Under the supervision of Dr. Rita Wright, doctoral candidate Matthew Spigelman will study the technology and organization of ceramic production in Cyprus during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1900-1500 BCE), when people on the island first began to trade goods abroad. This work will focus on ceramics decorated in the Red-on-Black style, which were produced in Cyprus and traded to Anatolia, the Levant and North Africa. Provenance and technological studies will be used to investigate if the technology and organization of ceramic production changed as communities engaged in long distance exchange. The importance of the proposed work rests on the fact that it will provide insight into how, at traditional levels of technology, international economic networks develop and are maintained. It also will shed light on how social inequality develops within traditional societies.

The study will generate provenance and technological data using Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA), petrographic analysis, and Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). This constellation of techniques will allow for the determination of both where and how ceramics were made. Provenance data, from INAA and petrography, will determine the chemical signatures of Red-on-Black style ceramic production centers within Cyprus. Conducting INAA on ceramics found abroad will allow them to be traced back to their place of origin on Cyprus and identify those centers that were engaged in production for long distance exchange. Technological data, from LA-ICP-MS, will be used to investigate the range of techniques for producing the two color decoration of Red-on-Black ceramics. The variability in the "recipes" practiced within each technique provides evidence for the organization of production, potentially ranging from households to large specialized workshops.

This project addresses the relationship between technology, the organization of production, and the development of inequality and social complexity. It contrasts with previous investigations by focusing on the role of craft producers, rather than elites, in initiating technological and social change. This work will provide graduate student training, enhance research infrastructure, create linkages between laboratories in the United States, and demonstrate the effectiveness of using archival data in conjunction with new analyses. The results of the study will impact scholarship on the cross cultural study of social change, the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the anthropological study of small group learning and craft production.

Project Report

project investigated the process by which previously isolated communities are incorporated into networks of exchange. The project focused upon the Island of the Cyprus during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800-1500 BCE), investigating the production and distribution abroad of ceramics decorated in the Red-on-Black style. These ceramics were strikingly decorated with a lustrous black surface, atop of which designs were executed in red paint. They are found abroad in Anatolia, the Levant, and Egypt, where they provide a stark visual contrast to the typically undecorated and mass produced local ceramics. The movement of these objects abroad traces the paths of some of the first traders who brought goods from the Island of Cyprus to the surround mainland, marking the beginning of the interconnected world that arose in the Mediterranean during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Decorated ceramics were chosen as the focus of this project because they are well preserved in the archaeological record and are amenable to testing by chemical analysis to determine their place and method of manufacture. The preparation of samples and their chemical analysis linked together three laboratories in the United States: the Ceramics Laboratory at New York University, the Archaeometry Laboratory at the Missouri University Research Reactor (MURR), and the Elemental Analysis Facility at the Field Museum in Chicago. This work would not have been possible without the resources and support of all three institutions; both MURR and the Elemental Analysis Facility are supported in major part by NSF funds. The chemical data generated by this project have demonstrated that production of decorated ceramics remained located on the village level and continued to use traditional technology during the initial period of long distance exchange. The major shift was in the organization of exchange, with coastal communities serving as points of interaction between indigenous villages and seaborne traders. These findings confront previously made arguments that long distance exchange brought about radical social, political, and technological changes in society, rather production for long distance exchange began from within existing social institutions, political structures, and technological practices. The Development of Mediterranean Long distance Exchange Project has also supported the training of the Co-Principal Investigator Matthew Spigelman, allowing for the production and analysis of data for his doctoral dissertation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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New York University
New York
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