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Virtual and Actual Corporealities in Bronze-Age Cyprus: Exploring Humanity through the Study of Anthropomorphic Figurines and Material Culture

Maria Mina

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I would like to thank the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus for granting me permission to publish Figures 2 and 3 in this communication.

  • 1 Mina 2008.

1My current research constitutes an extension of my earlier studies of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) anthropomorphic figurines of the Aegean.1 One of the aspects that I was particularly concerned with was the deconstruction of decorative syntheses displayed on figurines in an attempt to gain insights into the manipulation of external appearance for the construction of social identity and relationships.

  • 2 Bailey 2005.
  • 3 Talalay 1993.
  • 4 Bailey 2005, 139-140, 199-200.
  • 5 Ibid., 204.

2The representation of human form holds valuable information on what it meant to be human in prehistoric societies2 and such representations were the products of deliberate or unintentional acts that maintained or undermined social conditions and socially-constructed identities.3 Human representations are centrally involved in the process of socialisation and negotiation of power politics in prehistoric societies, and the mindful modelling of figurines expressed through the exaggerated representation of body parts, or stylised and repeated forms create the constructed body that is central to social dynamics.4 The modelled human form presented idealised images against which compliance or rejection of social norms could be measured, and the rendering of features such as posture, anatomical features, attire and adornment constituted components of the virtual definition of humanity. These virtual corporealities may or may not contradict actual corporealities in living contexts and other media, such as material culture, or in the arenas of habitational space, cemeteries, activities or ritual.5 Assessing the values instilled in human representations against practices in living contexts can help elucidate prehistoric social norms of being human, and reveal areas of potential tension or conformity in the political dialectics of social relationships (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Interface of virtual and actual corporeality as common ground for understanding humanity in Bronze Age Cyprus.

Fig. 1: Interface of virtual and actual corporeality as common ground for understanding humanity in Bronze Age Cyprus.

Fig. 2: Plank figurine from Bellapais Vounous – Fig. 3: Clay model from Bellapais Vounous

Fig. 2: Plank figurine from Bellapais Vounous – Fig. 3: Clay model from Bellapais Vounous
  • 6 Campo 1994, 166; Knapp, Meskell 1997, 196.
  • 7 Kwani 2005, 342-343.

3The modelling of human representations resumed after a long break in figurine production that lasted for the greater part of the EBA and was distinct from Chalcolithic figurine-making tradition. Particularly interesting are the highly standardised plank figurines, marked with elaborate motifs intended to denote attire, woven textiles, jewellery or tattooing, that indicate emphasis on external appearance for expressing social identity and status on a virtual level.6 In the living context, it is no coincidence that the EBA is characterised by marked production of metal objects that were intended to be displayed on the body (jewellery, weapons and attire-related objects, such as pins), and were associated with patterns of increased conspicuous consumption in funerary contexts.7 The study of metal objects in terms of production, consumption and deposition patterns can complement the study of anthropomorphic representations (virtual corporealities) by providing insights into the sphere of actual corporealities at a time when metallurgical technology is oriented towards visible emphasis of the manipulated body. Although the focus is primarily on metal articles, other objects displayed on the body will also be considered in an attempt to reconstruct the synthesis of actual corporealities.

  • 8 Dies 1997, 12.

4The particular research aims to explore how humanity was defined in Early and Middle Bronze Age Cyprus, and what were the social dynamics surrounding the construction, performance and negotiation of social identity and relationships as played out in the sphere of virtual and lived corporealities. One of the questions that is addressed is whether idealised portrayals of social identity are consistent or conflicting with the parallel materialities in the context of the living and the dead, which could reveal how power politics surrounding social identity and relationships were played out in the sphere of virtual and actual corporealities. It will not be possible to discuss social identity and relationships without taking into account the operation of regional patterns regarding social norms and organisation that suggest an apparent differentiation between communities of the north coast of Cyprus and those of inland and southern regions. Limitations that need to be taken into account, however, include our biased knowledge of excavated tombs from the north and centre of the island, the fragmentation of the archaeological record, and the extensive looting and damage of tombs.8

5The study contributes to on-going research on anthropomorphic figurines of prehistoric Cyprus, while at the same time it proposes a comparative study of metal objects as traces and means of tangible corporealities. Though archaeometallurgical studies have significantly advanced the understanding of metallurgical production in prehistoric Cyprus, the current research connects metal objects to represented humans and ultimately seeks to understand how being human was defined in Bronze Age Cyprus.

6Acknowledgements

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Bibliography

Campo A. L. A, Anthropomorphic Representations in Prehistoric Cyprus: A Formal and Symbolic Analysis of Figurines, c. 3500-1800 B.C., Jonsered 1994.

Bailey D. W., Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the Neolithic, London and New York 2005

Davies P., “Mortuary Practice in Prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus: Problems and Potential”, Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus 1997, 11-26.

Keswani P. S., “Death, Prestige, and Copper in Bronze Age Cyprus”, American Journal of Archaeology 109.3, 2005, 341-401.

Knapp A. B. and Meskell L., “Bodies of Evidence on Prehistoric Cyprus”, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 7, 183-204.

Mina M., Anthropomorphic Figurines from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Aegean: Gender Dynamics and Implications for the Understanding of Aegean Prehistory, BAR International Series 1894, Oxford 2008.

Talalay L. E., Deities, Dolls, and Devices. Neolithic Figurines from Franchthi Cave, Greece. Excavations at Franchthi Cave, Greece 9. Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1993.

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Notes

1 Mina 2008.

2 Bailey 2005.

3 Talalay 1993.

4 Bailey 2005, 139-140, 199-200.

5 Ibid., 204.

6 Campo 1994, 166; Knapp, Meskell 1997, 196.

7 Kwani 2005, 342-343.

8 Dies 1997, 12.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1: Interface of virtual and actual corporeality as common ground for understanding humanity in Bronze Age Cyprus.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/749/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 64k
Title Fig. 2: Plank figurine from Bellapais Vounous – Fig. 3: Clay model from Bellapais Vounous
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/749/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 131k
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References

Electronic reference

Maria Mina, « Virtual and Actual Corporealities in Bronze-Age Cyprus: Exploring Humanity through the Study of Anthropomorphic Figurines and Material Culture », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 10 | 2013, Online since 10 January 2016, connection on 21 August 2017. URL : http://acost.revues.org/749

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About the author

Maria Mina

University of Cyprus, Department of History and Archaeology
m.mina@ucy.ac.cy

En

Cyprus, anthropomorphic, material culture, virtual corporeality

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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