More on Bronze Age Kommos
Kommos is one of my favorite sites in the Mediterranean. Not only is it beautifully situated, but it has a great guide and the results of the excavations there contribute (in a way that I can understand as a non-Bronze Ageologist) to broader discussions of Mediterranean connectivity and economic organization. In fact, I like Kommos so much that I blogged about the site almost three years ago. (Have I really been blogging that long? Don’t I have better things to do with my mornings by now?)
As I noted in my first blog post on Kommos, the most interesting thing about the site is the evidence for how deeply interconnected it was with other regions across the Mediterranean. An article in the most recent volume of Hesperia makes a further contribution to what scholars already know about the economic networks in which Kommos participated. In “Mycenaean and Cypriot Late Bronze Age Ceramic Imports to Kommos” (Hesperia 79 (2010), 191-231), Jonathan Tomlinson, Jeremy Rutter, and Sandra Hoffman confirm using neutron activation analysis that Kommos featured numerous imports from both the Mycenaean world and, more interesting to me, from Cyprus. From what I can gather, the assemblage at Kommos produced a significant quantity of Late Minoan III vessels and White Slip II milk bowls and Base Ring II cups in particular. Apparently these types of vessels were shipped around the Aegean stacked in pithoi (Dimitri Nakassis clarified this for me).
Neutron activation analysis demonstrated that the material from Cyprus could be identified with certain discrete production sites on the island. It is hard to completely understand what this could mean (especially for a time period outside my specialty). On the one hand, it may be that Late Bronze Age Cyprus had certain sites and production facilities dedicated to an export economy in ceramics (like scholars have argued for copper production). On the other hand, it also could indicate that certain classes of high-value Late Bronze Age ceramics were only produced at certain sites. Or, finally, on the third hand (!!!), it could mean that Kommos only had particular political and economic relationships with particular sites on Cyprus and imported material from those places to the exclusion of similar material derived from other sites. All three possibilities reflect how well-organized the commercial economy of Cyprus was in the Late Bronze Age (something that we had already suspected based on the evidence found in the Uluburun shipwreck). It is interesting to think how patterns of exchange that link discrete consumption and production sites would influence the more decentralized patterns of pre-modern commerce conjured up by Horden and Purcell. For Horden and Purcell, trade seems to flow through flexible and largely decentralized networks of micro-regions which depended, to some extent, on dynamic, highly-flexible networks of both supply and demand that functioned across a local, regional, and inter-regional scale. Would the presence of discrete and seemingly long-standing relationships between sites of consumption, like Kommos, and production centers challenge the more decentralized model advanced in The Corrupting Sea?
It is even more interesting to see how neutron activation analysis has allowed Tomlinson, Rutter, and Hoffman to identify the regional production sites that simple visual inspection of ceramics would not have detected. The downside of this technology, of course, is the expense and the expertise required to analyze and interpret the results. If we can imagine an archaeological world where neutron activation analysis (and other sophisticated methods for identifying and describing ceramics) become more common, we can see a world where the oftentimes black art of ceramics analysis has simultaneous become blacker and become more transparent. The individual abilities of ceramicists to identify artifact types consistently can now be verified through a more consistently replicable process, but, at the same time, a process that requires a level of scientific expertise that most Mediterranean archaeologists lack.