a swathe of both foreign
of at least part of the settlement contemporary with the and locally inspired innovations in tandem with a lasting
foundation of a coastal trading emporium at nearby Enkomi technological and stylistic conservatism in production of
during the Middle–Late Cypriot transition (MC III–LC IA, the distinctive White Painted pottery for which the site is
c. 1750–1550 cal BC). Kalopsidha’s decline from “the old renowned.
capital of the east Mesaoria” (Catling 1973, 168) has been
64 Lindy Crewe

Settlement Korovia-Nitovikla
Fortification Phlamoudhi-Vounari


Ayios Sozomenos Athienou Kalopsidha



0 50km

Fig. 8.1 Map of Cyprus showing sites mentioned in the text.

Fig. 8.2 Aerial view of Kalopsidha showing locations of the excavated areas (image: Google Earth).
8. Rethinking Kalopsidha: From specialisation to state marginalisation 65

The Evidence from Archaeological Investigations

at Kalopsidha
Archaeological evidence from the area of Kalopsidha is
dispersed discontinuously over a 150 ha area, located in the
Unexcavat ed
fertile alluvial Mesaoria Plain in southeast Cyprus, 13 km 1

from the coast and 11 km southwest of Enkomi (Fig. 8.1). 2

Tombs located in four discrete cemeteries (Sites A, B, D

and E) and the remains of a settlement (Site C) dating from
EC I–MC III were first investigated by J. L. Myres in 1894 11
(Myres 1897) (Fig. 8.2). A house occupied from MC III–LC 5
I (and overlying an earlier EC III–MC II structure) at Site 6
C and a trial trench at the locality Koufos (Trenches 8–9 on
Fig. 8.2) were excavated by Gjerstad in 1924 (Gjerstad 1926, 10
27–37). Further excavations (Trenches 1–9) were carried 7 9
out in 1959 by Paul Åström, and the subsequent publication
summarises both his and earlier excavations (1966). Despite
Åström’s attempts to deal fully with the material from 8 E
earlier excavations, the majority of the Kalopsidha tombs R
were poorly excavated and incompletely described (Myres A.
1897), and the material is now lost. Keswani (2005, 380,
392) suggests that the reported horse bones along with a few
imported items and copper objects in MC tombs indicate
that the inhabitants of the area were engaged in the same
0 5m Wall C
intensification of mortuary-centred prestige displays as the
rest of the island towards the end of the MC. 2
In comparison with the majority of Cypriot Bronze Age
settlements, Kalopsidha shows a long period of occupation
Wall B
(primarily EC I–LC IIA). It is not possible to ascertain the 1
extent of prehistoric settlement at Kalopsidha during any Wall A
period of occupation, and areas with identified settlement
evidence are dispersed over 14 ha. Åström suggests that N
the Late Cypriot (henceforth LC) settlement (exposed in
excavation only in Trench 9) may have only been an area
of 40–50 m in diameter (Åström 1966, 48). Gjerstad’s Fig. 8.3 MC III–LC IA structures at Kalopsidha. A: Plan of Gjerstad’s
house apparently adjoined another to the east and a road ran house (after Gjerstad 1926, 28, fig. 3). B: Trench 3 (after Åström
along the southern face (Gjerstad 1926, 27; see Fig. 8.3, a), 1966, fig. 21).
although it has been questioned whether Gjerstad’s house was
in fact a single architectural unit (Frankel and Webb 1996,
54). Åström positioned Trenches 1–9 in an effort to locate
stratified deposits to define the relative chronology of the and preserved to a height of 45 cm. Åström (1966, 41)
LC, but Trenches 1, 2, and 4–8 contained no in situ material speculated that it may have been a fortification wall, but
(Åström 1966, 37–38). Trench 3, Trench 9 and Gjerstad’s more recent research has suggested that it is more likely
house provide the only glimpses into the nature of the these structures represent a social strategy of emulation of
settlement and will be discussed in further detail below. Levantine elite behaviour rather than possessing a purely
militaristic function (Philip 1991; Crewe 2007b; Horowitz
2007; Peltenburg 2008).
Trench 3 Parallels for roughly contemporary walls of this monu-
The small but tantalising exposure of Trench 3 (8 m N–S x mental (in Cypriot terms) building style are attested across
1 m E–W) still remains the most useful for the purposes of the island at Enkomi in the Area III, Level A pre-fortress
understanding Kalopsidha’s settlement organisation during wall remnant and the Level IA fortress building (Dikaios
the MC III–LC IA transition. Three walls were partially 1969–1971, 15–16); in the external walls of the fortresses at
exposed (Fig. 8.3, b) and only a single construction and Korovia-Nitovikla (Sjöqvist 1940, 64–73); at Dhali-Kafkallia
occupation phase was attested. The most substantial, (Swiny 1972, 28) and Ayios Sozomenos (Gjerstad 1926,
and presumably exterior, wall (Wall A), is 1.2 m wide 37–47); and in the mound of Phlamoudhi-Vounari (Horowitz
66 Lindy Crewe

2007, 140–41, table 6.6). An example from the southwest 1971, 66–67; Manning et al. 2002). This is considered likely
of the island may also now be attested at Kissonerga-Skalia here based on the presence of local wheelmade wares. There
(Crewe et al. 2008) as pottery evidence from the latest were smaller numbers of LC IIB–LC III sherds, and post-
occupation surface associated with the 1.2 m wide rubble Bronze Age material was found throughout most levels,
wall (Wall 68) in Trench G also dates to MC III–LC IA. indicating much of the area was disturbed (Åström 1966,
Construction techniques for these structures are variable; 48). In addition to ceramics, small numbers of copper and
some exhibit a casemate technique and others use a fairly bronze fragments and artefacts, slag and a possible crucible
haphazard rubble construction set in variable amounts of suggest that metalworking was carried out in the vicinity
mud mortar. All were apparently constructed within MC (Watkins 1966, 113–115).
III–LC IA. Walls B and C of Trench 3 were around 40 Åström interpreted Trench 9 as a dump associated with an
cm wide and ran more or less perpendicular to Wall A, unlocated settlement, but Webb (1999, 113–116) has recently
suggesting they were internal walls. The structure was reinterpreted it as a likely sanctuary deposit due to parallels
abandoned suddenly, and Åström (1966, 47) concluded that with the site of Athienou-Bamboulari tis Koukounninas
Room 2 was destroyed by fire. The remains, including three (Dothan and Ben-Tor 1983). Similarities include the large
pithoi in Room 2 and two in Room 1, indicate that it may numbers of low-fired miniature vessels, which may have
have been a storage area. served as votives, large amounts of immature goat/sheep
bones, evidence of metal working at the site (including
some scrap interpreted as votive in nature) and location on
Gjerstad’s House (Site C) a possible overland route between copper mines and coastal
The house excavated by Gjerstad measures approximately centres. Further evidence of the likelihood of the deposit
12 m × 15 m and consists of eleven rooms, including Room relating to a non-domestic function may be seen in the large
5, which Gjerstad interpreted as an open inner courtyard numbers of painted wares (60% in the lower levels and
(Fig. 8.3, a). Gjerstad excavated seven strata but 3–7 26.6% overall were of White Painted varieties) compared
underlay the house and belonged to an earlier structure. to proportions found associated with domestic architecture
Gjerstad and Åström dated strata 1–2 to MC III. The entire at Kalopsidha (10.7% in Trench 3) and also within the
house was excavated only down to Stratum 2, and only Enkomi Areas I and III buildings (up to 10%, Crewe 2007a,
one room was excavated to Stratum 7 (Barlow 1985, 49). 133–143). Although use of Trench 9 lingered on into LC IIA,
Evidence of conflagration in Room 7 was interpreted as a the majority of the pottery is of LC I date, and it is likely
destruction of the house in Stratum 2 (Åström 1966, 139). that after LC IB activity was much reduced.
Stratum 1 represents the construction of a new floor level and In sum, the latest occupation in the excavated buildings
brief reoccupation of the house before final abandonment. and the earliest deposition in Trench 9 are at least partially
There are many problems with the stratigraphy, class- contemporary with the first occupation of Dikaios’ Area I
ification and subsequent storage of the material (for building at Enkomi in LC IA1. Evidence for how Kalopsidha
discussion of these problems, see Barlow 1985 and Crewe functioned prior to MC III is elusive, except for the presence
2007a, 51). A number of wares of both Cypriot and non- of another (largely unexcavated) structure underlying
Cypriot origin were classed as ‘foreign’ (Gjerstad 1926, 269). Gjerstad’s house. In the remainder of this paper, I would like
It is unclear as to which strata belong the “great quantities to explore the material indicators of Kalopsidha’s occupation
of Syrian ware, large pithoi with pointed base and vertical and how they may tie in with the wider social processes
shoulder-handles, also jugs and flasks” cited by Gjerstad occurring on the island.
(1926: 36). Åström (1972a, 170–71) summarised the wares
present but noted that much of the material from Strata 1–2
was unfortunately mixed together at a later date. Åström
(2001) has since noted White Painted VI, Monochrome and Pottery and Kalopsidha’s International Relations
Bichrome Wheelmade ware in these strata, signalling that Kalopsidha has been identified as a pottery production centre
occupation continued into LC I. (Åström 1966, 8) based upon the presence of misfired sherds
at both Site C and in Trench 9 and a preponderance of
unique types of certain wares, particularly some of the White
Trench 9 Painted varieties (Fig. 8.4), Red Slip, Black Slip and Plain
No intact architecture was encountered in Trench 9 (5 m White wares. Although, as noted above, the site is renowned
N–S × 1 m E–W), but an incredibly large number of sherds for its reputation as the source of the earliest exported
were excavated (223,000 of which 95,936 were classified), White Painted wares, the most common pottery style at
predominantly dating from MC III–LC IIA. The bottommost Kalopsidha is Plain White Handmade ware, accounting for
layers appeared to be undisturbed and were dated to MC III, 37% of the Trench 3 assemblage (Åström 1966, 40–44).
but an early LC I date has since been suggested (Merrillees The significance of this may again be highlighted through
8. Rethinking Kalopsidha: From specialisation to state marginalisation 67

Fig. 8.4 Juglets of White Painted ware variants manufactured at Kalopsidha. A: White Painted III–IV Pendant Line Style (Åström 1972a,
28, fig. IX.4). B–C: White Painted IV–VI Cross Line Style (Åström 1972a, 65, figs IX.11–12; scale 1:4). D: White Painted V Eyelet Style
(Åström 1972a, 69, fig. XVI.15). E: White Painted V Tangent Line Style (Åström 1972a, 71, fig. XVI.17). F: White Painted VI Soft Triglyphic
Style (Åström 1972b, 58, fig. XLI.2).

Fig. 8.5 Plain White Handmade ware pithoi from Strata 1–2 at Gjerstad’s house. A: Selection of pithos sherds with relief bands. B: Plain
White ware pithos of EC III–MC II type.

comparison with the contemporary occupation level in LC (Crewe 2007b). In addition to the novelty seen in the surface
IA Area I at Enkomi where Plain White (including both treatment of Plain White ware, new vessel types also occur.
handmade and wheelmade forms) forms only 8% of the I will briefly note the significance of one of these: the Plain
assemblage (Crewe 2007a, 139, table 17.14). Gjerstad did White Handmade pithoi.
not isolate the ware during his excavation, and it seems to Cypriot communities began producing large storage
have been lumped in with the foreign wares. Amounts are vessels as early as EC III–MC I, but they became more
also lower as material from the earlier structure is present in common across the island during MC II (Pilides 1996, 107).
the deposits. LC IA–IIA Trench 9 has comparable numbers The earlier examples were manufactured in Red Polished
to later levels at Enkomi at around 31% (Åström 1966, 49). ware, usually with a large round mouth, short neck with two
Again, this figure includes all manufacturing technologies handles from the neck to shoulder, piriform body and small
at Enkomi but reflects only the handmade variety at flat base, ranging from 0.75–1 m in height (Pilides 2000,
Kalopsidha. I will return to this point below. 4, fig. 1). Probably in MC III (Åström 1966, 205–206) a
Kalopsidha also has the majority of the earliest examples new, slightly smaller type appeared, ranging from 33–56
of Plain White on the island (Crewe 2009). It is perhaps not cm in height (Pilides 2000, 3), which was manufactured in
difficult to see how Plain White ware may have developed a fine, hard variant of Plain White ware often with relief
at Kalopsidha as it is essentially White Painted ware without or incised bands at the neck or shoulder (Fig. 8.5, a) and
any painted decoration. The ware also owes stylistically and usually without handles.
typologically to Middle Bronze plain wares from the Levant The Levantine affinities of the Plain White pithoi with
68 Lindy Crewe

relief bands were noted by Åström (1972a, 230–231), and types found outside of Cyprus and in small numbers in the
these vessels have since been identified as exports to Tell earliest Enkomi deposits (12% in the earliest occupation but
el-Dabca (Maguire 2009, 157–161) and Ugarit (noted in decreasing to 2% by LC IB; Crewe 2007a, 113).
Pilides 2000, 51). I have also recently examined sherds
from Tell el-‘Ajjul and located further examples, along
with a number of similar local Levantine variants. This
phenomenon of stylistic and technological borrowings along Discussion
with true imports and exports occurred across the eastern In both the MC III–LC IA structures in Trench 3 and
Mediterranean during the Middle Bronze Age. Related to Gjerstad’s house the pottery is characterised by a substantial
this is the circulation of juglets, discussed further below. proportion of innovatory forms and styles. This includes
The manufacture of this new style of vessel on Cyprus can the earlier strata beneath Gjerstad’s house with significant
be seen as an adaptation of a Levantine form but drawing quantities of White Painted ware, as White Painted itself
on pre-existing Cypriot requirements for increased storage was an innovation at the beginning of the MC. On the other
capacity. Syrian inspiration has also been seen in some hand, the LC IA–IIA assemblage of Trench 9 is characterised
of the White Painted V vessels imitating Syrian form and by technological and stylistic archaisms. By attempting to
with painted eyes (Fig. 8.4, d; Åström 1972a, 223), and understand these conflicts between tradition and innovation,
Kalopsidha also has the earliest locally manufactured and perhaps between different sectors of the one community,
Levantine-style saucer lamps with pinched rims (Åström it is possible that we can understand the processes of change
1966, 111, fig. 107). An example of the experimental and on Cyprus.
hybridised nature of Cypriot pottery at this time can be seen Peltenburg views the first monumental ‘fort’ buildings
in a handle from a pithos of earlier Red Polished type but as “instrumental in securing for islanders a more active
manufactured in Plain White ware (Fig. 8.5, b). and independent role in the realisation of potential of local
In association with these locally produced Plain White resources” (2008, 153). The destruction and abandonment
pithoi must briefly be mentioned the significant quantities of the Trench 3 building and Gjerstad’s house provide a
(a minimum of 26 vessels) of imported Canaanite jars found glimpse into the probable conflict taking place between
in both Trench 3 and Gjerstad’s house, and including the traditional ways and those who seemingly embraced a
stratum underlying the structure. Despite reservations noted new world of foreign symbols and ideas at the MC–LC
above on the attributions of this material to particular strata, transition. The Trench 3 building was constructed on a
sherds from a minimum of five different vessels are stored in grand scale, and both buildings contained imported and
a box marked “Room 9, Str. 3” and are thus attributable to locally-produced stored surplus, which may well have
MC II–III, predating Gjerstad’s house. Amongst other boxes contained the ingredients for the manufacture of the material
from “Stratum 1 or 2” or only labelled “MC III” are sherds to be transported in the White Painted vessels. Whether the
from at least a further 20 vessels. At least one vessel and building programme and the housing of the goods reflect
probably more occur in the Trench 3 building. Kalopsidha the actions of an individual, group within the community or
therefore had exceptional storage capacity for the later MC outsiders is unknown. If sectors of the community (rather
and into early LC IA, both incorporating local and imported than outsiders) were responsible for the destructions, then
vessels, and on current evidence the site exhibits privileged the subsequent adherence to traditional pottery manufacture
access to imported goods and trade relations. In contrast, and decorative techniques by those who continued to live at
only one definite Canaanite jar fragment is mentioned from Kalopsidha may reflect a (temporary) return to traditional
LC IA–IIA Trench 9 (Åström 1966, 76) although other and tested methods.
unidentified sherds may have been present. Maguire notes that of the significant quantity of Cypriot
Turning to the Trench 9 deposits, although the earliest pottery vessels imported to Tell el-Dabca prior to the New
deposition of material may be contemporary with occupation Kingdom, the majority are White Painted handmade wares
in the excavated structures, the area continued to be used of styles most commonly found at Kalopsidha although
for around another 200 years after their abandonment. The she adds the caveat that Kalopsidha is the only site to
low numbers of wheelmade wares in Gjerstad’s house have been excavated in the region (2009, 26). Maguire
and Trench 3 are indicative of this very early LC IA date has also examined the phenomenon of the circulation of
before wheelmade wares were commonly produced (Crewe a range of small jugs and juglets as precious commodity
2007b), but in comparison with other parts of the island the containers (probably for perfume or oil), which were
continuing strong handmade tradition seen in the Trench 9 produced in Cyprus, Egypt and the Levant (1995; 2009,
deposits is significant (less than 2% of the total material is 67–68) and were apparently a crucial component of the
of wheelmade types). This was explained as “conservatism” Hyksos-period material culture complex. At the beginning
by Åström (1966, 64), but it is also here that we see the vast of the Late Bronze Age, styles and production zones
quantities of White Painted ware that correlate so well with changed dramatically, apparently replaced almost entirely
8. Rethinking Kalopsidha: From specialisation to state marginalisation 69

by Cypriot-produced Base Ring and Red Lustrous ware considers it likely that some inhabitants of the coastal towns
versions (Maguire 1995, 63). were transported back to their ancestral inland villages for
The lack of eastern-style White Painted wares post-dating burial. Kalopsidha may therefore have been ideally placed
LC IA at Enkomi or in New Kingdom/Late Bronze deposits as a centre for funerary and related ritual. Indications that
(Maguire 2009, 18) suggests that Kalopsidha ceased to play the site may have remained active in the funerary industry
a role in production and export at this time. Occupation at attested by Kalopsidha-style White Painted juglets found in
the site persisted for perhaps 100 years as evidenced by quantity not only at Enkomi but also at Ayios Iakovos and
the Trench 9 deposit, but based on comparison with the other sites in the Karpas as well as occasional examples
Enkomi assemblage it is likely that the majority of Trench 9 farther afield (details in Åström 1972a, 17–78; 1972b,
use dates only just into LC IB with greatly reduced activity 53–68). Kalopsidha may have been supplanted by other
after this. communities located on more direct routes to the copper
It is reasonable to suppose that Kalopsidha and Enkomi sources, such as Athienou, in LC IIA. By this time, the
had a symbiotic relationship upon the first foundation Kalopsidhans had lost their niche, which was transferred to
of the latter site, with Enkomi serving as a gateway for other localities producing and exporting juglets of Base Ring
inland-produced goods and also taking advantage of the and Red Lustrous Wheelmade wares (Merrillees 1971).
increased prosperity brought by interactions with the eastern The other possible reason for Kalopsidha’s decline may
Mediterranean. It is worth noting that White Painted is have been that one of the ingredients needed for their special
the only ware in the Enkomi settlement assemblage in product was no longer available. As Maguire has noted,
which juglets form a significant component (around 25%, there is no reason to assume that Cypriot pottery vessels
contrasted with around 3% in other wares). Based on their contained Cypriot goods (1995, 54). From LC IA onwards
deposition contexts, juglets appear to have played a largely Enkomi retained at least some of the Canaanite jars that
funerary-specific role during the Cypriot Bronze Age, and were coming into the port. There are significant quantities of
greater amounts in the settlement strata may therefore be Canaanite jars found in LC IA levels (c. 10% of the pottery
interpreted as the traces of these vessels passing through assemblage in both Areas I and III, Crewe 2007a, 124–125).
the site for export (see Crewe 2007a, 132 for further The final demise of Kalopsidha’s international role may
discussion). also be linked to the 50% reduction in Canaanite jars in LC
Whilst the Trench 9 deposit may partially represent the IB deposits at Enkomi, potentially due to the disruption of
debris of a ‘packaging’ centre, the crudely made, low-fired trading routes after the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt
miniatures (painted and unpainted) found in abundance were (Maguire 1995, 63).
certainly not exported and seem more likely to represent Taking into account the transportation to the site of
votives manufactured perhaps by the ‘worshippers’ as bulk goods contained in Canaanite jars, the evidence
suggested for the cultic deposits at Athienou (Dothan of Levantine-influenced, locally-produced vessels for
and Ben-Tor 1983, 56–57). The transformation from additional bulk storage, which were in turn exported,
international production centre to rural sanctuary may have luxury goods in tombs (including equid burials), and the
been facilitated by the tradition surrounding the goods local manufacture of quantities of fine, painted jugs and
that were produced: perfumed oil containers that played juglets that were also exported to the surrounding eastern
a crucial role in mortuary ritual. Perhaps in an effort to Mediterranean, we can speculate that both bulk commodities
avoid losing their advantageous position as Enkomi began and value-added goods (Sherratt 1999) were being produced
to become a focal centre in its own right, Kalopsidhans at Kalopsidha. The oft-repeated MC II “trickle” of exports
increased production of the resource that they had long becoming a “flood” during MC III (Catling 1973, 174) may
specialised in. The final style of the sequence, the White reflect new methods of intensifying production leading to
Painted VI dated exclusively to LC I (Fig. 8.4, f), has a the adoption of the stylistic and technological innovations
simplified linear decoration but is still handmade. The seen in the Plain White ware. It is likely that the initial
adherence to handmade painted forms may be a combination impetus for production was a local need for perfumed
of maintaining the ready identification of a long-established oils for funerary use as part of the increased importance
product combined with an ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’ of mortuary ritual in competitive display (Keswani 2005).
attitude of producers. From LC IA, goods were being transported through Enkomi
It has been suggested that mortuary consumption was a with the likely result that Enkomi eventually restricted the
“driver of economic intensification” for copper production movement further inland of many of the imports. In addition,
(Keswani 2004, 153). This may also be applied to perfumed if Kalopsidha’s early ascendancy was due to its ability to
oils and the containers they were packaged in, with greater muster agricultural surplus, then once the eastern Mesaoria
value attached to certain styles of known quality. Keswani became more extensively occupied it lost its uniqueness as
(2004, 140) also notes that numbers of tombs within the LC Enkomi’s own hinterland comprises fine agricultural land.
coastal centres are insufficient for the entire population and We will probably never be able to establish the exact role
70 Lindy Crewe

of Kalopsidha in the initial stages of the move towards of wheelmade pottery on Late Bronze Age Cyprus. Journal of
complex society on Cyprus, but it seems likely that the Mediterranean Archaeology 20(2), 209–238.
site’s later fortunes were linked closely to those of nearby Crewe, L. 2009. Regionalism and the first appearance of Plain
Enkomi. When Enkomi was first founded we see perhaps the White Handmade Ware in the Middle Cypriot Bronze Age. In
I. Hein (ed.) The Formation of Cyprus in the 2nd Millennium
greatest period of prosperity at Kalopsidha, but eventually
B.C. Studies in Regionalism during the Middle and Late Bronze
as Enkomi was transformed into a central place the site
Age. Proceedings of a Workshop Held at the 4th Cyprological
became marginalised and finally abandoned. Congress, May 2nd, 2008, Nicosia, 79–90. Denkschriften der
Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Contributions
to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean. Vienna.
Crewe, L., P. Croft, L. Graham and A. McCarthy 2008. First
Acknowledgements preliminary report of excavations at Kissonerga-Skalia, 2007.
I would like to thank Diane Bolger and Louise Maguire Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 105–119.
for the organisation of and invitation to participate in Dikaios, P. 1969–1971. Enkomi. Excavations 1948–1958, vols. I
this volume. Thanks also to Karen Slej and staff at the –IIIB. Mainz, Philipp von Zabern.
Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm for permission to examine Dothan, T. and A. Ben-Tor 1983. Excavations at Athienou, Cyprus.
material from Kalopsidha and to Rachel Sparks, Keeper of 1971–1972. Qedem 16. Jerusalem, Institute of Archaeology,
the UCL Institute of Archaeology collections for allowing The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Frankel, D. 1974. Middle Cypriot White Painted Pottery: An
me to examine the Tell el-‘Ajjul material from Petrie’s
Analytical Study of the Decoration. Studies in Mediterranean
excavations. This research was conducted whilst I held
Archaeology 42. Göteborg, Paul Åströms Förlag.
the British Academy Reckitt Postdoctoral Fellowship Frankel, D. and J. M. Webb 1996. Marki-Alonia: An Early and
in Archaeology at the University of Manchester, for Middle Bronze Age Town in Cyprus. Excavations 1990–1994.
which I would like to gratefully acknowledge the British Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 123(1). Jonsered, Paul
Academy. Åströms Förlag.
Gjerstad, E. 1926. Studies on Prehistoric Cyprus. Uppsala, Uppsala
Universitets Årsskrift.
Horowitz, M. T. 2007. Monumentality and Social Transformation
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Antiquities, Cyprus.



Anne Porter

In this celebration of Eddie Peltenburg’s career it is more society did not, or had not yet, then that society did not
than fitting to revisit a topic to which he has made such qualify as a state. Various terms have been applied to this
a significant contribution: the genesis and organisation of pre-state/state alternative entity in both the anthropology
the early polity in northern Syria. Since it is now widely of the contemporary world and the archaeology of the
recognised that the neo-evolutionary models of the early ancient world: chiefdom (Earle 1997; Flannery 1999) and
state, as characterised either by developmental stages or segmentary society (Stephen and Peltenburg 2002) are two
classificatory types, are no longer useful for understanding of the most prominent. Both in some way harken back to a
these issues (see Yoffee 2005 for a succinct treatment), there kin/tribal basis for these pre/non-state societies despite the
are a multitude of approaches and frameworks to consider. problematic nature of the term ‘tribe’. But as the emphasis
But whether we consider them in terms of the ‘archaic in American archaeology of the Near East shifted from the
state’ (Feinman and Marcus 1998), ‘incipient’, ‘nascent’ or problem of state formation to a more diverse set of issues,
‘transitional’ states (all terms employed by Trigger 2003) or as excavation results increasingly found not the transition to
‘early complex polities’ (Smith 2003), and whether they are the state but the remains of functioning polities or complex
implicit or explicit, there is an understanding in any study societies (Stein 1994; 1998), and as political theory shifted at
of the early polity (my own terminological preference) that the same time as the practice of archaeology itself changed,
something qualitatively, if not quantitatively, different has evidence began to emerge that the polities of the north, and
occurred in political history – a new state of political being, even of the south (Yoffee 2005, 110, 214), were not quite
not just in grand organisational terms but in terms of the so ‘developed’ as to have entirely abandoned kin relations
way people conceive of themselves and their interactions for class structures long after such changes were supposed
with others, has come into existence. to have been accomplished.
In the past one key aspect of this change in political This then seems to require a choice: are the early
being was characterised as a shift from kin-based societies politics of northern Mesopotamia not far enough along the
– where people both understood their place in the world continuum to really qualify as states? Or should we think
and their responsibilities to others to be arranged according about the situation in entirely other frameworks? There
to their blood relations, i.e. their birth into a certain group is an interesting divergence here between highly local
– to a class-based society where the affinities (or lack studies of the polity and global ones: those focussed on
thereof) between much larger numbers of unrelated people northern Mesopotamia tend to the former by employing
who coexisted in the same space were derived from their the term ‘tribe’ (Steinkeller 1999; Stein 2004; Cooper
position in socio-economic hierarchies (for a random sample 2006; 2007) or, like ‘segmentary society’, a label based
see Adams 1966, 80; Yoffee 1993, 69; but cf Yoffee 1997, on characteristics of the tribe (such as Peltenburg 2007a,
261–262; see also Zagarell 1986, 416; Pollock 1991, 177; 11) and deriving ultimately from a long history of usage in
McCorriston 1997, 518; Trigger 2003, 152–153). The anthropology (Morgan 1877; Evans-Pritchard 1940; Service
applicability of this change was universal. In some way or 1962; Sahlins 1968; see Peletz 1995, 353 for its different
another all societies went through it – or didn’t. If a given meanings). Those situated in a larger discourse opt for other
9. From kin to class – and back again! Changing paradigms of the early polity 73

approaches altogether (e.g. Blanton 1998; Smith 2003; or consider themselves to be members of, and therefore
Yoffee 2005). I would like to bring both together in this governed by, the polity. It does not matter if the polity does
paper by considering local northern Mesopotamian polities not have the means to enforce its desires over this catchment
through a different framework, one which does not contrast area, only that its members think it does.
one state of political being (tribe) with another (state) But a dispersed polity might also include scattered
because practices of social and political interaction, which components integrated into a single entity through conquest,
are entirely interdigitated but not necessarily correlative, for example, where control is more direct than only the
vary from polity to polity in northern Mesopotamia. In each paying of tribute (Wattenmaker 1994, 197–198) or as when
polity there are situations where kinship is the dominant Samsi Addu appointed one son over Mari, the other over
mode of interaction and situations where socio-economic Ekallatum while he ruled at Shubat Enlil (van der Mieroop
position (‘class’ is not really an apt term) and/or civic 2004, 102). An extended morphology, in contrast, posits
identity is operable and administrative structures are framed a more regularised spatial connection, somewhat like an
through and deploy all modes of interaction at different arm stretched out to hold in hand a distant object. The
times. This variability characterises both early polities and Assyrian trading colonies might provide such an example,
much later ones and extends far beyond northern Syria as where stable and frequently utilised routes of passage
well. It is therefore not a matter of viewing the northern and communication between homeland and colony are
polities as less than fully developed states, but of thinking maintained whether through treaty or tribute, so that it
about the state differently, perhaps indeed dispensing with appears as if the homeland controls the space of the routes
it (and associated terminologies) as an analytical frame of themselves. While these terms represent different points on a
reference altogether. continuum, there are others that represent different ways of
The only way to depict such variability is to employ spatial distribution entirely, and so multiple terms to describe
a wide range of descriptive terms on a contingent basis morphology might be used of any one polity.
because the production of monolithic paradigms driven Variable polity morphologies are in evidence over a
by the need for succinct ways of expressing political very long period in the Near East, starting at least in the
organisation, as well as the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of its change, 4th millennium. The relationship between Habuba Kabira
leads ultimately to a counter-productive reductionism (see and Uruk, for example, might represent a bifurcated polity
Smith 2003, 40 and note 9). There are many ways of thinking or a dispersed model if integrated political relationships
about the constituent relationships contained within the early (as opposed to only economic ones coupled with social
polity (cf Stein 1998), but there are at least four that top memory of chronologically distant origins) really can be
my list and consequently four sets of terminologies to be demonstrated between Uruk and some of the other sites
developed. One way is in terms of the spatial organisation that share its material culture. In the 3rd millennium Ebla
of the polity, which I term polity morphology. It tends to controlled Carchemish (Fronzaroli 2003) and perhaps Emar
be a given in most discussions of the Near Eastern state as well (Archi and Biga 2003, 10).While evidence for these
that a polity controls contiguous territory, either in a highly relationships has prompted some to claim that Ebla was a
circumscribed manner such as the Mesopotamian city state massive empire (e.g. Astour 1992), there is no indication,
or in the broader manner of the Syrian state, with the empire archaeological or textual, that substantiates a claim for
being the most attenuated, but still contiguous, form. Yet contiguous territory from Emar to Ebla to Carchemish;
the very idea of colonialism, largely accepted as pertaining indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. There were clearly
in some way in the 4th millennium (Surenhagen 1986; independent kingdoms in between. The dispersed polity of
Algaze 1993) raises other possibilities, one of which is the Samsi Addu has already been mentioned, but it may not have
‘bifurcated polity’ in which two components of the same been the only non-contiguous polity of the 2nd millennium:
political entity exist at a distance from each other. A wide the Emutbala kingdom of Larsa may have constituted some
range of political relationships may be posited for this spatial form of bifurcated polity with the Yamutbal of northern
situation, ranging from two essentially independent groups Syria (Porter 2009; see also Steinkeller 2004).
only nominally connected, to differential specialisations Ideas about the effective limitations of direct political
among the components of the bifurcated polity (Porter control over space (e.g. Johnson 1978; Giddens 1981) are no
2009). A ‘dispersed polity’ is one that has a significant doubt part of the reason that divergent polity morphologies are
component of its populace engaged in mobile enterprises, not well considered, but there are multiple ways of stretching
including, but not limited to, both localised and broad-range time and space, so that the distance that may be travelled in
pastoralism, where territorial usage shifts, either seasonally a day (Flannery 1999, 5) does not condition the degree to
or over the long term. On this issue I diverge from Smith which, or the ways, a polity might extend itself. However, the
(2003, 153), who argues that a polity and its catchment spatial organisation of a polity and the territorial relationships
area are not coterminous. They may be, if the people who within it do pose a set of problems for political organisation
utilise the catchment area are in fact governed by the polity and operation, just as the way a society is organised may
74 Anne Porter

constrain the potential for different territorial configurations. (Holy 1996, 40) and can be used to construct inclusionary
As I have recently argued (Porter 2009), kinship practices societies where linkages are made between groups that
might be part of the way a polity maintains integrity over might sometimes be far distant in time and space, and
space, but this should not be taken to mean that this is always exclusionary societies where membership of the group is
the case nor that kinship may not be an equally critical restricted through a narrow conception of kin relations
component of contiguous or local polities. Nevertheless, (Porter 2002b). Kinship, moreover, may be used to create
differences in how kinship systems are structured and how and substantiate differentiation within a kin-based system
kinship practices work between bifurcated, dispersed and where members of one lineage are privileged over others
contiguous polities would not be surprising. (usually that closest to the founding ancestor), leading to
Kinship systems and practices form a key component of authoritarian structures of power and/or segregated elites; or
social configuration, the complex of structures, ideologies it may work to promote corporate political behaviour where
and practices that form the basis of social interaction, and social-economic differences are offset by kin connections
the second way in which polities vary in their organisation across hierarchies. Kinship, despite long academic traditions
and operation. Kinship, defined ego-centrically or intra- of assumptions otherwise (again, summarised succinctly by
generationally (the living kin of an individual) and socio- Yoffee 2005, 23), implies nothing about political operation.
centrically or multi-generationally (the relationships accrued Not all kinship systems are the same, and kinship systems
through having a common ancestor or common descent; see do not in themselves give rise to one form of political
Holy 1996; Fowles 2002) is in evidence in one way or another, organisation and operation or another. Kinship is a set of
and from a variety of sources, as a powerful component of social rules and resources. The state, on the other hand, is
the social worlds of a large number of sites across Syria. a political structure in which different social configurations
Since kinship is established by both horizontal and vertical may pertain.
relationships and can be socially constructed as opposed The equation of kinship structures with a) a particular type
to only attributed by birth (Porter 2009, 215), genealogies, of political form or b) pre- or non-state societies, especially
ancestor practices such as the kispu (Tsukimoto 1985), certain when viewed through the lens of ancestor practices, is
rituals of association (Durand 1992, 117; Bonechi 1997, 480) therefore misleading. Moreover, kinship and a high degree of
and relationship terminologies (e.g. Sasson 1998, 462) may social stratification are not mutually exclusive, for they may
all be considered evidence of it. Archaeological evidence is be functional in different arenas of life, so that individuals
perhaps a little less direct, but it is nevertheless persuasive become embedded in multiple and cross-cutting social
and can be found in burial practices (Peltenburg 2007b); networks. This understanding stems from Service (1962) and
architecture (Dohmann-Pfälzner and Pfälzner 1996); the is one aspect of neo-evolutionary frameworks that has been
spatial organisation of a settlement (Porter 2009); and even sadly neglected in archaeological discourse (although see
individual artifacts (Hempelmann n.d. a; n.d. b). Fowles 2002). Members of a single kin group may occupy
Much of the data for some form of kinship, however, different levels of a social hierarchy. A grouping based on
is interpreted as creating and perpetuating various kinds socio-economic position may include members of multiple
of ancestor systems (Peltenburg 1999; Porter 2000; 2002a; kin groups, and which set of allegiances is invoked will
Schwartz 2007). There is, of course, the possibility that depend on the situation at hand.
once having discovered ancestors we are inclined to see Nevertheless, systems of social standing, kinship and
them everywhere (Whitley 2002), but the written evidence ancestor practices all form a critical part of the third arena
does support such claims made of burial practices. The in which polities vary, political ethos, by which I mean
relationship between ancestor traditions and political the way a group conceives of itself and its members’
systems is not straightforward, however. Ancestors can be relationship to it in terms of its character and principles
deployed to do different things in different ways at different (Porter 2009) and which can be described as, amongst other
times. Kinship systems and ancestor practices do not even ways, communitarian, familial, hierarchical, authoritarian,
have to work in tandem, and it is possible that ancestor heterarchical, heterogeneous and factional. An ethos,
practices exist without functioning kinship systems as relict however, does not necessarily correspond to political
of earlier practices that have since disappeared, leaving only practice, the fourth element of my framework for thinking
a rhetoric of legitimation behind. Kinship rules may work to about the early polity, for practice is situated in the short-
define who has membership of a network of living relations term and may vary considerably over even a generation or
while the practices that create and perpetuate ancestors, may be continually contested (e.g. Fowles 2002, 26), so
ranging from burial customs to commemorative rituals, that what we see in the archaeological record is either an
may have nothing to do with group membership at all but aggregate of that contest, with actual practice and desired
work to perpetuate an ideal vision of society or implement practice indistinguishable, or one side of the contest manifest
a socio-civic code of moral authority (Porter 2002a). more overtly in material ways. Moreover, a political ethos
In broadest terms, kin relations are “potentially boundless” is established by multiple factors: it is “the political, social
9. From kin to class – and back again! Changing paradigms of the early polity 75

and religious ideologies and practices that produce and/or here is to think about the wide range of possibilities inherent
express and/or perpetuate a group’s self-conception, world in any given body of material rather than assume that one
views, place within that world, internal organization, and model should fit (meaning that another does not).
operation” (Porter 2009, 213), whereas political practice The four perspectives and accompanying descriptive
comprises just the last two components of that list. It is what terms proposed here are only some among many that might
people actually do, whatever the structural and ideological be brought to bear as a way of conveying the nature of
content of a society suggest to us it is that they should be any particular polity under consideration. Space precludes
doing, or even that they think they are doing. However, the detailed demonstration of this approach and its outcomes,
same sorts of terms might well be employed to describe but a brief summary of some of its implications for one
actual political practice as are used for ethos. site is possible. At Ebla, religious, administrative and
More often than not, I suspect, it is ethos that we recover productive functions and activities located in the city lie
from the material record (and even texts), but we mistake it at the core of a network of related functions and activities
for practice because of our assumptions about correlations located around and outside the city itself, maintained in
between material categories, such as architectural form part by the distribution of members of the ruling family,
and socio-political organisation (see, for example, Porter officials and their residences throughout the countryside in
2007a, 84; and cf. Smith 2003, 230–231). What is more, smaller towns (Archi 1990, 53; 1992, 25), and in part by
ancient representations of ethos must be carefully separated royal rituals of pilgrimage (Fronzaroli 1992; 1993; Archi
from our own. Large-scale architecture determined to be 2005, 90; Porter 2007a). Rather than reading Ebla as the
secular equals a palace; a palace equals at minimum an northern archetype of the highly urbanised and centralised
elite segregated from society and holding a monopoly of state in the 3rd millennium, the archaeological and textual
power. But heterarchical political practice might be hidden evidence actually presents a decentralised polity in both
because other authority structures such as ‘elders’ do not morphology and practice.
necessarily have a dedicated space in which they function, Morphologically the polity of Ebla is composed of a series
while extensive monumental architecture may convey a of contiguous and non-contiguous elements, ranging from the
more powerful public authority than necessarily exists. as yet unlocated URU.BAR (translated as ‘suburbs’) in which
Although arguments might be made for the continued many of the workers of the palace are thought to live (Archi
utility of some form of classificatory system (Fowles 2002, 1982, 212; Arcari 1988, 128) to more remote dependent
13–14), my aim here is not to identify a particular kind of villages in its territory and the separate subordinate towns,
political unit or categorise systems of power distribution, but such as Carchemish, it controlled. Political practice seems
to recognise the multiple sets of social and political networks equally complex and may be familial in that power is shared
in which people operate that come together to constitute the across an extended family structure; heterarchical in that there
nature of any given polity – a close reading of the data in is some indication that parallel systems of authority exist (but
order to produce an “inter-emic” (Campbell 2007, 6) view cf. Stone 1999 for a different application of heterarchy and
of existence. I have deliberately refrained from adducing hierarchy); and decentralised if the distributed components
archaeological correlates to any of these descriptive terms of the polity are effectively integrated through an equivalent
because not only do I wish to avoid any implication of spatial distribution of power as represented, for example, by
reification, but also because recent discussions of materiality the residences of princes and other officials. Because the
(e.g. Miller 2005) indicate that categories of material archaeological sources come from one component of that
culture and even individual objects may contain multiple spatial system (the mound of Tell Mardikh, which clearly does
and conflicting situations within themselves, especially not comprise the entire city, let alone the polity of Ebla) and
“when one chooses to express one’s dissent with a situation the written sources come from an even more restricted place,
through the very institutions [or artefacts (my insertion)] that the so-called ‘palace’, we certainly have a disproportionate
ultimately recreate it” (Dobres and Robb 2000, 9). One should view of the power of the palace’s occupant, the ‘king’ and
neither choose which aspect is most relevant nor explain the range of his control (cf. Biga 1995). Yet the texts also
one away in favour of the other; nor, in fact, should one give evidence of other bodies that play a part in governance,
even attempt to resolve the contradiction. Both are equally even if the lack of equivalent representation of their actions
present and equally valid, and the question concerns only and responsibilities obscures their precise role.
what happens when such contradictions are engaged. A high Several factors evident in the documentation indicate
degree of monumentalism, for example, is seen variously as the complexity of political practice and ethos at Ebla, as
the product of chiefly behaviour and an indicator of the state, well as the moments of disjuncture between them. For
and it is not that one interpretation is necessarily wrong but example, the repeated use of EN-EN, plural ‘kings’ (Archi
that both situations are possible and can occur at the same 2001) and the near equivalence of operable power between
time. Similarly, a certain form of basket may embody both minister and king raise questions about the assumption of
oppression and resistance (Meskell 2005), so that the point autocracy at Ebla, and might be interpreted as power sharing
76 Anne Porter

