The economy of the ancient world

Dr Louise Steel

The Arediou Vouppes project has been examining a Late Bronze Age settlement in the Cypriot rural hinterland, specifically focusing on the archaeological characterisation of a little-known type of agricultural site. A key aspect of the project has been to promote a wider understanding of the value and relevance of the past (both recent and ancient) as a means of safeguarding the archaeological record for future generations through the encouragement of local engagement in the construction of narratives of cultural heritage. Our primary beneficiaries have been identified as members of the local Cypriot community at Arediou, although we have also sought to foster an improved sensitivity to community perspectives of ‘the past’ from heritage custodians in Cyprus which will inform their practice.

Due to maritime trade and exploitation of its copper resources, Cyprus is fundamental to understanding the Late Bronze Age (LBA) East Mediterranean. Nonetheless, the island’s social, economic and political organisation remains unresolved. Several studies have postulated a complex settlement hierarchy: sites being classified by size, location, and material remains. At the apex were coastal towns, possible administrative centres involved in maritime trade. The island’s rural hinterland, however, has received considerably less attention. Accordingly, this project has sought to redress that imbalance, through detailed exploration of Arediou Vouppes a Bronze Age agricultural support village in central Cyprus. Our published research has tested various hypotheses advanced to interpret the socio-political organisation of LBA Cyprus and we are currently developing a more holistic interpretation of a previously little known settlement type. The research has been directed by Dr Louise Steel from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) through a surveys in 2004, excavation in 2005, 2006, 2008 and post excavation analysis in 2007, 2011, 2012. Enhanced Impact work was funded by the AHRC in 2013. The primary objective is the archaeological definition of a LBA rural settlement, according to its material remains.

  • Architecture:  this does not fit within the known range of LBA architecture on Cyprus. Analyses have focused on the architectural technologies and interpretation of the use and social signification of space (Dr Louise Steel, TSD). Some aspects have been tested using micromorphology (Dr Richard McPhail, UCL)
  • Material Culture: analyses of the pottery (Dr Louise Steel, UWTSD) suggest significant divergence from the repertoire attested in contemporary urban settlements, possibly indicating specialised activities. The materiality of the LBA settlement is further being explored through detailed analyses of the use and re-use of a range of specialised ceramic, metal and stone objects including figurine fragments, gaming stones, jewellery items (Dr Louise Steel, UWTSD). Dr Magdalena Öhrman (UWTSD) is undertaking a study of the textile technologies. Analysis of chipped/ground stone assemblages demonstrates the persistence of stone-based tool technologies throughout the LBA (Dr Carole McCartney, Lemba Cyprus, research fellow UEA). Rare inscribed sherds are being studied by Dr Nicholle Hirschfeld (assistant professor, Trinity University, San Antonio).

A second aim is to establish the economic basis of Arediou Vouppes (agricultural, pastoral, copper procurement/production). It has been suggested that Vouppes produced agricultural surplus to support nearby mining communities and possibly the coastal towns.

  • Part of this research comprises an ongoing study in the University of Cyprus (supervised by Dr Vassiliki Kassianidou) to determine whether the copper slag found at Arediou demonstrates an identifiable link with nearby mining sites such as Politiko Phorades.
  • Animal bones (and human bones from the only tomb excavated on site) have been studied by Dr Ros Coard (UWTSD)
  • Soil analysis undertaken by Dr John Crowther (UWTSD)

This project has generated impacts through examining the role and value of the past in cultural and societal change. It has focused on the specific case study of Arediou, in central Cyprus, as an example of a small community that is disengaged from the process by which its cultural heritage is constructed and presented, and has only a limited voice, if any, in articulating local/personal experiences of the past. The aim has been to explore ways in which this, and similar such communities, might be persuaded to engage with constructing their own local narrative, integrating their rich archaeological heritage within more recent historical experiences. Our aim has and continues to be to ensure the preservation of the archaeological and historical heritage of the community at Arediou, by actively including members of the community in the creation of historical narratives, to encourage them and give them the confidence to grasp intellectual ownership of their past and empower them to engage with their history.

