Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Stella Diakou, The Upper Geometric Cemetery at Lapithos: University of Pennsylvania Museum Excavations 1931-1932. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 146. Uppsala: Astrom Editions, 2018. Pp. xxvi, 395. ISBN 9789198153538. €80,00.

Reviewed by Erin Walcek Averett, Creighton University (erinaverett@creighton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Despite increasing interest in Cypriot archaeology and the application of more robust methods for fieldwork and analysis, the inaccessibility of the north since the 1974 Turkish invasion has resulted in an uneven picture of the history of the island.1 Recently, scholars such as Jennifer Webb, David Frankel, and Joanna Smith have revisited material from older excavations in the north to ameliorate this situation. The work under review, by Stella Diakou, which builds on her Bryn Mawr dissertation, similarly expands our knowledge of this region through the analysis and publication of the Pennsylvania Cyprus Expedition's (PCE) excavation of the Upper Geometric cemetery at Lapithos, 1931-32. This expedition was organized by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), but itsresults were never published. The material was eventually stored in the Penn Museum and the Cyprus Museum, where it languished unstudied for generations. Diakou's book rectifies the lack of initial publication and should be considered the primary source on this cemetery.As such, it is a stellar example of the value of studying legacy collections.2

The PCE was directed by Bert Hodge Hill (then director of the Corinth excavations), but the overseeing and recording of the Cypriote expedition were executed by Virginia Grace, Lucy Talcott, and Dorothy Hannah Cox. Diakou studied the artifacts as well as correspondences, Grace and Talcott's field notebooks, the object inventory book, Cox's tomb plans and site map, photographs, and Grace's 1937 unpublished report on the Lower and Upper Geometric cemeteries in the Penn Museum archives. Diakou acknowledges that her study would not have been possible without these womens' detailed and careful recordings.

The volume begins with an Introduction that reviews the history of excavations and introduces the site and landscape of Lapithos, located on the northwest slopes of the Kyrenia mountains.3 Ch. 2 (Tombs and Finds) presents a complete catalogue of the 19 explored chamber tombs, in use from the Cypro-Geometric (CG) I to CG III/Cypro-Archaic I, and their inventories (Tombs 471-489). Each entry includes updated tomb plans, photographs, a description of the dromos and chamber, and a catalogue of finds. All finds are included whether they were discarded by the excavators or are now missing. Ch. 3 (The Pottery) presents a typological classification, catalogue, and analysis of the ceramics from the site. Since most of the grave goods are ceramic vessels (1146 of the 1236 recorded artifacts), this is a major undertaking. Taking into account new regional approaches to CG pottery, especially by Anna Georgiadou, Diakou constructs a typology specific to this cemetery. The wares are homogeneous and typical for the period (Proto-White Painted, White Painted, Bichrome, Black Slip Painted, Black Slip Bichrome, Red Slip, Black on Red, Plain White, Grey Polished, and courseware), and include open and closed shapes that range in size from miniature to large vessels. Imports (flasks) and specialized vessels (e.g., kernoi, askoi) are rare. Diakou concludes by applying the seriation method to construct a convincing relative chronology for the tombs (pp. 218-23). The more infrequent small finds (jewelry, fibulae, pins, spindle whorls, and knives) are discussed in Ch. 4.

Ch. 5 (The Upper Geometric Cemetery and its Customs) explores the evidence for mortuary practices and contextualizes them within their local and regional setting. It should be noted that Diakou's conclusions are limited by the PCE's excavation and recording methods, which were standard for the time. The tombs were not investigated stratigraphically; burials were excavated as a single layer on the tomb floor, although the excavators attempted to reconstruct the burial order and associated objects on the basis of proximity. No human or animal remains were collected with the exception of one remarkably preserved human skeleton (now missing), and some bones collected with rings; no specialists studied these remains at the time of discovery, leaving speculation on the sex and age of the deceased and species identification to non-experts. Yet, Diakou is able to draw some important conclusions. Most of the chamber tombs were re-opened after the initial burial for additional interment(s) (which were all inhumations), and a few had later additions (niches, extra chambers, and benches). Presumably this investment not only in the initial construction, but in continued use (excavating and re-filling the dromos, opening and re-closing the stomion, re-arranging tomb contents, and architectural modifications) suggests that the tombs were used over generations by family or social groups. The ceramic assemblage consists of shapes primarily associated with the consumption of food and drink and the few identified animal remains are of sheep/goat, which suggests that funerary meals occurred at the tomb. Moreover, the presence of identical ceramic sets, the repetition of the same series in different tombs, and the high quantity of pots in some tombs, lead Diakou to postulate that there was a specialized funerary ceramic industry. Other occasional finds are primarily adornments or tools. The dead seem to have been laid out on the chamber floor with pots usually placed around the upper body; earlier burials and associated grave goods were pushed to the sides, with a few reburials in pots. The child and dromos burials are given different treatment. There is potential evidence for the intentional breaking of pots in the chambers and dromoi. Social differentiation and stratification are evident in tomb sizes and perhaps through position within the cemetery (with wealthier tombs higher on the Kastros plateau overlooking the coastal plain), the duration of tomb use, the number of specialized architectural features, the number and quantity of grave goods, and the number of specialized objects (e.g. gold jewelry, metal, ritual ceramics).