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Marcella Frangipane

The Near East, which has been the theatre of the first of it for their own maintenance. One structure which clearly
emergence of politically centralised societies, clearly shows exemplifies this type of society is the conical clan system
different evolutionary pathways in this process, leading (Kirchhof 1959).
to very different social, economic and political systems, The various combinations and dialectical relations
depending on the original structural features of the societies between these two categories of factors (social and environ-
in which this process occurred and the conditions of the mental) produced different economic and political systems
environment. in the prehistoric Near East, which resulted in very different
One of the crucial distinguishing factors was the presence types and stability of central power structures. In this paper
or absence of an associated phenomenon of urban growth. I shall consider three well known examples which appear
There are pronounced differences between urban and non- to be very meaningful in this respect.
urban systems of central political governance, particularly
entailing a different degree and a different need for
integration between the various social and economic
components. Integration and interdependence, which grow Southern Mesopotamia: The Elite Control
stronger as territories become more urbanised, engender a of Staple Economy
need for central authority to play a mediating role between In southern Mesopotamia, from the first occupation of the
the parties in the economy conduction. In non-urbanised alluvial plain around the end of the 7th to the beginning of
societies, conversely, the rise of a central political power the 6th millennium cal BC, both of the conditions mentioned
is usually less intrinsically necessary for the functioning of above – great agriculture potential and a social/kinship
the socio-economic system. system containing the germ of hierarchies – seem to have
The discriminating factors for the formation of highly been met.
urbanised and centralised systems appear to be mainly The territory is extremely varied from the point of view
of two types: 1) environmental: the growth of large of subsistence resources (large areas of land for extensive
concentrations of people in urban settlements is only cereal farming, areas for horticulture, range-lands, coasts
possible if there are conditions for a highly productive and rivers for fishing), but above all it has extremely high
agriculture, generating large and continuously increasing agricultural potential. However, there were also serious risk
surpluses; 2) social: a system of social and kinship relations factors due to the inclement climate (hot and arid), which
emphasising the separate and competitive role of individual may have caused some drought years and soil salinisation
household units, fostering the legitimation of differences (Adams 1966, 48–59; 1981, 1–26; Pollock 1999, 28–44).
within which higher status members of the society can On the whole, the climate was fairly homogeneous, but on
emerge. It is this intrinsic status of social privilege, accepted the other hand the specific conditions in each zone differed
by all, which can deeply legitimise the leaders appointed to because of the variability of the sources and courses of water,
wield political power and, above all, administer the wealth as Adams has clearly shown (1981, 3–11, 14–22).
of the community, even perhaps partly appropriating some All this must have helped the formation of societies
80 Marcella Frangipane

which were both very cohesive and coordinated in order to the growth itself of hierarchical relations transformed
address common problems, but at the same time with strong society into something new. The final outcome was very
internal competition to hoard the best resources. Both factors strong economic centralisation with regular flows of goods
may have led to the need for central institutions or chiefs and labour towards the places where public activities were
to mediate the circulation of subsistence products between performed. The centralisation of resources may have taken
areas of economic specialisation, and to deal effectively place by obtaining tributes and/or concentrating means
with the hazards (Algaze 2008, 40–68). of production, such as land and livestock (ideologically
I would suggest that the Ubaid society in Lower Meso- perhaps the land and livestock of the gods administered
potamia already showed this structure, perhaps dating back by their representatives), which could only be productive
to its earliest phases (Stein 1994). The size and layout of the by making people work for the central authorities. This
houses at Tell el Oueili (Huot 1989; 1991) from the earliest system may have produced accumulation of wealth in
periods of occupation reveal the organisation of communities terms of staple goods, basically food. But the basis for
into large, quite separate and distinct households, perhaps the functioning of this type of centralised economy was a
large families, which were subsequently to characterise substantial outlay of resources – especially foodstuffs – to
later Mesopotamian society. The central and southern the population to compensate their work. ‘Redistribution’,
Mesopotamian settlements of the 6th millennium show little which has been traditionally considered the parallel aspect
sharing of domestic activities in the open spaces between the of ‘centralisation’, was not always associated with a real
houses or in communal facilities, but in the south there is accumulation of goods in the hands of central authorities
the appearance of important buildings for public ceremonial (cf the Neolithic redistribution in communal storehouses;
events (Bernbeck 1995, 14–17; Frangipane 2007a). While Akkermans and Duistermaat 1996), but in the early state
we know very little about the specific function of the systems it indeed became an effective tool for the investment
‘temples’ at Eridu, their architecture and content suggest in labour by the elites, acting as a sort of entrepreneur
that they were in any event public places where activities, (Frangipane 2000a). The increasingly more sophisticated
probably related to a kind of ritualised redistribution of food, procedures of administrative control, which were further
were performed (Safar et al. 1981). developed to manage this intense movement of goods and
It is possible that the people performing public activities activities by producing the emergence of an expanding class
with social and economic functions were preeminent of officials, made it possible to broaden considerably the
individuals or households who were recognised as such sphere of power exercised by the elites, also in territorial
by their communities by virtue of having been created by terms. For a long time, centralised goods continued to be
a conical or pyramidal social/kinship structure. Possible mainly food and means of subsistence production (Yoffee
support for this hypothesis can be seen at the small village 1995; Frangipane 1996; Liverani 1998; Pollock 1999,
of Tell Abada in the Hamrin region (Jasim 1989), which 79–116). This can also be inferred from the contents of the
despite being outside the southern alluvial plain is almost numerous Uruk pictographic tablets (Nissen 1986; Nissen
the only Ubaid site extensively excavated so far. There were et al.1993), and the main basis for the expanding wealth of
no temples here, and the houses appear to have followed elites continued to be the control of labour. The distribution
the same general architectural model and performed the of rations became the main feature of Uruk society, and the
same kind of activities, though different in size. But one of generalised distribution of meals in public (and, to a lesser
these houses shows peculiar traits in terms of architecture degree, also private) places, as suggested by the exponential
and associated evidence (Jasim 1989; Forest 1996, 59) and increase in mass-produced bowls, points to the provision
might be interpreted as the residence of a preeminent family. of labour services by workers, and hence to increasing
This house, moreover, was probably seen as symbolically inequalities.
representing the whole community, as is suggested by the This flow of goods and labour certainly attracted more
concentration of numerous children’s burials specifically people to the places where they were concentrated, boosting
under its floor. There may have been another house by the urbanisation. This was made possible by the potential for
side of this one, which was also distinct from the majority expanding agriculture in Lower Mesopotamia, which was
of the village houses in terms of size and architectural able to maintain a large urban population. But the crucial
features, suggesting a possible stratification of social status factor for its development was, in my opinion, the structure
typical of kinship and hierarchical genealogical systems of Mesopotamian society itself, which fostered the unequal
(Frangipane 1996, 124). organisation of production and consumption and the rise of
It is this model of society that became fully established a solid, centrally directed system. The assumed stratified
in the Uruk period. The specific features of 4th millennium structure in terms of large households of different social
Lower Mesopotamia seem to have been a great development status would have helped to maintain and strengthen the
of the basic features just described for the Ubaid society. hierarchical relationships between families and communities,
But by expanding the privileges in the economic sphere, giving a solid basis to social elites, who could embody
10. Different models of power structuring at the rise of hierarchical societies in the Near East 81

authority and, thanks to competition for resources, gradually elites who wielded their power in expanding centres with
acquire economic privileges. The ideologically ‘natural’ administrative control over food and labour, above all in
character of these inequalities must have found its best monumental public buildings. In several cases these were
expression in the ceremonial aspects of public activities, sacred or ceremonial buildings. Tepe Gawra (Tobler 1950;
which were largely concentrated in monumental, probably Rothman 2002) is the site showing the greatest evidence of
sacred areas. The close relationship of the social elites with this newly arising situation around the beginning of the 4th
the gods, typical of the hierarchical kinship systems, gave millennium (Late Chalcolithic 1–2).
them the full right to exercise their authority. The system of competition between households also
The undisputed recognition of a common ‘authority’ seems to have emerged in the northern regions, as evidenced
would also have made it possible to establish a stable by the development of the mass production of bowls and
network of relations between villages and the emerging the adoption of the administrative control system based on
urban centres throughout the territory, thereby guaranteeing sealing goods in the private sphere, as well as the public
the flow of food and labour, which alone would have made one. The increasingly widespread use of sealings and seals in
it possible for the full urban model to become established the level XII and level XI houses at Tepe Gawra and in the
and to gradually and constantly develop. houses at the Late Ubaid site of Degirmentepe in Anatolia
(Esin 1989; 1994), together with the widespread adoption
of mass-produced bowls, indicates transactions between
households and not only the management of goods in the
public places in which a central authority was becoming
From Egalitarian to Hierarchical in Northern institutionalised. The Gawra XII White Room House, which
Greater Mesopotamia: A Deep Structural Change was larger than the others, had more sealings than the others,
The organisational structure of the communities in northern and was also characterised by the presence of numerous
Mesopotamia and eastern/south-eastern Anatolia from the child burials under the floors, very closely resembles the
earliest occupation of Jezira in the 7th millennium cal ‘house of the chieftain’ in the southernmost Ubaid village
BC until the establishment of the Halaf culture in the 6th of Tell Abada. This suggests the presence of preeminent
millennium appeared to be radically different (Frangipane families there with community leadership functions.
1996, 53–87; 2007a, 154–164). Smaller villages with a mixed This Mesopotamian-type system became fully entrenched
agricultural, livestock, and hunting economy, in which the by around the middle of the 4th millennium (Late Chalcolithic
role of individual households was hardly recognisable in the 3) when the archaeological documentation reveals sites
architectural structures of the settlements and were therefore that were probably dominant over their region, such as Tell
not primary in social and perhaps also economic terms, Brak and Arslantepe, which also had imposing monumental
often had large buildings for common storage, evidencing public architecture. Tell Brak appears to have been a real
collective ways of storing and redistributing food supplies and large centre before the mid-4th millennium (Oates and
and surpluses (Akkermans 1996; Akkermans and Duistermaat Oates 1997; Emberling and McDonald 2003; Oates et al.
1996). This appears as a society with small units scattered 2007) and must have had high status figures exercising a
across a wide territory with almost no evidence of hierarchies, political control over the area; Arslantepe had a preeminent
and engaged in different subsistence activities varying from zone on the highest part of the ancient mound with buildings
one zone to another, sometimes also with specialisation and of the elites, probably residential buildings, with fully local
the resultant need for mutual cooperation and collective ways architecture and a large temple or ceremonial building
of managing food (Verhoeven 1999, 203–220; Frangipane with a tripartite Mesopotamian-type layout used mainly for
2007a, 154–161). These must therefore have been very distributing meals under administrative control (Frangipane
cohesive, economically integrated tribal and basically 2000b; 2003). Both these sites show material cultures
egalitarian communities, probably composed of various and which were basically independent from any direct southern
distinct socio-economic components. They had no temples Mesopotamian influence. In other words, there seems to
or preeminent buildings, and they showed no evidence of have been a process of assimilating and appropriating the
social stratification. southern socio-economic model, and adapting it to northern
This situation changed radically with the spread in the traditions and conditions.
north of the Ubaid cultural and social model during the The new and different expansion of southern groups
course of the 5th millennium. This is not the appropriate into the north during the Middle (Late Chalcolithic 4) and
place to examine why and how this southern model spread Late (Late Chalcolithic 5) Uruk phases took place on this
northwards (Breniquet 1996). But the outcome that can cultural and socio-economic substrate (once again, I shall
be seen throughout the area of Upper Mesopotamia and not go into the reasons and nature of this phenomenon
the Middle and Upper Euphrates as far as the eastern and the related debate). What occurred in the latter half
Anatolian mountains was the emergence of societies with of the 4th millennium throughout the whole region was
82 Marcella Frangipane

a considerable development of the centralised economic different population groups living in or visiting the plain,
and redistribution system essentially based, according to including transhumant pastoralists who were certainly
the archaeological evidence, on the control of the primary present in the Malatya area at the end of the 4th millennium
commodities and labour. Here again, this management (Palumbi 2003; 2008; Frangipane and Palumbi 2007). Further
system had powerful ideological legitimation though at support to this interpretation comes from the iconographies
the end of the period, together with an evident increase in of the more than two hundred seals that were used on the
the power of the central authorities, a greater economic, thousands of sealings found in the palace at Arslantepe.
administrative and perhaps also political independence These iconographies are extremely varied and show that
from the religious and ceremonial sphere seems to appear widely differing traditions, styles and motifs were all used
in certain Upper Euphrates contexts. Evidence of this is the together, despite belonging in general to the northern glyptic
development of the so-called ‘palatial’ system at the end of tradition. This probably suggests that different sections of the
the 4th millennium at Arslantepe where public storerooms population, and perhaps also different ethnic groups with their
with redistribution activities and a sophisticated system own economic and administrative identities, converged on the
of administrative control over the centralised circulation palace to perform the activities managed there (Frangipane
of goods were architecturally and functionally separated et al. 2007, 475–477).
from the religious ‘temple’ sphere, demonstrating that they Due to the lack of urbanisation, the production practices
were distinctly autonomous in terms of their management of the people in the Malatya region did not substantially
(Frangipane 1997; Frangipane et al. 2007). change with the establishment of a kind of early state power
These were therefore societies dominated by political and management. Even though the villages would certainly
economic leaders, in some case very powerful, who were able have had to pay tribute and provide labour to the central
to wield authority over the staple economy of the population authorities, the way of life in the villages was probably not
of the surrounding villages and concentrate the means of substantially affected. This, together with the likely pressure
production and labour. Their wealth seems to consist mainly exerted by pastoralists, who were organising themselves
of staple products though it certainly also enabled them, as throughout the territory, and the parallel expansion of
it did in Mesopotamia, to finance other activities. the Transcaucasian groups, eventually brought the whole
But the main difference between what were similar system down.
centralised systems in the north and the south of Greater This collapse affected the whole of the Middle and Upper
Mesopotamia was their different capacity to sustain a fully Euphrates Valley, coinciding with the well documented
fledged urbanisation process (Algaze 2008). I believe that collapse of the Uruk system of relations. A similar collapse
urban growth was accomplished only in the Khabour region did not, in my opinion, occur in the Khabour and eastern
(Oates and Oates 1993; Wilkinson and Tucker 1995; Gibson Jezira where the urban structures seem to have undergone a
et al. 2002; Oates 2002; Ur 2002; Oates et al. 2007) where re-organisational ‘crisis’ and in fact expanded further during
the environmental conditions made it possible for a profitable the succeeding Ninevite 5 period (Schwartz 1994; Matthews
and expanding agriculture that could support a large urban 2003); nor did the political life and managerial system of
population. Neither the Middle to Upper Euphrates or the central authority collapse there.
Upper Tigris underwent any real process of urbanisation, The Middle and Upper Euphrates groups, who had lived
even during the 3rd millennium (Cooper 2006b). in areas where farmland was in less plentiful supply and
The absence of urbanisation led to a less stable power where the economy was more mixed, were perhaps less
system, which remained more vertically dominated and deeply affected by the introduction of southern models of
probably less radically linked to the stratified structure of a society and therefore basically kept their traditional clan/
society in need of mediation and integration. The northern tribe-based structure, even when the system of economic
elites probably remained rather detached from the people centralisation and redistribution became established in the
who, in the majority of regions except for the Khabour 4th millennium (Cooper 2006a; 2006b; Frangipane 2007b;
area, seem to have continued to be basically rural and Peltenburg 2007, 11–18). Whereas the urbanised Ninevite
pastoralist. society continued to develop, in the Euphrates regions the
Once again, Arslantepe reflects this situation very well. economic centralisation system utterly disappeared, and
It became a powerful religious, political, administrative power took other forms of a more political-defensive type,
and economic centre with a huge capacity for centralising more symbolically linked to a ‘warrior’ ideology. The wealth
resources and labour, but it still retained the dimensions of of the dominant classes was now displayed in funerary
the previous period and indeed may have further reduced rituals and in an abundance of metal items and weaponry
them. There was no urbanisation, and we must therefore (Peltenburg 1999; Sertok and Ergeç 1999; Frangipane et al.
presume that the vast numbers of people engaged in the 2001; Porter 2002; Schwartz et al. 2006), symbolical and
‘palace’ activities were not resident there, apart from perhaps ideological aspects that were almost wholly absent from the
a few of them. Rather they came from the villages and the cultures of Uruk inspiration.
10. Different models of power structuring at the rise of hierarchical societies in the Near East 83

1973; Warner 1994, 177–179) or in the citadel at Troy I

Western Anatolia: The Emergence of Paramount and II (Blegen et al. 1950; 1951; Korfmann 2006), but no
Political Elites redistribution activities or economic transactions involving
A very different type of society and power structuring is mobilisation of staple products to finance these activities
recognisable in the early ‘urban’ societies of the Early were linked to them, at least judging from the available
Bronze Age in western/central Anatolia. The first fully archaeological evidence. The storage places in central
sedentary communities based on an agricultural and live- building complexes seem to have simply been deposits of
stock economy occupying the southern region of central/ goods for the elites in the form of accumulation of wealth,
western Anatolia in the Neolithic seem to have been cultural as in Troy II, or merely food supply in their residences,
units with a limited geographical extension, characterised by as it seems was the case at Küllüoba (Efe 2003). The rare
more or less agglutinated villages made up of fairly small cases of possible concentration of handicraft activities in
dwellings with distinctive ground plans in each sub-region. the places of power, as may be inferred by the numerous
Domestic equipment was situated almost entirely within spindle-whorls found in the area of the Central Complex
the houses or in internal courtyards (central Anatolia) or at Karatas, probably indicate some sort of privileged
directly linked to the dwellings, adjacent to the external relationships of the craftsmen with the central elites rather
walls (Lakes Region) as they were external projections than implying a centralised system of production. The
of the individual domestic units (Özdoğan and Başgelen development of handicraft must indeed have involved the
2007). In the case of a village like Çatal Höyük, the open communities as a whole, as evidenced from the numerous
spaces were exclusively internal yards belonging to groups workshops found in various settlements, such as Thermi,
of houses arranged around them in a compact formation Poliochni and Küllüoba.
(Mellaart 1967; Hodder 2006). Storage was domestic. Though there is therefore evidence to indicate forms
Buildings were not found to have been used for collective of wealth accumulation by the elites, this wealth was not
activities, and no public places have been found where mobilised and regularly put into circulation as part of an
authority was exercised or rituals carried out on the part of economic interaction with the community. The lack of mass
the whole community. The symbolic and ritual aspects were produced bowls is also interesting in this connection. There
scattered and entrusted to individual domestic units, with was also a lack of any very prominent central shrines with
various expressions ranging from very common figurines which the whole community could identify and refer to
to extraordinary mural paintings and plastic reliefs found in while evidence of cultic practices or forms of rituals, where
many buildings at the site (Matthews 2002; Özdoğan 2002a, they are documented at all, refer only to domestic, or slightly
257; Verhoeven 2002). larger, spheres, as was possibly the case at Beycesultan
These villages appear to have been based on a solid Levels XVI–XIV (Lloyd and Mellaart 1962, 36–55).
egalitarianism, with each household unit exhibiting much The funerary customs exhibited a wide range of rituals
greater economic independence than was the case in the (cist graves, pithos graves, inhumation, cremation, etc.),
Neolithic societies of Jezira. However, the sense of the which were only partly regionally diversified and were not
community as a whole seems to have been stronger than in matched by significant differences in terms of the wealth
southern Mesopotamia, as is suggested by the dense packing of the furnishings or the emphasising of social status.
of the buildings in the settlements and the cohesive function of This diversity may have been linked to a variety of ethnic
the strict standards set in the household rituals and behaviours. and cultural components, which were probably related to
Unfortunately, the data on the Chalcolithic period in these the similarly variegated picture in the Neolithic. These
regions of Anatolia are still scarce though there is evidence communities seem to have been based on a clan structure
of a possible continuous transition to the Early Chalcolithic that was not very stratified in terms of complex social
society in central Anatolia (Gérard 2002, 108–109). differentiation.
A developmental link with this model of society can Socio-political elites and preeminent social figures,
be recognised in the early hierarchical societies of 3rd however, certainly existed in the Early Bronze Age,
millennium western Anatolia. Early Bronze settlements representing themselves and their right to exercise authority,
in this region continued to remain quite small in terms of living in places that were kept separate from the rest of the
Mesopotamian urban standards, and the basic economic community, and manifesting themselves in the architectural
autonomy of the domestic units also seems to be evidenced form of fortified ‘citadels’ or upper towns built in the
from the lack of any central storage of foodstuffs and any centre of the inhabited areas. This development can be
evidence of regular administrative practices connected observed during the 3rd millennium at several sites, such
with centralised control of the customary circulation of as Troy, Karatas, and Limantepe on the coast or Küllüoba
goods (Özdoğan 2002b). Storerooms or concentrations of inland (Erkanal 1996; Efe 2003). In the most prominent
handicraft activities in the places of power may have existed of these places, the citadel of Troy II, there is evidence of
in the Central Complex of Karatas (Mellink 1966; 1972; concentrations of luxury objects, particularly those made of
84 Marcella Frangipane

metal. The big boost given to metallurgy in these societies Their financial system was therefore based essentially on
(Efe 2002) probably came from the incentives given to handicraft items and luxury goods, above all metals, and
these activities by the elites, who were the main purchasers their political role was probably linked to their ability to
of these goods, and possibly also from the protection they guarantee access to the supply of raw materials in a weakly
were able to guarantee to trade routes. hierarchical society made up of small territorial units in a
The fairly widespread use of fortifications and the basically mountainous environment. This type of society
fortified compact arrangement of some villages (e.g. did not evolve in an urban direction and did not exhibit
Küllüoba early phase and Demircihüyük; see Korfmann features of the early state.
1983) suggest an endemic conflict in these societies, which The historical outcomes of these two trajectories,
appears to confirm the hypothesis that they were small units regardless of the many regional differences within each
traditionally competing with each other, now perhaps mostly of them, were also very different, and it was only the
along the trade routes. These were therefore rather vertically expansionism of the later large empires that eliminated or
structured societies with groups exercising political power narrowed the differences.
over the small communities and over quite limited territories
but which, perhaps through alliances, managed to protect
and favour trade by activating a kind of ‘wealth finance’
system whose features have been clearly described by References
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Lisa Cooper

Introduction parts of Syria, which are most frequently mentioned in the

The second half of the 3rd millennium BC saw the full tablets. While it is clear that Ebla received the allegiance of
adoption of urban settlements in Syria. Syrian cities grew many cities and their territories, especially during periods
to cover large areas, and they were accompanied by all the of warfare with other regional powers, or entered into
characteristics of urban society. Particularly noteworthy for partnerships with other polities, it remains to be clarified
this period of urbanisation is the site of Ebla, located in just what form these allegiances or alliances took. Did these
western Syria. During the 3rd millennium BC, Ebla grew other polities become dependants of Ebla, relinquishing their
to around 56 ha, one of the largest cities in the region. It own economic and political autonomy to the Ebla king and
also acquired extensive territories around the city, which his high officials? Or did such polities simply recognise the
included agricultural fields and grazing land for its thousands supremacy of Ebla, and while performing certain obligations
of sheep and goats. Excavations at Ebla revealed third for it, remain essentially independent?
millennium occupation which featured a lower town and a Scholars who have used different and sometimes con-
central high ‘acropolis’ upon which stood a magnificent and flicting terms to describe the nature of Ebla’s power have
sprawling mud brick palace labelled ‘Palace G’. This was frustrated our understanding of Ebla’s power. Some refer to
the residence of the king of Ebla. By far the most important Ebla as a city-state while others prefer to call it a regional
discovery made in Palace G was that of archive rooms filled state or territorial state, thus laying emphasis on the wider
with thousands of cuneiform tablets which document the control it is perceived to have exerted over a wide area
business and political affairs of the Ebla kings and their (Michalowski 1985, 301; Archi 1992, 24; Milano 1995,
palace officials over a period of about 50 years dating to 1221; Thuesen 2000, 59). At its most extreme, the term
the 24th century BC, just before the palace was violently ‘empire’ has been used. In this regard, Ebla is seen as
destroyed by fire (Archi and Biga 2003, 1). an ancient example of a Near Eastern superpower with
Scholars of ancient Ebla have been struck by the number supremacy over a vast area, employing various mechanisms
of other cities, towns and territories which are mentioned to subjugate and control subject territories (Matthiae 1977;
in the Ebla tablets, and the Ebla kings’ efforts to enter into Astour 1989, 140).
relationships with the people of those places, either through It is not our intention at this time to enter into a detailed
trade partnerships, political alliances or outright conquests. discussion of the uses of terms such as city-state, territorial
From these tablets, it is clear that during its fluorescence, state and empire, although such a discussion may be fruitful,
Ebla’s power was felt over an extremely large part of the and would allow Ebla to be brought as a comparative
Near East. case within the realm of current anthropological studies
As wealthy and renowned as Ebla was during this period, which investigate the nature of different types of complex
however, it has been difficult to understand precisely the societies throughout the Near East and the rest of the world
mechanisms by which it exerted its influence and supremacy (e.g. Trigger 2003; Yoffee 2005). For our purposes, we are
over a wide region, and the extent to which it actually comfortable calling Ebla a state, or a nascent state, without
controlled regions of the Near East, especially various specifying further what kind of state it was. But the focus
88 Lisa Cooper

here is not what Ebla should be called, but what it did and tribute of silver and gold (Milano 1995, 1226). Despite these
how it operated. We are particularly interested in examining payments and the abandonment of some of Ebla’s interests
the nature of Ebla’s hegemony over other polities in Syria. in the Euphrates Valley, however, there is no indication that
A special focus shall be placed on the area of the Euphrates Mari interfered with the organisation and structure of the
Valley of Syria, in the eastern part of Ebla’s sphere of Ebla kingdom. Eventually, Mari’s strength weakened, and
influence. The principal reason for exploring this region is after open hostilities with that state, Ebla was able to win
the available evidence, both in the form of the textual record back its control or the allegiance of many of the territories
provided by the Ebla tablets, as well as recent archaeological of the Middle Euphrates (Archi and Biga 2003, 13–26).
investigations, which illuminate Ebla’s political and economic Although Ebla boasts of its defeat of Mari in battle, this
activities in this region. The following therefore represents victory never included a political or economic takeover of
such an attempt to draw out information from these sources, territory in the heart of Mari’s kingdom.
and to provide some provisional conclusions about the state The kingdom of Abarsal (for its suggested location, see
of Ebla’s hegemony. Archi 1989, 16–17; Astour 1992, 32–33; Archi and Biga
2003, 10; Bunnens 2007, 48–50) remained independent of
direct Eblaite control although it found itself in frequent
contact with that state and had to compromise some of its
Textual Sources from Ebla authority on the occasion of Ebla’s political supremacy. The
The inscribed cuneiform tablets from Ebla provide a rich terms of Abarsal’s relationship to Ebla can be best seen in
source of information about the economy, religion, kingship the so-called ‘Treaty of Abarsal’ drawn up at a time when
and political activities of Ebla over a short time during the Ebla was enjoying political ascendancy and considerable
24th century when it was ruled by three kings (Archi and territorial expansion to the east (Archi and Biga 2003, 10).
Biga 2003 provide the most up-to-date chronology of Ebla Although this is a treaty which formalises the relationship
kings). Of particular interest here are tablets which provide between two independent regional powers, it is clear from
information about the territories and kingdoms to the east the tone and content of the treaty that Abarsal’s position
with which Ebla had some type of relationship, be it an at this time was subordinate to Ebla (Astour 1989, 147).
alliance with an independent regional power or a polity that Abarsal promised the smooth passage of merchants and
it endeavoured to subordinate or control in some way. The messengers through its territory (Astour 1989, 147; 1992,
tablets indicate that this eastern region included all of the 33; Bunnens 2007, 49). Moreover, while Ebla could send
territories on either side of the Euphrates River along its its travelling merchants to Abarsal, Abarsal had no right to
entire course as it runs through Syria. It also included some do the same with regard to Ebla (Astour 1989, 148).
territories to the north of the Syro-Turkish border. From Despite these unequal terms, however, no text lists
the tablets, we shall summarise what we know about the Abarsal as being “in the hand” of the king of Ebla; that
nature of Ebla’s political relationship with these territories. is, Ebla never directly controlled it. Abarsal’s independent
Did Ebla actually exercise some form of hegemony over relationship is also indicated in other parts of the treaty in
these regions, and if it did, what form of hegemony did which the territories belonging to Ebla are carefully listed
this take? alongside those which were separately governed by Abarsal
According to the tablets, Ebla dealt with at least three (Archi 1989, 16; Milano 1995, 1227–28). Moreover, when
categories of polities. These are outlined as follows: we consider the actual quantities of tribute made by Abarsal
to Ebla in the period of time after the date of treaty and after
its initial payment of silver, we find that they were rather
1. Polities ruled by kings (ens) that were insignificant (Astour 1989, 148). In fact, they are far less
independent of Ebla numerous than the deliveries of gifts sent by Ebla to the
These kingdoms often rivalled the economic and political city of Abarsal (Archi 1989, 17). We suspect that Ebla was
strength of Ebla. Some entered into wars with her, or desirous to maintain a friendly relationship with Abarsal,
became formidable neighbours which Ebla strove to keep particularly given Ebla’s uneasy peace with its rival Mari,
in check. The kingdom of Mari, located further down the which also had territorial ambitions in this part of northern
Euphrates River, near the present Syro-Iraqi border, was Syria/southern Anatolia.
one of Ebla’s greatest rivals. Like Ebla, Mari pushed into The Ebla tablets frequently mention the kingdom of
the area of the Middle Euphrates Valley because of the Emar, which found itself in a close relationship with Ebla.
economic opportunities it afforded, the result being that Emar, whose capital city is identified with Tell Meskene on
these two regional powers vied for supremacy in the region the western bank of the ‘great bend’ of the Euphrates River
for several decades during the 24th century BC (Archi and less than 100 km downstream from Carchemish, would have
Biga 2003, 2). A series of victories by Mari resulted for a been situated very close to the frontier between Ebla and
time in the kingdom of Ebla having to pay Mari a heavy Mari’s sphere of influence (Archi and Biga 2003, 10).
11. States of hegemony: Early forms of political control in Syria during the third millennium BC 89