In this the primary objective has been to change the local mind-set from one of viewing archaeological sites as at best simply as curiosities or at worst, as resources to be looted.  Instead we have helped to develop and encourage an understanding of the local archaeology as an important source of knowledge and information regarding their heritage, one which they would be proud to claim and which they themselves would seek to protect and curate: effectively transforming if you will 'poachers into gamekeepers'. The primary beneficiary is the local community, which has been closely involved in project from its inception and has intensified since 2008. 

As a result of UWTSD funding and the subsequent AHRC grant, we have conducted three separate hands-on archaeology sessions at the local schools, two with around twenty-thirty children and the third with around sixty children (ages 6-11). The children had the opportunity to handle various artefacts uncovered at their site. A key aim here was for them not only to reconsider how these were used and what they might tell us about the ancient community, but equally to emphasise the importance of smaller, fragmentary, more ephemeral remains that otherwise might be overlooked, and how these also contribute to our understanding of the past. We supplied the teachers with photographs of the excavation which they have used in follow up archaeology classes, in which the children wrote about and/or drew the finds they had handled and the archaeologists they had met.

In 2012 the school children, through the intermediary of the local mayor (κοινοτάρχης), presented the archaeologists with a reconstruction of an ancient boat that they had made in one of their archaeology classes. The teachers have also organised a visit to the archaeological site.  In 2013 we presented the school with an artist’s impression of the site created by Eloise Govier (PhD candidate, UWTSD) during in the 2012 study season. During the 2013 season, the project continued its work with the local school to bring the heritage into the children’s educational and cultural horizons; currently we are preparing an illustrated booklet in Greek telling the story of the Bronze Age site. This is designed to excite an interest in the past which via the children will permeate the wider community. The link between the archaeology found at Arediou since 2004, and its placement within a wider Cypriot context engages the local population in an understanding of the importance of the village since antiquity. We are working closely with the School’s headmistress to ensure that this is pitched at an appropriate level and is suitable for curricular or ex-curricular activities.

As a result of our engagement with the local school and the wider community on a more informal basis we have seen a real interest in the community archaeology on the part of the children and also their parents. The children demonstrated a good knowledge and understanding of their heritage and in particular the importance of Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age during the most recent hands-on session: knowing the age of the site, the significance of copper production and the agricultural role – which they were able to relate to more recent experiences in the village. Regular contact within the wider community (in local kafeneia and small businesses) clearly shows that this has impacted the wider community’s understanding of their ancient heritage and the importance of the archaeology. Initial responses to the archaeology ranged in 2004 from surprise that we were excavating there – “έχει αρχαία στο Αρεδιού;” (is there any archaeology in Arediou?) – to bemusement at the collection of sherds, considered at best rubbish – “τι είναι αυτό; Δεν είναι τίποτα!” (What is that? It isn’t anything!), to “πόσο αξίζει;” (how much is that worth?).

Frequently we have been made privy to the “economic” worth of antiquities within and beyond Arediou – from private collections to the common knowledge that “όταν βρήκαμε τάφοι βγάλαμε συκιά μέσα!” (When we found tombs we planted fig trees in them [to hide them]!). Now, the response from the wider community reflects a clear change in attitude and an appreciation of the cultural value of their archaeological heritage. We are now regularly told by various members of the community how important our work in the area has been, that the younger members of the community are beginning to appreciate their past (both recent and ancient) and that it is important that we are preserving and recording their archaeology. Most significantly, there is a clear aspiration on the part of the wider community to have a local museum showcasing some of the finds from the excavation (for which we are continuing to facilitate dialogue between the Local Council and the Department of Antiquities, Nicosia) – discussed below.

At the end of each season of fieldwork (between 2004 and 2008) the excavation team prepared a display of the key finds of the season for the local community, labelled in Greek. The exhibitions were held in conjunction with the village council who hosted a barbecue for the community. The aspiration of the local community, for which we have secured AHRC funding to help develop, is to establish a permanent exhibition space at Arediou, in the newly-built Civic Centre. While UWTSD will provide academic expertise, in particular the eventual choice of artefacts that will provide a representative narrative of the archaeology, we will also be making available an interpretative framework for the archaeology.