Diakou concludes by comparing the Upper Geometric cemetery to other Lapithos cemeteries, including the more humble Lower Geometric, located along the coast, and the wealthier Kastros, located in the center of Lapithos village and likely part of the same cemetery. This holistic view of the Lapithos mortuary record is a first – previously these cemeteries or even individual tombs were considered in isolation (pp. 243-51). The Lapithos cemeteries share funerary customs, with minor variations. Moreover, this analysis confirms that the new burial customs begun in the 11th-10th centuries continue throughout the CG.4

Diakou is clear about the limitations of the material, although at times she is perhaps overly optimistic about the excavators' interpretations regarding associations between certain artifacts and interments as well as their assessment of the biological sex and age of some of the skeletons (e.g., pp. 237-38, 244). Her discussion of the chamber floor areas and the estimation of the "crowdedness" of the tombs as an indication of wealth and social status is less convincing given the imprecise recording of skeletons, and the assumption that each interment was a complete burial and was given equal floor space in the tomb (p. 245). The full details of earlier burials and how artifacts and remains were treated with each subsequent deposition is, unfortunately, obscured. In fact, all we have (at best, provided there were no natural events or looting) is a snapshot of the chamber tomb after the final interment when the stomion was closed for the last time and the dromos filled.

The evidence for social differentiation should also be discussed with an acknowledgement that this cemetery is not likely to contain a complete profile of the associated settlement(s), and that probably not all members of the community were buried in chamber tombs. In fact, it is even possible that not all members of elite family or social groups were granted burial in the existing tombs. To state that the cemetery contains "tombs that may represent the 'aristocracy', to tombs that may have belonged to 'humble fishermen'" (using Donohoe's phrasing 5) is problematic (p. 250). Moreover, the discussion of diachronic patterns in this cemetery does not adequately take into consideration what must have been complex and shifting arenas for the display of social status. Based on the percentages of "wealthy" tombs, Diakou argues that in CGI-II "wealth in the form of grave goods seems to have been accessible to a greater number of families/groups. This does not suggest a rigidly stratified society" (p. 250). Yet, if we keep in mind that not all groups likely had access to such chamber tombs and that this sample size is relatively small, this conclusion presumes that the cemetery represents an accurate cross-section of the population. Diakou goes on to characterize CGIII as more stratified because of the overall fewer number of grave goods and fewer tombs with prestige artifacts. This could certainly be due to a more restricted group who could afford such display at death, but it could equally be the result of changing avenues or forms for such demonstrations (e.g. sanctuaries).

Overall, this work is well written and free of errors; the plans, photographs, and drawings are high quality. Some minor points: Figure 1.2 does not label the locations of the Upper and Lower cemeteries, and it would be helpful to include a more straightforward diagram of the tomb chronology in addition to the seriation results (Pl. 16). Table 5.2 is organized by tomb number, but one organized by chronological phases would be valuable. Finally, there is no mention of the Penn Museum online digital collection, which does include some material from the PCE Lapithos expedition for comparison.

None of these minor points detract from the overall quality of this work and its significance to the field. The Cypro- Geometric period, situated between two distinct urban cultures, has been studied primarily as a transitional phase with scholars mining the almost exclusively mortuary data for the beginnings of the kingdoms, evidence for ethnic groups, and external contacts. Only recently has the deathscape of this period begun to be examined holistically.6 By focusing not just on a single site, but on a single cemetery in a poorly understood area, Diakou's study takes a local micro-approach, which will encourage and facilitate much-needed future comparative studies. While scholars often lament the lack of settlement evidence for this period and the stagnant state of archaeology in northern Cyprus, Diakou's study demonstrates the potential of the funerary landscape to illuminate social developments and serves as a poignant reminder of the value of revisiting old excavation material to gain fresh insights even when new fieldwork is not possible.


1.   Under UNESCO conventions, no legal archaeological work can be conducted in this area. See Pilides, D., and M. Mina, eds. 2017. Four Decades of Hiatus in Archaeological Research in Cyprus: Towards Restoring the Balance. Proceedings of the International One-Day Workshop Held in Lefkosia (Nicosia) on 24th September 2016. Wien.
2.   On the ethics and value of studying legacy collections, see Frieman, C., and L. Janz. 2018. "A Very Remote Storage Box Indeed: The Importance of Doing Archaeology with Old Museum Collections." Journal of Field Archaeology 43: 257-68; Allen, R., and B. Ford, eds. 2019. New Life for Archaeological Collections. Society for Historical Archaeology Series in Material Culture. Lincoln, NE.
3.   See also Diakou, S. 2019. "The Archaeology of the North Coast of Cyprus. The Evidence from Lapithos." In New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology, edited by C. Kearns and S. Manning, 241-65. Ithaka.
4.   As observed by Coldstream, J.N. 1989. "Status Symbols in Cyprus in the Eleventh Century B.C." In Early Society in Cyprus, edited by E.J. Peltenberg, 325-35. Edinburgh; Steele, L. 1995. "Differential Burial Practices in Cyprus at the Beginning of the Iron Age." In The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East, edited by S. Campbell and A. Green, 199-204. Oxford.
5.   Donohoe, J.M. 1992. "The Lapithos-Lower Geometric Cemetery: An Early Iron Age Necropolis in Cyprus (Report of the 1931-32 Excavations of the Cyprus Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum)." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania. 405.
6.   E.g. Janes, S. 2008. "The Cypro-Geometric Horizon, a View from Below: Identity and Social Change in the Mortuary Record." Ph.D. diss., University of Glasgow.

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