While Ebla’s influence over the city and territory of

Emar was considerable, Emar was never under the direct
control of Ebla and remained an independent polity with
its own rulers (Archi 1990, 24). We know especially about
the queen whose name was Tisha-Lim (Archi 1990, 24;
Astour 1992, 46). This queen was known to own real estate,
mainly tilled fields in the area of several villages (Milano
and Rova 2000, 724 n. 22). Two royal decrees also report
that Tisha-Lim purchased land in the regions around the
towns of IrPES and Gurrabal, known to be in the possession
of the Ebla king (Archi 1990, 25–26; Milano and Rova
2000, 724, and 724 n. 21). In these decrees it is made clear
that Ebla recognised Tisha-Lim’s sovereignty over these
territories and that it relinquished all rights of control over
its citizens (Archi 1990, 26). This documentation testifies to
a strong relationship between Ebla and Emar, and yet Emar
does appear to have remained politically and economically
independent of Ebla.
Fig. 11.1 Map of Syria during the period of the Ebla Archives.
2. Polities that fell under the indirect control of Excavated sites are accompanied by a dot. Postulated locations
of polities mentioned in the Ebla tablets are indicated in italic
Ebla but were ruled by their own king (en) capitals (e.g. HADDU).
These are polities which are listed in some way as being
under the control of Ebla. They are often described, as in
the so-called ‘Treaty between Ebla and Abarsal’ as being “in
the hand” of the king of Ebla, indicating Ebla’s control over to have lost its independence at a certain point since the
them (Edzard 1992). These would have been independent occurrences of a king (en) of Hazuwan stop. The same also
regional kingdoms before their subjugation by Ebla, with seems to hold true with Kablul, another former kingdom
their own capital cities, towns, villages and territories. They with an en (Milano and Rova 2000, 730, including n. 50). In
were all ruled by kings, or ens as they are defined in the Ebla both cases, it is conjectured that these polities were brought
texts. The following list provides some of the names of such under a more direct rule of Ebla.
kingdoms, which appear to have existed in some location All of the kings of Ebla’s subject polities had to
to the east and north-east of Ebla, on or near the Euphrates demonstrate their continuing loyalty by providing some
River in Syria or Anatolia, and possibly as far east as the form of tribute to Ebla. Deliveries of tribute frequently
Balikh River Valley. Their subject status to Ebla may have appear to have been made at the time of special events,
arisen as a result of their location on trade routes of great such as when Ebla needed support for military expeditions
importance to Ebla or their proximity to other important against its neighbouring foe, Mari (Archi and Biga 2003,
regional powers such as Mari and Nagar, against which they 15). Tribute took several forms, which included quantities
would have buffered Ebla. The kingdoms include Burman, of oil (Astour 1992, 31), various amounts of silver, gold,
Gasur, Gudadanum, Haddu, Hazuwan, Kablul, Kakmium, and bronze; textiles, especially clothing items, livestock,
NIrar and Ra’aq (for the posited locations of these polities, wine, as well as obligations such as providing soldiers for
see Fig. 11.1; Archi 1989, 16; Astour 1992, 27, 32–35; Milano Ebla’s military contingents or sending corvée workers to
1995, 1227; Bonechi 1998, 226, 234; Milano and Rova 2000, Ebla (Astour 1989, 149; 1992, 33, 44–46; Milano and Rova
722–730, 742; Archi and Biga 2003, 14, n. 44). 2000, 732–733). Although not overly large or burdensome,
In most cases, after Ebla’s conquest of kingdoms ruled these tributes would have signified the kingdoms’ continuing
by an en, the local kings were left to rule rather than be fidelity to Ebla and their acknowledgement of its political
replaced by an Ebla administrative official. In the absence supremacy.
of any documentation to the contrary, they continued to Ebla reciprocated with its own delivery of ‘gifts’ to its
govern their domains in much the same way as they had subject kingdoms as rewards for their continuing fidelity.
before they fell under Ebla’s control. In a few instances, The Ebla archives possess numerous tablets which record
however, we learn that the power and authority of certain such deliveries of gifts to its allies, and we are left with the
kingdoms were greatly reduced, and their former rulers impression that maintaining friendly relations with other
were removed. Hazuwan, which formerly had a king and kingdoms was of extreme importance to Ebla, especially
was listed alongside other prominent client kingdoms, seems near the border zone with Mari, with whom it was frequently
90 Lisa Cooper

at war. It is perhaps significant that the subject kingdoms Archaeological Evidence for Ebla’s Presence and
named above are often listed in the same deliveries which Hegemony in the Euphrates Valley of Syria
included kingdoms such as Emar, which are considered We are well informed about the antiquity of the area of the
fully independent of Ebla (Archi and Biga 2003, 16, 19, Syrian Euphrates Valley between Emar in the south and
22). Given this situation, we wonder if there really is as the Syro-Turkish border in the north due to the number
strong a distinction between the two categories of Ebla’s of excavations carried out on ancient sites in the area,
hegemony described above as we have made them out to particularly over the past 40 years. Excavations have
be in this study. revealed that the river valley was quite heavily populated
during the 3rd millennium BC, particularly during the period
3. Regions or former kingdoms that were under the when Ebla was a flourishing kingdom.
direct control of Ebla The archaeological record for the Middle Euphrates
Valley is very rich, and it is not our intention to deal
There are cities which are never reported as having been
here with all of its details. Rather, we have selected only
ruled by their own king. Such is the case with Carchemish
aspects of material culture which can possibly be linked to
on the Euphrates River, located at the present Syro-Turkish
Ebla’s presence, and we will try to examine the nature of
border. Carchemish is mentioned in several Ebla documents,
that presence, particularly as it pertains to some form of
and archaeological remains testify to its occupation during
control or attempts at subordination by that polity. Only
the second half of the 3rd millennium BC although the
material evidence in the form of city defences, landscape
size of its settlement is still the source of heavy conjecture
data pertaining to agricultural practices, public and private
(Cooper 2006, 55–56; Peltenburg 2007, 16; Falsone and
buildings, funerary remains, and small objects that can be
Sconzo 2007). In addition to deliveries of textiles to Ebla
dated to approximately 2450–2300 BC, will be considered
(Lacambre and Tunca 1999, 591) we also learn from the
(Cooper 2006, 15–20).
Abarsal treaty that Carchemish was “in the hand” of the king
The following paragraphs list and discuss aspects of
of Ebla (Lacambre and Tunca 1999, 591; Bunnens 2007, 45).
human activity and their material manifestations which
It seems that for much of the period of the Ebla archives
might be linked to the presence of Ebla in the Middle
Carchemish was politically dependent on Ebla and thus was
Euphrates Valley, and which may point to that polity’s
not allowed its own king (Bunnens 2007, 45).
attempts to control or subordinate the populations of the
IrPES and Gurrabal, two towns and accompanying
territories in the vicinity of Emar (possibly to the west of
Emar, between the Giabuul Plain and the Euphrates; Milano
and Rova 2000, 724 n. 20), appear also to have fallen under
the direct control of the Ebla state since some of their lands 1. Military activities, manifested in garrisons for
were sold to the queen of Emar (Milano and Rova 2000, soldiers, outposts, and well fortified settlements
724, including n. 21). It is also interesting that members of No structure has yet been positively identified as a military
the Ebla aristocracy had estates and houses in these regions garrison for troops, nor has any evidence brought to light an
(Astour 1992, 45; Milano and Rova 2000, 724 n. 21). installation that can be reconstructed as a military outpost or
watchtower. There is ample evidence, however, for fortified
settlements whose occupations can be dated approximately
Summary of Textual Evidence to the period of Ebla’s ascendancy in the 24th century BC.
The Ebla tablets demonstrate that Ebla was engaged in a These settlements’ primary function was to house the local
variety of relationships with the territories of the Euphrates civilian populations of the Euphrates region. The settlements
Valley of Syria that included: a) alliances with independent of Jerablus Tahtani, Tell ‘Abd, Tell Banat (with the Jebel
kingdoms; b) semi-control over kingdoms that recognised Bazi citadel), Tell es-Sweyhat, Munbaqa, Tell Halawa A,
Ebla’s supremacy and had to pay tribute; and c) direct Tell Habuba Kabira and Selenkahiye were all fortified during
ownership and control over certain kingdoms and their this time (Heusch 1980, 174–75; Orthmann 1981, 9; 1989,
territories. The nature of these relationships does not 18, 37; Eichler et al. 1984, 73; Machule et al. 1986, 81–3;
appear to be dependent upon geographical distance from Finkbeiner 1994, 116; 1997, 100; Peltenburg et al. 1996, 8;
Ebla. Indeed, some of Ebla’s direct possessions (e.g. irPES 2000, 71; Armstrong and Zettler 1997, 18; Peltenburg 1999a,
and Gurrabal) appear in the vicinity of Emar, probably the 101; Van Loon 2001, 3.51 and 3.86–89; Otto 2006; Danti
furthest territory away from it. We suspect that these types and Zettler 2007, 177–78; ). Their defences often consisted
of relationships, which occur in a kind of patchwork manner, of ramparts and glacis constructed on the exterior faces of
had much to do with the strength of the other various polities the settlements, along with thick walls and towers.
and their resistance or openness to entering into diplomacy The Euphrates fortifications may have been related in
or exchanges with Ebla (Peltenburg 2007, 11). some way to the current political situation of the time
11. States of hegemony: Early forms of political control in Syria during the third millennium BC 91

in which large regional powers, notably Ebla, Mari and agriculturally productive regions of increased rainfall and
possibly Abarsal, were vying for control and fought several water runoff even as early as the 3rd millennium BC (Danti
battles over this region of Syria. Settlements which were 2000, 276). We wonder if this may be linked to the increased
controlled by or recognised the supremacy of one of these need for agricultural products on the part of Tell es-Sweyhat
regional powers would have been particularly vulnerable to during the period of the supremacy of regional powers such
attacks. Further confirmation of the region’s vulnerability as Ebla when the settlement was faced with the additional
within the context of the Ebla/Mari hostilities might be burden of tribute, and had to extend its cultivation zone
found in the evidence from Jebel Bazi at the Tell Banat far out into the upland plateau to generate the surplus in
complex, where the gate building appears to have suffered agricultural products needed to fulfil this demand.
some form of violent attack precisely around the time that
Ebla experienced its sudden demise (Otto 2006, 11). The
destruction of the Bazi citadel may have been carried out 3. Administrative activities
by Mari (Otto 2006, 23). Eblaite administrative personnel could have been posted
Although this is intriguing evidence, there is little to this frontier area of the Euphrates Valley in order
demonstrable proof that the construction of any of the to assist with the collection of tribute from the local
Euphrates fortifications can be linked to the initiatives inhabitants and to ensure peace and stability in the region.
or sponsorship of one specific regional power such as Archaeologically, such a presence might take the form of
Ebla or Mari. Moreover, while some of the fortifications’ buildings where official administrative activities could be
construction may be approximately dated to the time carried out as well as the residences of foreign governors.
of Ebla’s period of supremacy, still others were simply Such buildings were probably larger and more elaborate
refurbishments or the strengthening of existing constructions than domestic structures and may have featured non-local
which go back much earlier in time. Thus, attacks, raids architectural styles which set them apart from the other
and/or warfare on Euphrates sites appear to have been an typical Euphrates-style buildings. These buildings may
endemic problem in this region and were not restricted to have contained exotic objects that linked them to a foreign
a single time period. In light of this fact, it seems more presence such as Ebla.
likely that many of these defensive projects were simply To date, only two large-scale secular buildings, which
part of an initiative on the part of the local inhabitants of may have served as administrative centres that existed
the settlements, who were perpetually concerned about the during the period of the Ebla archives, have been exposed
defence of their own people and possessions. through archaeological excavations: Building 6 at Tell
Banat (Porter 2002a, 27) and the Southern Mansion at
Selenkahiye (Van Loon 2001, 3.37, fig. 3.7). Unfortunately,
2. Tribute payments neither of the buildings, in terms of their architectural style
In the case of the Euphrates Valley of Syria, tribute probably or their contents, points to Ebla in any significant way. The
consisted of agricultural products, namely grain, which Southern Mansion at Selenkahiye did yield a large number
was grown in abundance on the river terraces immediately of seal impressions, suggesting administrative or economic
above the Euphrates River, and sheep and goat products activities in the house, but these seals have parallels to those
such as wool, the result of pastoralist activities practised from all over the Near East, not simply Ebla (Mazzoni 1992,
in the upland steppe above the river valley (Cooper 2006, 13–77; Van Loon 2001, 12.495). Such evidence points to
36–41). Unfortunately, these products do not preserve well widespread connections, possibly through trade, but it does
over time, and archaeological evidence is slim. Nonetheless, not demonstrate any exclusive administrative or economic
indirect evidence, in the form of landscape studies, may links to Ebla.
be a way in which to document the nature and intensity
with which a given territory utilised its land for various
agricultural or pastoral activities. For the Euphrates Valley, 4. Elite emulation
geomorphological investigations combined with site survey Apart from the lack of demonstrable links between the
and the mapping of off-site sherd scatters have been large-scale secular buildings at Tell Banat and Selenkahiye
undertaken in the area around the site of Tell es-Sweyaht and elite contexts at Ebla, no compelling connection can be
(Danti 1997, 2000; Wilkinson 2004). They have revealed made between elite funerary remains from Euphrates sites
that the upland steppe east of Sweyhat received a slightly and those from Ebla. Such elite graves principally take the
higher amount of rainfall per year, showing a potential for form of elite shaft and chamber tombs, distinguished by their
agriculture (Danti 1997, 85). Interestingly, a survey of the large size, their visibility and the quality of the materials
area also led to the discovery of an ancient site (Tell Jedi) used to construct them (Thureau-Dangin and Dunand
which had been occupied during the late Early Bronze 1936, 96; Peltenburg et al. 1995, 7–13; 1996, 13–14; 2000,
Age. This evidence thus testifies to the utilisation of these 69–71; McClellan and Porter 1999, 109–110; Porter 2002a,
92 Lisa Cooper

18–19). Parallels to these funerary monuments are hard to supposed re-conquest of this region after the wars with
find beyond the Euphrates Valley. These remains testify Mari, this supremacy did not translate to many visible
to regionally specific funerary traditions which included transformations in the region’s material culture. There is
very particular beliefs about the afterlife, the status and little evidence to indicate that Ebla had any concentrated
significance of the individuals who were buried there, and or prolonged presence in the region, as evidenced by the
the importance of the living communities who continued to paucity of remains suggesting the implantation of military
maintain and venerate these monuments (Peltenburg 1999b; or administrative personnel. The majority of Euphrates
Porter 2002b). settlements and their local populations appear to have
The luxury grave goods which accompanied the deceased remained essentially undisturbed by the chain of outside
individuals of the monumental shaft and chamber tombs, events, although we do see attempts to increase the
especially at Tell Banat and Jerablus Tahtani, provide a settlements’ defensive capabilities, which could relate to
somewhat different picture. These valuable objects consisted the wars fought in this region between the superpowers
of items such as decorated ostrich eggs, a limestone statue of Ebla and Mari. It is also possible that settlements had
wig, and a wide variety of beads, pendants, pommels, and to intensify their agricultural activities in order to produce
plaques made out of ivory, shell, rock crystal, lapis lazuli, surplus goods destined as tribute for their overlords. But
silver and gold (Peltenburg et al. 1995, 11–12; McClellan such activities do not appear to have economically crippled
and Porter 1999, 110). Most tomb objects share similarities the local communities. Indeed, the second half of the
to other goods found at a variety of sites throughout the third millennium BC, both during and after the period of
Near East, including distant Troy in Anatolia (Peltenburg Ebla’s fluorescence, appears as a prosperous time for the
et al. 1995, 12; McClellan and Porter 1999, 110). Such far- populations of the Syrian Euphrates, when settlements grew
flung contacts surely reflect the network of long-distance to their largest extent and were characterised by the most
exchanges that the people of the Euphrates sites were elaborate architectural embellishments and the acquisition of
engaged in at this time. Moreover, these grave goods, which valuable goods from around the Near East. If the Euphrates
served to enhance the prestige of the persons with whom Valley’s relationships with Ebla and other regional powers
they were associated, would seem to indicate an ideological did anything at this time, it was to broaden its links to the
framework that was shared by elites from all over the Near wider Near East and all of the economic opportunities such
East, not simply those from one city such as Ebla (McClellan an exposure afforded. These relationships also brought the
and Porter 1999, 110). Euphrates region into the wider cultural network of the Near
In conclusion, it is difficult to detect any instances of East where a number of social customs and their material
emulation on the part of the elites of the Euphrates Valley cultural manifestations were shared and copied, particularly
of Syria that can be related specifically to Ebla. While among elites.
maintaining very distinct customs related to funerary beliefs If Ebla did have some kind of political hegemony over the
and traditions, the ways in which elites sought to showcase Euphrates Valley, as many of the tablets appear to testify, this
their status through various objects of adornment borrowed could be described as ‘hegemony without sovereignty’. This
from a repertoire of elite behavioural customs and associated type of political strategy is best summarised by Kolata, who
material trappings that were known throughout the Near East along with other scholars has recognised this phenomenon
during this period of long-distance communications and elsewhere in the world, particularly in the context of
exchanges. Such evidence demonstrates that while various early states and empires (Berdan et al. 1996, 150; Trigger
kingdoms may have been striving to bring other regions 2003, 113–119; Kolata 2006, 210–12). ‘Hegemony with
under their political control, some social customs and sovereignty’ entails the domination of populations without
their expressions in material culture transcended political actually administering them directly. Rather, power and
boundaries. influence are exercised by the mere demonstration of military
strength and cultural superiority. These demonstrations are
thought to ensure the political and economic subordination
of the subject populations without having to pay exorbitant
Conclusions costs of maintaining control through a constant military
Having presented the available textual and archaeological presence, administrative officials, or the colonisation of the
evidence for the area of the Middle Euphrates, some subject territory (Kolata 2006, 210)
conclusions can be made regarding the nature and intensity We suggest that this model may have been applicable to
of Ebla’s hegemony over this region during the period of the situation of Ebla’s relationship to the Middle Euphrates
its strength in the 24th century BC. Valley as outlined above. We hesitate, however, to use the
Ebla’s hold over the Euphrates was loose and transitory. term ‘strategy’ to describe this type of political phenomenon
While many of the tablets make the claim that Ebla as we wonder if Ebla engaged in any conscious or deliberate
ruled supreme over this region, particularly after its programme to enforce its supremacy over the Euphrates
11. States of hegemony: Early forms of political control in Syria during the third millennium BC 93

region. Rather, it is suspected that Ebla’s acceptance of Tell es-Sweyhat, 1989–1995 Preliminary Report, 85–94.
tributes and other gifts, as well as its entry into diplomatic MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology 14.
ties with local polities and its acquisition of land in various Philadelphia, Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology
territories, came about in a somewhat ad hoc fashion when and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and
favourable opportunities availed themselves to assert a
Danti, M. D. 2000. Early Bronze Age Settlement and Land Use in
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the Tell es-Sweyhat Region, Syria. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis,
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Peltenburg, E., S. Campbell, P. Croft, D. Lunt, M. A. Murray and




Olivier Nieuwenhuyse

Professor Edgar Peltenburg’s outstanding record as an precise chronological synchronisations between key sites,
archaeologist shows two recurring elements: his scholarly but also with regard to the assumptions underlying our
interest in the social dynamics of technology and style in interpretations. In Upper Mesopotamia a major obstacle
prehistoric societies; and his propensity for researching to understanding the organisation of prehistoric societies
a sunny Mediterranean island. However, he has also is the tendency to classify the evidence according to rigid
explored a prehistoric site at Jerablus Tahtani in the heart culture-historical frameworks as a basis for comparative
of Upper Mesopotamia. In this paper I shall investigate studies and reconstructions of long-term social evolution.
the organisation of prehistoric pottery production in Upper Textbooks on Near Eastern prehistory are often organised
Mesopotamia. I shall limit the discussion to one major in separate sections dealing with such entities as the Proto-
key site for the Late Neolithic, Tell Sabi Abyad, situated Hassuna, the Hassuna, the Samarra, the Halaf and the Ubaid
in the valley of the Balikh, a tributary of the Euphrates cultures. Recent fieldwork on the Late Neolithic shows
in northern Syria. The history of the mound of Tell Sabi the inadequacies of the existing framework. Most of the
Abyad is highly complex. I shall review one of the more elements traditionally ascribed to the ‘Halaf package’ can
extensively excavated occupation levels at this site, Level now be traced back to the centuries preceding the Halaf
6, which is located on the south-eastern slopes of the site’s period. In terms of the ceramics, it has been shown that
main mound in what has been termed Operation 1 (for an what is seen as ‘Halaf pottery’ emerged gradually from a pre-
overview, see Akkermans et al. 2006). Also known as the ceding Transitional (or Proto-Halaf) stage in which Hassuna
“Burnt Village” because of the conflagration that reduced the and Samarra stylistic traits dominated (Campbell 1992,
Level 6 village to ashes around 6000 BC (all dates in this 1998; Akkermans 1993, 1997; LeMière and Nieuwenhuyse
paper are calibrated dates BC), this settlement was inhabited 1996; Cruells and Nieuwenhuyse 2005; Nieuwenhuyse
at a time when communities across northern Syria, south- 2007).
eastern Anatolia and northern Iraq had initiated far-reaching The Level 6 Burnt Village was inhabited at the start of
changes in the way pottery was made and used. Not long the Transitional period between Pre-Halaf and Early Halaf.
before the Burnt Village, at about 6200 BC, a long era of Rather than trying to pigeonhole this particular community
rigorously plain, coarsely finished ceramics had come to an into one culture-historical framework or the other, this
end with the introduction, initially in limited quantities, of paper explores the technological and social aspects of
painted pottery vessels. Soon afterwards, between c. 6100 pottery production. What were the raw materials, tools
and 5900 BC, the ceramic assemblage changed rapidly and the technological knowledge needed, and how did
and fundamentally, from being dominated by mostly plain, people procure them? Were ceramic vessels made locally
plant-tempered ceramics to mainly consisting of painted or were they imported from elsewhere? Is there evidence
Fine Ware (Akkermans 1993; Nieuwenhuyse 2007). of pottery production within the village that archaeologists
This discovery has sparked a lively debate, not just may identify as such?
with regard to the details of the ceramic sequence or the
98 Olivier Nieuwenhuyse

Models of Late Neolithic Ceramic Production scholars would accept that the Hassuna and Samarra styles
Scholars have presented divergent views on how pottery reflect different subsistence adaptations and attendant
production was organised in the Upper Mesopotamian Late social organisations. In this view, the Samarra pottery
Neolithic. This heterogeneity reflects the different research style reflects socially more advanced organisations based
interests of the scholars involved and their theoretical on irrigation agriculture along the two major river systems
backgrounds as well as the diverse cultural mosaic during in Central Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and the Tigris. In
the Late Neolithic. To a fair measure it also reflects the slow, contrast, groups in the north with the Hassuna pottery style
unequal development of research. Presently far more work continued to practise dry farming agriculture and did not
has been done on the later stages of the Pottery Neolithic, develop hierarchical social systems (Oates 1972; 1973;
which are characterised by an array of attractively decorated Huot 1994; Breniquet 1996; Aurenche and Kozlowski
pottery styles such as the Hassuna, Samarra and Halaf. In 1999). Whereas pottery production came into the hands
contrast, much less is known about the earlier stages of the of specialists in the Samarra territories, Hassuna pottery
Pottery Neolithic, c. 6900–6200 BC, which have only most production continued to be practiced at the level of the
recently emerged as major research foci in their own right. individual household. While the Samarra potters developed
When it comes to the Halaf period, 5900–5300 BC, one a standardised set of complex design structures, design
influential perspective was outlined by Watson and LeBlanc, structures in the north were kept much simpler and did
who suggested that the Halaf painted ‘luxury’ ceramics were not become standardised (Bernbeck 1994). The Hassuna
symbols of prestige exchange between established elites, for groups imported the occasional high-quality vessel from
which they used the term ‘chiefdom’ (Watson and LeBlanc their Samarra neighbours and made cheapish imitations
n.d.; Watson 1983; Redman 1978). Watson and LeBlanc (Lloyd and Safar 1945). Mortensen (1970) argued that the
used statistical measurements of similarity between painted stylistic differences between Hassuna and Samarra ceramics
motif frequencies from a range of Halaf sites to infer patterns reflected different modes of production. Whereas the bulk of
of social interaction. Strong empirical support for the view the Hassuna pottery was felt to be made locally, Mortensen
of Halaf ceramics as part of organised networks of exchange suggested that the most complexly decorated items were
came from work by Davidson and McKerrel (1976, 1980; made by travelling Samarran specialists (1970, 118–121).
Davidson 1977). Using neutron activation analyses (NAA) This discussion has been strongly reinvigorated recently
of Halaf sherds and local clays from a variety of sites and by the discovery in Syria and south-eastern Turkey of a
wadis in north-eastern Syria, they argued that a number of gradual sequence of ceramic change leading to the Halaf
Halafian sites had been ceramic production centres. These pottery tradition. This transition is characterised by a modest
centres supplied ‘satellite’ villages with ceramic vessels, and introduction and subsequent rapid increase of painted Fine
at the same time they were engaged in the mutual exchange Ware made in what may be termed the Hassuna-Samarra
of high-quality painted pottery. style if broadly applied (Campbell 1992, 1998; Akkermans
This view of the Halaf was criticised from the 1980s 1993). During the Transitional period innovations in ceramic
onwards with the rapid accumulation of new data from the technology, vessel shape, and decorative style led to what
field. New fieldwork made it clear that in fact there was archaeologists have termed Early Halaf pottery (Cruells and
precious little evidence to suggest that Halaf societies had Nieuwenhuyse 2005). In other words, what archaeologists
been socially complex in the traditional sense of the word have treated as separate culture-historical entities can
(Akkermans 1993). Apart from the presumed ‘prestige’ also be seen, in Upper Mesopotamia at least, as part of a
ceramics there were few unequivocally identifiable luxury continuum of ceramic innovation (Nieuwenhuyse 2007).
goods, the spatial layout of villages did not immediately Presently, a lively debate focusses on what precisely should
point to social differentiation, and the burial record sug- fall within the definitions of Samarra and Hassuna pottery
gested a heterogeneous yet non-hierarchical approach to (Bernbeck 2009), the identification of the technological
death (Campbell 1992; Akkermans and Schwartz 2003). chaînes opératoires (operational sequences) underlying the
Akkermans (1993, 319) concluded that the painted pottery various pottery groups (Van As et al. 1998; Nieuwenhuyse
was not involved in the establishment of any sort of et al. 2001; Robert et al. 2009), and the issue of ceramic
social hierarchy. Furthermore, Davidson and McKerrel’s exchange (LeMière and Picon 1987; 1999; LeMière and
interpretations were subjected to devastating criticism Picon 2009) among other points.
by Galbraith and Roaf (2001). Re-evaluating the earlier
data with updated statistical methods, Galbraith and Roaf
concluded that although ceramics were certainly exchanged Pottery Production in the Level 6 Burnt Village
in the Halaf period, the earlier NAA data do not support the The Level 6 Burnt Village has been excavated over an area
specific model proposed by Davidson and McKerrel. of almost 1400 m2. It was constructed on the south-eastern
As to the period immediately preceding the Halaf, most slopes of a much older mound that dates back to the early
12. A household affair? Pottery production in the Burnt Village at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad 99

Fig. 12.1 Plan of the Level 6 Burnt Village at Tell Sabi Abyad (drawing by M. Kriek in Akkermans and Nieuwenhuyse forthcoming).

stages of the Pottery Neolithic (Akkermans et al. 2006). The It is important to note that although there is much
Level 6 remains have been radiocarbon dated to c. 6000 BC. similarity from one multi-roomed building to the next,
At this time the north-eastern part of Tell Sabi Abyad, too, the buildings were certainly not all equal in architectural
was inhabited, but the western part of the mound appears composition or size. Intriguingly, some building complexes
to have been empty. A dense concentration of large multi- were conspicuously larger than others. These may have been
roomed buildings was characteristic (Fig. 12.1). It has been the domiciles of households that in this particular episode
persuasively argued that these were used largely for storage of the village history were economically more successful
by a semi-pastoralist population (Akkermans and Duistermaat than others. Interestingly, although kilns of various shapes
1997; Verhoeven 1999). Between 400 and 670 people may and sizes have been found dispersed through the Level 6
have relied on the village, with perhaps some 120 people village, they are concentrated in two courtyards on either side
residing there permanently (Verhoeven 1999, 211–213). of the largest complex in the village (Building II). Before
100 Olivier Nieuwenhuyse

concluding that the inhabitants of this building controlled activities, festivities and the movements of people. In the
essential pottery production facilities, we should note that highly seasonal climate of Upper Mesopotamia the cold,
so far the distribution of small finds does not suggest a wet winter months would have been unfavourable for drying
clear differentiation (Verhoeven 1999). By and large, each pots and fuel. In the winter and spring, moreover, various
complex appears to have had a broadly similar inventory of agricultural activities would have laid claims upon the
material goods prior to the conflagration. Tools and facilities available labour time. Within the semi-pastoralist economy
that may have been used for the production of pottery are these seasons would have been socially intense as the larger
dispersed widely throughout the Level 6 village and cannot be part of the community probably stayed within or close to the
associated with any building complex in particular. Nor does village. The summer would have been the likely time of the
the composition of the ceramic assemblage, although certainly year for ceramic production. A large part of the population
highly variable from one building complex to another, suggest would have left the village with the herds. Those who stayed
any patterns that we may interpret as reflecting unequal access behind would have engaged in ceramic production. Straw
to specific pottery groups (Nieuwenhuyse 2007). left over from the harvest would have made convenient
It may be difficult, perhaps impossible, at this stage to tempering material (Matson 1974; Akkermans 1993, 275–
identify with certainty the tools that people used for pottery 279; Bernbeck 1994, 263; Eiland 2003, 337).
production. Since the local production was probably carried Dramatic changes in vessel morphology occurred during
out largely at a household level and at a low intensity, the Transitional period. Interestingly, these do not seem to
the necessary tools may have been unspecialised to begin be associated with the invention of new shaping techniques.
with (Peacock 1982; Van der Leeuw et al. 1987; Costin Vessels of all shapes and sizes seem to have been made
1991). Production facilities, such as pits for clay storage with coiling, a technique known already since the first
or a covered space for drying vessels, may be virtually introduction of pottery around 6900 BC. Moulds were
indistinguishable from pits and storage rooms used for other most probably used for shaping convex bases as well as the
activities. No cache of unfired vessels waiting to be fired has sharply carinated profiles that became increasingly popular
been recovered from the Burnt Village. So far it has not been during the Transitional period. First, the base was pressed
possible to locate any spatial clusters of artefacts that enable into the mould, after which the carinated body was built up
the identification of production facilities (Verhoeven 1999; with coils. The mould may simply have been the re-used
Nieuwenhuyse 2007). How, then, do we know for certain base fragments of a discarded vessel (Van As and Jacobs
that ceramics were produced at Tell Sabi Abyad itself? 1989; Van As et al. 1998).
Firstly, although such finds are very scarce, misfired and Abundant traces of sculpting, scraping, smoothing and
warped ceramic fragments are occasionally found. Secondly, burnishing point to a variety of surface-finishing techniques.
the abundance of ceramic vessels throughout the settlement, Vessels were sometimes decorated with techniques such
their bulkiness, and their fragility in transport all argue for as stabbing, impressing or incising. The tools needed for
local production. Finally, the microscopic and chemical this may have been fairly simple and need not have been
analysis of ceramics and local clays strongly suggests that exclusively limited to pottery production. So far no use-
a large part of it was made locally (LeMière 1989; Van As wear analyses have been carried out on the bone awls and
et al. 1998; LeMière and Picon 2009). needles, the flint or obsidian tools, or the ceramic scrapers
Most raw materials were locally available. Ethnographic and ‘loamers’ that occur in great numbers at the site. It
comparisons suggest that the potters from Tell Sabi Abyad seems likely that in addition to a whole range of other
collected their clays within walking distance of the village possible functions some of these items were also employed
(Arnold 1985). We shall never be able to locate the exact to modify ceramic vessels (Fig. 12.2). Non-industrial potters
locations, however, as several metres of sediment have in ethnographic settings have sometimes been shown to be
accumulated over the Late Neolithic field level (Wilkinson emotionally attached to the tools they use. These may have
1996). Most of the samples of clay collected near the been transmitted over generations, and so they can acquire
current course of the Balikh River, close to the village, great social value (De Boer and Lathrap 1979; Dillingham
have reasonable to excellent properties for making pottery. 1992). Pebbles with a glossy working surface are indeed
The main pigment for slipping and painting the vessels attested at Tell Sabi Abyad, but what they were used for
was ochre. Small pieces of ochre are regularly found in the remains to be established.
Burnt Village, and some of the basalt tools show traces of A remarkable technological breakthrough at this time
the grinding of this pigment. Ochre, or iron-oxide haematite, was the development of firing strategies that increased the
was probably available on the limestone terraces of the potters’ control over temperatures and oxygen fluctuations
Balikh valley, which occur less than 10 km from the site in the kiln. This allowed them to produce dark-on-light
(Akkermans 1993, 274). painted Fine Ware (Steinberg and Kamili 1984; Noll 1991;
Ceramic production was in all probability seasonally Robert et al. 2009). Unfortunately, we are hard pressed to
organised and integrated within the broader annual cycle of identify the pottery kilns used by the Burnt Village potters.
12. A household affair? Pottery production in the Burnt Village at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad 101

Fig. 12.2 Left: Flint and obsidian tools from the Level 6 Burnt Village possibly used for pottery production (b, d). Scraping a fine clay
(b, c) yields traces similar to those observed on Burnt Village Fine Ware sherds (a) (courtesy Loe Jacobs, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden
University). Right: A large, circular, domed kiln from the Level 6 Burnt Village with an opening at ground level. The kiln was found
completely preserved, but the top was removed during the excavation (Marc Verhoeven as a scale, 1.81 m).