During 2013, the PI consulted with the local community and representatives from the Department of Antiquities and these discussions have set in place the necessary groundwork for the establishment of an exhibition space at Arediou. An important aspect of the PI’s role was to liaise and facilitate communication at an appropriate level between the Local Council and the Department of Antiquities, as the route of communication is not always clear and the local community feels disempowered in their ability to achieve control over their local heritage. Meanwhile the Department of Antiquities has a very strict policy concerning the preservation and curation of archaeological materials. Discussions with local stakeholders have clarified the process with which they need to engage, and have made accessible a line of communication with the Department of Antiquities (via Dr Eftychia Zachariou) thereby empowering the local community.  Such engagement with the local officials, custodians and community leaders dates back to 2004 and has continued since 2008; this resulted in the production of a report on the heritage and ongoing project. Written in Greek, the report (Εκθεση του Αρεδιου) was circulated amongst the local community, via the mayor, town council and local priest. (A copy is available on request. Translated by Maria Vasileiou: mvasileiou@gmail.com). 

The first 2013 season (June) saw the development of two new community strands to the project, both of which have been very well received. The first is creating a photographic and video record of the old village, focusing in particular on two or three buildings which survive to a reasonable degree and where we know the families and are able to record memories of occupation up to the 1950s-1960s. We have also begun a pilot project, recording the more recent histories of the villagers, likewise to encourage a more reflexive engagement with the past. In addition, the visual record of the old mud brick village, which currently is falling into ruin, will be made accessible on the project webpage and we hope this generate further interest in the valuable historical resources on the community’s doorstep. This has resulted in a real generation of interest in the more recent past; most notably, in June the local priest and his family organised a tour around the old village with older residents, in which they shared stories and information about the “old way of life”.

In addition to the visual recording of the old village, during 2013 we tested the feasibility of an oral history project, recording the memories and recollections of the older surviving villagers. While we envisage that the experience of sharing and discussing memories and histories will also have a positive impact on the community, enhancing their sense of pride in their village and their past there are broader political questions emerging here also as there is a very strong sense within the community of a Greek identity. Furthermore, over several years working with the community we have gained the elders' trust and have consequently been made privy to many hidden histories by different members of the community, including stories which stretch back to the final years of Ottoman rule on Cyprus.

This potentially important historical information is largely unspoken within the community and is in danger of being forgotten and lost forever as the older generation dies out.  These areas of impact relate to the wider goal of contributing to community understanding of the immense value of their local heritage, and their purposeful engagement with this, as something to protect, preserve and pass on to future generations. 

  • AHRC (Care for the Future scheme)
  • Council for British Research in the Levant
  • Institute for Aegean Prehistory 

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

Department of Antiquities, Cryprus

Steel, L. Materiality and Consumption in the Bronze Age Mediterranean.  (Routledge 2013)

The importance of cultural contacts in the East Mediterranean has long been recognized and is the focus of ongoing international research. Fieldwork in the Aegean, Egypt, Cyprus, and the Levant continues to add to our understanding of the nature of this contact and its social and economic significance, particularly to the cultures of the Aegean. Despite sophisticated discussion of the archaeological evidence, in particular on the part of Aegean and Mediterranean archaeologists, there has been little systematic attempt to incorporate anthropological perspectives on materiality and exchange into archaeological narratives of this material. This book addresses that gap and integrates anthropological discourse on contact, examining exchange systems, the gift, notions of geographical distance and power, colonization, and hybridization. Furthermore, it develops a social narrative of culture contact in the Mediterranean context, illustrating the reasons communities chose to engage in international exchange, and how this impacted the construction of identities throughout the region.   While traditional archaeologies in the East Mediterranean have tended to be reductive in their approach to material culture and how it was produced, used, and exchanged, this book reviews current research on material culture, focusing on issues such as the biography of objects, inalienable possessions, and hybridization – exploring how these issues can further illuminate the material world of the communities of the Bronze Age Mediterranean.