During the Late Bronze Age (LBA), a number of small regional polities or ‘states’ emerged along the southern coast of Cyprus. This was probably as a result of a rapid increase in trading activity between the island and the surrounding eastern Mediterranean, which is visible in the archaeological record at this time. Existing Middle Cypriot (MC) communities, largely focused on agriculture and herding with limited connections outside the island, were transformed by new economic conditions during the transition to the LBA (17th and 16th centuries BC). This phenomenon was often accompanied by a shift in the location of major settlements from inland areas to the coast, in order to take advantage of these new opportunities for trade.
Most scholars believe that the demand for Cypriot copper by the metal-hungry economies of neighbouring states in the eastern Mediterranean was an important reason for this transformation. This trade would have enriched the coastal settlements of the island in particular; these settlements acted as centres for processing and exporting the purified metal, as well as for manufacturing finished products. At the same time, there is only limited evidence for large-scale metal production before the 14th century BC, when the kings of Alashiya (probably Cyprus) sent large amounts of copper to Egypt, so other causes for this transformation must be taken into account.
It is clear, for instance, that Cypriots themselves initiated or developed a demand for locally produced goods, such as unguents and perfumes attractively packaged in small juglets and other containers, as well as dyes, textiles and other luxury goods which were made in the newly-established centres on or near the coast. Harbour settlements such as Maroni-Tsaroukkas, where a number of objects in this catalogue were excavated, may also have functioned as distribution or trans-shipment points for goods from other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Ships calling to collect metal, timber and finished goods may also have picked up items acquired by local merchants for resale and carried them back to their home ports. The result was both an economic and a cultural transformation, as artistic ideas, technologies, lifestyles and perhaps beliefs travelled around the eastern Mediterranean world.
In the Maroni region, numerous older Early Cypriot (EC)–MC communities were located along the middle stretches of the Ayiou Mina (or Maroni) river valley. This reflects their reliance on the natural resources of the region, such as farming and grazing land, and may also have been a precaution against piracy. The people of this period are known almost solely from burials found in a number of cemeteries around the villages of Maroni and Psematismenos. These sites have produced numerous chamber tombs with Red or Drab Polished wares distinctive to the south coast of the island. (The typical White Painted wares, which characterise the later part of this period in the centre and north of Cyprus, are very rare in this region, and were probably imported from other parts of the island.
These sites appear to have declined or been abandoned towards the end of the MC period, when the first occupation at sites such as Maroni-Vournes, Maroni-Tsaroukkas and Maroni-Kapsaloudhia is attested. Older accounts suggested that these abandonments marked a period of disruption and internal conflict, or even aggression from foreign elements. It is more likely, however, that the transition to the LBA settlement organisation (and underlying economic and political systems) was more gradual. Existing communities doubtless played a significant role in the new developments in the area, in collaboration with more mobile entrepreneurs from outside the region.
By the late Cypriot (LC) IIC period (late 14th and 13th centuries BC), the site of Maroni-Vournes boasted an impressive ashlar-built complex used for a combination of storage and manufacturing with administrative and perhaps ceremonial purposes. An adjacent building seems to have functioned as a large storage magazine, possibly for grain, oil and wine. Traces of a similar ashlar building were discovered at the site of Aspres further to the west, suggesting that fairly large-scale centralised control of foodstuffs was being carried out in the Maroni area. Presumably this was overseen by an élite group of some sort, though possibly on behalf of the community: the overall political structure of the region remains uncertain, even if it was clearly hierarchical to some degree.
At Tsaroukkas, parts of the settlement spread over the older burial ground at this time. This extension disturbed a number of chamber tombs, which appear to have been deliberately cleared of their contents beforehand. This clearly indicates a change in the spatial organisation and function of the settlement, but the industrial nature of the buildings suggests that the economy of the town continued to thrive. Although scholars commonly use the term ‘urbanisation’ to describe the changes in Cypriot society at this time, especially in the LC IIC period, few of the known settlements were very large in extent. Moreover, in the Maroni area, economic and social activities seem to have been distributed fairly widely around the countryside at a number of sites (see map), rather than nucleated within a single, densely populated settlement. Nonetheless, the surviving archaeological evidence suggests a prosperous and highly organised polity, comparable to other centres on the island.
Similar changes can be seen in the adjacent Vasilikos valley, approximately 7.5km to the west (see the map in the previous section).Like the Maroni sites of this period, the EC–MC settlement pattern was focused on the middle and upper reaches of the river valley, probably related to the deposits of copper ore located in this area. The modern village of Kalavasos was the location of an important burial ground of the EC–MC period, represented in the British Museum collection by several examples of Red Polished ware.
The later burials of this cemetery reflect the growing commercial contacts of the region during the 17th and 16th centuries BC. This is probably related to the expansion of the local metal-producing industry, as well as the exploitation of the rich farmland and abundant grazing to the south of the village.
Competition with the Maroni sites for trading opportunities may have encouraged the inhabitants of the older community around Kalavasos to move their main centre closer to the sea, since during the 15th century BC (the late LC IB or IIA period) a new settlement focus appeared in a strategic position further down the valley at a place called Ayios Dhimitrios. Little is known however of the contemporary settlement because of the destruction caused by later buildings, but the earliest burials here date to this period, becoming increasing wealthy over the following centuries with many imported luxury goods. By LC IIC, however, Ayios Dhimitrios consisted of a small town covering about 11 hectares with clear signs of social and administrative stratification. The settlement was dominated by the so-called North-East quarter, a cluster of ashlar-built structures for storage, artisanal production, olive oil processing and administration or ceremonial activities, at the centre of which was the monumental Building X.
The North-East quarter was connected to the rest of the settlement by what looks like a formally laid-out street. On either side of this street were numerous smaller structures – houses and workshops for the most part – built with rubble masonry. Some of these buildings were of considerable size and complexity, despite the use of less elaborate construction techniques. Evidence for metallurgy and other manufacturing or processing activities suggested that the North-East quarter did not necessarily dominate these aspects of the settlement’s economy. While the ashlar structures are comparable in a number of respects to those in the Maroni area, the layout of Ayios Dhimitrios is very different, perhaps suggesting a different economic or political structure. The relationship of the two areas remains uncertain, and it is not impossible that they formed part of a single polity at some stage in the LBA.