Characteristic for the later stages of the Transitional period, al. 2004; Nieuwenhuyse et al. 2004). It is most likely that
for instance, is the keyhole-shaped kiln with a narrow, these coarse vessels were locally made and decorated with
arched, combustion chamber and a domed heating chamber non-local pigments (Fig. 12. 3, nos 5–6).
with stones on the floor, partly sunk into the ground to There is sound evidence for non-local pottery within
save fuel. They are usually found with only the lower part the village even if the exact locations of origin remain to
still intact, however, and their function remains elusive. be established. Ongoing work by LeMière shows that part
Verhoeven and Kranendonk (1996, 82) suggest that the of what is termed Standard Fine Ware (SFW) came from
smaller examples were used for roasting meat, but the larger elsewhere. Two other Fine Ware groups, termed Orange Fine
examples may well have been used for firing pottery. A Ware (Fig. 12.3, nos 10–12) and Fine-Painted Ware, may also
similar potters’ kiln was reported from Tell Ziyada on the be of non-local origin (LeMière and Nieuwenhuyse 1996;
Khabur River (Buccellati et al. 1991). LeMière 2000; 2001). These two categories comprise only a
Another type is larger, circular or sometimes oval with an very small minority within the assemblage, but their presence
opening in the wall at floor level (Fig. 12.2). These beehive- is significant. LeMière and Picon (2008) also suggest that the
shaped kilns could be up to 3 m in diameter. The interior proportion of imported SFW may have been highest in the
was usually hard and red-burnt, suggesting that they reached early stages of the Transitional period. A regular exchange
high temperatures. Elsewhere in Upper Mesopotamia, the of painted Fine Wares, then, was implicated in the ceramic
first examples of circular kilns with a two storey construction developments observed during the Transitional period. SFW
appear at this stage (Merpert and Munchaev 1993) in which bears close similarities to Hassuna and Samarra pottery from
a perforated grid separated the lower firing chamber from the northern and central Iraq (Fig. 12.3, nos 13–20), but it would
upper space holding the ceramic vessels. So far, no examples be too far-fetched at this stage to conclude that ‘Samarran
of this type have been attested in the Burnt Village. impulses’ (Akkermans 1993) initiated the Transitional period.
Although it is certainly possible that the occasional vessel
travelled to the Burnt Village from as far away as central
Mesopotamia, it is more likely that most of the exchange was
Coming from Far Away conducted among the Transitional period villages that are now
Certainly not all pottery vessels in the Burnt Village being detected in survey work across upper Mesopotamia
were locally produced, nor were all raw materials local (Nieuwenhuyse 2000; Nieuwenhuyse and Wilkinson 2007;
in origin. For instance, it was characteristic during the Erdalkıran 2008).
Transitional period to decorate coarse plant-tempered vessels Perhaps the clearest case of non-local ceramics within the
by scratching them with bitumen. Geochemical analysis of Burnt Village is the Dark Face Burnished Ware (DFBW),
the pigment showed that it came from two distinct sources which includes about 4% of the assemblage (Fig. 12.3, nos 7–
in northern Iraq, c. 500 km away from the site (Connan et 9). This heavily mineral-tempered ware is petrographically,
102 Olivier Nieuwenhuyse

Fig. 12.3 Selected examples of pottery from the level 6 Burnt Village: (1–4) decorated Standard Ware; (5–6) bitumen-painted Standard
Ware; (7–9) Dark-Faced Burnished Ware; (10–12) Orange Fine Ware; (13–20) Standard Fine Ware.
12. A household affair? Pottery production in the Burnt Village at Late Neolithic Tell Sabi Abyad 103

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Louise Steel

There have been various technological studies of Cypriot better firing techniques and more effective control of
pottery (most recently Åström 2001; Karageorghis 2001; reducing/oxidising conditions (Arnold 1985, 123). Recent
Crewe 2004; 2007; Knappett and Kilikoglou 2007); however, approaches, however, have questioned the automatic
the organisation of LC pottery production has received less association between the development of complex socio-
attention (but see Keswani 1991). This article examines political structures and technological advance (Loney 2000)
changing pottery production during the LBA. It is proposed and relate specialised production to heterarchical social
that prior to the 13th century BC there was considerable organisation rather than centralised economic control within
variation in pottery production, and only in the 13th and a vertical hierarchy (Schoep and Knappett 2004, 26–27).
12th centuries did ceramic production cut across regional The adoption of new technologies is voluntary, and people
boundaries, a corollary of increasing urbanisation and may choose to do so for a variety of reasons which need not
centralised control (all dates in this paper are cal BC). be predictable or ‘rational’ (Loney 2000). Pottery production
is essentially conservative. Potters are reluctant to change
their technological base, and once they have identified
suitable clays, tempers and fuels, and suitable modes of
Pottery Production and Social Complexity production, they continue to exploit these with little internal
Various archaeological studies have sought to explain impetus for change (Rice 1984, 243–244; 1987, 461–465).
changes in pottery production within an evolutionary Arnold (1985, 205–206) notes that the manufacture of
paradigm (Peacock 1977; Rice 1981; Underhill 1991; Loney pottery involves mastering a considerable number of motor
2000). Changes are viewed as evidence for technological habits; this is a long process and the skills involved are more
improvement and the rise of complex societies. Consequently, easily acquired during childhood. Indeed, the motor habits
there is a tendency to relate increasing specialisation of of a particular mode of production (hand-built, mould-made,
pottery production to increasing social complexity (Rice wheelmade) are so deeply ingrained (Arnold 1985, 206) that
1981). In an ethnoarchaeological study Peacock (1982) they may act as significant barriers to change (1985, 221).
proposed various modes of production related to different Arnold also observes that cultural attitudes and beliefs might
stages of social complexity: small-scale, village-based impede transmission of new styles, forms and decoration
societies were typified by domestic household production, (1985, 223). Hence, changes in pottery production indicate
whereas highly standardised mass production within significant cultural transformations that need not necessarily
specialist workshops was characteristic of social complexity be related to increasing complexity in social organisation.
and urbanised societies (part-time specialisation within
chiefdoms and full-time specialisation in states; see Underhill
1991). The development of a wheelmade technology in Late Cypriot Social Organisation
particular is associated with economic specialisation and During the 2nd millennium BC, Cyprus underwent a
mass production within an urban context (Arnold 1985, number of socio-economic and demographic transformations
206–208; Crewe 2007, 209). Other developments include associated with an increase in population and greater
13. Late Cypriot ceramic production: Heterarchy or hierarchy? 107

Fig. 13.1 Map of LBA sites.

participation within East Mediterranean trade networks (see external distribution of copper. Certainly, a number of
Fig. 13.1 for map of principal sites). The transitional MC possible signifiers of social complexity can be identified at
III–LC I period was a time of social upheaval (Merrillees Enkomi in LC IB: a monumental building serving a number
1971) typified by the abandonment of settlements and a of economic functions (the fortress); Cypro-Minoan tablets;
destruction horizon. Coupled with these changes is evidence local seal production; and wheelmade pottery.
for the emergence of new social elites, who identified The island’s topography, dominated by the vast Troodos
themselves through elaborate funerary ritual (Keswani mountain range that was largely impassable and unexploited
2004, 80). in antiquity, impeded inter-regional communication
Present understanding of LC settlement is based on a (Peltenburg 1991, 107) and presumably the establishment
tripartite model developed by Catling (1962, 142–143; see of a unified LC state. Instead, a series of regional polities
also Keswani 1993; 1996; Knapp 1997; 2008), comprising might be postulated similar to the Iron Age city kingdoms
large coastal towns and small rural and mining settlements (Iacovou and Michaelides 1999). In fact, there is very little
in the hinterland. By the 14th century the towns were evidence for a hierarchically organised state on Cyprus
the dominant economic and political force within the during the LBA (Smith 1994; Keswani 1996, 234). Instead,
surrounding landscape. Despite the rich archaeological socio-political organisation can best be characterised as a
record, our understanding of the political organisation series of complex chiefdoms, demonstrating no more than
of LBA Cyprus is limited. We might posit some form of two levels of control (Smith 1994, 33–36). Moreover, the
centralised administration located within the urban centres; notion of the state itself is problematic (Knappett 1999,
nonetheless, it is problematic trying to interpret socio-political 616, 618–619; Adams 2006, 1–2), especially the inherent
organisation within conventional, anthropologically derived socio-evolutionary perspective and the overriding focus
models. Peltenburg (1996) has argued for the emergence on economic and political organisation within the urban
of a state on Cyprus prior to LC II, possibly centred on context at the expense of regional level analysis. Certainly,
Enkomi, and associated with increasing exploitation and the LC material does not fit the model of a territorial state,
108 Louise Steel

based on a hierarchical network of administrative units continued to be village-based, perhaps as a small-scale

over a wide region, and under the control of a single ruler. household industry (Crewe 2007, 216, 227). However,
Instead, the smaller polity of a city state, based on an urban there is significant evidence for pottery production within
core and hinterland, appears more attractive (Trigger 2003, specialist workshops, suggesting the co-existence of at
92–119). Another possible model is the ‘village-state’, which least two modes of production in LC I (Underhill 1991,
is based on kinship linearity, a redistributive economy 13; Loney 2000, 651). The clearest evidence for a pottery
and ceremonial enactment (Maisels 1990). Whatever the workshop is at Morphou-Toumba tou Skourou (Vermeule
socio-political organisation of LBA Cyprus, the process of and Wolsky 1990); this undoubtedly relates to specialised
urbanisation implies increasing social complexity and as a production discussed by Peacock (1982, 9, 25–26; Underhill
corollary has important implications for the organisation 1991, 14, table 2). The excavators suggest that the local
of craft production, including pottery (Griffin 1965, 104, elite controlled production (Vermeule and Wolsky 1990,
113; Sahlins 1972, 101; Rice 1981; Feinman et al. 1984, 101); however, rather than imposing a hierarchical model
297–302, 322). of control, we might explore horizontal differentiation in
economic specialisation similar to that proposed for Proto-
palatial Crete (Schoep and Knappett 2004, 26–27). The
Late Cypriot Ceramic Production wholesale transformation of the pottery tradition reflects
CHANGES DURING THE TRANSITIONAL MC III–LC I PERIOD choices made by the LC potters and throws light upon their
The advent of the LC period is marked by the appearance technological advances. The potters chose to exploit new
of new wares, White Slip (WS), Base Ring (BR), and clay beds in the copper-rich Troodos region (Courtois 1977),
Monochrome (Merrillees 1971), replacing the traditional the wheel/turntable was used for certain elements (Crewe
Red Polished pottery used for some 500 years. The adoption 2004; 2007), and increased firing temperatures suggest a
of these new wares occurred at a varying pace in different kiln-based technology. An experimental phase with new
parts of the island (Merrillees 1971; Manning 2001, 81; clay beds and firing technologies is evident in the variable
Crewe 2007, 214), reflecting the persistence of strong finish of Proto WS (Cadogan et al. 2001, 80–81); similar
regional identities against a backdrop of dramatic social experimentation is documented at Episkopi-Phaneromeni
change. Two distinct ceramic traditions emerged from the with Drab Polished, Proto BR and BR I wares (Herscher
east-west cultural split in the island: the canonical LC wares 2001, 18).
developed in the northwest of the island while the traditional Specialist potters became increasingly proficient with
MC tradition survived in the east. Although the eastern these new technologies throughout LC I, resulting in
pottery tradition appears archaising, new styles developed further changes to their product. Greater control over the
here (Bichrome, Red on Black and Red on Red); however, kiln allowed the WS potters to achieve temperatures of
these did not have a lasting impact. The initial use of the 1100˚ centigrade; ironically, however, their improved skill
LC wares was closely associated with ceremonial practices; ultimately resulted in an apparent decline in quality. The
the new wares were predominantly used in tombs in the creamy-white smectitic slip used for WS I had a tendency
Morphou region but were only gradually adopted in the to blister at this higher temperature and was replaced by
surrounding settlements (Merrillees 1971, 57). A similar a micaceous chloritic clay that gave a duller finish to the
situation is apparent in the east; at Enkomi, for example, the ware (Aloupi et al. 2001, 23). The higher temperatures
new styles were primarily used as grave goods throughout also resulted in reducing conditions, and the characteristic
LC I and were only adopted within household contexts in WS I bichrome decoration (achieved by the use of an
LC II (Crewe 2007, 214). oxidised iron-based red and a manganese-based brown/black
Alongside the new wares, traditional vessels were also pigment) fell out of favour (Aloupi et al. 2001, 18). Thus
transformed. Most striking is the preference for flat bases the changes observed in the surface treatment of WS I and
and ring bases for jugs and jars although the traditional II are intrinsically linked to the advancement of technology
round-based jug persisted into LC I. This undoubtedly and not necessarily to the tastes or choices of consumers.
reflects changing household practices relating to the use Certain developments reflect foreign influence at a time
and storage of these vessels (Crewe 2007, 227–228). Shapes when the island was increasingly involved in overseas
such as the krater reflect Levantine influence (Amiran 1970, trade. Chief amongst these is the adoption of the wheel in
99–101) and illustrate the adoption of exotic new social eastern Cyprus. Masson explicitly links the introduction
customs related to feasting (Crewe 2007, 228). The Plain of the wheel to the settlement of Levantine artisans (1976,
White handmade storage jars attested in eastern Cyprus 152–153). The development of the Bichrome Wheelmade
(Pilides 1996, 108) demonstrate the adoption of new storage and Red Lustrous Wheelmade wares has been attributed to
strategies at a time when the organisation of the household influence from Anatolia and Syria (Åström 2001, 134–135;
was undergoing significant change (Bolger 2003, 32–36). Karageorghis 2001, 145–148, 153) while certain decorative
Regional variation might indicate that pottery production aspects of Bichrome Wheelmade may have been adopted
13. Late Cypriot ceramic production: Heterarchy or hierarchy? 109

from the Cyclades (Artzy 2001, 163–166). The consensus LC IIIA (Hadjisavvas 1991, fig. 17, nos 1–2, 4–5), perhaps
is that wheelmade pottery developed in Cyprus within a reflecting further changes in food processing techniques and
climate of foreign contact and exchange of ideas; however, diet. The new wares were initially appropriated in funerary
the mode of transmission is unclear (Crewe 2007, 225–226). (Merrillees 1971, 57; Crewe 2007, 214) and religious
Ethnographic studies indicate that new potters are more contexts (al-Radi 1983). This would suggest that the new
likely to adopt the practices of the communities into which styles were specifically related to innovations in ceremonial
they moved in response to different resources and local practices used to renegotiate and reaffirm social relations
demand, rather than impose new techniques on the resident at a time of social upheaval. Ethnographic studies support
population (Rice 1984, 245). The transfer of technological the notion that transformations in ceremonial behaviour,
skills, in fact, is very difficult to achieve (Loney 2000, especially when associated with changing fortunes of elite
649), and the very different motor habits used to produce groups, will impact upon pottery production (Rice 1984,
handmade and wheelmade pottery represent a major obstacle 246, 252); moreover, the process of urbanisation, while
to the transmission of expertise (Arnold 1985, 221), perhaps poorly understood, is probably the key to understanding
explaining why these wares had limited impact on Cypriot many changes in pottery manufacture (1984, 248–249) and
production. seems particularly pertinent in the MC–LC period.
The changes apparent in the LC I ceramic tradition are
socially and culturally significant. These effectively constitute LC II: CERAMIC REGIONALISM
the disappearance of an ancient tradition that had persisted on By LC II a common ceramic tradition was established
the island for some 500 years. At one level the development throughout Cyprus (Fig. 13.3) “although subtle distinctions in
of new wares illustrates the adoption of new technologies, style can still be detected” (Herscher 1984, 27). Despite the
new modes of manufacture, and the exploitation of new apparent standardisation there is some evidence for continued
resources, reflecting shifting relations with the physical and regional variation, which has important implications for
technological environment (Binford 1962, 219; Rice 1984, understanding the organisation of pottery production and
252). The exploitation of new materials implies interruption inter-regional exchange. One issue is whether pottery
to the procurement of the preferred MC resources, perhaps a production was centralised and controlled by the urban
result of demographic shift. Potters needed to seek out new elite or if small-scale production within village workshops
resources, the properties of which they were not familiar persisted (Knapp and Cherry 1994, 8, 159–161). No potters’
with, and thus had to develop new skills (Courtois 1977; quarters have been identified in the main urban centres, but
Rice 1984, 244; Vaughan 1991, 119; 1994, 91). Increasing regional workshops have been identified at Athienou (Dothan
population likewise had a significant impact on pottery and Ben-Tor 1983) and Sanidha (Todd and Hadjicosti 1991;
production. Production by household specialists was probably Todd and Pilides 1993; 2001). Following a detailed study
no longer sufficient to meet the demand of a larger, urban- of Plain White pottery, Keswani posits a workshop centred
based population (Rice 1984, 244–245, 257). Accordingly, at Enkomi, which not only supplied the town but also other
Cypriot potters developed new strategies to cope with greater communities in eastern Cyprus, and possibly even the
demand. Thus population stress and urbanisation were the residents of Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios (Keswani 1999).
impetus for the move away from domestic production or However, the mechanisms by which the products of these
household industries to full-scale ceramic production at workshops were disseminated throughout the island are
specialised centres (Feinman et al. 1984, 302). unclear. While there is an “absence of any apparent palatial
Nonetheless, this was not simply an economic trans- system of centralised production and distribution of goods”
formation; the underlying cultural changes are equally (Vaughan 1994, 91), large monumental buildings, which had
significant (Crewe 2007, 225). Material culture expresses the an economic, redistributive role, are attested at several urban
articulation of social groups (Binford 1962, 219; Wiessner centres. These may well have regulated an exchange network
1983; 1985; Rice 1984, 252), and the adoption of new forms for the products of regional workshops, including pottery
and decorative styles reveals changing social practices. The (Keswani 1993; Knapp and Cherry 1994, 159–161).
choice, preparation and consumption of food and drink are At first glance the WS II style (Fig. 13.2) appears to be
deeply embedded in cultural traditions; hence the utensils uniform throughout the island. The ubiquitous form was
needed for these practices might be particularly resistant the hemispherical bowl with wishbone handle, decorated in
to change (Rice 1984, 245; 1987, 463). Consequently, the Normal Style; nonetheless, “subtle distinctions in style
the introduction of new pottery forms in LC I may mirror … can still be detected” (Herscher 1984, 27; Table 13.1).
new social practices linked to changing diet. Subtle The diversity of WS forms attested in the Kalavasos/Maroni
transformations continue throughout the LC period, such as region is unparalleled on the island (Fig. 13.2, no. 5; Russell
the disappearance of the spout after LC IIB (Fig. 13.2, no. 1989; South and Steel 2001, fig. 3) and perhaps reflects
2; Lagarce and Lagarce 1985, fig. 17, no. 68; South et al. proximity to workshops located in the southern foothills of
1989, fig. 52) and the introduction of the strainer spout in the Troodos. Particularly noteworthy is the preference in LC
110 Louise Steel

Fig. 13.2 White Slip II pottery (not to scale): (1) WS II Normal Style hemispherical bowl, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 167; after South
et al. 1989, fig. 49; (2) WS II Transitional spouted bowl, Kalavasos Ayios Dhimitrios no. 137; after South et al. 1989, fig. 52; (3) WS
II Normal Style hemispherical bowl, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 369; after South et al. 1989, fig. 57; (4) WS II Late hemispherical
bowl, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 930; after South et al. 1989, fig. 6; (5) WS II jug, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 160; after South
et al. 1989, fig. 49.

IIA for drinking sets typically decorated in the Transitional this is further reiterated by chemical analyses (Artzy et al.
WS II style (Steel 1998, 290). Other regional variants include 1981; Knapp and Cherry 1994, 57–59). The proximity of
WS IIA (Popham 1972, 446–447, fig. 51), found primarily the probable production centres (Kouklia, Kourion, and
in south-west and occasionally in south-central Cyprus. Kalavasos) to the Troodos massif where basaltic clays
Closely related is the distinctive Parallel Line Style (Popham compatible with the WS fabric are found (Courtois 1977;
1972, fig. 56, no. 4; Russell 1989, 2–3, figs 3–4). Only small Courtois and Velde 1989, 74; Knapp and Cherry 1994, 59)
quantities have been identified in north-west and eastern suggests that the main WS workshops were located in the
Cyprus (Catling 1957, fig. 19, no. 182; Dikaios 1969, pl. hinterland of these urban sites, perhaps controlled by the
63, nos 10, 12, 17, 25; pl. 76, no. 31); however, it comprises urban elites. There was widespread demand for WS both in
around one-third of the WS recovered at Kalavasos-Ayios Cyprus and the Levant, indicative of an efficient distribution
Dhimitrios, perhaps suggesting local production (Russell system possibly instituted by the polities of the south and
1989, 3). The distribution of these styles clearly points to west of the island.
multiple production centres (Knapp and Cherry 1994, 57); “The technical ceramic standards manifested by a
13. Late Cypriot ceramic production: Heterarchy or hierarchy? 111

White Slip II Styles Area Stylistic components Shapes

Transitional White Slip II South central Carefully executed ladder pattern with lines of Deep bowls, deep
(Fig. 13.2, no. 2; Russell (Kalavasos region) equal length spouted bowls,
1986, 42) Frontal orientation of decoration tankards, kraters,
Wavy band on lip and handle hemispherical bowls &
Subsidiary decoration: chains of carefully executed rare footed bowls
lozenges, cross-hatched lozenges, double cross-
hatched lozenges
Free field motifs: dotted rosettes, horned discs,
lozenges, group of four dots
White Slip Normal Island wide Ladder pattern with thicker outer bands Hemispherical bowls
(Fig. 13.2, nos 1, 3, 5; (might have subsidiary decoration, eg. hooked
Russell 1989, 2) chain)
White Slip IIA SW and south- Vertical element: ‘palm motif’ (hastily executed Hemispherical bowls
(Popham 1972, 446–447, central Cyprus vertical zigzag)
fig. 51) (Palaepaphos, horizontal element below rim: wavy line & chain of
Kourion, double cross-hatched lozenges
Parallel Line Kalavasos region Horizontal element below rim: chain of double- Various forms: e.g. jars,
(Popham 1972, fig. 56(4); crossed hatched lozenges framed by double parallel tankards, spindle bottles
Russell 1986, 44–53; bands; also dotted zigzag motif and dotted scallop and hemispherical bowl
Russell 1989, 2–3, figs 3– pattern
4) Vertical element: groups of 4 parallel bands
White Slip II Late Island wide Horizontal element below rim: groups of four Hemispherical bowls
(Fig. 13.2, no. 4; Russell hastily executed, short, parallel lines overlapping;
1989, 2) Vertical element: groups of four hastily executed,
parallel lines
Table 13.1 White Slip II styles.

Fig. 13.3 Base Ring pottery (not to scale): (1) BR II carinated cup; after Mee and Steel 1998, n. 66, pl.11; (2) BR II jug with painted
decoration, after Mee and Steel 1998, no. 203, pl. 38. (3) BR I juglet (bilbil); after Mee and Steel 1998, no. 52, pl. 9; (4) BR II juglet with
painted decoration; after Mee and Steel 1998, no. 202, pl. 38; (5) Bucchero jug; after Mee and Steel 1998 no. 67, pl. 11.
112 Louise Steel

significant quantity of Base Ring Ware represented a 13th century, contemporary with the floruit of the urban
remarkable achievement by potters” (Vaughan 1994, 86), centres.
displaying confident use of a very plastic clay to hand build LC IIC pottery corresponds well with a model of mass
thin-walled vessels fired at high temperatures (Vaughan 1991; production. In contrast to the varied forms current in LC
1994). There is some evidence for double firing (Vaughan I–IIB, by LC IIC both WS and BR were characterised by
1991, 122); this entailed greater investment in time and effort a limited and standardised morphology (Steel 1998, 292)
and increased risk in the firing process. Paradoxically, the and display considerable uniformity. WS production was
progressive technical achievements of the BR potters resulted restricted to hemispherical bowls and Base Ring to carinated
in an apparent decline in the ware’s finish: the lustrous BR I cups. Alongside this there was increasing standardisation in
vessels formed from fine-grained pastes were supplanted by the decoration of the WS bowls: the subsidiary cross-hatched
vessels made from a coarse-grained paste and with a matte lozenges, hooked lozenges, and rows of dots characteristic of
surface finish. Alongside this, the range of forms contracted the ware in LC IIA–B disappeared (Fig. 13.2, no. 1); instead
to the small juglet and the Y-shaped carinated cup (Fig. the bowls were more simply decorated with the ladder pattern
13.3). These changes, especially the homogeneous profile (Fig. 13.2, no. 3), suggesting articles decorated rapidly on
of the ware, are suggestive of increasing standardisation and a turntable. The end result is exemplified by the seemingly
centralisation of production, and as a corollary an extensive hasty banded decoration of WS II Late bowls (Fig. 13.2,
and efficient distribution network (Vaughan 1994, 86). no. 4; Table 13.1; Popham 1972, 456, fig. 57; Russell 1989,
Petrographic analysis reveals three distinct regional groups, 3, figs 3, 6; South and Steel 2001, fig. 5). The apparent
representing overlapping areas of manufacture (Vaughan decline in surface treatment is paralleled by the later BR
1987; 1991; 1994). It is not clear, however, how the BR products; while the earlier BR I forms were burnished or
potters achieved such homogeneity. Possibly, itinerant potters polished, the later products of the workshops were either
worked between these regions, carefully selecting suitable simply smoothed, wiped and left unslipped or were dipped
local clay sources. BR evidently was deemed highly desirable in a matte slip (Vaughan 1991, 124, table 12.2). Ultimately,
and was prescribed for certain cultural activities, most notably the traditional BR workshops could not withstand the forces
in the religious sanctuaries where the carinated cups were of mass production. Despite continuing demand it could not
used for liquid libations (Vaughan 1991, 124). These cups be met by hand-made production. Instead, potters began to
were so intrinsically linked to LC religious practices that experiment with a less plastic clay with large inclusions,
even after BR production had ceased in the 12th century the which was more suitable to being thrown on the wheel,
form was still being made in plain ware (Courtois 1971, fig. the result being mass-produced wheel-made imitations of
94; Jones and Catling 1986, 595). the carinated cup attested at Enkomi and Kouklia (Courtois
Current evidence therefore supports highly skilled potters 1971, fig. 94; Jones and Catling 1986, 595). By c. 1100 BC
working within regional workshops during LC II rather Bucchero (a derivative of BR) was being made from a pale
than production at the level of a household industry. There firing, less plastic paste, which was covered by a dark slip
is no indication that urban elites controlled production. to achieve the appearance of BR, the final “abandonment of
Instead a heterarchical system of production might be the specialised skills of the traditional Cypriot potters” after
posited, effectively comprising small groups of independent some 400 years (Vaughan 1994, 92).
workshops. Nonetheless, the distribution of the wares The Aegeanising WPWM III (Fig 13.4) pottery further
implies efficient supply networks throughout the island; it illustrates centralised, mass production of pottery within the
is possible that the urban elites controlled the circulation urban environment (Sherratt 1991, 191). Chemical analyses
of these wares between the production centres and their suggest several production centres at Enkomi, Kition and
economic hinterland. Kouklia (Jones and Catling 1986, 606). This ware mimicked
the Mycenaean imports popular in Cyprus throughout
LATE CYPRIOT IIC: MASS PRODUCTION AND STANDARDISATION the LC II period although only a limited range of shapes
Scale and competition have been identified as two critical were produced. These largely comprise kraters and bowls
factors which influence pottery production (Feinman et al. (Sherratt 1991, 192), which were easily formed on the wheel
1984, 300). A smaller number of large workshops, mass- and decorated on turntables, the ultimate rapidly produced
producing standardised pottery, flourish within central- ceramic product. Likewise, Cypriot potters were unable
ised, politically controlled economies; alongside greater to reproduce the fine lustre of the surface slip and painted
standardisation less effort is expended in decoration (Rice decoration that was typical of the Mycenaean imports, and
1981; Feinman et al. 1984, 299–302). Although the LC the decoration was highly standardised and formulaic. By
“data are not sufficiently fine-grained to determine whether the time of the Bronze-Iron Age transition (LC IIIB–CG I)
centralised production increased through time” (Knapp and wheelmade decorated pottery was being mass produced on
Cherry 1994, 161), the technical and morphological evidence a large scale and a homogeneous, island-wide ceramic style
support increasing uniformity of pottery production by the was established (Steel 1994).
13. Late Cypriot ceramic production: Heterarchy or hierarchy? 113

Fig. 13.4 White Painted Wheelmade II shallow bowls (not to scale); after South et al. 1989, fig. 12. (1) Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no.
1036; (2) Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 1034; (3) KAD no. 1037; (4) Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios no. 1035.

Conclusions where I was lucky to experience Eddie’s guidance in the

The changing dynamics of LC pottery production are fields of Cypriot and Near Eastern archaeology. An early
associated with demographic and sociopolitical changes. version of this paper was prepared during this period and
The technical advances apparent in LC I indicate increasing accepted for publication in a special volume of BASOR in
specialisation of production and the establishment of regional 1998. I am grateful to Eddie for his comments on the early
workshops, producing goods for internal consumption and drafts. Unfortunately, this publication was not to see fruition.
external trade. By LC II there was an effective distribution A revised version of the paper was accepted for publication
system circulating pottery throughout the island. Possibly in 2000 in Embedded Technologies, but again the publication
distribution was centrally controlled, but throughout most process was interrupted. It is a pleasure now to be able to
of the LC period the evidence points to a heterarchical revise the paper in the light of recent developments in Late
production and distribution system. By the 13th century, Cypriot ceramics, and to offer it in appreciation of Eddie’s
however, there is considerable evidence for increasing significant contribution to Cypriot archaeology. Thanks are
standardisation and specialisation typical of mass production. due to the anonymous reviewer for comments and to Steve
This process peaks in LC IIIA, marking the final stage in Thomas (University of Wales Lampeter), who read a final
Cypriot Bronze Age ceramic production. It is no coincidence draft of the paper.
that mass production of wheelmade pottery coincided with the
height of urbanisation and foreshadowed the homogeneous
Iron Age ceramic industry. List of Abbreviations
BR Base Ring
CG Cypro-Geometric
LBA Late Bronze Age
Acknowledgements LC Late Cypriot
I would like to thank the editors for inviting me to contribute MBA Middle Bronze Age
to this volume. I worked at Kissonerga-Mosphilia for Eddie MC Middle Cypriot
in 1988 through which I became interested in Cypriot WPWM III White Painted Wheelmade III
ceramics. Between 1995 and 1998 I held a British Academy WS White Slip
postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh
114 Louise Steel

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Gordon Thomas

When considering the place of technology in prehistory, this discussion I will refer to lime plaster only where it
archaeological research tends to focus on practical aspects has been reliably identified by scientific analysis; all vague
of how it is conducted, what its material correlates are or and generalised references to ‘plasters’ encountered in
the manner in which it is transmitted between groups and excavation reports are ignored as these frequently make
across time. The origins of any particular technology are no distinction between innovative mud technology and
only vaguely considered and are usually assumed to be the actual lime or gypsum plasters. In particular, I will rely on
adaptive product of trial and error over many generations. I the work of W. David Kingery, Pamela B. Vandiver and
have long been uneasy with this rather simplistic approach Martha Prickett (1988) for their analysis of many of the
that makes many assumptions about the nature of technology most important early samples from the Near East.
and also about the way both human society and the Lime plaster making is a complex and, at times, counter-
human mind work. I hope within this essay to stretch intuitive technology which requires a specific cycle of
our understanding a little of the origins of one particular manufacture (Fig. 14.1). Quarried limestone chunks (CaCO3),
technology, that of lime plaster making in the Levant, and pure calcium carbonate, are first burnt in a kiln (Fig. 14.2)
although I can provide no definitive answer to the question, with temperatures of 800–900˚ centigrade, effectively driving
I hope nevertheless to present a possible way forward in our off all carbon dioxide and leaving a powdery substance
thinking by opening up the way we look at this technology
and by questioning some of the assumptions we make
about it. I will argue that lime plaster making is a complex,
counter-intuitive technology which developed in the Near
East during the Natufian period prior to the inception of
the full Neolithic. I also argue against the fortuitous or
casual development of such a technology, seeing it rather as
resulting from specific relationships forged between people
and various elements of their environment which emerged
from new systems of belief and practice. In this I turn to the
work of David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce (2005), as
well as Jacques Cauvin (2000), as sources of inspiration.

Lime Plaster Making

The identification of lime plaster is a skill which is achieved
only by experience but is more reliably achieved through Fig. 14.1 The lime cycle showing the chemical changes to the
specific chemical and microscopic analyses. Throughout material during the process.
118 Gordon Thomas

called quicklime (CaO) (Fig.14.3). When slaked in water

the quicklime reacts violently and gives off a tremendous
heat and smell, creating over a length of time lime putty or
calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) (Fig.14.4). Under modern,
airtight conditions this material can be stored for considerable
periods of time and indeed improves in condition and quality.
However, as soon as the material is used and is therefore
exposed to air, another reaction takes place in which the water
is driven from the paste and carbon dioxide is reabsorbed
from the air back into the material, thus re-establishing its
original chemical composition, CaCO3, and creating a strong,
durable plaster with chemical characteristics and properties
Fig. 14.2 A simple lime burning kiln. The kiln is about one metre in
similar to the original limestone. More advanced use of the
diameter and will produce enough material to cover the interior walls material with the addition of aggregates or animal hair can
of one of the five metre diameter houses at the Lemba Experimental further improve the performance of the lime plaster. Analyses
Village in Cyprus (Thomas 2004). of many samples of lime plaster from early sites in the Near
East indicate that calcination at the burning stage was often
incomplete, resulting in the inclusion of limestone fragments
and pieces of charcoal within the final lime plaster (Kingery
et al. 1988, 224–225, 228–231).

The Lime Plaster Industry in the Levant

The Natufian period in the Levant (also known as the late
Epi-Palaeolithic) is a period of remarkable change in which
there was a shift from simple to complex subsistence systems
involving the intensive use of certain plant resources and
the development of increasingly complex relationships with
specific animal food sources, most notably gazelle. New and
quite variable tool technologies emerged, including, for the
first time, ground stone tool technology, and there was also
a florescence of figurative and decorative ‘art’. Significantly
Fig. 14.3 Powdered, burnt limestone direct from the kiln showing for this discussion, the early Natufian core area in north and
the disintegration of the limestone as it is turned into quicklime. central Israel and Jordan saw the emergence of the first large
Each chunk of calcined limestone weighs between one and two semi-permanent settlements. Semi-subterranean structures,
kilogrammes. some with a concentric ring of postholes, have been recorded
at a number of sites across the region with the best preserved
being found at ‘Ain Mallaha (Perrot 1960; 1966; 1975).
This period is seen as the time in which the foundations
of many of the key aspects of the ‘Neolithic revolution’,
which characterised the succeeding periods, were established
(Simmons 2007; Rollefson 2008; Olszewski 2008). It was
also during this time that the knowledge of making lime
plaster first emerged in the Near East.
The lime plaster industry is thought to have emerged
as a complex pyrotechnic process during the Natufian
phase in the Levant c. 12,800–10,500 BP (i.e. before the
archaeological present, c. 1950). One of the best preserved
sites, as far as the architectural evidence is concerned, is the
site of Hayonim Cave, dated to c. 12,400–12,000 BP, which
produced evidence of a possible lime plaster ‘kiln’ (Kingery
Fig. 14.4 Lime putty after slaking the quicklime in water for et al. 1988, 223). The excavator (Bar Yosef 1983) describes
several weeks. six rounded, semi-subterranean, stone-built structures
14. The domestication of stone: Early lime plaster technology in the Levant 119

constructed in a cluster at the mouth of the cave. Most of The Identification of Lime Plasters
these structures contained a hearth, but one in particular was The first problem arises with the methods used to analyse
2.5 m in diameter and contained a hearth with a 0.20 m thick early plasters. Kingery et al. (1988) base their identification
layer of a white, porous material (Bar Yosef 1983). This was on chemical analyses and on the microscopic determination
identified through scanning electron microscopy and energy of the micro-structure of the material. They were concerned
dispersive x-ray analysis as being almost pure lime plaster primarily with the distinction between lime and gypsum
(CaCO3) with some residual limestone fragments (Kingery et plasters on the basis of the scanning electron microscope
al. 1988, 223). These buildings, as well as the slightly later identification of either the needle-like morphology of
structures built on the terrace in front of the cave (Valla 1998), gypsum plaster or the colloidal spherules of lime plaster.
produced several hearths set with limestone blocks and pits Microscopic analysis of lime plasters from sites in the
lined with limestone slabs. Limestone was also used quite Levant by Goren and Goldberg (1991) has revealed that
extensively during the Natufian for ground stone mortars at previous analysis based only on chemical identifications can
Hayonim Cave and as slabs for tables or sometimes with be misleading since it fails to distinguish between limestone
cup-marks and set beside hearths as at Ramat Harif (Valla and lime plaster, both of which appear as CaCO3. It is the
1998). At the early Natufian site of ‘Ain Mallaha a remarkable appearance of the crystals and the presence of microfossils
set of buildings is preserved set into the hill slope such that under the microscope which can determine the composition
the buildings are semi-subterranean with one side open of the plaster and the extent of the use of true burnt lime.
downslope. The buildings are circular or semi-circular and Kingery et al. make no mention of micro-fossils although
are constructed in carefully set dry-stone walls with internal they do describe incompletely calcined material, which may
space subdivided by partitions represented by postholes and suggest some of the samples contained unburnt limestone.
low dividing walls. Several hearths, each of slightly different In many cases Goren and Goldberg were able to determine
form, are preserved in one of the best surviving houses often that burnt lime formed a much smaller percentage of the total
in association with limestone kerbs or slabs. Against one of bulk of the plasters than was thought to be the case, with
the walls was a ‘bench’ covered with a degraded material, 30% being a more realistic figure for most samples. They
identified by Kingery and his colleagues as an incompletely also suggest that firing temperatures for the production of
calcined lime plaster which had been metamorphosed by lime were never as high or as prolonged as had previously
prolonged exposure (Kingery et al. 1988, 228). However, been claimed. These findings are also borne out by my own
Valla also describes a wall which at one point had been “… research using experimental archaeology to reconstruct the
replaced by a covering of crushed limestone coated with red châine opératoire of the lime plaster cycle (Thomas 2004).
paint,” which he regards as “… one of the earliest examples This considerably alters our perception of the early stages
of an artificial construction material (1998, 172). It is unclear of the development of this technology and suggests that
whether or not these two things are the same feature. There primitive lime plaster could potentially have been made
is also some evidence that this technology was known by at under domestic conditions. However, this does not answer
least the Epi-Palaeolithic (c. 14,000 BP) and was used as “… the question of how it was discovered; it merely indicates
an adhesive to assemble a tool from flint microliths…” from to us that the wherewithal to create lime plasters already
Lagama North VIII (Kingery et al. 1988, 219). However, existed by the early Natufian period.
this latter example is unusual in that it is so early, pre-dating The second problem regarding concepts of the early
Natufian developments, and it comes from a site in the Sinai discovery of lime plaster making concerns the assumptions
which lies outside the core Natufian area. we make about the role of ancient technology. When
What is clear from this very brief summary of early lime considering questions about the origins and development
plasters in the Levant is that during the Natufian period where of complex technologies in antiquity we must also consider
it first emerged, limestone was being used extensively in the the ancient mind. Lewis-Williams and Pearce (2005) have
construction of houses and in fixtures and fittings within these led us into a very plausible interpretation of the workings
houses. We also have evidence which places this limestone of the ancient mind. In the absence of any analytical
in conjunction with hearths and storage pits, frequently form of reasoning and of a world view informed by the
lining them or as a foundation stone within them. This close scientific method we cannot assume that ‘discovery’ and
relationship between limestone, fire and possibly water in invention in prehistory came about through trial and error
a domestic setting makes the fortuitous ‘discovery’ of the or by experimental practice. We cannot assume that the
technology of lime plaster making an obvious and justifiable path to domestication or to the development of a particular
assumption. However, there are two main problems with this technology was goal oriented. That would presume that
line of reasoning, as I will argue below. The first problem the ancient mind was able to theorise about a concept, for
relates to the methods used for modern plaster identifications, example lime plaster or domestic animals, for which it had
and the second relates to modern concepts about the discovery no previous knowledge or experience. If we were to make
and development of technology.
120 Gordon Thomas

