All posts by Emily Jean Booker

Virtual Vault: Cypriot Drinking Cup

Object Number: 185
Object Title: Ceramic cup
Object Type: cup (drinking vessels)
Material: ceramic (material)

This light brown, buff colored vessel with dark brown geometric designs may seem fairly innocuous at first glance.  However, its production, shape, and decoration are all tied to dramatic shifts in trade and exchange in the Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1650-1050 BCE).

The Late Bronze Age Mediterranean, particularly the eastern Mediterranean, was characterized by heightened amounts of contact between different regions. The Hittite and Egyptian empires were vying for control of the Levant – the western coast of the Middle East.  Archives excavated at the Egyptian site of El-Amarna (founded by the one and only Akhenaten) and the key trade center of Ugarit (located in modern Syria) have produced a staggering amount of letters exchanged between the rulers in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Levant, and, most importantly within this discussion, Cyprus. These correspondences demonstrate a network of “kingly exchange” where rulers send gifts with the expectation of receiving something in return. 

This pan-Mediterranean contact was not just limited to a brotherhood of kings. The Uluburun shipwreck, found off the coast of southern Turkey, provides evidence for the more mundane side of these trade networks. The ship contained hundreds of amphorae, demonstrating its vast storage capacity, as well as other trade goods including drinking vessels and copper ingots originating from the island of Cyprus (Hirshfeld 2008).

So how does this little drinking cup fit into these grand trade networks? The vessel can be identified as a typical White Slip II ware, commonly referred to as a “milk bowl” due to its light, almost-white slip. These bowls or cups were produced in Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, but their presence is found throughout the Mediterranean, from sites in the Levant like Megiddo (Clark 2018: 75-78), to those in Sardinia like Nuraghe Antigori (Vagnetti 2001: 78), as well as in the North Sinai and Egypt (Bergoffen 1991).  

One of the key commodities during the Late Bronze Age was, as the name of the period might suggest, bronze. Bronze is not a naturally-occuring metal, and instead is produced through combining copper and tin. Cyprus was a key tradestop during the Late Bronze Age due to its copper-rich mines, and letters to the king of Egypt as well as archaeological evidence from shipwrecks provide solid evidence for the high demand of Cypriot copper.

Of course, materials don’t just travel by themselves. Traders and sailors traveled throughout the Mediterranean and brought small objects along with them, including small drinking vessels like the one in our Vault Collection. Cypriot traders could bring these items with them and exchange them for other goods, and it is likely through this that a demand for White Slip II bowls grew and grew. In fact, they seem to have been more popular outside of the island; scholars have argued that external demand, particularly in the Levant, drove the production of milk bowls in Cyprus.

While this little cup with a fun wishbone handle seems like a simple, everyday object, the wider context of the importance of trade and Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age demonstrates that even mass-produced, less valuable artifacts can hold huge importance.

More examples for Cypriot White Slip Wares:

Brooklyn Museum

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art The inhabitants of Cyprus exported bowls with wishbone handles throughout the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C.E. Egyptologists call them milk bowls because of their milky coloration, but they do not know how the bowls were used. DATES ca. 1400-1225 B.C.E.


Works Cited

Bergoffen, C. J. (1991). Overland trade in Northern Sinai: the evidence of the Late Cypriot pottery. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 284(1), 59-76.

Clark, B. A. (2018). Trade in Middle and Late Bronze Age Transition at Megiddo: A Study of Imported Cypriot Pottery. Master’s Thesis. University of Haifa.

Hirschfeld, N. (2008). Cypriot pottery. In J. Aruz, K. Benzel, & J. M. Evans (Eds.), Beyond Babylon: Art, trade, and diplomacy in the second millennium B.C. (pp. 321-323). Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Vagnetti, L. (2001). Some Observations on Late Cypriot Pottery from the Central Mediterranean. In L. Bonfante & V. Karageorghis (Eds.), Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity 1500-450 BC (pp. 77-96). Department of Antiquities Cyprus, Nicosia.

Updated date: Lecture by Katina Lillios 11/16

Please join us Wednesday, November 16 at 5:30 pm EST for a lecture by Katina Lillios (The University of Iowa) titled “The Islamic Lives of Iberian Megaliths: Some Initial Explorations” in Rhode Island Hall, Room 108. Reception to follow.

Katina Lillios is an anthropological archaeologist interested in the ways people used material culture, the remains of the dead, and monuments to create, enhance, and challenge sociopolitical difference and inequality. She is intrigued by the ways that social phenomena and cultural values come to be materialized, and how their materiality triggers social action.

Lillios is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iowa, and holds her degrees from Yale University (Ph.D. and M.A.) and Boston University (B.A.). Her areas of specialty are prehistoric Iberia, and mnemonics in the archaeological record. She has published widely, and is the principal investigator at the Bolores rockshelter in Portugal, and for a study of Portuguese Copper Age tools.

Lecture by Philipp Stockhammer 11/15

Please join us on Tuesday, November 15 at 4 PM for a lecture by Philipp Stockhammer (Ludwig-Maximilians University) titled “Bioarchaeology in the Bronze Age Levant: Novel Insights into Mobility, Food, and Philistines.” The lecture will take place in Rhode Island Hall Room 108 with reception to follow.

Philipp W. Stockhammer is professor for prehistoric archaeology with a focus on the Eastern Mediterranean at Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) Munich and co-director of Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean, Jena. His research focuses on the transformative power of intercultural encounters, human-thing-entanglements, social practices and the integration of archaeological and scientific interpretation.

Brown Bag Talks for Fall 2022

Brown Bag talks are held Thursdays from 12:00-12:50pm in RI Hall 108.
These talks are free and open to the public. Information about each talk will be provided below.

Brown paper bag with the JIAAW logo

October 13, 2022:
Daniel Everton (Public Humanities, Brown University)
Re-imagining the Predynastic Man Exhibit at Museo Egizio

October 20, 2022:
Amanda Gaggioli (Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, Brown University)
Decolonialism and Mediterranean Archaeology: the case for the Aegean prehistory/history divide

November 3, 2022:
John F. Cherry & Liza Davis (Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, Brown University)
Archaeology in the Potter’s Field at Providence’s North Burial Ground

November 17, 2022:
Christina Hodge (Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University)
Desanitizing Provenance: Critical Documentation in Museum Collections

December 1, 2022
Breton Langendorfer (History of Art and Architecture, Brown University)
Achaemenid Syntax: Architecture, Metalware, and Modularity