such an argument we would run the risk of teleological I have outlined above, whereby we cannot assume the
reasoning whereby the end result would be considered to ability to theorise a final result. I suggest that in Kingery’s
be the cause of a particular technology. ‘campfire hypothesis’ there is no obvious sequence of events
Technology develops when human behaviour and the which could have led to the fortuitous discovery of lime
natural behaviour of plants and animals or the properties plaster. Secondly, as anyone who has experimented with
of materials coincide. The domestication of plants and this technology will know, there are the practical aspects
animals and the exploitation of natural resources occur of lime burning whereby very strong, unpleasant and toxic
because people choose to put themselves into a close fumes are released during the calcination process that would
relationship with them. Lewis-Williams and Pearce suggest not have been tolerated around a domestic hearth or during
that the domestication of plants and animals itself had cooking.
little to do with food procurement and the security of the So, it is likely that either the normal domestic hearth would
food supply (2005, 139). They develop a very convincing not have been able to achieve temperatures high enough to
argument characterising the emergence of domestication as allow calcination to take place or, if it was possible, that it did
a human-plant/animal relationship which evolved through not occur within a domestic setting. In either case it makes
shamanistic practices and beliefs. The relationship works the ‘campfire hypothesis’ for the discovery of lime plaster
and persists when the behaviour of both come together or making improbable. For these reasons it is also unlikely that
coincide with one another. I suggest that the same sort of the lime plaster recorded on the hearth at Hayonim Cave
cognitive processes were in operation with the domestication was created in situ. Experimental work has shown that lime
of plants or animals and the exploitation of other aspects burning kilns do not necessarily leave a skim of lime plaster
of the environment. However, in order to examine this around the base of the kiln (Thomas 2004), which is the
statement it is first necessary to discuss some of the assumption implicit in describing the Hayonim hearth as a
commonly held views or assumptions about the emergence lime-burning kiln. Additionally, the high temperatures needed
of lime plaster technology. to achieve calcination would have ignited the structure within
which the hearth was located, and the slaking process itself
could not have occurred on the hearth itself. A more likely
Two Models of the Early ‘Discovery’ of Lime scenario would have the lime plaster being created elsewhere
Plaster Technology and then applied to the hearth as a final act.
A second possible hypothesis, which I have not seen
What sort of cultural behaviour makes the acquisition and
specifically articulated within a Near Eastern context, is the
development of a particular technology more likely? This
so-called ‘pot boiler hypothesis’. Across much of the British
question addresses the issue of the link between cognitive
Isles during the Bronze and Iron Ages huge mounds of
functions, cultural practices, and the physical properties
stones that have been used as pot boilers have accumulated
of materials that leads to the development of particular
over the centuries. These are stones which when heated in
technologies. In the context of this essay we must ask what
a fire and then plunged into water can be used to boil a
possible cognitive processes could have led people to burn
container of water either for cooking or also possibly in
lumps of limestone at very high temperatures, store the
saunas. Although this phenomenon has not specifically
resulting powder in water for a length of time and then use
been identified in the Near East, there is some evidence that
it to create new types of objects and architectural features.
stones may have been used in a similar manner and, as a
I am wary of the notion that the emergence of complex
potential route for the discovery of lime plaster making, must
technologies was a fortuitous or experimental process except
be explored. On the face of it, this is a practice which has
in that it may have been the side result of other specific
much to commend it as a potential source for the discovery
activities and beliefs. Kingery et al., however, appear to
of lime plaster making as it involves first heating stones in
follow such a line of reasoning (1988, 220):
a fire before plunging them into water, both of which are
necessary steps in the operational sequence for making lime
A limestone hearth under a strong fire or a few limestone
pebbles in a bright fire will have a surface layer transformed
plaster. It has the advantage over the ‘campfire hypothesis’
into quicklime (CaO) which, when mixed with water, gives in that there is this obvious sequence of events which can
off heat, reacts with hide or hair, and can be smeared on a be seen as the precursor of, or at least the basis for, the
surface to set as a hard, rock-like product….Thus, in lime rich development of this technology. However, some of the
areas, the ‘discovery’ of lime and gypsum plasters must have arguments against the ‘campfire hypothesis’ pertain to the
occurred many times. ‘pot-boiler hypothesis’ as well. Firstly, there is the question
of intent and the risk of teleological reasoning, which would
I believe that there are problems with this sort of reasoning see the end result as driving the evolution of practice from
relating both to the logic used and to the practicalities of the heating of pot-boiler stones for cooking to lime plaster
this technology. Firstly, there is the question of intent, which making. Secondly, and probably more importantly from a
14. The domestication of stone: Early lime plaster technology in the Levant 121

practical perspective, there are doubts that normal domestic end result is used. Each technology, however, is situated
fires could ever have heated the limestone to the required within a social, cultural and ideational framework of belief
temperatures for calcination to take place, and there is also and practice. Technologies do not emerge for practical
the problem that heated limestone, when plunged into water, reasons alone. The work of Pierre Lemonnier (1992; 2002)
reacts violently and dissolves, effectively contaminating alerts us to the way in which technological practice can be
the water or food. Ancient people would presumably deeply embedded within the social fabric and within belief
have learned very quickly that all sedimentary stones are systems and demonstrates how technological choice is not
unsuitable as pot-boilers. So, the essential premise for a always informed by practical considerations of efficiency
technology to develop – that repeated practice would lead or usefulness. The development of a particular technology
to the accumulation of experience and knowledge necessary is usually along pathways forged by belief systems and
to develop a new technology – would not have occurred. concepts of cosmology, and it is through this that systems
of cultural selection and choice come into play.
David Lewis-Williams (2004) and with David Pearce
(2005) have produced a very persuasive argument based
Experiment: The Way Forward? on shamanistic beliefs and practice, beginning with the
Clearly, if assumptions such as the campfire and the pot- Upper Palaeolithic in Europe and reaching into the Epi-
boiler hypotheses are to be addressed as possible models Palaeolithic of the Near East, which link specific neurological
of technological innovation, they need to be tested. With functions within the human brain with belief and practice.
this in mind it is possible to devise a series of experiments They demonstrate possible mechanisms by which human
and research projects designed to test specific aspects of experience (in this case, altered states of consciousness)
ideas about this early industry in the Levant. The questions can lead to the emergence of different belief systems and
raised can be posed along the following lines: 1) Can we a change in the perception of the world and of the human
distinguish between crushed limestone paste and lime plaster relationship with it. In particular, they demonstrate how
in the archaeological record? 2) Can lime plaster be created belief systems can bring people, plants, animals and materials
using either the campfire or the pot-boiler hypotheses? 3) into a closer, more dynamic relationship that brings about a
Can we identify the operational sequence of lime plaster fundamental alteration in the nature of these things: in other
making on Natufian sites? words, domestication.
The first of these questions must address the potential Cauvin (2000) also argues convincingly that the Neolithic
issue about the identification of lime plasters mentioned in the Near East was not so much a revolution in technology
above by carrying out a comprehensive set of analyses and practice as a fundamental revolution in symbols and
which build on the earlier work of Kingery, Vandiver and beliefs. To emphasise this, and in deference to Gordon
Prickett (Kingery et al. 1988). By replicating in a series of Childe, he coined the term the ‘revolutionary Neolithic’,
repeated experiments the practices associated with domestic which entails wide ranging and deep seated changes in
hearths and cooking, such experimental texts could establish cultural beliefs and practices in which a very different way
the validity of the assumptions about these two hypotheses. of seeing the world emerged. Like Lewis-Williams and
Finally, a new look at the archaeological material itself Pearce he sees the early Neolithic as being characterised by
from the perspective of trying to identify the operational a conflict of world views between mobile hunter-gatherers
sequence of a specific technology would be a necessary and and sedentary farmers which was resolved within society
informative adjunct to any project of research. through the elaboration of ritual practice. When turning to
However, if through experimental testing we are to reject the development of technology we see that this highlights
both of these assumptions or hypotheses about the early the serendipitous nature of discovery and invention in
discovery of lime plaster making, is it possible to put in prehistory by which the coming together of diverse beliefs
place an alternative way of looking at the technology or, at and practices can produce an outcome that is neither
least, of theorising about its inception? foreseen nor expected. In other words, the experience of
shamanistic practice during the very late Palaeolithic led to
a very different perception of the human relationship with
the world, which in turn led to a fundamentally different
The Revolutionary Neolithic form of relationship between people and their environment.
It is within the context of the emergence of proto-Neolithic This is at the core of the Neolithic experience. People began
aspects during the Natufian period and the critical role that to perceive of the world differently and to treat things like
technology played in its emergence that we must try to plants, animals and other resources differently. This would
understand the place of the manufacture and use of lime apply as much to inanimate parts of the natural world as it
plaster. Studies of technologies too frequently focus on the would to living things, and in the context of this essay would
practical aspects of how they are conducted and how the apply equally to the use of stone and, in particular, limestone.
122 Gordon Thomas

Answering the question of why or how lime plaster was Cauvin, J. 2000. The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of
developed may also, therefore, partly answer the question Agriculture. Translated from the French by T. Watkins. New
about what the Neolithic is. Did the alteration in perception Studies in Archaeology. Cambridge, Cambridge University
and behaviour which occurred with relation to the plant Press.
Goren, Y. and P. Goldberg 1991. Petrographic thin sections and the
and animal kingdoms and led to their domestication also
development of Neolithic plaster production in northern Israel.
affect other things like limestone? Was stone ‘domesticated’
Journal of Field Archaeology 18, 131–138.
during the Natufian period in the Levant? In other words, Gourdin, W. H. and W. D. Kingery 1975. The beginnings of
through various social and possibly religious practices pyrotechnology: Neolithic and Egyptian lime plaster. Journal
did people specifically start using limestone in a way that of Field Archaeology 2, 133–150.
affected its composition and led to the discovery of lime Kingery, W. D., P. B. Vandiver and M. Prickett 1988. The
plaster technology? beginnings of pyrotechnology, part II: Production and use of
There are no easy or obvious answers to these questions. lime and gypsum plaster in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Near East.
Throughout this paper I have raised doubts concerning Journal of Field Archaeology 15, 219–240.
some of the assumptions made about the discovery and Lemonnier P. 1992. Elements for an Anthropology of Technology.
development of the lime plaster industry in the prehistoric Anthropological Papers 88. Ann Arbor, Museum of Anthro-
pology, University of Michigan.
Levant, and I have proposed ways of further investigating
Lemonnier P. (ed.) 2002. Technological Choices: Transformations
this phenomenon. I have suggested that the development
in Material Cultures since the Neolithic. London, Routledge.
of such a technology may have had much in common with Lewis-Williams, D. 2004. The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness
changes in belief and behaviour that led to domestication and the Origins of Art. London, Thames & Hudson.
firstly of plants and later of animals within the same Lewis-Williams, D. and D. Pearce 2005. Inside the Neolithic Mind:
time span. By investigating the realities of lime plaster Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods. London,
production through experimental archaeology, and with Thames & Hudson.
the help of the analyses of prehistoric plasters by Gourdin Olszewski, D. 2008. The Palaeolithic period, including the
and Kingery (1975), Kingery et al. (1988) and Goren and Epipalaeolithic. In R. Adams (ed.) Jordan: An Archaeological
Goldberg (1991), the social role of the early lime plaster Reader, 35–69. London, Equinox.
industry can be explored within the framework of changes Perrot, J. 1960. Excavations at Eynan (‘Ein Mallaha): Preliminary
report on the 1959 season. Israel Exploration Journal 10(1),
that were taking place in the Levant during the Natufian
period. Although experimental archaeology cannot give us
Perrot, J. 1966. Le gisement Natoufien de Mallaha (Eynan), Israel.
a clear answer to the questions posed above, it does have L’Anthroplogie 70, 437–484.
the advantage of allowing us to develop our ideas about Perrot, J. 1975. Mallaha, Eynan. Paléorient 2, 485–486.
this fascinating period and this innovative technology from Rollefson, G. 2008. The Neolithic period. In R. Adams (ed.) Jor-
a better informed perspective. dan: An Archaeological Reader, 71–108. London, Equinox.
Simmons, A. H. 2007. The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East:
Transforming the Human Landscape. Tucson, University of
Arizona Press.
References Thomas, G. D. 2004. Early lime plaster technology in the Near
Bar Yosef, O. 1983. The Natufian in the Southern Levant. In East: Experimental work at the Lemba Experimental Village,
T. Cuyler Young, P. E. L. Smith and P. Mortensen (eds) The Cyprus. Experimentelle Archäologie in Europa 3, 91–100.
Hilly Flanks and Beyond, 11–42. Studies in Ancient Oriental Valla, F. 1998. The first settled societies – Natufian (12,500
Civilisations 36. Chicago, Oriental Institute, University of – 10,200 BP). In T. Levy (ed.) The Archaeology of Society in
Chicago. the Holy Land, 169–187. London, Leicester University Press.



Danielle Stordeur

Introduction phases, but animals began to be domesticated in the second

The most notable contribution of Jacques Cauvin to (Helmer et al. 2005; Tanno and Willcox 2006). However,
the understanding of the origins of the Neolithic is to the two periods hardly differ in their symbolism. As recent
have considered that a profound mental transformation, evidence has mainly appeared in the northern Levant, we
perceptible through a ‘revolution of symbols’ beginning will start in this region and examine the southern Levant
in the Khiamian, was the principal driving force behind only for purposes of comparison.
the advent of farming and herding (Cauvin 1977). Since
his death, our knowledge has expanded, especially in the
Between 8000 and 7000 BC: Fully Agricultural
northern Levant, concerning occupations from the Pre-
pottery Neolithic A (henceforth PPNA) to the Pottery Societies
Neolithic. Thus it is important to re-examine the evidence The middle and late PPNB may be considered jointly. The
to learn whether other transformations may be inferred. first is well defined and is set apart from the past by the
What are the characteristics of the symbolism used by the fact that farming and herding had truly become part of an
populations which, from the PPNA Horizon to the early economic system. But there is nothing conclusive that sets
PPNB, were just beginning to master their environment? the late PPNB apart in regard to its symbolism. There are
How do these symbols change, when in the middle PPNB clear differences between the northern and southern Levant.
agriculture became part of a genuine economic system? To We will start this time in the south as it is there that new
attempt to answer these questions I will examine the cultures practices indicative of social and ideological changes are
which succeeded each other from 9500 to 7000 BC (all revealed.
dates in this paper are cal BC; phasing follows Aurenche
et al. 1981): the PPNA (9500–8700 BC), the early PPNB
(8700–8200 BC), the middle PPNB (8200–7500 BC), and
Symbolism at the Time of the First Experiments
the late PPNB (7500–7000 BC). I propose to discuss these
phases chronologically in groups of two. in Farming
For the sites of the northern Levant dated from 9500 to
8200 BC, there is no representation explicitly referring to
Between 9500 and 8200 BC: The Beginnings the domesticated plants and animals which humans were
of Agriculture and Herding beginning to master (Stordeur 2003; Helmer et al. 2004).
There are several arguments for linking the PPNA and What then were the themes which preoccupied them?
the early PPNB, at least in the northern Levant where a Animals are represented in figurative representations or
transitional phase shows the progressive passage from by their bones. For the aurochs, the largest animal of the
one to the other (Stordeur and Abbès 2002). In this zone period, deposits of bucrania are very frequent and found in
the principal architectural and social changes appeared in collective contexts, almost always concealed, as at Mureybet
the PPNA. Agriculture remained pre-domestic in the two (Cauvin 1997), Tell ‘Abr 3 (Yartah 2005a,b), Qaramel
124 Danielle Stordeur

(Mazurowski and Jammous 2000), Hallan Çemi (Rosenberg 15.1, nos 7–8). But the later site of Çatal Hüyük provides
1999) and Dja’de (Coqueugniot 2000). However, at Jerf el the clearest representations, depicting birds of prey in flight
Ahmar (Stordeur 2003) bucrania of aurochs were hung on which appear to be carrying away headless human bodies
the walls of a small round house (Fig. 15.1, no. 1). The (Fig. 15.1, no. 10; Mellaart 1967). It is notable in the
bucrania are sometimes enhanced. At Jerf el Ahmar, one archaeological examples that the connection between the
of them was decorated with a necklace, while at Tell ‘Abr vulture and the human specifically relates to the head. The
the horns were coated with earth before being concealed bird is depicted frontally when it is perched on the heads
in a collective building. Representations of bucrania are and reversed when it is associated with headless humans.
engraved on small worked stones (Jerf el Ahmar: Fig. The very frequent representation of the snake is sometimes
15.1, no. 2) or large slabs (Tell ‘Abr 3). Representations of realistic as at Nevali Çori (Hauptmann 1999) where it
the entire animal are rarer. They emphasise the powerful decorates the back of a human head (Fig. 15.1, no. 11). The
appearance of the male aurochs, as at Göbekli (Fig. 15.1, no. representation is often reduced to an undulating line ending
3; Schmidt 2002). The head of the animal is always turned in a triangle as at Jerf el Ahmar (Fig. 15.1, nos 6, 12), Dja’de,
to show the two horns. What does this animal evoke? The Tell ‘Abr 3 and Qaramel. The snake is omnipresent in the
evidence appears to suggest a masculine symbol, as is the Snake Building at Göbekli (Schmidt 2002). Its symbolism
case in many cultures if the horns are considered (Valla is contrasting – dangerous animal, chthonic, healer – and
2003) rather than the specific animal. Moreover, gazelles it appears in all cases to be linked to death, directly or in
(Tell ‘Abr 3) or rams (Göbekli) and also horned animals are reversed fashion.
sometimes represented. Finally, the scorpion is almost always considered
Among felines, panthers are represented at Tell ‘Abr primarily as dangerous although it is also regarded as a
3 (Fig. 15.1, no. 4) where they are engraved on slabs maternal symbol. It is found on a grooved stone from Jerf el
embellishing the bench of a communal building. They are Ahmar in an accurate and realistic style (Fig. 15.1, no. 13)
seen from above in a static position as at Jerf el Ahmar and on a megalithic pillar at Göbekli (Schmidt 2007). It is
(Fig. 15.1, no. 11) and Qaramel (Mazurowski 2004), while noteworthy that its antennae are also evocative of horns.
in Anatolia they are sometimes shown in dynamic and Representations of the human figure are rare in the
aggressive attitudes. Thus on a pillar at Göbekli, a male northern Levant. At Mureybet female figurines are well
panther, standing erect, shows its teeth (Fig. 15.1, no. 5). attested but are not found on other PPNA sites. They become
How should this large nocturnal feline be considered? The more numerous, however, in the early PPNB (Dja’de el
representation of the threatening animal contrasts strongly Mughara, Nevali Çori) while animal figures become less
with that of the animal at rest. The fox, the only canid frequent (Schmidt 1999; Helmer et al. 2004). At Göbekli
identified, figures on the pillars of Göbekli (Fig. 15.1, no. an expression of femininity is present in an ‘immodest’
3) and a grooved stone from Jerf el Ahmar (Fig. 15.1, no. engraving of a woman with spread legs. The head and the
6). What does it evoke? Not considered to be frightening, body are always dissociated at Jerf el Ahmar, whether in
the fox is attributed a wily character and frequently plays representations or human remains. Several deposits of skulls
a double role. Its relation with death is sometimes referred are hidden in communal buildings while a headless skeleton
to (myth of Orpheus). lay upon the floor in one of them (Fig. 15.1, no. 9). Two
Among the birds, cranes (Fig. 15.1, no. 3) and bustards small heads could be parts of statuettes with a groove at the
are represented, but birds of prey are the most frequent. back to allow them to be fixed to the bodies. Conversely, we
At Jerf el Ahmar vultures are represented on small stones. have already mentioned the headless human representations
Even when the bird is frontally depicted, the head is in from a communal building (Fig. 15.1, no. 7).
profile so that the beak is clearly seen (Fig. 15.1, no. 6), like In the southern Levant none of the animal themes of
raptors in modern heraldry. While the vulture is a scavenger the north are found. Female representations are dominant.
with a negative connotation in Europe, in certain oriental According to the evidence of material culture, it certainly
traditions its relation to death is enhanced. For example, in appears that the north and the south are radically different
Zoroastrian funerary rites the bodies of the dead, deposited from one another.
on the tops of towers, were taken by vultures. Such practices The northern Levant is characterised by a unique system
continue in the Himalayas where the dead are abandoned of symbols in which the animal themes form a coherent,
to vultures, symbolically charged with carrying them to the powerful whole. In some cases the wild animals could be
hereafter. Certain representations of the 10th millennium confused with domestic animals (wild boar/pig, aurochs/ox),
suggest the existence of a relation of this type. A bird but wild animals are dominant. The human figure, discreet
of prey is perched on the heads of two human figures at at first, emerges more strongly with time. It is sometimes
Nevali Çori (Hauptmann 1999). A slab engraved with two combined with an animal figure, and the couple thus formed
headless human representations is framed by two steles is significant. Besides the ‘woman and bull’ couple identified
sculpted in the form of raptor heads at Jerf el Ahmar (Fig. by Cauvin, we have brought to light the link which unites
15. Domestication of plants and animals, domestication of symbols? 125

Fig. 15.1 The symbolic world of the Pre-pottery Neolithic A and the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. (1) house with bucrania at Jerf el
Ahmar (photo by the author); (2) plaques engraved with bucrania from Jerf el Ahmar; (3) sculpted pillar at Göbekli Tepe: bull, fox and
crane; (4) panthers engraved on a slab at Tell ‘Abr 3; (5) threatening panther at Göbekli Tepe; (6) grooved stone with fox, snakes and
vulture from Jerf el Ahmar; (7–8) headless human and stele with sculpted bird of prey from a communal building at Jerf el Ahmar; (9)
headless skeleton at Jerf el Ahmar; (10) painting with vultures and headless bodies at Çatal Hüyük (Mellaart 1967). (11) sculpted snake
on the back of a human head from Nevali Çori (Hauptman 1999); (12) plaque engraved with snakes and a panther from Jerf el Ahmar;
(13) grooved stone with scorpion from Jerf el Ahmar.
126 Danielle Stordeur

vultures with humans, and with death. In order to firmly received the same funerary treatment, a young sheep/goat
establish that these animal and human ‘personages’ form a and many human babies being buried in the walls of houses
true ‘system of symbols’, a great deal of analysis remains (R. Khawam, personal communication). The goat therefore
to be done, but from our first attempts we can observe a appears to replace the ox in explicitly symbolic deposits.
recurring pattern. It resides in the ambiguous character of Other evidence seems to indicate a kind of complementarity
the dominant themes, which evoke both life and death, between humans and horned animals as at Kfar HaHoresh
masculine and feminine. But is there a logical relation (Goring-Morris 2005). It could be a bovid buried under a
between this possible ‘system’ and the preoccupations human grave, a headless skeleton of a gazelle deposited
of the populations which were beginning to master their near a modelled (‘plastered’) human skull, or human bones
environment? We have not seen a direct reference to this disposed in the form of an animal silhouette.
mastery. As the link during this first stage is far from being Throughout the Levant the modification of themes is
clear, it is necessary to examine what happens next in the accompanied by a transformation of the stylistic language.
story. Do we see real changes in symbolism among the The animals figured are almost all domestic, and the manner
populations which became true farming societies? of representing them also appears ‘domesticated’. The ox
does not escape this transformation, but its importance is
indicated by the fact that it is over-represented (D. Helmer,
personal communication). The horned animals are evidence
Symbolism in Fully Agricultural Societies of both continuity and change. Although the ox appears
Between the early PPNB and the middle PPNB, there is a to retain a certain prestige, its representation has become
rupture detectible everywhere, especially in the southern familiar. Moreover, male goat horns in the deposits are often
Levant, a region where influences from the north had substituted for those of an ox. An apparent continuity could
begun to mix with earlier traditions. In examining the entire also conceal profound changes. Thus at Çatal Hüyük, in
middle/late PPNB, we often begin with the evidence from spite of the obvious links with past traditions, it appears that
the south, as it is there that new practices appear which are the human-animal relation is reversed: it is man (or rather
revelatory of a change in mentalities. woman?) that appears to dominate the great cats.
Animal symbolism persists with representations and What about the human figure? Most of the figurines
deposits of bones. Animal representations (Fig. 15.2, nos are female. Two groups stand out. The first consists of the
1–2) throughout the Levant are similar. Everywhere, clay- statuettes made in the continuity of the old traditions. They
figurines represent goats, sheep, oxen, pigs and more rarely are quite realistic with ample but well-proportioned forms
foxes. These are almost always domestic animals. Thus and are found throughout the Levant. In the south they
a primary difference with the preceding period becomes are very stereotyped (e.g. Tell Aswad and ‘Ain Ghazal:
apparent. Representations of powerful or dangerous animals Fig. 15.2, nos 4–5). The second corresponds to human
have disappeared. The representations are small and representations of simple geometric volume, emphasizing
stereotyped. From the southern to the northern Levant a selection of specifically female characteristics.
representations of oxen are similar at Tell Aswad (Fig. 15.2, But representations on a large scale exist in Anatolia and
no. 1), ‘Ain Ghazal (Rollefson 1983), Gritille (Voigt 1985), in the southern Levant. At ‘Ain Ghazal (Rollefson 1983) flat
Mezraa Teleilat (Özdoğan 2007) and Halula (Fig. 15.2, no. statues modelled in lime plaster on a reed core required a
2; Molist-Montana 1996). high technical investment. The face is polychrome. Bitumen
Çatal Hüyük is an exception. Although late, it retains a on the top of the head suggests the attachment of hair. At
link not only with the earlier animal themes of the northern Jericho (Garstang et al. 1935) the same type of statue shows
Levant, but with an emphatic manner of representation. The a face with sculpted features with paint suggesting a beard
‘vulture/death’ association is very explicit (Fig. 15.2, no. 10). or body painting. There are masks from many sites. An
The other ‘dominant’ animals, the aurochs, the raptors and example from Nahar Hemar is painted with lines running
the felines, are still represented on a large scale. But even from the centre of the face towards the temples. Lateral
though the ‘symbolic actors’ are the same as before, the roles holes carry traces of bitumen, which could have served to
which they play indicate another relation between animals attach hair (Bar Yosef and Alon 1988).
and humans (Mellaart 1967; Cauvin 1997; Forest 1993). The human representations of this phase are thus varied
Thus the panthers are represented not as threatening but as and may be classed in three groups: the first consists of
dominated, as seen, for example, on a statuette showing a female statuettes with norms evoking the past; the second
woman seated on a chair composed of two panthers, her consists of simple figures; and the third consists of statues
hands resting on their heads (Fig. 15.2, no. 3). and masks that indicate features, painting on the body, and
Deposits of horns are found throughout the Levant. At hair.
Tell Aswad male goat horns were deposited in two pits at The funerary practices in the northern and southern Levant
the entrance of a house. Young animals and young humans are clearly different from each other. In the north the burials
15. Domestication of plants and animals, domestication of symbols? 127

Fig. 15.2 The symbolic world of the middle and late Pre-pottery Neolithic B. (1) figurine of a bovid from Tell Aswad; (2) figurine of a
bovid from Halula; (3) women with panthers from Çatal Hüyük (Mellaart 1967); (4) female statuette from Tell Aswad; (5) female statuette
from ‘Ain Ghazal; (6–12) modelled skulls at Tell Aswad.
128 Danielle Stordeur

occur in the private sphere as at Halula (Molist-Montana building. It is ‘brought out’ during ceremonies and perched
2007) while in the south collective funerary precincts appear. on a mannequin. After two or three generations the modelled
In the north funerary objects are omnipresent while in the skull is buried, always in a collective context. Although at
south they are rare. Finally, it is only in the south that a Jericho the destruction of the building corresponds perhaps
particular practice characteristic of this period occurs: the to the first stage, at Aswad we are definitely in the second,
modelling of skulls. Modelled skulls have been found on but we know that the first was respected thanks to certain
seven sites: Ramad, Aswad, ‘Ain Ghazal, Kfar HaHoresh, details: the existence of a broken nose that was repaired,
Beisamoun, Jericho and Yiftahel (H. Khalaili, personal and the absence of fragments which are missing from their
communication). This treatment, which consists of modelling coating and which would have fallen outside the tomb.
a face on the skull of the deceased, is reserved for rare The modelling of skulls required great technical skill and
individuals who appear to have belonged to a kind of social probably a high level of initiation. Those who carried out the
‘elite’. The meaning of these practices remains elusive, but modelling must have had a particular status, like those whose
it can be approached by bringing together a multitude of skulls were modelled. The society that conceived of such
observations on the contexts of the deposits, their structure, practices would have been structured with a differentiation in
their associations with other remains or objects, and their roles. An organisation by lineage may have existed, or even
accessibility. It is necessary to determine the sex and age of a hierarchy, although we do not know what the nature and
the individuals and the exact treatment of each of the skulls. the extent of the power held by its beneficiaries might have
What observations have we been able to bring together and been. What is important here is to demonstrate the profound
what suggestions does ethnography offer us? change in beliefs which this practice indicates, and to keep
At Tell Aswad the modelled skulls were found in this in mind while integrating the representations and the
collective contexts in two successive funerary areas. For masks into our research. Ethnology is helpful. We see that in
each episode, a single burial contains at its base modelled the middle Sepik (New Guinea) four ‘subjects’ are decorated
skulls (Fig. 15.2, nos 6–12) buried under other human with standardised motifs and colours which refer to social
remains (Stordeur and Khawam 2007). The coating covers classifications: bodies are painted for ceremonial dances;
the entire face including the jaw. The eyes are represented bodies of the deceased are painted; and modelled skulls and
closed, and the junction of the eyelids is indicated by a slit masks are decorated (C. Kocher, personal communication).
filled with black. The representation of the nose is careful These types of decoration could have been practised in the
(Fig. 15.2, nos 9–12). Technical and stylistic differences PPNB. We have in fact found common points in the use of
exist, but there is a certain degree of homogeneity within colours on the statues, masks and modelled skulls, and have
each group. For example, the ears are fine and realistic in noted the usual preoccupation with inserting hair to complete
the older group, but simpler in the later group. In the latter, the representation.
the use of yellow is added to the red, white and black used
earlier, and all the skulls are mounted on low bases. The
modelling on their foreheads and temples was cut to form an
indentation that suggests the implantation of hair (Fig. 15.2, Conclusions
nos 9, 12). This observation, coupled with the fact that the What seems to become apparent with the new archaeological
coating is turned back at the ears, suggests that hair was fixed evidence from the Levant dating to between 9500 and 7000
to the modelled skulls of the later area. Sex and age have not BC is that a real change in symbolism and in imagination
yet been determined, but when they are determined account occurred around 8200 BC. A coherent system which expressed
must be taken of the fact that the notion of ‘ancestor’ is not itself through representation of wild animals changed to
always related to age (as, for example, in New Guinea). one in which the human being was at the centre. This new
The individuals whose skulls are modelled could have been system of thought appears to correspond to the moment
chosen for the symbolic status of ancestor. Social standing, when fundamental socio-economic changes took place. The
deeds of war and of power, as well as other factors could populations of the PPNA and early PPNB experimented with
have guided the choice of a particular individual. agriculture and herding, and their material culture reflects a
This is the context which at the moment provides the feverish spirit of invention. Their symbolic world, however,
most solid clues. All the modelled skulls at Tell Aswad, as remained dominated by animal figures. The new importance
they were found, were definitely out of reach, buried as they accorded to the human figure accompanied the beginning of
were at the bottom of graves and covered by other human the middle PPNB and not the ferment which preceded it. It
remains. Elsewhere, as at Jericho, some were found placed is in the middle PPNB that wild nature is domesticated in
on the floors of buildings, accessible and thus subject to the fields and herds, and possibly also in human mentalities.
manipulation. The ethnographic data agree on one thing But the break is neither total nor definitive. A continuous
– that the practice of modelling skulls consists of two stages. thread links the two periods which we have examined, and
During the first, the modelled skull is kept in a communal this possibly corresponds to myths which in certain cultures
15. Domestication of plants and animals, domestication of symbols? 129

are still alive. But let us keep in mind that when we try to Hauptmann, H. 1999. The Urfa region. In M. Özdoğan and
access the thoughts of prehistoric populations, we end up, N. Başgelen N. (eds) Neolithic in Turkey: The Cradle of
despite our efforts, banging our heads against the wall. Eddie Civilization: New Discoveries, vol. 1, 65–86. Istanbul, Arkeo-
Peltenburg knows this well, but he also knows that we must lojive Sanat Yayinlari.
Helmer, D., L. Gourichon and D. Stordeur 2004. A l’aube de la
not deprive ourselves of the pleasure of reflecting on such a
domestication animale. Imaginaire et symbolisme animal dans
subject. This is why I am very happy, after a long friendship,
les premières sociétés néolithiques du nord du Proche-Orient.
to offer him my humble interpretations. Anthropozoologica 39(1) (Colloque HASRI: Domestications
animales, Dimensions sociales et symboliques. Hommage à J.
Cauvin), 143–163.
Helmer, D., L. Gourichon, H. Monchot, J. Peters and M. Saña
Acknowledgements Segui 2005. Identifying early domestic cattle from the Pre-
The CNRS, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Directorate Pottery Neolithic sites on the Middle Euphrates using sexual
of Antiquities of Syria have supported the excavations, dimorphism. In J. D. Vigne, J. Peters and D. Helmer (eds) New
administratively and financially, the results of which have Methods and the First Steps of Mammal Domestication. Pro-
served as the basis for this article. I warmly thank my friends ceedings of the 9th International Council of Archaeozoology.
(Durham, 23–28 August, 2002), 86–94. Oxford, Oxbow.
and colleagues: F. Abbès, D. Helmer, M. Molist, F. Valla and
Mazurowski, R. F. and B. Jammous 2000. Tell Qaramel: Excav-
G. Willcox whose patient critical readings of the text have
ations 2000. In M. Gawlikowski and W. A. Daszewski (eds)
been essential to the completion of this essay. I would also Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean: Reports 2000, 327–
like to thank the following colleagues for kindly permitting 341. Warsaw, Centrum Archeologii Srodziemnomorskiej.
me to publish their photographs: K. Schmidt (Fig. 15.1, nos Mazurowski, R. F. 2004. Tell Qaramel: Excavations 2003. In M.
3, 5: Göbekli Tepe), H. Hauptman (Fig. 15.1, no. 11: Nevali Gawlikowski and W. A. Daszewski (eds) Polish Archaeology in
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5: ‘Ain Ghazal, photo by Curt Blair). Thanks are also due Mellaart, J. 1967. Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia.
to M. Roux for the images of Jerf el Ahmar, to L. Dugué London, Thames & Hudson.
for the images of Tell Aswad, and to Elizabeth Willcox, who Molist-Montana, M. 1996. Tell Halula (Siria). Un yacimento
neolitico del valle medio del Eufrates. Campanas de 1991 y
translated my original text into English.
1992. Madrid, Ministerio de Educacion y cultura.
Molist-Montana, M. 2007. Practicas funerarias y primeras
sociedades agrícolas del Próximo Oriente: Caracterización y
discusión como variable arqueológica de análisis. In J. Justel
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and P. Sanlaville 1981. Chronologie et organisation de l’espace Özdoğan, M. 2007. Mezraa-Teleilat. In M. Özdoğan and N.
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Coqueugniot, E. 2000. Dja’de (Syrie), un village à la veille de Ghazal (Jordan). Paléorient 9(2), 29–38.
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Paul Croft

Introduction Only very recently (late 2008) was the task begun of
The remarkable and continuous succession of field projects systematically examining and documenting the assemblage.
that Eddie Peltenburg has undertaken in Cyprus over four Excavations on several Cypriot Ceramic Neolithic sites, as
decades has contributed massively to our understanding well as a book focussing on the period (Clarke 2007), add up
of the early prehistory of the island. Participation in these to a significant renewal of interest in recent years, impelling
projects has had an enormous influence on the way that the writer to commence this long-intended study. It may be
successive generations of younger scholars think about and observed, as an aside, that for the 1969 animal bones from
practice archaeology. Whilst these projects have focussed Philia-Drakos the timing of the study was fortunate indeed,
mainly on western Cyprus they began, prior to the Turkish for although some contextual information has been lost as a
invasion of 1974, with excavations on the north coast at result of the ongoing deterioration of disintegrating, insect-
Ceramic (Late) Neolithic Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi (henceforth ravaged brown paper bags and fading labels, the information
Vrysi) from 1969–1973. The results of investigations at was still salvageable for the greater part of the material.
Vrysi remain central to our understanding of the period During the course of the five excavation seasons at Philia-
and its chronology. Drakos the excavator had remarked upon the abundance
Beginning several years before the Vrysi project an- of faunal remains; the quantity of antlers in particular
other Ceramic Neolithic settlement, Philia-Drakos Site suggested that deer were important here (Watkins 1969,
A (henceforth Philia-Drakos), was excavated by Trevor 35; 1970a, 241). Subsequently, the present writer was able
Watkins (1965–1970). Indeed, the young Peltenburg assisted to examine some of the bone recovered during the 1968
here in his pre-Vrysi days (1967). Philia-Drakos is located season, and figures of 71% deer, 17% pig and 11% caprines
inland, some 35 km to the southwest of Vrysi, and in view were generated from a sample of 252 postcranial fragments
of the broad synchroneity and geographic proximity of identified at this time (Croft 1991, 69). This frustratingly
the two sites comparison of the material recovered from limited amount of information, with percentages based on
them would seem particularly apt. However, the extent a potentially inadequate small sample, is all that has been
to which comparison has been possible and, indeed, a available to researchers (e.g. Wasse 2007, 61) up until
broader assessment of how the Philia-Drakos settlement now. Accordingly, one purpose of the present contribution
fits into the Cypriot Ceramic Neolithic as a whole, has is to upgrade the quality of information available, pending
been hampered by the incomplete publication of the Philia- completion of the analysis of the Philia-Drakos bones and
Drakos excavations. their eventual publication in detail. Additionally, the paper
With regard to the substantial quantity of animal remains offers a comparison, at a general level, with the Vrysi
excavated at Philia-Drakos, they have received virtually faunal record and also that from Paralimni-Nissia, one of
no attention for the forty years since their excavation, and the recently excavated sites.
little information has previously been available on them. Philia-Drakos was a village settlement located on
132 Paul Croft

the southern slope of the shallow Ovgos river valley, NISP

consisting of small sub-rectangular buildings with stone-
fallow deer 2224 (66.5%)
built foundations supporting walls of mud or other materials.
Beneath the buildings a remarkable series of rock-cut caprines 756 (22.6%)
shafts, tunnels and chambers are of obscure, possibly ritual pig 304 (9.1%)
purpose. The settlement was at least partly surrounded by dog 39 (1.2%)
a substantial wall and ditch arrangement. It was occupied, fox 18 (0.5%)
probably discontinuously, from an initial phase of the cat 2 (0.1%)
Ceramic Neolithic period, characterised by Dark-Faced
Burnished Ware and an absence of the Red on White painted TOTAL 3343
pottery that characterises the three subsequent phases on the Table 16.1 Identified mammalian bone fragments from Philia-
site (Watkins 1969; 1970b). Although not initially accepted Drakos A.
by the excavator (Watkins 1973, 52), a single radiocarbon
determination (Birm-72 5270±100 non cal BP or late 4th–
early 5th millennium cal BC) on probable hearth material that have previously been quoted elsewhere (e.g. Croft
of phase 3 is credible (Peltenburg 1978, fig.5; Stanley Price 1991, 69) probably reflects some combination of the
1979, 19–21, 31), but the duration of the occupation at inherent unreliability of the original small faunal sample,
Philia-Drakos is not known. The Ceramic Neolithic period the exclusion of cranial fragments from it, and the writer’s
in Cyprus probably began around 4700 cal BC, lasting some greater experience of identifying fragmentary prehistoric
700–800 years until the transition to the Early Chalcolithic Cypriot animal bones after three decades of practice.
around 4000/3900 cal BC (Clarke 2007, 22).
The analysis of the Philia-Drakos animal remains is still in
progress. Material from the 1969 and 1970 excavation seasons Larger Mammals
has all been identified and recorded, but nothing from the In view of the abundance of antler at Philia-Drakos,
1965 and 1967 seasons has yet been examined. The relatively and its highly fragmented condition, it would clearly
small amount of 1968 material that the writer was previously be inappropriate to count each identifiable scrap as an
able to examine, mentioned above, seems too little to be the individual fragment for analytical purposes. Accordingly,
entire collection from that season and, in any case, has been antler has been incorporated by counting each shed antler
excluded from consideration here. Although it is derived from base as an individual fragment, and if an excavation
only a portion of the entire assemblage, it is hoped that the context yielded antler pieces that did not include a shed
presentation here of some general information on the Philia- base (or seemed unlikely to be broken off from an already
Drakos animal bones, and preliminary discussion of it, will counted shed base), a count of one single antler fragment
be viewed as pertinent at a time of escalating interest in the was recorded for this material also. Unshed antler bases,
Cypriot Ceramic Neolithic. attached to pedicles/frontal bones, were counted as head
fragments. This approach resulted in 86 countable pieces
of antler being included in the NISP (Number of Identified
Specimens) for deer and, by counting them in this way, it
The Philia-Drakos Animal Bones is hoped that exaggeration of the dominance of deer in the
(1969–1970 Seasons) assemblage has been avoided. Twenty-four shed antler bases
Because analysis of the Philia-Drakos animal bones is still were recorded to which may be added 3 pedicles from which
in progress, and as contextual and phasing information are the antlers had clearly been shed to give a total of 27 shed
not presently available to the writer, the 1969–1970 animal antlers. More than twice as abundant, though, were unshed
bones are considered here as a single, undifferentiated antlers (57 specimens plus a hacked pedicle implying the
assemblage. The assemblage of over 3000 identifiable removal of an additional unshed antler).
fragments (Table 16.1) is heavily dominated by the remains Identified caprine remains include 110 fragments (76%)
of fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) (66.5%). Caprines that could be identified as sheep and 35 (24%) as goat,
(22.6%, estimated to consist of roughly three quarters sheep suggesting that sheep outnumbered goats at Philia-Drakos
and a quarter goats) and pigs (9.1%) are also abundant. by about 3 to 1. Limited evidence for horncore shapes
In addition to these larger mammals, dog (1.2%), fox indicates that goat horncores were of the untwisted variety
(0.5%) and cat (0.1%) are also present. Additionally, non- that is standard in Cyprus up until the Bronze Age whilst
mammalian remains include three bird bones, a carapace horncores of sheep resembled those of recent mouflon (Croft
fragment of a freshwater turtle, and nine claws of freshwater 2006, 270–71).
crab (Potamon sp.). The disparity between the frequencies The deer would have been hunted although doubtless
of the main animals presented here (Table 16.1) and those subjected to some measure of game management (Croft
16. Herds lost in time: Animal remains from the Philia-Drakos Site A, Cyprus 133

1991; 2002). By contrast, the sheep, goats and pig were NISP
probably at least mainly domestic stock although their fallow deer 244 (37.2%)
remains may include hunted, free-living individuals also. caprines 330 (50.4%)
pig 69 (10.5%)
dog 6 (0.9%)
Small Carnivores
fox 2 (0.3%)
A substantial number of dog bones in context 209.2 represent cat 4 (0.6%)
most of a single skeleton, and were accordingly counted TOTAL 655
as a single fragment although a separately counted pelvic
Table 16.2 Identified mammalian bone fragments from Ayios
fragment from this context must derive from a second
individual. Concentrations of 14 dog bones in S2.2 and
9 bones in 211.3 may well originally have derived from
single individuals, and their inclusion as individually
counted bones in the NISP has probably resulted in an over- of superimposed small stone buildings clustered in artificial
representation of dog, which would otherwise seem to occur hollows located on a small headland on the north coast of
with a similar frequency to fox. Thirteen bones of larger Cyprus. A substantial ditch defined the landward edge of
mammals, primarily phalanges, displayed clear indications the settlement in its early phases (Peltenburg 1982). A series
of having been gnawed by dogs, and many other damaged of 16 radiocarbon dates encompasses three phases of occu-
and abraded specimens could well have been gnawed. pation, running from c. 4400 to 3900 cal BC (Peltenburg
Two longbone shaft fragments of cat included a small and Spanou 1999, table 1). A rather small amount of faunal
burnt splintered fragment of the distal part of a humerus material was reported by A. J. Legge from three seasons of
shaft, suggesting the possibility that the carcase had excavation at Vrysi, and in view of his comment that the
somehow been processed. Fox remains encompassed 18 bones were “those so far identified” (1982, 76) it seems that
bones scattered through a dozen different contexts. this report is based on an unspecified proportion of what
was actually recovered.
Only 667 identifiable bone fragments of larger mammals
Non-mammals were reported from Vrysi (Legge 1982, table 3), the material
Bird remains came principally from context 40.3, which deriving overwhelmingly (over 95%) from the middle phase
yielded a substantial piece of ulna shaft that is attributable of occupation here (Legge 1982, 76). Legge suggested that
to one of the several geese (Anser sp.) of the region, and an the paucity of bone and the sparseness of middens on the site
additional longbone shaft fragment that might well derive may have been due to bones and other rubbish having been
from the same individual. A third bird bone, an immature thrown directly into the sea (1982, 78). The Vrysi faunal
proximal ulna of an unidentified medium-sized (pigeon data, presented here as Table 16.2, have been abstracted
sized) bird, came from 208.3. from various of the tables presented by Legge and also
More distinctly aquatic and clearly reflecting the prox- from his text, and are presented here in such a way as to
imity of the Ovgos river, the freshwater turtle Mauremys enable comparison to be made as directly as possible with
rivulata (otherwise variously known as the stripe-necked the Philia-Drakos data (Table 16.1). Because some of the
turtle, Balkan pond turtle or Balkan terrapin) is presumably figures quoted in Table 16.2 do not precisely match figures
the creature represented by a gracile carapace fragment. presented by Legge, some explanation may be offered to
Amongst the animal bones were also remains of freshwater prevent confusion. Most importantly, it should be noted that
crab (Potamon sp.), the persistence of which in the locality Table 16.2 includes all identified fragments (NISP) of each
is attested by a fairly complete exoskeleton (from 35.4) taxon combining, for the main animals, data for “bones”
that was clearly recent in origin. In view of the excavator’s and for “teeth” (and jaws) that were presented separately
comment on the abundance of crab remains (Watkins 1969, by Legge (1982, tables 6–7). From consideration of Legge’s
35; 1970a, 241) it seems very possible that additional (1982, 401–2) description of the dog remains it is unclear
ancient crab remains were recovered and have been stored how he settled on a count of five bones (1982, table 5),
elsewhere, perhaps with the shells that were also mentioned and this writer (following his own method) has inferred a
as being numerous (Watkins 1970a, 241). Three out of the total of six countable fragments of dog. For cat, the count
nine crab claws seen by the writer were burnt. of four fragments presented in Table 16.2 includes the three
teeth described by Legge (1982, 85) in addition to the single
non-dental item that he also tabulated (1982, table 5). The
three items reported from Vrysi as “possibly roe deer”
The Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi Animal Bones (Legge 1982, 76 and table 5) have been excluded from
The Ceramic Neolithic village settlement of Vrysi consisted consideration here because numerous subsequent studies
134 Paul Croft

Fig. 16.1 Relative frequency of identified mammalian bone fragments at three Ceramic Neolithic sites in Cyprus.

of faunal remains from prehistoric Cyprus have failed to provided by the excavator, who had classified contexts
confirm the presence of this small deer, so Legge’s tentative at Vrysi into three main types, Legge examined the
attribution was almost certainly incorrect. taxonomic composition of the faunal samples by context
type, revealing considerable variability (1982, 78–79).
Amalgamating data presented separately for dental and
other identified pieces by Legge (1982, tables 6–7), it
Discussion may be calculated that 258 fragments identified from floor
Even at this interim stage in the examination of the faunal contexts included 23.6% deer, 69.8% caprines and 6.6%
remains from Philia-Drakos, the amount of identified pig. By contrast, non-occupation building fills included
material is very much greater than was reported from Vrysi deer and pig remains with twice the frequency (47.7%
(Tables 16.1–16.2). Indeed, it amounts to more bone by far and 16.7% of 174 fragments) and caprine remains with
than has previously been reported from the entire Ceramic half the frequency (35.6%). Middens, or “collections of
Neolithic period in Cyprus. Whilst it is clear, then, that rubbish”, the third main type of context, provide an even
the Vrysi sample must be viewed as less reliable, it is not greater degree of contrast, including 73.6% deer remains
negligible in size, and it seems unlikely that the considerable and only 15.3% caprine, but the sample (72 fragments)
degree to which its composition differs from that of the was rather small to be viewed as reliable. Even so, it seems
Philia-Drakos sample is completely due to the Vrysi sample fair to suggest that faunal remains in midden deposits were
being inadequately small. The contrast between the two probably deer-dominated to at least the same degree as the
samples lies in the relative abundance of deer and caprine bones from building fills. The frequency data quoted here
remains. Lumped together, these ruminants account for are illustrated in Fig. 16.2. Legge’s conclusion (1982, 77)
nearly identical proportions of identified faunal remains regarding taxonomic composition that “the archaeological
(89% at Philia-Drakos, 88% at Vrysi), but considered context of the bone sample appears to be all-important”
individually, their proportions diverge widely: deer remains must reflect a significant level of selectivity in the human
are much more abundant and caprine remains less abundant behaviour that lies behind the observed variability. Perhaps
at Philia-Drakos than at Vrysi (Fig. 16.1). it was simply the case that the larger bones of deer, more
Working with the “unusually complete” information noticeable or more inconvenient underfoot, were more likely
16. Herds lost in time: Animal remains from the Philia-Drakos Site A, Cyprus 135

Fig. 16.2 Relative frequency of identified bone fragments in the main types of context at Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi.

to be ‘tidied up’ from floors, ending up in fills or middens, three times as much, then 61% of the meat at Vrysi may be
or being dumped into the sea. (If discard directly into the estimated to have come from deer, compared with as little
sea involved a disproportionate amount of material that as 24% from caprines and 15% from pig. In the same way,
would otherwise have ended up in fill or midden contexts, meat supply figures of deer 82%, caprines 8% and pig 10%
the entire on-site assemblage will have become skewed may be estimated for Philia-Drakos. Thus, although the
in favour of the caprine remains, which are so prevalent contrast between a caprine-dominated faunal assemblage
in the floor contexts). More complex scenarios than mere at Vrysi and a deer dominated one at Philia-Drakos is
sloppy housekeeping may be envisaged, however, entailing pronounced, consideration of relative meat yields arguably
taxon-specific spatial patterning in meat preparation and provides a better assessment of economic importance and
consumption: was deer meat more regularly cooked and/or suggests a more limited degree of disparity, reducing it to
consumed outdoors whilst caprine meat tended more often a matter merely of the extent which deer dominated the
to be prepared and eaten indoors? Naturally, consideration animal economies of the two sites.
of such possibilities invites further speculation regarding The only other significant bone assemblage from Cyprus
culinary practices, and the social and symbolic contexts in that dates to Ceramic Neolithic times comes from Paralimni-
which different kinds of meat may have been consumed by Nissia (henceforth Nissia), a walled coastal settlement in the
the Vrysi villagers. southeast of the island (Flourentzos 2008). The assemblage
Whatever its cause, the prevalence of caprine remains of 1034 identified bones of large mammals from Nissia
and the paucity of deer bones in the Vrysi assemblage comprised 77.1% deer, 16.7% caprines, 4.1% pig, 1.5%
taken as a whole, by comparison with Philia-Drakos, is an dog, 0.4% fox and 0.1% cat (Croft 2008, table 1). This
observed fact. It is clear, however, that even if the taxonomic is the same range of animals as attested at both Vrysi and
composition of the caprine-dominated Vrysi assemblage Philia-Drakos, and their levels of representation within the
(as presented in Table 16.2) is accepted at face value, the Nissia sample are broadly similar to Philia-Drakos (Fig.
considerably larger body size of deer means that they would 16.1). Relative contributions to meat supply at Nissia may
have been by far the main providers of meat. If it is assumed, be estimated as deer 90%, caprines 6% and pig 4%. At Vrysi
for the sake of making an estimate, that the average deer fish remains were recovered in surprisingly small quantities
yielded 3.4 times the amount of meat as a caprine, and a pig in view of the coastal location of the site (Legge 1982, 86
136 Paul Croft

and table 3), but it is hard to believe that fishing really was cal BC, Cypriot animal economies were characteristically
of negligible importance here. It may well be that fish are dominated by deer, and the extent of this domination seems
seriously underrepresented in the Vrysi faunal assemblage, to have attained a maximum around the mid-5th millennium
as has been inferred for Nissia (Croft 2008, 105). As at cal BC, i.e. during Ceramic Neolithic times (Croft 1991, 69,
Vrysi, marine turtles seem also to have been exploited to 75). Very high levels of deer dependency were maintained
some degree at Nissia (Legge 1982, 85 and table 3; Croft through into Chalcolithic times, apparently persisting for at
2008, 105). least a millennium or so, and longer in some areas (Webb
The limited amount of additional faunal data available et al. in press). The decreasing capacity of deer hunting to
for Ceramic Neolithic Cyprus is insufficient to permit even support an expanding human population probably explains
a basic comparison of the sort presented above between the gradual decline in the economic significance of deer,
Philia-Drakos, Vrysi and Nissia to be extended to include with human communities pressured into increasing reliance
other sites. Faunal material from Dikaios’ old excavation at on domestic stock.
Sotira-Teppes seems not to have been saved systematically: Even though the study of faunal remains from Philia-
both the original faunal list (Zeuner and Grosvenor Ellis Drakos is not yet complete, and the data have not yet been
1961) and, later, Ducos (1965, 4) indicate an implausibly considered in detail, it is already clear that the composition
small amount of bone from this extensive excavation. Even of the sample falls into the expected pattern of very heavily
though the figure of 76% deer at Sotira-Teppes quoted by deer dominated animal economies. The identification of
Ducos is liable to be unreliable since it is clearly based on the Ceramic Neolithic as the period when dependence
a total assemblage of only 25 identified fragments, it is on fallow deer reached an exceptionally high level was
broadly comparable with the frequencies of deer remains originally based mainly on the rather sparse evidence from
at Philia-Drakos and Nissia, emphasising the contrast Philia-Drakos that was previously available, bolstered by
with Vrysi, where deer remains did not predominate. the very thin evidence from Sotira-Teppes (Croft 1991,
Although Kalavasos-Pamboules, another of Dikaios’ old 69), but the upgraded information presented here for Philia-
excavations, does possess a Ceramic Neolithic component, Drakos along with recent results from Nissia place this
the faunal sample that was saved from this site is both conclusion on a much firmer footing. Since it seems likely
incomplete (clearly only selected specimens were saved) that site-specific disposal practices have had an impact
and chronologically mixed, including material dating to on the composition of the rather small published faunal
the various phases of the Chalcolithic, so it is of limited sample from Vrysi, doubts exist regarding the degree to
value (Croft 2007, 70–72). Dikaios (1962, 106–112) did which it truly represents the animal economy. But even
not mention having recovered bones from the neighbouring if the caprine-dominated composition of the Vrysi sample
Ceramic Neolithic site of Kalavasos-Kokkinoyia, and recent is accepted at face value, it is still clear that it reflects an
excavations at this enigmatic site seem to confirm that it animal economy in which deer, with their larger body size,
lacks animal bones (Croft 2007, 72); whilst the existence were the most productive species. Thus, the difference
of an apparently anosseous site is most intriguing, it is between Vrysi and the apparently standard economies of
unhelpful for present purposes. Finally, faunal remains from Philia-Drakos and Nissia was less pronounced than might be
the 1990s excavations at Kantou-Kouphovounos remain to concluded from the taxonomic composition of the samples
be published in detail, but preliminary comments indicate of identified bone fragments. Indeed, it seems likely that
merely that deer, sheep, goat and pig were all present (Karali the Vrysi animal economy, rather than being as eccentric as
2002, 467). first appearances might suggest, was also of standard type
for the Ceramic Neolithic.

Following the introduction of fallow deer to Cyprus, References
probably by colonists who imported a Neolithic (PPNB) Clarke, J. 2007. On the Margins of Southwest Asia: Cyprus during
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Croft, P. W. 1991. Man and beast in Chalcolithic Cyprus. Bulletin of
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1977–1996, 49–58. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology Warminster, Aris & Phillips.
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Peltenburg, E. J. 1982. Vrysi. A Subterranean Settlement in Cyprus. Museum, University of Pennsylvania.




Bill Finlayson

Writing in 2000, Dobres and Robb observed that agency had attributes, even though they may be expressed differently
become a buzzword with little debate about what it means by different people. Agency is not faceless or generalised;
or how it might be useful, and authors simply making “ad it is mediated by cultural context, history, gender, age,
hoc appeals to the concept” (2000, 3), and this still appears lineage, and class. It is embodied, but it is also embedded,
to sum up references to agency in the archaeology of the historically situated. Agency is a cultural process which is
Neolithic transformation of Southwest Asia. This paper involved in the creation, negotiation and transformation
attempts to move this discussion forward as agency theory of both a sense of personhood and collective identities.
has great potential for developing the sort of local history The agent does not construct, but is ‘constructed through’
that is fundamental to our developing conceptions of the material culture. Hodder (2000, 22) has noted that there is
Neolithic transformation. an opposition between descriptions of human ‘behaviour’
There is a tension between those who see agency as and the idea of ‘agency’. Human behaviour is rational and
the fruits of empowered, intentional actions, and those therefore predictable where, for example, people respond
who see the significance of agency lying far more in the to climate change in a logical, rule-like manner. Although
unintended consequences of actions. The many different rational, it emphasises the animal-like quality that is behind
ways of viewing agency lead directly to differing opinions optimal foraging theory and environmental determinism.
of its utility and purpose, such as the differences between In contrast, agency lies behind human choice, the power
Hodder’s perception of agency as pertaining to the in- to act, an informed choice made within a specific context.
dividual (1984; 1999) and Barrett’s development of agency It is important that we do not view structure and agent
theory in light of Gidden’s theory of structuration (Giddens as a dichotomy but a duality (Barrett and Fewster 2000).
1979; Barrett 1988; 2000). Barrett argues for knowledgeable In a sense this is key to our use of agency theory in the
agents who construct their social world while their actions Neolithic transformation where we are often left debating
are conditioned and constrained by that social world. which comes first, whether it be sedentism or cultivation,
Agents should be conceived as ‘decentred subjects’ not social change or climate. This chicken and egg style debate
individuals, and “agency refers to the actions of individual resolves within agency as the dialectic between processes.
social actors embedded within a broader socio-cultural and
ecological setting” (Joyce 2000, 71). Fowler (2000) argues
that Hodder’s 1999 approach to the individual is modern
and universalist. Emphasising the individual rather than the The Use of Agency Theory in the Pre-Pottery
dialectic with structure tends to lead to over-active actors and Neolithic A
the recreation of modern western individuals. Gero (2000) I believe that one of our objectives in studying the Neolithic
has criticised the application of the agent as empowered transformation has to be to develop local histories, detailed
individual, the idea that only some people have agency accounts of what is occurring above the level of individual
and some have more power than others. Morals, language site, but far below the wide ranging universal models that
and history emerge through society, not as individual are often put forward (e.g. Cauvin 2000). The big narratives
142 Bill Finlayson

operate at a high level of abstraction – climate change, the Early Natufian or the European Upper Palaeolithic, they
economic processes, the rise of ideologies – and part of the adopted richly symbolic lifestyles. However, as noted by
purpose of studying agency is to escape from these bland Rowley-Conwy, semi-sedentary complex-hunter gatherers
abstractions. If we accept that agency is historically specific arise and vanish from the ethnographic record and are not
and not a universal process like behaviour, historically an evolutionary stage towards agriculture (2001). We can
situated agents practicing the routines of daily life represent accept that people had agency before the Neolithic, and look
a useful way of examining the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A to agency to try to gain insights into the beginnings of the
(henceforth PPNA). We can now provide detailed accounts Neolithic transformation.
of the processes that took place during the Neolithic Ethnography furnishes us with a generalised context, one
transformation, but our ability to explain these remains which does not provide much scope for change other than
uncertain. The overarching models tend to describe the externally forced. If we use modern analogues, context is
symptoms or secondary phenomena (Finlayson 2007) deeply flawed (Finlayson 2009), and we should not assume
and are divorced from a human scale and the detailed that the Kebaran was a modern hunter-gatherer society
archaeological evidence that is becoming available. People resembling the San; similarly, we should not assume that
are either assumed to react to external stimulate as automata the Natufian resembled North West Coast Indians or that
or become subsumed within a process, and the potential of the early Neolithic corresponded to an orientalist vision
human agency in making choice is denied. Hodder (1990), of traditional farmers. These snap-shot static visions of
Renfrew (2003) and Watkins (2002) all argue that not very the present make unlikely models for the past, and being
much happened before the Neolithic, which makes the assembled as a series of opposed social systems, offer
inception of the process hard to comprehend. little understanding to the process of transformation. There
Watkins (2004) suggests that if biological evolution remains an underlying assumption of some evolutionary
(‘nature’) was the primary driving force in early human imperative that leads from one state to another (the band,
development, to be replaced by culture in the modern world, tribe, chiefdom, state of Service 1962) generally as an
there must have been a time in the past when the balance adaptive shift programmed by an external force such as
shifted. Robb sees this as a flawed argument, observing that climate change. These generalised, non-specific and timeless
even in the Palaeolithic people behaved in cultural ways societies lack the differentiation and variability which appear
that made the physical world “inhabitable and negotiable” so central to most hunter-gatherer societies.
(2004, 138). Watkins has argued that a cognitive revolution Through practice, agency has the potential to initiate
in the late Epipalaeolithic allowed people for the “first time change. Agent centred approaches allow for internally
to formulate and articulate a ‘world-view’ in which people created social change rather than adaptation to external
could situate themselves in relation to each other, to their forces. This differs from many models of the Neolithic
place in the world” (2005, 84). This capacity is clearly transformation which refer to the ‘pulling’ and ‘pushing’ of
vital for agency. Although he regards cognitive and cultural external forces, such as climate, population and resources,
developments seen in the Neolithic as taking place over the and where people are reduced to automata directly res-
last 20,000 years, Watkins believes that until about 10,000 ponding to these external stimulae without the mediation
years ago human minds still worked differently from the of their social structures or choices. Even where people
way they work now (2005). Such a late revolution appears come into the equation, responding by making ‘rational’
unlikely; aspects of continuity from early Epipalaeolithic or behavioural choices, they remain largely invisible and
glimpses, such as Ohalo II, to the heights of the early passive in the process. Evolutionary explanations tend to
Natufian suggest otherwise, and the continuity from late assume that, given the right circumstances, everything will
Natufian to early PPNA and onto PPNB do not suggest any fall into place; moreover, there is an underlying assumption
moment of such radical change but a gradual process that of development – deduced from hindsight. This leaves no
clearly has its naissance in the Upper Palaeolithic. room for human choice.
Watkins appears to be describing a symptom of change,
stating that the difference at the end of the Epipalaeolithic
was “one critical environmental factor…the social world of
the permanent, sedentary community” (2005, 87). We can Agency in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
understand this either as until those communities developed, Farming (and cultivation of wild plants) makes demands
people had no agency, and were indeed entirely subject to in terms of social practice (Bender 1989) to do with
adaptation; or that people chose to live in communities, and sedentism and organised storage, and as agriculture devel-
that they already had the ability to do this. This is central ops, these changing practices become more onerous with
to understanding that much of human cognitive ability land clearance, soil maintenance, ownership, and water
emerged much earlier, in the human revolution, and that provision. Many of these conditions are only nascent in
where communities had previously become larger, as in the PPNA, but Bender’s underlying issue concerns whether
17. Agency in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A 143

the technology of farming causes social complexity or is a is not only elites (or would be elites) who have agency. The
product of complexity. Many of the features associated with assumption that increasingly large and settled communities
traditional small-scale farming are seen equally in complex have an inevitable evolutionary logic, and that these then
hunter-gatherer societies. Indeed, it has often been argued form the context for change as new mechanisms for coping
that farming can only have arisen from such complex hunter- with such permanent human aggregations become necessary,
gatherers (although see Finlayson 2009). Domestication and is problematic. A more fundamental question is why people
farming appear in many ways to be symptoms of the social moved into these communities, containing the potential for
change, technologies necessary for allowing people to act increased conflict, more difficulty in conflict resolution,
the way they wished. Boyd (2005) has suggested that at the competition over diminishing resources, and so on. We
heart of the Neolithic transformation is a change in the way have no evidence in either the PPNA or PPNB that these
people eat; the acquisition of food is a social activity, and communities were being pulled together by an increasingly
that as a consequence the transformation must be examined hierarchical society.
in terms of social practice and not generalised strategies. Much of our evidence in the PPNA actually suggests an
His description of the historical and practical knowledge increasing notion of community, collective and corporate,
required (organisation, distribution and consumption) makes and perhaps we can see here a period of subsumption
agency vital to the transformation. of the individual that is very different from the fairly
Material culture is central to expressing and constructing individualistic society of some hunter-gatherers, and that
agency. In the PPN there is a burgeoning material vocab- such a reduction in individuality may have been a necessary
ulary, and the developing use of architecture that we see part of increased co-residency. Shanks and Tilley (1987)
during the early Neolithic clearly added to the context discuss the importance of symbolic contexts in terms of
in which embodied actors reproduced and changed their individuality, and this too may provide a link with what is
societies. Watkins refers to the developing settlements as happening in the increasing material symbolism present in
“theatres of memory” (2004), an important concept that he the Neolithic. Their observation that “meaning is precarious;
interprets in terms of external symbolic storage. He does its reproduction may result in its reconstitution” (1987, 74)
not continue the use of his metaphor of theatre by linking is important. Despite the increased visibility of material
it to the actors and says he wants to “duck the question” of culture in the Neolithic, we should not assume a single set
why people were choosing to live in larger, more sedentary of meanings across time and space. There are highly visible
settlements (2004, 98). The difficulty with this approach is differences in material culture within the early Neolithic
that it risks seeing the ‘external symbolic storage’ created world of Southwest Asia, between major geographical
through architecture as just that, external; a material resource provinces (e.g. the use of naturalistic images in the Upper
to be controlled and not part of the dialectic of agency. The Euphrates region compared to the use of more abstract
idea of “literally constructing new worlds of the imagination images and greater interest in skulls in the southern Levant),
that they could inhabit” (Watkins 2004, 105) appears to as well as considerable inter-site variation within these
represent a case beyond hyper-agency and intentionality, and large regions. We need to be wary of assuming a uniform
despite his recognition of the long Epipalaeolithic ‘prelude’, pattern of behaviour because we know what will happen
Watkins appears to deny the historical context in which next in terms of the gradual sharing of an agricultural
people were acting. It implies a greater degree of complete package through the later Neolithic. We should avoid
knowledge about the world than an agent is likely to have. interpreting actions through hindsight, as in descriptions
By ducking the question, Watkins’ powerful ideas regarding of ‘proto-agriculture’ or seeing the PPNB as the intended
architecture lose their potential for explanation. consequence of the architectural beginnings made in the
The culturally negotiated concept of individuality appears PPNA and Natufian. Agency will have performed in each
likely to have been in considerable flux over the period locale within the local historically specific context, pro-
when communities grow more settled and larger. Much of ducing a highly variable mosaic of interacting communities.
the debate regarding agency in the Neolithic has assumed We easily fall into the trap of evolutionary imperatives, and
the presence of hyper-agents or aggrandisers pushing social our literature is full of assumptions about logical patterns
change, such as Hayden’s model (2004). If one wants to of development. Evolution and development are built into
avoid the trap of evolutionary imperatives, it may be more the way we approach our study (Shanks and Tilley 1987),
appropriate to understand the notion of the unintended but such simplistic models tend to collapse in the face of
consequences of action. This is not to deny intentionality to the evidence, which shows that the Neolithic does not arise
actors, but people in the Natufian and early Neolithic did not from an increasingly Neolithic Early Natufian but from an
consciously set out to develop the fully developed agrarian increasingly un-Neolithic Late Natufian, and that a village
lifestyle of the late Neolithic and onwards. The significance farming society arises from the collapse of PPNB mega-sites
of ‘aggrandisers’ depends as much on those “motivated to that do not herald proto-urban organisation.
follow them” (Clark 2000, 99) as on the aggrandiser, and it Burial evidence appears to represent a direct way to
144 Bill Finlayson

approach people. Wright (1978) used Binford’s ethnographic while at Dhra’ burials seem to be placed around the outside
approach (1971) to identify a generalised situation from the of structures or placed though their walls (Finlayson et al.
ethnographic present, arguing that burial data from el-Wad 2003). A focus on these practices within sites and between
provided evidence for social ranking developed to maintain close neighbours is potentially more important than looking
order with increasing population and sedentism. His approach at gross differences in symbolic forms between the northern
has been criticised by both Belfer-Cohen (1995) and Boyd and southern Levant, or by ascribing the importance of these
(2001), and much is based on the idea that a skeleton is an practices to their subsequent development in the PPNB with
individual, and that the burial of this individual reflects his its rich repertoire of skull deformation and plastered skulls.
or her living self. As Boyd observes, not only was Wright’s The significance in the PPNA is what people were doing in
approach empirically flawed, but mortuary practices may the PPNA, and variation within broad themes suggests both
not reflect social categories, instead being evidence for that there was a widely held set of beliefs and knowledge,
“social practices in which the living and the dead come and that different communities were able to reproduce and
together” (Boyd 2001, 197). Boyd argues that this requires create ideas of identity by acting within these structures.
us to abandon the quest for generalised models, and to move One of the important aspects of ritual is that the drama
to studying practice and agency, a path suggested by Kuijt involved creates powerful social forces. Ritual can serve
in his consideration of PPNA mortuary practice when he as a way of reproducing the corporate or collective identity
proposed that it is a “form of public action, a social drama (although there is the potential for such powerful situations
designed and constructed by the living, often to elicit com- to be appropriated by emerging elites). Variations in ritual
munity participation” (Kuijt 1996, 315). Both Verhoeven can also serve to express identity within communities
(2002) and Kuijt have argued that secondary burials in the (potentially within ‘households’ and lineages) and between
PPN were planned in advance and were extremely powerful communities. The variations we see within the PPNA
in reinforcing communal, collective identity, with Verhoeven world are not simply indicative of the presence of different
suggesting that primary inhumations in architecture in the traditions but of the expression of identity.
Pottery Neolithic (henceforth PN) may have been intended to As noted above, Watkins has used burial to look at the idea
emphasise emerging individual households. They believe that of ‘home’ as part of his consideration of Wilson’s analysis
burial rituals are important for reproducing social structure of the significance of architecture (Wilson 1988; Watkins
and providing a social regulatory function. Kuijt in particular 1990). This has ramifications into ideas of household, which
(1996) has argued that burial practices in the late Natufian can be used as a means of discussing small-scale societies
and PPNA indicate deliberate attempts to prevent or limit the and considering the different types of people who make up
emergence of hierarchical power, a resistance that continued a household while avoiding family or other kin-based terms
into the Middle PPNB. that are hard to see archaeologically. However, within the
In the PPNA there are both single primary and collective PPNA we need to be careful using such terms and referring
secondary burials. The partial burial of bodies and the to structures as dwellings. At WF16 the interior of structures
manipulation of bones by adding and subtracting different appears small, and the presence of visibly marked burials
skeletal parts may all suggest that the burials we see are and ground stone tools makes these unlikely candidates for
not about individuals. This has suggested to some that ‘homes’. At Dhra’ structures vary in purpose, with the main
the underlying ideas may have been about lineage and structures either being granaries or being dominated by built-
possibly the beginning of ideas of ‘home’ (e.g. Watkins in food processing tools (Kuijt and Finlayson 2009). While
1990). Watkins (2004) argues that the treatment of bodies, we may assume that some of these buildings functioned
especially skulls, was part of the way people symbolised in part as sleeping areas at certain times during the course
the relationships between the living and the dead. However, of the year, there is no evidence that this was a primary
as a development of Kuijt’s thoughts, burial may not function. Furthermore, given the absence of internal hearths
be about death and ancestors but about living agency from most structures and the evidence for much activity
within the present, i.e. the people who are manipulating outside the structures in areas conventionally described as
the remains. The more important relationships that were middens (Mithen et al. in press), we can assume that much
being symbolised were to do with the living through the day-to-day living occurred outdoors and we need to avoid
practices of burial as an ongoing performance. That said, using the “house as a proxy … where archaeologists write of
mediation with the spirit world can be an act of authority, excavating the household where they really mean they have
and modifying ritual practices is potentially an important excavated buildings and spaces that form part of domestic
way of creating change. In some ways PPNA burials suggest life” (Hendon 2004, 275). There appears to be a huge amount
a lack of strong individual personhood in society. In southern of variation within PPNA architecture, with a constant and
Jordan, at Wadi Faynan Site 16 (henceforth WF16), there is a active rebuilding and modification to structures.
clear association between sub-floor burials within structures The publicly visible granaries at Dhra’ may represent
and built-in ground stone tools (Finlayson and Mithen 2007) an ideal of an unconcealed resource available for sharing,
17. Agency in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A 145

enforcing the social status quo within a changing environ- within the process. Agency enables variation by focusing
ment. The granaries indicate intentionality and planning. on differences between cultural rules and actual practices.
There is considerable work effort put into these structures, The study of agency allows us to explore the meaning of
but even more there is a commitment to place, to the variation. Agency allows us to avoid having to rely on
cultivation of wild plants and to the storage of a harvest abstract processes as the driving forces of change. Climate
(Kuijt and Finlayson 2009). This commitment to place may may lead to change, but it is humans who select responses,
also be reflected in the built-in food processing tools and, using their existing world to make the new one. The PPNA
at WF16, in the burial rites. The continuing architectural arises from a Late Natufian context. There is no doubt that
fluidity may indicate that there was a counterbalancing Holocene climate conditions provided new opportunities
desire to reproduce at least a fictitiously mobile society, to which PPNA people reacted in a Late Natufian/PPNA
providing a socially needed ambiguity and flexibility. manner, unintentionally creating the emerging Neolithic
Practice as formed by agency need not coincide with ideal structures and contexts by transforming their existing world
structures, and people are clearly working within and – theatres not of memory, but of practice.
manipulating an existing context, unaware, of course, that
such cultivation practices and storage may in the long term
lead to domestication and a far greater degree of sedentism.
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Stuart Campbell

Like several other contributors to this volume, some of In the past, the painted decoration of this general phase
the first classes I took as an undergraduate were taught by has primarily been analysed and interpreted typologically
Eddie Peltenburg and, again in common with many others, and chronologically. Decoration has been used to define
I have worked on projects with him in both Cyprus and cultural or chronological groupings, and it has been
Syria over many years since then. It would be difficult to sub-divided into many individual motifs which have
either quantify or overestimate the extent to which I have been examined for their symmetry. Similarity in motif
been influenced by him. It is both a pleasure and an honour assemblages has explicitly or implicitly been used to look
to make a contribution to this volume. at group identity and differentiation. Little attention has
The painted ceramics of the late Neolithic in northern been paid, however, to what was actually meant by the
Mesopotamia are some of the most elaborate and attractive symbolism of individual motifs or combinations of motifs
decorated pottery in prehistory. The overwhelming majority and the degree of sophistication or convention in the
of the decoration is geometric, sometimes with what seems messages that the decoration could convey, although this
like an endless parade of motifs and subtle variations. Rare is key to understanding how decoration was both used and
examples stand out as very different, with much more adopted. In other words, form has been prioritised at the
naturalistic decoration depicting people, animals, structures expense of meaning.
and artifacts in scenes whose power and significance seems Although it will remain impossible to comprehend fully
to us to be much more immediately recognisable. This exact meanings from prehistoric material, it is perhaps
paper argues that much of this decoration, both abstract and possible to gain insights into the types of meaning that
figurative, carried meaning and that these meanings endowed were present and something of how they functioned within
the ceramics with a social agency of their own (cf Gell a wider system of symbolic communication. The contrasts
1998). Understanding the ways in which the agency could be and links between the predominant abstract, geometric
exercised can provide a key to understanding how society of decoration and the much rarer, naturalistic decoration can
late Neolithic northern Mesopotamia was constituted. act as a powerful tool to gain conceptual leverage on this
Over a period from just before 6000 cal BC to a little wider system.
after 5000 cal BC, the pottery of north Mesopotamia is Throughout the period, most of the decoration on the
characterised by extensive and sometimes elaborate painted painted pottery is geometric and abstract (e.g. Fig. 18.1).
decoration. Although it has traditionally been divided Here I wish to explore one possible way of understanding
into different cultures or phases, the Samarran, Halaf and the choices, combination and meanings of the geometrical
Ubaid, it may be more profitable to think of it as a broad and apparently abstract motifs as symbols that, at times at
ceramic phase characterised by that domination of painted least, had explicit meanings, both individually and in groups.
decoration, reflecting both a stylistic expression that came The much rarer examples of decoration with depictions of
into use c. 6200 cal BC and declined c. 4,750 cal BC, “l’ère naturalistic scenes contrast strongly with this predominant
de la céramique peinte” (Huot 1994, 63) and the social geometric decoration. In archaeological publications, the
milieu within which it had meaning and significance. two categories of decoration have generally been considered
148 Stuart Campbell

Fig. 18.1 Typical Halaf vessels from Arpachiyah decorated with geometric motifs (after Mallowan and Cruickshank Rose 1935, fig. 60,
no. 5 and fig. 61, no. 2).

separately, with the more naturalistic depictions often communicated. Decoration on pots doubtless conveyed
separated out from the rest of the ceramics as prize finds. I information in different ways and at multiple levels.
wish instead to explore the way in which the two types of Different aspects of the decoration might possess very
decoration may be understood as different aspects of the different significance. Thus, not only have various an-
same system of communication with a complementary role alytical approaches been taken; they may also help us to
in pre-urban social interaction and integration. reconstruct different types of meaning. Hole, Bernbeck
Although it is certainly true that there may have been and Nieuwenhuyse have explored the significance of the
considerable variations in both time and space, for simplicity structure of the decorative scheme (Hole 1984; Bernbeck
I will make little effort here to incorporate regional or 1994; 1999; Nieuwenhuyse 2007). Elements of composition,
chronological subtleties. Most of my examples come from such as symmetry and repetition, may have been important
the pottery manufactured and decorated in the Halaf style. (e.g. von Wickede 1986; Melville 2005). The analysis of
This is largely due to convenience. individual motifs themselves has a particularly detailed
There have, of course, been other approaches to this history of study (e.g. LeBlanc and Watson 1973; Davidson
challenge. Mallowan famously outlined a sequence of 1977; Campbell 1992; Irving 2001). Each approach may
development for the bucrania motif, running from natural- be seen as complementary to the others by focussing on
istic to highly abstract, and argued that a similar process different aspects of the design. However, all of these studies
of stylisation may have occurred with other motifs as well have emphasised typologies and generalised structure.
(Mallowan and Cruickshank Rose 1935, 154–165). Where Although meaning has been considered, it has been treated
the complete process of schematisation is not attested, this as a rather general concept, often in a manner drawing
is difficult to demonstrate for many motifs and, in any case, implicitly or explicitly on similar approaches to the analysis
need not correlate with significance or meaning. Even where of style (Conkey and Hastorf 1990). These approaches can
motifs represent abstractions of what was once naturalistic, certainly help us understand both aspects of identity and
they need not have deeply symbolic meanings; for example, the ways in which a potter conceptualised and executed
the suggestion that has been made many times that cross- a design. They tell us less about what meanings these
hatching may originate as an attempt to depict basketry elements may have carried. Although they have shed
(e.g. Mallowan and Cruickshank Rose 1935, 153; Wengrow light on important aspects of the decoration of pottery in
2001). If this suggestion has merit, the link might be deeply northern Mesopotamia, they have not generally been part
meaningful or it might be relatively trivial – or it might point of an effort to construct a general theory of what decoration
to meanings that were shared between different media. meant and how it functioned as a mechanism of social
There was probably not a simple way that meaning was communication.
18. Understanding symbols: Putting meaning into painted pottery 149

Schmandt-Besserat has recently suggested that com- motifs. Some types of decoration, such as bucrania, can
positions of pre-4th millennium painted pottery focussed be considered in both categories as it is used along a
on filling space according to rules of aesthetics, whether spectrum from naturalistic to stylised. Furthermore, there
the compositions used geometric or naturalistic decoration is little evidence that the prehistoric potters maintained a
(2007, 5–22). Although she acknowledges that prehistoric rigid division. Almost all pots with representational designs
decoration carried meaning, she suggests that it was also have elements of geometric decoration, sometimes
generalised rather than something which could be complex used to frame naturalistic scenes but perhaps often used to
and dynamic. She draws on parallels with language, reinforce the fact that the pot remains a pot by retaining the
especially written language, to suggest that scenes are only most typical geometric elements, such as a band around the
explicitly narrative in the 4th and 3rd millennia. Thus “... vessel rim. It may be profitable to explore a more integrated
preliterate pottery composition formed an all-over pattern approach where naturalistic and geometric decorations are
meant to be apprehended as a whole, or globally, those of not seen as completely separate.
the literate period were to be viewed analytically” (2007, “Visual representation refers both to the act of portraying,
24) and “Preliterate pottery paintings could only evoke an symbolizing or presenting the likeness of something, and
idea” (2007, 25). In contrast, I would argue that it is not to the use of the resultant image “to ‘re-present’, imagine,
that Neolithic decoration could not support a narrative but describe, define, understand, fix, construct, organise,
that the narrative needed to be deciphered and explained; regulate and even transform the world as we perceive it”
that the process of extracting and recreating meaning would (Skeates 2007, 199). Given an appropriate social context,
have been a process of social interaction. both geometric and naturalistic motifs can function in
Nieuwenhuyse has recently proposed such a theory (2007, this way. The difference between the abstract image
206–212). His interpretation emphasises structured sets and the naturalistic example can be one of degree – the
of oppositions between bounded-unbounded, naturalistic- representation in the former case may be more formalised,
abstract, repetitive-discontinuous designs. Designs with more embedded in convention and also potentially hidden.
bounded, continuous and geometrical attributes are suggested The key constituent of the abstract image may not be
to have had an ‘outward’ social orientation while the obvious, with less meaningful elaboration hiding the more
unbounded, discontinuous and ‘figurative’ styles were significant core that delivers the real meaning. These
directed ‘inward’ at local and domestic activities and meanings can be overt, but they can also be obscured and
meanings. While there is much to embrace in this proposal, elaborated by the addition of further elements. This places
it should also perhaps be noted that the interpretation of a great deal of emphasis on the social context in which
painted, naturalistic decoration on pottery depends heavily decoration was created and displayed.
on the interpretation of representational depictions on other The range of meanings encoded in the decoration of a
media, such as wall paintings, seals, figurines and applied vessel was undoubtedly complex, and its comprehension
decoration on pots (Nieuwenhuyse 2007, 210). Comparisons was equally certainly dependent on the observer. More
across media have been neglected in the past, so this broadly, the meaning would have been created by the
inclusive approach is very welcome. It does not necessarily setting – the occasion of consumption of food and drink,
follow, however, that the same rules and audiences were the participants and their interaction. The meanings would
observed in all cases; painted pottery may have had different have emerged from social discourse (cf Bernbeck 1999),
considerations. However, the discussion presented here is not both spoken and unspoken. Some elements of the meaning
incompatible with Nieuwenhuyse’s proposals. would certainly have operated on the level of familiarity
In the rare cases where naturalistic or figurative decor- and identification, simply on the level of ‘is my pottery
ation is present on the late Neolithic pottery of north like your pottery?’. Other meanings might well have been
Mesopotamia, it has often been interpreted in isolation. A associated with function, both of the vessel and the way it
range of interpretations have been put forward for different was used, and were possibly reinforced by variables such
examples. In contrast to the geometric decoration, it has as types of food and cooking methods.
usually been assumed that figurative designs did carry However, it is possible to argue that the combination of
important social meanings. Thus representational designs vessel shape, structure of the decoration and the particular
have been identified as carrying ritual meaning, including motifs might carry more explicit meanings, perhaps assoc-
the depiction of deities and supernatural beings (Ippolitoni- iated with specific concepts and narratives. The clearest
Strika 1990; 1996; Breniquet 1992; Forest 1996; Cauvin indication of this comes from the exceptional vessel/figurine
2000). In a stimulating analysis, Garfinkel interpreted a from the Halaf levels of Yarim Tepe II (Fig. 18.2). This
series of human figures as dancers (2003). figurine was found in a pit, broken in pieces and associated
Despite their immediate impact on the observer, it is with burning (Merpert and Munchaev 1987). It seems
probably a mistake to treat the naturalistic designs as possible that it had actually been treated in a way that is
completely separate from the more general geometric analogous to human funerary treatment, which also some-
150 Stuart Campbell

Fig. 18.2 Vessel figurine from Yarim Tepe II (after Munchaev and Merpert 1981, fig. 98).

times has elements of burial, fragmentation and burning which had been added with particular purpose and to add
(Campbell 2008). The removable head was not found with particular meanings to the figure. They were both relevant to
the rest of the pot, perhaps because it was made of organic the person represented and conveyed additional information
material or perhaps because it was deliberately separated that was probably quite explicit in intent and meaning. In
from the body, a practice which could also parallel the particular, the significant motifs are the rosette or flower
occasional special treatment given to human skulls. It does depicted in the navel and the dotting that fills the exaggerated
not seem contentious to argue that it was a figurine with high pubic area. Furthermore, although the overall artefact is very
symbolic value, which had a use in specific rituals in which naturalistic, there are no feet or legs. This is not simply a
presumably both the ability to fill the figurine/vessel with technical requirement as a roughly contemporary figurine/
liquid and its removable head would have had a significant vessel at Domuztepe has very well modelled legs and feet
role. It is probable that it represented a specific mythical or (Campbell 2004). On the Yarim Tepe II figurine, instead of
supernatural being who would have figured in narratives of feet, there is a flange with a row of upturned triangle motifs
importance in systems of society and belief. running around it.
Assuming the figurine/vessel did have an important These non-naturalistic elements are particularly inter-
status, it follows that the decoration on this vessel is not esting because they also occur in the geometric decoration
random but had been selected for very specific reasons that on pots that otherwise would not appear particularly unusual.
may have amplified the meanings attached to the person Although all the elements do occur in isolation, they are
or being represented. Some of the decoration is broadly used in the same combinations with surprising frequency.
naturalistic, such as the hair and possible armlets, and may Rosettes probably occur most frequently on Halaf pottery
be associated with the woman depicted in the vessel or the in association with areas filled with dots, either in alternate
role that she performed. The elements of the figurine/vessel panels or chequer board patterns. This repeats the association
that are particularly relevant here are the ones that aren’t of the rosette or flower with dots in the pubic triangle of
obviously naturalistic although it is possible that they were the figurine/vessel at Yarim Tepe II. Strikingly, one of the
associated with body paint or tattooing. These are motifs main vessel types that often has alternating panels of rosettes
18. Understanding symbols: Putting meaning into painted pottery 151

Fig. 18.3 Bowls with flanged bases, rosettes and dots from Umm Qseir (after Tsuneki and Miyake 1998, fig. 26, nos 1 and 9).

Fig. 18.4 Bukrania motifs on Halaf pottery from Arpachiyah (after Mallowan and Cruickshank Rose 1935, fig. 76, nos 2 and 4).

Fig. 18.5 The ‘dancing ladies’ motif on the interior rim of bowls from Khirbet Garsour (original illustration by the author).

and dots along the interior of the rim also has a flanged spectrum running from naturalistic to stylised can be observed
base which can be decorated with up-turned triangle motifs in other motifs such as mouflon horns and birds which are also
(Fig. 18.3). Examples can be cited from both Yarim Tepe II most commonly integrated with abstract motifs. Similarly,
and Umm Qseir in north-east Syria (Tsuneki and Miyake the distinctive motifs that appear round the interior rims of
1998, fig. 26, nos 1, 9). I would suggest that the pots with both Samarran and early Halaf pottery and are generally
the same combination of motifs that we see on the Yarim known as ‘dancing ladies’ are often seen in various stages
Tepe II figurine/vessel may either draw on precisely the of stylisation (Fig. 18.5). It is possible that the ultimate level
same meanings or even represent the same woman, whether of stylisation of this motif is the simple swags that are the
supernatural or mythological, in a much more abstract form. most frequent decoration on the same part of the vessel on
The decoration needs to be understood as partaking in the late Halaf pottery (e.g. Fig. 18.1, a). While meaning might
same mythologies or narratives as the being represented have been replaced by convention during the long process of
by the figurine. abstraction and schematisation, I would suggest that it is more
While this example is outstanding, there are other likely that the meaning was retained but no longer required
indications that some motifs may carry specific meanings. the full form to be depicted or perhaps even understood.
The most obvious is the well known bucrania (Mallowan and The process of abstraction may well have taken other more
Cruickshank Rose 1935, 154–165). Although the bulls’ horns naturalistic depictions and hidden them in geometric motifs
are often highly schematic, they still appear on a very wide whose symbolism cannot be accessed by archaeologists but
range of Halaf pottery in a form recognisable to us, almost may have been no less potent by being obscured.
always embedded in otherwise geometric decoration (Fig. This pattern of encoded meanings can possibly be
18.4). Although they have received less attention, a similar extended further. Some of the classic Halaf patterns are
152 Stuart Campbell

Fig. 18.6 Motifs showing animals on Halaf pottery at Arpachiyah (after Mallowan and Cruickshank Rose 1935, fig. 77: 1, 9 and 16).

Fig. 18.7 Naturalistic scenes on Halaf pottery from (a) Tell Halaf (after von Oppenheim 1943); and (b) Domuztepe (photo by the

made up of dots (see the rather different discussion in decoded and used to convey social narratives – discourses
Nieuwenhuyse 2007, 207). Dots, however, tend to occur that could link events and episodes in socially significant
only in particular places, sometimes in combination with ways, and that encapsulated ways of understanding the
other geometric motifs but particularly in association with world, society and the place of the individual or group
depictions of animals and humans (e.g. Figs 18.4, 18.6 within it. These narratives might embody folklore, dreams
and 18.7, a). The appearance of dots on the Yarim Tepe and the everyday experience of the world; frequently they
II figurine/vessel is again relevant. In all these cases, the might have mythological or supernatural elements.
dots appear as a secondary or background element. They Because of the degree of abstraction in most of the
may be adding meaning or value to the primary element, decoration, meaning may often have been relatively fixed,
perhaps a concept of animation or drawing attention to it as imposing a high level of convention, so that it might have
a major actor in some otherwise hidden narrative. Abstract been best used to relate established themes. Elements might
but meaningful decoration need not always derive from a also be juxtaposed to challenge existing narratives and
naturalistic original. create new variants, but this understanding might only be
Although there are hints that suggest the significance of possible when there was also a personal narrative to explain
some motifs, most of the meanings must inevitably escape what might otherwise have been simply odd. Certainly
archaeologists. Nonetheless, based on the examples cited, the use of conventional elements would have constrained
it seems possible that much of the apparently abstract, the introduction of novel subjects and limited the scope
geometric decoration may have had more or less complex for new narratives to be introduced. Abstract, geometric
meanings. On one level, pottery decoration may simply motifs therefore may have functioned to reinforce or modify
have been about the familiar (i.e. isochrestic meanings; see social conventions, not to initiate new understandings of
Sackett 1990). On another level, explicit meanings could be the world.
18. Understanding symbols: Putting meaning into painted pottery 153

Fig. 18.8 Depiction of houses on a Halaf pot from Domuztepe (photo by the author; decoration is partially reconstructed based on
repeating elements).

A possibly similar context of use can be seen in the may have functioned to introduce new social narratives,
highly decorated chichi beer bowls in Ecuadorian Amazon, and to replace and extend existing social conventions. The
the creation and decoration of which are critical aspects of depiction of naturalistic scenes, including people, animals
a wife’s role (Bowser 2000). The abstract decoration on the and places, might have been associated with control.
vessels represents features of mythology, including spirits, Representational images can be powerful and dangerous,
animals, plants and stars, as well as family relationships and the vessels carrying these depictions may have been
and the connection between a woman and her dream world. highly active social agents in themselves.
“The key symbols of female identity in Achuar and Quichua In time, as the new narratives themselves became
belief systems – manioc, pottery clay, garden soil, and the conventional, the naturalistic depictions had the potential to
garden spirit – are linked through language, myth, and song become more abstract and perhaps eventually be absorbed
. . . On a daily basis, a woman’s act of serving chicha in a in the much larger and more common category of abstract,
pottery bowl to her husband or brother makes reference to stylised or geometric designs.
this cluster of key symbols” (Bowser 2000, 228). Within The power of innovation may have been significant. Not
this framework, designs are deeply personal and individual. only may the depiction of naturalistic scenes have created
Innovations and interpretation of designs are an active topic powerful objects, but it could also have been a direct
of discussion by both men and women. challenge to conventional social narratives. As a powerful
In the prehistoric pottery of Mesopotamia, extensive mechanism through which convention could be challenged,
naturalistic decoration is unusual. As already discussed, it is it might have constituted a threat to established cosmologies
most often absorbed into the geometric patterns on vessels. and social order. Consequently, its use might only have been
The more striking examples of naturalistic decoration are open to certain individuals acting in particular contexts.
very different. Not only is the design more obviously While naturalistic motifs are generally very rare
representational, but the structure is usually much more throughout the period, there is one substantial context at
open (e.g. Fig. 18.7). Large areas of the vessel can be filled Domuztepe where they are remarkably common. This is the
and different naturalistic elements are usually combined to ‘Ditch’, which is not in fact a single feature as the name
create scenes, such as the combination of houses, birds and suggests but a long series of linear cuts and re-cuts along an
trees in Fig. 18.8. axis of c. 30 m. Although the activity may have continued
While some of this might simply be style relating to an for well over 100 years, most of the pottery in the refuse
individual potter, perhaps demonstrating technical ability, that made up the fill of the ‘Ditch’ seems to be Halaf Ia
I propose that more often its function may have been to in date. What is remarkable is the quantity of naturalistic
introduce new types of meanings and new narratives which decoration, to the extent that it actually dominates the pottery
could not be created using the more stylised geometric assemblage. While examples occur with apparently headless
motifs. Because these narratives were new, they had to be bodies (Campbell 2004), dancing ladies (Campbell 2008, fig.
made much more explicit. Naturalistic decoration therefore 2, no. 4), animals and many other motifs, it is the depictions
154 Stuart Campbell

Geometric/Abstract Naturalistic/representational
Common Very rare and exceptional.
Used in social contexts with active set of meanings Used in social contexts with active set of meanings that
that could relate to personal histories, storytelling could relate to personal histories, storytelling and/or
and/or mythologies. mythologies.
Encoding of meanings is inflexible and with a Draws on pre-existing encoding of meanings by use of
framework of convention. some geometric decoration but not constrained by it.
Can be used to modify or challenge old narratives Potential to create completely new narratives and
through innovative juxtaposition but within existing meanings.
Reinforces existing framework. Potential to challenge and transform existing framework.
May suggest common cosmologies and shared social Understanding may be very contextual and local to
narratives within area of use, which is sometimes very particular regions in which new narratives appear.
Table 18.1 Roles of geometric and naturalistic decoration in conveying meaning.

that show houses with trees standing between them and more verbal interpretation, and possibly reflecting the intent
usually birds perched on the roofs (Fig. 18.8) that are the of individuals or small corporate groups to introduce new
most common, with perhaps 20 or more vessels carrying ways of understanding the world.
variants of this scene.
We need to excavate more extensively to fully understand
the contemporary pottery at Domuztepe. However, it seems References
probable that the pottery in the ‘Ditch’ represents a specific
Bernbeck, R. 1994. Die Auflösung der Häuslichen Produktions-
context of use, the refuse from which was disposed of in one
weise: das Beispiel Mesopotamiens. Berlin, Dietrich Reimer.
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or ‘powerful’ and needed to be controlled after its use and of ceramics from Qale Rostam, Iran. In J. E. Robb (ed.)
breakage. This may suggest a particular domain within Material Symbols: Culture and Economy in Prehistory, 90–111.
which new social narratives were being advanced or an Occasional Paper 26. Carbondale, Center for Archaeological
authority which was using pottery decoration as an active Investigations.
agent of change. Bowser, B. J. 2000. From pottery to politics: An ethnoarch-
If the interpretation proposed above is correct, we can see aeological study of political factionalism, ethnicity, and
the painted decoration on the pottery of the late Neolithic domestic pottery style in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Journal of
in north Mesopotamia from a new perspective, as part of Archaeological Method and Theory 7(3), 219–248.
a system of communication where vessels gained agency Breniquet, C. 1992. A propos du vase halafien de la Tombe G2 de
Tell Arpachiyah. Iraq 54, 69–78.
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way in which society functioned and the ways that social University of Edinburgh.
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represented opposite ends of the same system, with the and pottery in later Mesopotamian prehistory. In D. Bolger
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By being more standardised and representing accepted Lanham (MD), AltaMira.
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meaningful over much wider regions. While this correlates Agriculture. Translated from the French by T. Watkins.
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Diane Bolger

All narratives of the past are gendered, whether consciously generic interpretation of early anthropomorphic figurines
or not. Without explicitly considering gender, however, as symbols of female fertility and/or motherhood. Such a
we are more likely to base our interpretations of past narrow view constrains our ability to appreciate the complex
societies upon unmediated assumptions reflecting modern relationships between gender, the body and social identity
western beliefs and practices. Not only does this distort our in the Cypriot past by ignoring other gender categories
understanding of men’s and women’s roles and relations (such as male, ambiguous and dual-sexed) and by limiting
in the remote past, but it legitimises their normative status women’s economic and social roles, as well as their bodily
in contemporary society. The present paper is dedicated experiences, to their biological capacity for reproduction.
to Eddie Peltenburg’s long-standing interest in the social, It also fails to acknowledge that gender in many societies
political and economic development of early societies is a much more sophisticated construct than a simple male/
in the ancient Near East, particularly in Cyprus, as well female polarity. Images of male as well as female bodies are
as his concern with interpreting archaeological evidence present in the island’s Neolithic and Chalcolithic repertoires,
within particular historical and stratigraphic contexts. I shall as are dual-sexed and ambiguously sexed examples (Fig.
begin by looking at some of the ways in which traditional 19.1; for a range of types, see illustrations in Dikaios 1953
narratives of the past have served to limit our understanding and 1961; and in Peltenburg et al. 1991; 1998; and 2003).
of gender, identity and the sexual division of labour during Given the overt sexual symbolism of some of the figurines,
the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods of the island. I shall they are likely to have had as much to do with sexuality
then consider some of the interfaces between gender and as fertility or birth. There is also evidence to suggest that
social complexity during the Bronze and Early Iron Ages. some figurines depicted various stages of male and female
By examining evidence for gender relations through time, lifecycles, perhaps marking critical transformations in
and interpreting those changes within specific contextual gender identities throughout an individual’s life (Bolger
frameworks, it is possible to move beyond universalist 2003, chap. 4).
assumptions to a more nuanced understanding of social Gender archaeology over the past ten to fifteen years
development among the island’s early prehistoric and has been highly critical of binary categories of sex and
protohistoric communities. gender, focussing instead upon the considerable degree
of spatial and temporal variability in the archaeological
record (e.g. Tringham and Conkey 1998; Hamilton 2000;
Bolger 2003, chap. 4; Mina 2007; Croucher 2008; Daems
Transcending Binary Gender Categories in Early 2008; Joyce 2008). It is no longer acceptable to lump all
Cypriot Society examples together under a single interpretative umbrella
Traditional narratives of the past have often assumed that since it is widely recognised that gender, identity and the
men and women had sharply distinct roles even during body are unstable categories that are subject to frequent
the early phases of prehistory. Among archaeologists change (Butler 1999). Characterisations of early figurative
working in Cyprus, this tendency is exemplified by the art in Cyprus as eternally feminine, static and unchanging,
19. Gender and social complexity in prehistoric and protohistoric Cyprus 157

concerning gender and pottery production in early agro-

pastoral societies, made popular during the 1960s and
1970s by Deetz, Longacre, Whallon and others, were also
based on a priori assumptions concerning descent and post-
marital residence patterns (e.g. Deetz 1968; Whallon 1968;
Longacre 1981). Ceramic designs were used as evidence
for establishing those patterns, and since it was assumed
that women made pots, it followed that exogamic practices
involving the movement of women should foster greater
levels of intra-site variation and lesser degrees of inter-site
variation as new ideas and techniques were transmitted
between villages.
Joanne Clarke has challenged this hypothesis by com-
paring motifs on Red-on-White ceramics from the Cypriot
Late Neolithic sites of Ayios Epiktitos-Vrysi, Klepini-Troulli
and Philia-Drakos site A (2002). Her results show that
the two closest sites (Vrysi and Troulli) exhibit weaker
stylistic links than those more distant from one another
(Vrysi and Philia), thus contradicting the Deetz/Longacre
hypothesis and suggesting that exogamic marital practices
are not likely to have been responsible for the diffusion of
stylistic elements in ceramic production on the island during
its early phases. As Clarke observes, the models adopted
by Deetz, Longacre, Whallon and others “highlight the
theoretical inconsistencies of archaeological interpretation
with regard to both gender based divisions of labour
in prehistoric subsistence strategies, and socio-cultural
interactive patterning” (2002, 253).
Collective and cooperative efforts rather than sexually
segregated patterns in the organisation of labour are
strongly suggested by the results of experimental work with
Fig. 19.1 Dual-sexed figurine of the Chalcolithic period from Chalcolithic pottery at the Lemba Experimental Village
Building 1 at Lemba-Lakkous (after Peltenburg et al. 1985, where the replication of Early Chalcolithic pottery vessels
frontispiece). has shown that the manufacture of hand-made pottery
of the 4th and early 3rd millennia entailed a long and
complex operational sequence that would have demanded
the collaborative efforts of men, women and probably even
symbolic of fertility or maternity, representing mother children (Bolger 2003, chap. 3; Bolger and Shiels 2003). In
goddesses or precursors to the goddess Aphrodite, give rise addition, the absence of firing facilities such as pits or kilns,
to ahistorical narratives of the past that ignore contextual as well as the collection of clays and tempering materials
constraints and obscure the dynamic character of bodily from remote sources, indicates that some stages of pottery
representation (e.g. Orphanides 1990; Karageorghis and production took place at considerable distances from home.
Karageorghis 2002). Stereotypical narratives of the past that envision men as
A second common misconception concerning gender in the primary makers and users of stone tools and women as
ancient societies is the notion that a sexual division of labour potters fail to recognise gender as a dynamic process that is
emerged at an early stage in prehistory and rapidly led to the historically and contextually situated and therefore subject
differential involvement of men and women in technology, to frequent spatial and temporal variation.
production and exchange (Bolger 2003, chap. 3; Bolger
2010). One particularly common example is the view that
women were the principal pottery makers in early household
based production since pottery manufacture is regarded as Gender and Social Complexity in the Cypriot
an ‘interruptible’ task that can easily be accommodated Bronze Age
within the domestic schedules conventionally associated While there is some evidence for low levels of social
with women’s work (e.g. Arnold 1985, 100–101). Theories differentiation, status distinction and prestige hierarchy
158 Diane Bolger

Fig. 19.2 Red Polished plank figurines of the Early-Middle Cypriot periods (after Morris 1985, figs 178–185, 211–212, 214, 228–229).

during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in Cyprus Bronze Age has not confirmed that expectation (Bolger
(Peltenburg 2002), there is little evidence to suggest separate 2004).
roles for males and females. During the Cypriot Bronze A study of EC-MC plank figurines by Talalay and
Age, however, we might expect to see some evidence for a Cullen (2002) addresses this question for the late 3rd to
gendered division of labour, particularly in light of socio- early 2nd millennia and provides a good example of the
political changes that occurred during the second half of ways in which figurative art can be given more specific
the 3rd millennium as the island became part of a wider cultural meanings through contextual analysis (Fig. 19.2).
sphere of cultural interaction; and during the 2nd millennium Although some of the plank figures have been found in
as the result of the development of trade and metallurgy, settlements, they are more frequently associated with large
which are widely regarded as catalysts for accelerated rates chamber tombs located in discrete cemetery complexes
of socio-economic complexity, a more centralised political and utilised repeatedly as collective burial facilities over
administration, and the growth of densely populated urban several generations. The latter are very different from the
centres (Knapp 1986; 1993; 2008; Keswani 2004; Steel simple mortuary facilities of earlier periods, which with
2004). In fact, recent research on gender during the Cypriot few exceptions comprise individual pit graves that were
19. Gender and social complexity in prehistoric and protohistoric Cyprus 159

used only once and were situated within settlements. This

new collective burial system signifies important changes
in social organisation, and the placement of figurines into
tombs may have been intended to underscore an individual’s
membership in corporate kinship groups. Talalay and
Cullen propose that the standardised, ‘genderless’ forms
of the plank figures, as well as their repetitive decorative
style, may also have been designed purposely to reinforce
ideologies of corporate identity. As a result, aspects of
individual identity, such as sex and gender, may have been
deliberately obscured or suppressed (for an opposing view,
see Knapp and Meskell 1997).
While arguments for gender ambiguity within the
contexts of EC and MC mortuary ritual are compelling, we
cannot assume that this was the case in settlement contexts,
or in later phases of the Bronze Age, which are characterised
by the island’s increasing participation in international trade
networks and by an accelerated demand by elite groups for
Fig. 19.3 Left: the ‘ingot god’ from Enkomi (after Tatton-Brown 1979, exotic luxury goods. The latter were very likely imbued
fig. 102). Right: the Bomford figurine (courtesy of the Ashmolean with symbolic as well as economic value, displayed and
Museum, Oxford). manipulated in order to enhance personal or group status,

Fig. 19.4 Plan of Tomb 11 at Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios (courtesy of Alison South).

160 Diane Bolger

and used to legitimise the positions of emerging elites within of disparate and competing sub-groups. This suggests that
an increasingly hierarchical social structure (e.g. Knapp the social construction of gender may have been more
1986; 2008, chap. 4; Peltenburg 1996; Keswani 2004, chap. closely linked to the wealth and rank of individuals and
5; Steel 2004, chap. 6). Very little has been said in these their affiliated groups than to biologically or culturally
discussions, however, concerning the agency or identity of determined ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits (for further
the groups who were involved in those crucial developments, details, see Bolger 2003, chap. 6).
with most scholars adopting a vague terminology (such as The existence of a centralised political apparatus on the
the use of the term ‘elite’) that foregrounds the role of active island during the LBA continues to be a topic of considerable
players (tacitly assumed to be males) in the growth of socio- debate (for recent discussions, see Knapp 2008, chaps. 4,
economic complexity (Gero 2000; Bolger 2003, chap. 1). 6; and Bolger 2009), but it seems likely that heterarchical
It is significant in this context that the Ingot god figurine rather than hierarchical forms of social organisation fostered
from Enkomi (Fig. 19.3, left) rather than the Bomford variable patterns of gendered behaviour in different regions
figurine (Fig. 19.3, right) is commonly used to illustrate and localities (Bolger 2004, chaps. 6–7). This may help
these arguments, again revealing an unspoken belief that to explain the seemingly contradictory evidence in the
men rather than women (or both) were the principal agents mortuary record of the LBA in which high proportions of
of social change (for exceptions see Bolger 2003, chap. 4; elite female burials occur at some sites but not at others, a
and Knapp 2008, 173–186). Clearly the changes in gender pattern which has been observed by Keswani (2004, 141). It
relations that accompanied the emergence and development also suggests that while some women in LC society managed
of complex society in Cyprus are issues worthy of further to attain positions of high status, it was probably by virtue
investigation. of their class and kinship affiliation rather than their sex or
Given the lack of well stratified settlement evidence for gender that they managed to do so.
large segments of the Bronze Age, changes in the interfaces
between gender and socio-economic complexity are more
readily assessed through the evidence of mortuary data. In
mortuary rituals of the LBA, polarised gender constructs are Gender and Status in the Early Iron Age:
suggested by the exclusive burial of males and/or females Continuity or Change?
at a number of sites, such as Akhera, Toumba tou Skourou Major disruptions at the end of the LBA in Cyprus and the
and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios (Bolger 2003, 171–175). eastern Mediterranean, due in part to displaced populations
Simple correlations between segregated burial customs from the Aegean, are marked by new settlement patterns,
and low female status are contradicted, however, by the pottery types and burial facilities; moreover, the appearance
luxurious nature and copious numbers of finds in female of elite tombs containing warrior equipment (e.g. Skales
graves, such as the remarkable burial of two adult females T 76, Alaas T 12, and Kaloriziki T 40) suggests that
together with three infants in T 11 at Kalavasos-Ayios military prowess played an important role in socio-political
Dhimitrios (Fig. 19.4; see also Goring 1989; South 1997). developments on the island from the end of the LBA
The lack of clear-cut patterns is in keeping with gendered into the EIA (Coldstream 1989; Steel 2002). In light of
approaches in anthropology and history, which emphasise these dramatic changes, which also involved processes of
diversity rather than uniformity of gender constructs and acculturation through the assimilation and amalgamation of
socio-political organisation in the transition to state level different ethnic groups, Steel has argued for a significant shift
society (e.g. Gailey 1987; Silverblatt 1988; Ehrenreich et in gender relations during the EIA (2002, 105). In the final
al. 1995; Joyce and Hendon 2000). section of this paper I will attempt to assess this proposition
Perhaps the most important aspect of gender suggested by looking at evidence of EIA mortuary ritual and pottery
by burial evidence is the differential treatment of elite and iconography. Given the lack of settlement evidence for the
non-elite women: female burials at a number of sites were LBA/IA transition and the succeeding CG I period, these
furnished with considerable wealth, but women of lower classes of evidence furnish the most useful data.
status are archaeologically invisible. The same cannot Bioarchaeological evidence for gender in EIA Cyprus
be said of lower status males, who were accorded burial is limited due to the poorly preserved and inadequately
rights at a number of sites, such as Enkomi (French T recorded state of the skeletal material. However, several
10) and Ayios Iakovos-Melia (T 8) where burials of adult sites, such as Gastri-Alaas, Kouklia-Skales and Kourion-
males are associated with locally made pottery but lack Kaloriziki, provide some insights into the treatment of elite
metalwork and other prestige items (Fischer 1986, 32–35). males and females. The cemetery of Gastri-Alaas (LCIIIB)
Rather than fostering status distinctions between males shows the appearance of a new tomb type, the chamber
and females, the growth of urbanism and more complex tomb with dromos (Karageorghis 1975). All burials were
forms of socio-political organisation appears to have had a inhumations, and all but one were single interments, but only
polarising effect on women, dividing them into a number a small proportion of the skeletal material has been sexed. In
19. Gender and social complexity in prehistoric and protohistoric Cyprus 161

Fig. 19.5 Plan of Tomb 40 at Kourion-Kaloriziki (after McFadden 1954, fig. 8).

most cases only the presence or absence of skeletal material The osteological report published in the Skales report by
was noted, but sex was recorded for the principal burials Schulte-Campbell (appendix XII) summarises the analytical
in three of the tombs: T 14, an adult male associated with results on 20 individuals (9 males, 4 females, 5 adults of
a Bucchero Wheelmade cup and a Proto-bichrome stirrup unknown sex, and 1 child), but it is not complete: only a
jar; T 15, an adult female buried with ten pottery vessels, portion of the anthropological material was studied, and
including a Mycenaean three-handled jar and a lentoid flask there are numerous inconsistencies between the numbers
of ‘foreign ware’, as well as a pair of gold earrings; and T and sexes of individuals provided in the tomb descriptions
16, an adult female whose many associated finds include 18 of the main text and those in appendix XII.
pottery vessels, an ivory disc, two bronze fibulae, a bronze Despite these limitations, it is possible to gain some idea
pin, and a pair of gold earrings. Despite the limited nature of the wealth and status of individuals buried in these tombs.
of this evidence, it is significant that the two females were In the five cases where sexed burials can be associated with
very lavishly furnished while the male burial had relatively particular sets of grave goods, four are adult females (Tombs
few objects. In accordance with current approaches in 72, 78, 88, 93) and one is an adult male (T 79). This suggests
anthropology and archaeology, which stress the central role that elite women formed a substantial proportion, if not a
of the living community in the treatment of the dead (e.g. majority, of the burial population at the site. Headshaping,
Parker Pearson 1999), this pattern suggests a high degree which was widely practiced by elite groups during the
of continuity in communal values regarding the status of LBA in Cyprus (Bolger 2003; Lorentz 2008), has been
elite females throughout the LC period. recorded on two CG skulls: an adult male (T 49, b) and an
The rich cemetery at Kouklia-Skales (Karageorghis adult female (T 93, 36a). Both display the deliberate ‘post-
1983) should provide ample scope for understanding bregmatic’ pattern common in LBA contexts, suggesting that
patterns of gender and mortuary ritual during the Iron Age, the practice of cranial modification continued to be applied
but problems of preservation, excavation, and recording to both male and female infants during the CGI period.
pose serious limitations. In addition, the practice of I turn now to what is arguably the richest and most
multiple burial programmes makes it difficult to associate important tomb of EIA Cyprus, T 40 at Kourion-Kaloriziki
particular individuals with particular sets of grave goods. (Fig. 19.5). The tomb was looted in 1903, but nearly 50
162 Diane Bolger

another plays a lyre (1988, cat. no. 29). None of the human
figures on PWP pottery is unquestionably female, but in the
corpus published by Iacovou (1988) only two of the four
figures on LC IIIB examples and two of the five figures on
CGI examples are unambiguously male, i.e. depicted with
a penis and/or a beard (1988, cat. nos 19, 29, 33–34). It
is not entirely clear how the gender of the other examples
has been determined, but in some cases it is likely to have
been inferred from their dress, their well-developed calf and
thigh musculature, and the presence or absence of weaponry.
The lack of clear cut sex indicators on the majority of the
painted figures, however, begs the question of why some
were depicted as active, aggressive, unambiguous males
while the gender of others is far less certain; such diversity
of expression should encourage us to adopt a more flexible
and nuanced approach to our understanding of gender
during the EIA.
While the evidence for gender in Early Iron Age Cyprus
Fig. 19.6 Cypro-Geometric I plate in Proto White Painted ware is limited, and needs to be examined in greater detail than
from Tomb 58 at Kouklia-Skales (after Iacovou 1988, fig. 78). has been possible here, it is difficult to confirm that “a
significant change in gender relations among elite groups”
took place at this time (Steel 2004, 113). As we have seen,
years later, with help from one of the looters, McFadden burial evidence from three key sites (Gastri-Alaas, Kouklia-
managed to re-locate it; his subsequent excavations led to Skales, and Kourion-Kaloriziki), as well as iconographic
the discovery of a rock-cut bench at the south end of the evidence on Proto White Painted vessels, fails to support
chamber which the looters had missed (1954). A number the notion of a dramatic shift in gender relations during
of exceptional in situ finds were found on top of the bench, the LC IIIB and CG I periods, at least among elite groups;
including a bronze urn containing the cremated remains of unfortunately, we still know very little about the gender roles
an adult female and luxury items, such as gold and bronze and identities among non-elites of either period.
ornaments, ceramic drinking equipment, and a bronze
drinking set (Steel 2002, 112). A similar urn recovered
from the earlier looting operations was assumed to have
originally contained the cremated remains of her male Conclusions
partner, despite the lack of evidence for a burial within it; By considering changes in gender constructs within specific
this ‘invisible’ male is still widely regarded as the bearer temporal and contextual frameworks it is possible to move
of the famous sceptre and therefore a king, making the beyond generic models based on unmediated assumptions
female his consort. McFadden’s proposal of this hypothetical and explore the dynamic inter-relationships between gender
male has thus become a ‘fact’ cited in much subsequent and other aspects of culture such as technology, ritual,
archaeological literature to support notions of kingship material culture and socio-economic complexity (Joyce
and royalty (e.g. Coldstream 1989, 333). If we ignore the 2008). As we have seen, there is little evidence for polarised
obvious gender biases inherent in this interpretation and gender categories during the earlier phases of Cypriot
consider the evidence itself, there are strong grounds to prehistory. While there are some indications of increasing
argue for the continued social recognition of elite women distinctions between male and female roles during the
during the EIA. LBA, differences within those gender groups are as visible
The emergence of Proto White Painted ware during the and significant as divisions between them. And despite the
LC IIIB period (Iacovou 1988) issued in a new stylistic considerable social transformations that mark the transition
repertoire which Steel cites as evidence for newly emerging to the EIA, gender constructs do not appear to have altered
gender constructs (2002, 112). Several of the painted figures significantly, at least among the upper echelons of society.
on PWP vessels can clearly be identified as males engaged in The overall picture that emerges is one in which
activities (i.e. hunting, fishing and other activities involving abstract models linking increasing levels of socio-economic
animals), which Steel characterises as a ‘macho’ style (Fig. complexity to a decline in female status cannot easily be
19.6). However, some of the male figures on these vessels sustained. During all phases of Cypriot prehistory, local and
appear to be engaged in less ‘macho’ endeavours: one is regional patterns are likely to have prevailed over island-
shown holding a flower (Iacovou 1988, cat no. 34) while wide developments, and this lack of cultural uniformity
19. Gender and social complexity in prehistoric and protohistoric Cyprus 163

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Louise C. Maguire

There are many instances in archaeology of not seeing the the same community. Van Keuren discovered that non-
wood for the trees, but committed research and passionate local potters could learn from local potters in spite of any
determination can obtain a clearer picture from evidence existing language barriers. While non-local potters may
available. The success of this approach has been demon- have produced almost identical pots, it can be observed
strated by Professor Eddie Peltenburg, who poses challenging that the design execution sequence is not copied (1999,
questions to any type of data from archaeological fieldwork 51–52). Rather, non-local potters retained their own identity
to the minutiae of small finds, whether freshly excavated or through a design sequence pertaining to their own learning
hidden in the darker recesses of museum basements. He has framework even though their communities had merged.
communicated his enthusiasm for thorough investigations Many of these behaviours are adopted through copying
to his students, and as one of them I have been persistent motor skills and are learned by children (Crown 2001)
and inquisitive in my research into Cypriot Middle and Late as embedded behaviour within a learning framework
Bronze Age ceramics. which may last for generations. Researchers studying the
This paper is an attempt to search beyond the pottery behaviour of potters who produced the Classic Stallings
types primarily used to classify and date material. It presents pottery assemblages of Georgia and South Carolina dis-
a systematic reconstruction of the painting processes of covered that the orientation of punctured decoration was
White Painted ware. The analysis has been carried out by significant (Sassaman and Rudophi 2001). Handedness
reconstructing the complete brushstroke sequence on each could be reconstructed from the orientation of the punctured
pot. It reaches the conclusion that the major differences decoration. The geographical percentages of handedness,
between the sequences found on White Painted wares from they suggested, reflected matrilocal post-marital residence
the Karpas, the eastern Mesaoria and the rest of the island among Stallings riverine communities. Over the course of
are a result of the positioning of the pot during the painting fifteen generations, certain communities displayed a greater
process. The differences in the positioning of the pots, either proportion of left-oriented vessels, above the statistical norm
upright or upside down, indicate that there was a significant for populations, ancient or modern (Sassaman and Rudophi
shift of practice between the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. 2001). These types of behaviours, which originate from a
This will be demonstrated and discussed. learning framework by copying motor skills, have also been
defined by anthropologists as increasing participation within
“communities of practice” (Lave and Wenger 1991, 49–50;
Wenger 1998, 45) where communities are the learning unit.
Communities of Practice Research has extended beyond pottery groups to textiles
Hardin (1977; 1983) and Van Keuren (1999, 8) conclude where the direction of cordage could be reconstructed from
that potters can borrow design elements with some ease. impressions in pottery (Minar 2001). The results show that
Design structures, however, or the sequences used to paint groups with very different patterns of final twist direction
the pot, are indicative of subconscious learning behaviours are not likely to have originated from the same cultural
which signal that potters were closely interacting within or technological traditions, which has implications for the
166 Louise C. Maguire

correlates of material culture and embedded behaviour while the other hand held the pot; future analyses may be
(Minar 2001, 398–399). able to determine handedness.
In the case of the Cypriot ceramic material we are The second factor in determining the position of the pot at
slightly more restricted in our ability to measure generational painting is the layout of the design friezes around the vessel.
intervals since the bulk of painted whole vessels required In most cases the potters worked without markers, estimating
for analysis comes from tomb groups rather than settlement the number of elements required to finish a frieze encircling
contexts. Nevertheless, we do have a large number of the vessel. This would lead to either an over- or under-
whole vessels which we can use to reconstruct the painting estimation of the number of elements required to complete
processes from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages across a frieze, anomalies which can be recorded. The potter would
the island. We will presume that individual potters were often reduce the size of the element to squeeze in an element
living and practicing in the same areas immediate to the at the end of the frieze, or the potter would misjudge the
propensity of ware type (e.g. the bulk of Red on Black number of elements in a chequer pattern and leave a blank
pottery in Cyprus is from the Karpas and suggests that it square. In both of these examples it is possible to work out the
was made in this region). We can then attempt to trace the start and finish of a frieze and therefore the direction of the
subconscious brushstroke behaviour of these individual frieze as the potter painted. If we combine these analyses with
potters, which can be studied as collective community the direction of the brushstrokes, we can begin to estimate
practice across the island. the position of the pot at painting. Two examples from two
An initial survey of WP, PWS and WS wares has differing practices are presented below.
revealed that there were significant differences in the design
execution sequences both within ware groups and across the
traditional regional groups (Maguire 2009a). It was observed
that the directionality of brushstrokes encircling the vessels White Painted Positioning
was either left to right or right to left, or bidirectional, but
the reasons for these differing practices were not fully Karpas: Boghaz
understood. In order to fully comprehend the painting The painting process of a WP V amphora from Boghaz
process of each vessel, all the brushstrokes visible on a is illustrated in Fig. 20.1. This particular amphora, which
pot have been reconstructed by a potter using schematic displays a distinctive WP chequered pattern, does have a
illustration. The results are presented here. PWS fabric, which leads to the conclusion that the origins
In the course of reconstructing the full design com- of PWS may lie with this variant (Webb 1997, 90, no.
position on each vessel, it became apparent that it was 408). The vessel belongs to the WP tradition of the Karpas
possible to suggest the position that the pot had been held and eastern Mesaoria. Several examples of WP IV and WP
in to complete both the banding (by hand and not rotative V, stylistically similar to the Boghaz piece, come from
kinetic energy, henceforth RKE) and the individual elements Galinoporni [e.g. Cyprus Museum T 2 (1956) no. 17]; T 1
or friezes within framed bands. (1956) no. 5, see Crewe forthcoming, fig. 5.5); Nitovikla (T
2, no. 47, see Gjerstad et al. 1934, pl. CVIII.11); and Ayios
Iakovos (T 9, see Nys and Åström 2005, 30 and, 238, pl.
13). The design structure of the vessel is divided into four
Positioning Practice friezes encircling the vessel. The frieze immediately below
There are two main levels of observation in determining the the rim is filled with a row of lozenges. The remaining
position in which a pot has been held while being painted. friezes are filled with a chequered lattice.
The first is the direction of the brushstrokes. Brushstroke With the pot in the upright position, the brushstrokes
direction can be determined by the pool of paint at the start can be observed to run from right to left around the vessel.
of the brush and the tapering of the stroke as the paint is This is true for the encircling pairs of bands, which act as a
released from the brush or tool. As the paint is expended, the frame for the lozenges and hatched chequers, as well as for
paint applied often becomes weaker. As the pot is observed the encircling wavy line, which alternates with the bands of
in the upright position, the brushstrokes proceed left to right decoration. It is not exactly clear where the starting point
or anti-clockwise around the vessel. A starting point for the of the horizontal double framing line is on each frieze. The
potter is often a feature such as a handle or a spout. If the pot direction of the brushstroke, right to left, does indicate that
has been turned upside down or on its side, the brushstrokes the potter held the pot upside down with the predominant
run right to left or clockwise. Some pots have been turned hand painting in an anti-clockwise direction. To stop the
on their side, and this can be determined in conjunction paint becoming smudged by holding the vessel in the hand,
with the positioning of elements of decoration along with the potter probably inserted his/her fist or whole hand into
brushstroke direction. We have presumed that the dominant the body of the vessel to turn it to the next painting angle.
hand held the brush or tool (such as sticks or bird feathers) The encircling bands were done in nearly parallel strokes
20. The painting process of White Painted and White Slip wares: Communities of practice 167

Fig 20.1 Schematic reconstruction of the painting process of a WP V vessel from Boghaz (University of New England, 74/13/1).
168 Louise C. Maguire

with stop and start points often in the same place as the the vessel is divided by framed encircling bands around
potter developed a rhythm. the neck and widest part of the vessel. This large frieze is
The encircling bands were painted first, while the pot was then subdivided into vertical panels filled in with alternating
upside down. To complete the painting process, the pot was themes of cross hatching, either full panels or lozenges.
then held either upright or with the vessel on its side while The significant difference between the two vessels is
the potter finished the decoration within the framed bands. that the banding (not using RKE) in the case of Kythrea T
In the angle of the vessel shown in Fig. 20.1, a, it is easy 1 was probably started to the right of the handle in a left
to see that the starting point of the first frieze was the row to right direction while the pot was in an upright position.
of lozenges below the rim. The lozenges were created by a The pot was continuously turned and probably held by the
grid of crosses. However, as the potter progressed around the undecorated base or neck. The panels were also completed
vessel, it is evident that the spacing and width of the crosses while the vessel was in an upright position, starting to the
for completing the pot was overestimated. Consequently, the right of the handle and progressing around the pot. The final
potter has squeezed in two smaller crosses which float in the panel to the left of the handle has been compromised and is
pattern and are not connected in to the previous rhythmic smaller and narrower than the previous panels. The majority
crosses (see Fig 20.1, d). The remaining three bands of of WP V Fine Line Style vessels have been painted while the
decoration containing the lattice chequer squares have been vessel was upright although some have been turned upside
laid out in a grid pattern with either vertical brushstrokes (pot down to complete small elements of decoration.
upright) or right to left brushstrokes (pot on its side), most
of which go straight through the horizontal dividing line.
The first frieze of chequers below the lozenges starts to Sample
the right of the handle and progresses around the vessel. Over 200 whole vessels were analysed using brushstroke
However, a compensating anomaly exists where the chequers analysis. These vessels were sampled from two main WP
have been extended at the end point to meet the start point groups: Group 1, WP II–VI from the north, centre and
(Fig. 20.1, b). This is evident on the second frieze of chequers, southeast of the island; and Group 2, WP III–V, WP III–IV
but in this instance the potter has started at the vertical line Wavy Line Style of the Karpas/Mesaoria region. Group 1 is
below the handle and worked right to left (pot upside down characterised by brushstrokes produced with a single brush
or on side); the compensating anomaly of an extended six- and banding of the vessel to demarcate zones. The banding
element chequer and two adjacent blank squares is clearly brushstrokes run from left to right (from an observational
obvious (Fig. 20.1, b, second frieze). Most of the wavy bands angle), indicative of predominantly upright positioning. This
are created with squiggle brushstrokes of single curves, but group comprises an extensive variety of shapes, including
double curves have been used on the band beneath the top bowls, jugs, tankards, flasks, composite vases and animal
frieze (Fig. 20.1, a). shapes, with widespread distribution across the island. This
distribution includes the WP Cross Line Style, WP Pendent
Line Style and WP V Broad Band wares of the centre and
North, Northwest and Centre: Kythrea south-east of the island.
The painting process of a WP V Fine Line Style jug from The WP III–V and WP III–IV Wavy Line Style of Group
Kythrea Tomb 1 (Åström 1972, 70, fig. XVII.3) is illustrated 2 are very similar in general stylistic appearance to Group 1
in Fig. 20.2. This jug belongs to a group of vessels which wares. Although the vessel functions are probably similar,
have a very distinctive fine line decoration using a limited the overall shapes are quite different. However, Group 2 is
repertoire of motifs in a wide selection of vessel types. It has characterised by cross-hatched motifs within friezes marked
been thought that their execution is so distinctive that they by encircling bands (single or double) but displays consistent
could belong to individual artists or workshops (Maguire right to left directionality (pot upside down) in banding
1991). The distribution of Fine Line Style extends from but sometimes upright positioning for finishing decorative
Lapithos-Kylistra, Toumba tou Skourou and Akhera in the bands. Parallel wavy lines, more common on RoB ware,
north to Nicosia-Ayia Paraskevi, Kythrea, and Politiko in are often carried out using a multiple tool. One particularly
the centre and Livadhia and Klavdhia in the southeast. It interesting example of this ware, which offers a critical link
even extends to Tell el-Dabca in the Nile Delta where three to the behaviour of PWS and RoB, is a large WP V jug from
fragments have been discovered (Maguire 2009b, 31–32). Ayios Iakovos-Melia (Gjerstad et al. 1934, 336, pl. CIX.1;
The distinctive motifs of the Fine Line Style ware have also Maguire 2009a, fig. 5.4). It comprises multiple brushstrokes
been found on handmade Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware globular in a RoB fashion on the neck and base of the vessel and in
juglets (Maguire 2009b, 24–25). ladder patterns in chequered squares, but the directionality
The design structure of the vessel illustrated in Fig. 20.2 of the banding is mixed. It is a unique example of how a
is similar to the Boghaz vessel previously discussed in that piece has been fashioned using techniques and behaviour
the potter demarcates the vessel into zones. In this case, of both WP and RoB on the same vessel.
20. The painting process of White Painted and White Slip wares: Communities of practice 169

Fig 20.2 Schematic reconstruction of the painting process of WP V FLS vessel from Kythrea Tomb 1 (Cyprus Museum A710).
170 Louise C. Maguire

The results of the analyses are presented in Fig. 20.3.
For Groups 1–3 it is clear that the upright position is the
predominant one for holding the vessel with the occasional
occurrence of mixed positions, which may be peculiar to
specific practices in WP V Fine Line Style. In Group 2,
WP wares from the Karpas and eastern Mesaoria, there are
very few vessels that have been fashioned with the vessel
in the upright position for the banding lines. Of those that
are upright, some appear to be imports to this area from the
north (e.g. WP V FLS, Ayios Iakovos T 9 no. 2; see Åström
1972, fig. XVII.9).
It is not surprising that the positioning practice of the WP
wares of the Karpas peninsula is different from the rest of
the island, given the distinctiveness of other ware groups
from this area (e.g. RoB). The shapes of the WP wares of
Group 2 stand out from the rest of the island but are at
home in the stylistic repertoire of the RoB wares to which
they seem closely linked. Chronologically for Group 1, the
WP II wares of Lapithos-Vrysi tou Barba and Vounous, for
example, are predominantly painted in the upright position,
and the practice continues in WP III, IV and V at Deneia
(Frankel and Webb 2007). This continuity demonstrates
that despite population growth and migratory fluctuation,
and amidst diversity and variation in technological changes,
the painting process remained the same. For Group 2, while
the available evidence suggests that the WP Wavy Line
Style and some WP IV may have been present in MCII,
the majority of WP vessels are WP V, perhaps indicating a
date of MCIII or later. In comparison to Group 1, therefore,
Group 2 has a relatively shorter lifespan.

Proto White Slip and White Slip Ware Positioning

In the Late Bronze Age the painting practices of Proto
White Slip and White Slip wares reflect those of Group 2
rather than those of Groups 1 and 3. PWS and WS wares
also differ from Group 1 in that they are fashioned using
multiple brushes, commonly used in RoB ware.
A brief survey of the PWS and WS wares of the Late
Bronze Age indicates that P/WS vessels were predominantly
painted with the vessel held upside down and the brushstroke
direction right to left, with occasional turns to the upright
position (Maguire 2009a). Fig. 20.4 is a schematic illus-
tration reconstructing the painting sequence on a PWS bowl
(Morris 1985, pl. 29b). The brushstrokes run from right to
left around the vessel. Both the wavy line below the rim and
the framed bands of the rope lattice have been completed
while the pot was help upside down. The incidental motifs
were probably done while the vessel was upright. Multiple
brushes or devices, probably made with sticks or chicken
feathers, were used for the double framed encircling bands Fig. 20.3 Proportions of upright, upside down and mixed painting
(2 brush). The hatching within the bands was done with a practices in WP wares.
20. The painting process of White Painted and White Slip wares: Communities of practice 171

Fig. 20.4 Schematic reconstruction of the painting process of a PWS vessel (after Morris 1985, 38, pl. 29).

fine 2 brush for the horizontal lines and the oblique lines encircling bands, rope lattice, lozenges, horned motifs and
were made of 8 brushfuls. This painting process is typical of multiple dots are varied, but the overall stylistic impression
the bulk of P/WS vessels. A vessel from Morphou-Toumba is essentially static and a White Slip piece is easily
tou Skourou is an example of PWS painted while the pot is recognised. The sheer volume of pottery produced suggests
help upside down (Vermeule and Wolsky 1990, 269, T III.8, mass production even before production locales such as
pl. 159C). A WS I example from Palaeopaphos-Teratsoudhia Sanidha-Moutti tou Ayiou Serkou were excavated. In light
shows that the banding lines have been carried out while of this stylistic longevity, it seems even more pertinent to
the vessel was upside down (T 105 Chamber B(iii); see emphasise this behavioural transformation of the painting
Karageorghis 1990, 48, pl. VIII). A WS I bowl from Ayia process at the end of the Middle Bronze Age.
Irini-Paleokastro has been worked in both positions, upside
down and upright (T 21.34; see Pecorella 1977, 148, fig.
363b) and a WS II vessel from Maroni-Vournes has also
been held upside down (Cadogan et al. 2001, fig. 14). Discussion
This community practice of holding the vessel upside From this survey it is clear that at the end of the Middle
down to be painted continued for centuries in the case of WS Bronze Age the practice of painting a WP vessel holding it
wares. This aspect of longevity has not been fully addressed in the upright position for banding was the most common
but has been alluded to in many studies (e.g. Morris 1985, practice in Cyprus. Consistently holding the vessel upside
36; Karageorghis 2001, 7). WS is a truly remarkable down was the preferred practice only in the Karpas
stylistic phenomenon and was manufactured and distributed and eastern Mesaoria. The PWS and WS wares, which
extensively in Cyprus, the Levant, Egypt and the Aegean for eventually replaced the WP wares, were also painted
a period of some four centuries or more (Eriksson 2007, 13, holding the vessel upside down but notably for a period
table 1B). Incredibly, in this 400 year period the repertoire of several centuries. Much of the WP production of the
of handmade shapes was very conservative – bowl, jar, jug, Middle Bronze Age has been seen against a background
tankard, bottle and krater – and within these types there is a of inter-regional communities. Some households practiced
large amount of standardisation (Popham 1972, 441; Morris pottery making, and continuity was maintained most likely
1985, 37). Continuing to fashion handmade vessels when through matrilocal residence. Some communities were in
devices using rotational energy were widely adopted in the closer interaction than others, but all are likely to have
Levant and Mediterranean reiterates so-called conservatism, been linked to some degree through the copper industry
but essentially a formula of organisational intensity is more (Frankel 1974).
likely to have been economically viable. The decorative However, the major shift from these WP diversified pro-
elements, while progressively sloppier towards the end of ducts to the more standardised P/WS and other uniform LC
White Slip, are nevertheless instantly recognisable and the wares has often been interpreted as a change from small unit
constituent impermeable thick white slip very durable. The based household production to specialised workshop output
172 Louise C. Maguire

(Steel 2004, 163). A comparative shift from a diversified Conclusions

output in jugs and juglets across the Mediterranean and This paper has presented a reconstruction of the painting
Egypt to a standardised pan-Cypriot distribution network of processes of White Painted Ware based on analysing the
Base Ring juglets may also indicate increased organisation brushstroke sequences on 200 WP vessels. The results show
in production to suit consumption (Maguire 2009b, 64). The that there are fundamental differences in the communities of
break in household pottery production has been linked to practice between the WP of the north, centre and south of
the unsettled period between MCIII and LCI during which a the island (where the pots were painted while held upright)
certain amount of hybridisation occurred (Crewe 2007, 216; and the WP of the Karpas and eastern Mesaoria (where the
Knapp 2008, 114; Frankel and Webb 2007, 106) along with pots were painted held upside down). These differences are
the abandonment of existing settlements and the appearance significant since PWS and WS practices originate from the
of new coastal settlements. practices and learning framework of the Karpas and were
What cannot be underestimated is the widespread also painted while held upside down. The implications are
production, distribution and adoption of P/WS wares in that a complete transformation of communities of practice
areas where community practice was the opposite and had occurred at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, a shift which
been for several centuries. Did potters equipped with the should be added to elements of social transformation which
knowledge of high temperatures, thick slips, multiple brush seemed to be happening at this formative period.
tools, bichrome techniques and the practice of painting pots
upside down also move into existing settlements and the
new settlements? If practices are ultimately linked to the
learning frameworks of pottery-making communities, might Acknowledgements
these communities have influenced the learning framework I am extremely grateful to Prof. Manfred Bietak, first
through the creation of specialised workshops or through speaker of the special research program SCIEM 2000
their own residence in new areas? (The Synchronization of Civilizations in the Eastern
The impetus for these potters to initially move to new Mediterranean in the 2nd Millennium BC) and Asst. Prof.
areas may be the result of increased economic necessity Irmgard Hein, who have enabled this research. I would
through the exploitation of copper or the harvesting and also like to thank Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos for permission
distribution of indigenous produce for export; the longevity to research and publish material from Kythrea, and Dr.
of the communities of practice may be due to sustained Watters of the University of New England for providing
familial learning frameworks, albeit on a large scale or the photography in Fig 20.1. I am indebted to Elizabeth
highly specialised workshops of apprentices. Hird, who studied the painting process and drew the
Elsewhere I have suggested that the PWS and WS schematic illustrations in Figs 20.1, 20.2 and 20.4; and to
practice of painting the pot upside down originated in the WP Lubica Zelenkova for compiling the layouts in those same
of the Karpas and eastern Mesaoria and the multiple brushes figures.
of the RoB ware tradition (Maguire 2009a). The embedded
behaviour of the potters of both ware groups is very similar,
and these potters are very likely to have originated from the
same community. This is the behaviour of a highly organised Abbreviations
community of potters already specialising in the preparation FLS Fine Line Style
and processing of clays to achieve homogeneous fine fabrics, LC Late Cypriot
producing a limited range of shapes (predominantly bowls), MC Middle Cypriot
and presumably achieving speedier completion rates with PWS Proto White Slip
the use of multiple tools. Even though PWS and RoB wares RoB Red on Black
were produced in different parts of the island, the fact that RoR Red on Red
they were exported in large numbers to sites in the Levant T Tomb
(e.g. Tell el-cAjjul) at the earliest inception of the production WP White Painted
of PWS further corroborates a link between these two ware WS White Slip
groups. RoB and RoR wares are also found at sites in the
west where the earliest PWS has been excavated, such
as Akhera (see Karageorghis 1965, 99, fig. 26.97) and
Pendayia (Karageorghis 1965, 29, fig. 9.38). We can surmise References
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Knapp, A. B. 2008. Prehistoric and Protohistoric Cyprus: Identity,



Jennifer M. Webb

Introduction ‘Practices of affiliation’ (Yaeger 2000) involve explicit

Ceramic decorative styles have been extensively used to representations of similarity and difference for the purpose
explore prehistoric social relations, particularly in North of defining membership and creating real and imagined
American and Mesoamerican studies (e.g. Plog 1980; 1990; communities for political or other purposes (Marcus 2000,
2003; MacDonald 1990; Hegmon 1995; Graves 1998; 238–239; Isbell 2000, 258).
Bartlett and McAnany 2000). This approach has rarely, In the prehistoric record ‘practices of affiliation’ are
however, been applied to pottery wares of the Cypriot only likely to be visible, if at all, in material residues, the
Bronze Age where concern with seriation, typology and most durable and abundant of which is usually pottery. In
spatio-temporal distribution largely continues to hold sway. recent years concern with the communicative power of
Decorative motifs have an idiosyncratic, artistic dimension, artefacts, and in particular with decorated vessels, has led
reproduce shared traditions, and implicitly or explicitly to significant advances in understanding the role played by
convey membership in social groups (Wobst 1977; Wiessner material culture in forming social identities (see Costin 2001
1983; 1985; 1989; Plog 1990, 2003; Graves 1998). As such and Schortman and Urban 2004 for recent reviews). Coupled
they have the potential to reveal the ‘relative identities’ with an ever growing literature on style, agency and the
(Wiessner 1990, 107) of those who produced, used and individual (Hill and Gunn 1977; Conkey and Hastorf 1990;
viewed ceramic vessels at varying scales of spatial and social Hegmon 1992; Stark 1998; Dobres 2000; Dobres and Robb
distance and to define individual, sub-group and community 2000; Knapp and van Dommelen 2008, etc.), this provides
membership within small scale societies. a rich theoretical and conceptual basis from which more
Recent studies have moved beyond the concept of empirically minded archaeologists have much to gain.
the physical site to view communities as ‘networks of This paper examines the ceramic industry of Deneia
interaction’ involving social reproduction, subsistence (Dhenia) in north-west Cyprus during the Middle Bronze
production and self-identification (Kolb and Snead 1997). Age, and in particular the dominant Red Polished ware,
Yaeger and Canuto (2000, 5–6) emphasise the importance arguing that the vessel forms and decorative motifs which
of supra-household interactions and suggest, as a simple distinguish this assemblage were active symbols which
definition, that community is the conjunction of “people, operated meaningfully within their cultural context. It will
place and premise.” Shared premises developed during the examine the feedback between social purpose and design
course of daily interactions are mobilised in the formation innovation in an attempt to identify the dynamics driving
of a common identity which may involve or crosscut kin diversity and uniformity in ceramic production and explain
relationships (see also Pauketat 2000). A sense of place the singular nature of this settlement. It is offered to Eddie
is also central to personal and group membership (on Peltenburg on the occasion of his (semi)-retirement in
community as a “chain of attachment to place,” see Marcus appreciation of his immense contribution to Levantine
2000, 239, citing Rodman 1992, 651). Yaeger and Canuto prehistory and almost single-handed construction of a social
(2000) have similarly stressed the importance of historical archaeology for the Cypriot Chalcolithic.
context, which gives meaning to community interaction.
21. The ceramic industry of Deneia: Crafting community and place in Middle Bronze Age Cyprus 175

Deneia in the Middle Bronze Age key contemporary site on the north coast. Individual vessels
The cemeteries at Deneia-Kafkalla (henceforth Deneia) and moved from one village to the other, and it has long been
Mali extend over six hectares and are the most extensive on recognised that Deneia and Lapithos belonged to the same
the island. A total of 1,286 tombs have been documented, regional sphere of interaction.
with the original number likely to have been two to three Other aspects of the pottery highlight inter-site difference
times higher (Frankel and Webb 2007; Webb 2009; Webb and are typical of, and largely confined to, Deneia. Black
and Frankel 2009). Systematic looting over generations Polished ware, for example, used for small, finely decorated
and limited formal excavation (Åström and Wright 1962; vessels, is far more common at Deneia than anywhere else
Hadjisavvas 1985; Nicolaou and Nicolaou 1988; Webb and and appears in a number of forms only at this site (Brewster
Frankel 2001; Frankel and Webb 2007) have produced an 2007). Typical, too, are large Red Polished vessels with
enormous number of pottery vessels now scattered across elaborate relief decoration, the use of very distinctive
the world. The associated settlement or settlements have decorative motifs and a range of unusual vessel forms. These
not yet been found. belong to an assertive local style and may be seen, like the
The earliest burials date to the Early Bronze Age (c. tombs themselves, as part of a conscious construction of
2400–2000 cal BC) and are relatively few in number. At community identity.
least 764 chamber tombs, however, were constructed in There is at the same time a counter-current of variability.
the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1650 cal BC). They are This is most apparent on the common black-topped Red
considerably larger than contemporary tombs elsewhere Polished ware small bowls. Although a limited repertoire
and appear to have contained a higher number of burials of motifs was used to decorate these vessels, of the many
(Frankel and Webb 2007, 149–151). Estimates of the total hundreds known no two are exactly alike. These different
Middle Bronze Age mortuary population at Deneia range dimensions of ceramic production may be equated with
from 9,000 to 20,000 (Frankel and Webb 2007, 152–154). higher level (corporate) and lower level (individual) motif
Natural demographic increase is insufficient to account for and form variability, each of which is examined in more
the expansion of the cemeteries from the Early to the Middle detail below.
Bronze Age. Rather, even the lowest figure suggested above
implies a major influx of people in Middle Cypriot I. Toward
Crafting Corporate Identity
the end of the period, in late Middle Cypriot III, an equally
abrupt retraction of settlement led to the abandonment of A number of specific vessel forms and clusters of stylistic
partly constructed tombs and greatly reduced use of the attributes are unique to pottery produced and consumed
cemeteries through to the end of the Late Bronze Age. at Deneia. These include globular bodied jugs with wide
The rapid increase in population at Deneia in the early cutaway mouths (dubbed ‘monster jugs’ by Stewart 1962,
years of the Middle Bronze Age is likely to have involved 304; 1988, 30–31) and large thick-walled serving bowls
the aggregation of groups with links to a widespread (known as ‘Deneia basins’) probably used for extended
network of parent villages and to have required considerable gatherings associated with funerary ceremonial (Frankel and
adjustment in many dimensions of social interaction and Webb 2007, 48–51, 154). Both vessel forms have elaborate
negotiation. The energy expended in tomb construction may decoration covering much of the surface, typically in bold
mark attempts by newly arrived families to proclaim ties relief with additional incisions or impressions, and involve
to non-ancestral burial grounds. Other aspects of material ‘eye-catching’ differences in size, form and decoration to
culture are also likely to have been utilised in processes generically similar vessels from elsewhere (Fig. 21.1). The
of identity construction and the assertion of rights to Deneia cemeteries have also produced a number of eccentric
place. For subsequent generations family tombs and their and composite vessels (e.g. Webb and Frankel 2001, figs
contents would have provided highly visible sites for the 12.50, 21.6; Stewart 1992, 33, pl. II.6, 9, unprovenanced
affirmation of claims to land and privileges as Deneia rose but surely from Deneia).
to prominence in a wider regional system. Less ostentatious, but equally characteristic of local Red
Polished, are a range of jug, juglet, askos and black-topped
bowl forms found in large numbers at Deneia, occasionally
at Lapithos, and only rarely elsewhere (Frankel and Webb
The Deneia Ceramic Assemblage 2007, 51–59, 154–155). Decorative forms and motifs are
Middle Bronze Age pottery production at Deneia shows equally distinctive. These include so-called ‘fretwork’
contrasting dimensions of association and identity, of ornament, ring and ‘wheel’ motifs in relief, multiple pierced
similarity and difference. At the broadest level linkages lugs and the use of heavily drawn concentric circles (Fig.
to other villages are apparent in the general styles of Red 21.2). More generally, Deneia Red Polished is distinguished
Polished and the related but less common Black Polished by emphatic relief decoration, often bordering on the baroque
ware. The closest parallels are with material from Lapithos, a (Stewart 1988, 105), and an abundant use of incised motifs
176 Jennifer M. Webb

Fig. 21.1 ‘Deneia basins’ and ‘monster jug’ (after Nicolaou and Nicolaou 1988, fig. 5, Tomb 48.230; Webb 2001, no. 31, Nicholson
Museum 47.359; Stewart 1962, fig. LXVI.3, Tomb 1.91)

frequently covering the entire surface. Once established, these with eccentric and unique vessel forms, which suggest
Deneia-specific type-varieties appear to have been repeatedly substantial local investment in ‘promotional technologies’
replicated with variability expressed through subsidiary (Hayden 1995; 1998). Indeed, the link between style and
elements such as lugs and feet. While local ceramic ideas social context is likely to be particularly important in the
are evident elsewhere, this level of idiosyncratic production Deneia assemblage. While many vessels placed in tombs
is not matched at any other Middle Cypriot site. had probably been in prior domestic service, some may
Deneia vessel types, in particular ‘Deneia basins’ and have been specifically intended for ceremonial use (both
incised black-topped bowls, have been recovered from funerary and non-funerary). Community-specific pottery
numerous tombs in both the Kafkalla and Mali cemeteries, designs are frequently most apparent in ritual deposits
attesting a common array of mortuary practices and (Bartlett and McAnany 2000, 117), and the selection of
signalling broad community affiliation rather than sub-group vessels for mortuary use is likely to reflect activities in
relationships based on individual households or lineages. which both community and sub-group affiliations were
These elements of stylistic behaviour may be equated with clearly signalled.
Wiessner’s concept of ‘emblemic style’ (1983) and Sackett’s
‘iconological style’ (1982; 1985; 1986; 1990) in which
symbolic variation is actively used to communicate identity Asserting Individuality: Variations on a Theme
and send clear, purposeful, conscious messages aimed at Incised black-topped Red Polished bowls are a distinctive
a specific target population, in this case both within and Middle Cypriot phenomenon at Deneia (Frankel and
beyond the settlement. Webb 2007, 58–59). They are far more common here than
The use of style markers as referents of corporate identity elsewhere and are found in large numbers in individual
does not, however, rule out the additional employment of