The role of Cyprus in Mediterranean Trade during the Bronze Age

In this post we present information, extracted from four publications, which refer to the role of Cyprus in Mediterranean Trade during the Bronze Age.


Many different types of evidence provide clues to the nature of commercial exchange among the regions of the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean. I approach this topic through the study of marks which were incised or painted on pottery traded between the Near East and the Aegean. Thanks to the kindness of many excavators and museum officials in Cyprus and Greece, I have been able to examine firsthand much of the marked pottery found in those regions.

There are many reasons for marking pottery, and not all are related to the process of exchange. But some marks – especially those made after firing – indicate directly how or why a vase was traded: for example, marks may have been the means by which merchants identified their merchandise, marks may have ensured the quality of a vessel’s contents, or they may have indicated the destination of a particular cargo. Thus, if one can identify the purpose of the marks put on the vases, they may provide valuable clues to the organization of trade.

In the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean, many different kinds of pottery were marked and in a variety of ways. The handles or bases of Cypriot domestic containers, for example, were often incised with single signs or longer inscriptions. Red Lustrous spindle bottles and Canaanite jars are two other prominent examples of wares which frequently carry potmarks of some sort.

My research so far has concentrated on Mycenaean (LH III, and also LM III) pottery, which – in sharp contrast to the situation in other areas of the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean – is very rarely marked. We can identify three categories of marks, according to which almost all published marks can be classified:

(1) Linear B inscriptions are usually painted onto the shoulders or bellies of large coarse stirrup jars; vases marked with Linear B characters are found only within the Mycenaean Aegean – i.e., these vases are marked with signs intelligible within their area of distribution.

(2) Single signs painted probably after firing are found on many different vase shapes distributed throughout the Mediterranean. These do not seem to be Linear B characters. Some work has been done on this material, most notably by F. Stubbings, but a thorough re-evaluation is needed.

(3) The third kind of mark which appears on Mycenaean pottery is signs incised into handles and bases, usually isolated, but sometimes two or three characters, almost always inscribed after firing. The rest of this paper concentrates specifically on LH/LM III vases marked with incised signs.

Only about 200 vases out of the entire corpus of excavated Mycenaean pottery carry incised signs. Almost all such marks appearing on Mycenaean pottery share the following features: they are incised after firing, usually onto the handles of large transport/storage vessels (large stirrup jars and piriform jar FS 36), and most can be dated specifically to LH (or LM) IIIB. Most (82%) Mycenaean vases marked with incised signs are found in Cyprus and Near Eastern sites with Cypriot connections; far fewer (17%) are found in Greece, and then only in the Argolid (except four which were found on Crete). The consistently restricted appearance of incised marks points to some specific and directed use, i.e., a «marking system».

It is clear that the use of incised marks is somehow related to Cyprus. First, the distribution of vases marked with incised signs indicates some sort of connection with Cyprus: by far the greatest quantity and variety of marked vases are found on Cyprus. Second, FS 36, one of the few shapes which characteristically carries such marks, is a shape specifically associated with Cyprus and the Levant. Third, the method of marking seems a Cypriot feature; while signs incised after firing are very rare within the Mycenaean Aegean, they are abundantly preserved on both local and imported ceramics on Cyprus. Finally, those signs which can be certainly associated with any attested notational system are Cypro-Minoan characters; many others may be Cypro-Minoan. Thus, the incised signs on Mycenaean pottery reflect a Cypriot practice.

The great majority of Mycenaean vessels incised with Cypriot signs are found in the Near East or on Cyprus. These can easily be explained as having been imported to Cyprus and there marked in accordance with local customs. Some of this marked pottery was then shipped on to the Near East. But Mycenaean pottery incised with Cypriot signs found in Greece itself is more difficult to understand. The four large coarse stirrup jars from Crete may have been «recycled», i.e., fabricated in the Aegean, carried to Cyprus, marked, and then refilled for transport back to the Aegean again. The Ulu Burun shipwreck, a fourteenth century B.C.E. cargo evidently being carried from the Near East to the west, apparently carried such «recycled» jars.

Most of the marked vases found in Greece, however, are made of a fine and delicate fabric and thus not suitable for constant reuse. It therefore seems unlikely that the jars with inscribed marks found on mainland Greece are products of a return trade from Cyprus. Relatively recent publications of the finds from Tiryns have substantially increased the number of such vessels found in the Argolid and thus made it difficult to argue that the incised vases are oddities which somehow found their way back to the mainland. Thus, vases with incised marks in the Argolid were not deliberate or accidental «returns» from Cyprus. They must have been incised with Cypriot marks before they were shipped from the mainland.

Based on the available evidence, it is difficult to decide whether it was Mycenaeans or Cypriots who incised the Cypriot marks. Archaeological evidence makes clear that both cultures had the capability and incentive to administer in detail trade between these regions.

A careful study of the pottery marked in this way should lead not only to some understanding of the circumstances in which those particular marks were employed but also to a clearer definition of handling procedures which had been developed for the export of Mycenaean pottery.

In summary, the restricted chronological, geographical, and typological limits of Cypriot-marked Mycenaean pottery indicate that the marks were used in a specific, highly-organized avenue of trade. It is clear that the (general) destination of the marked mainland vases was already decided upon before shipment. This correlates well with pottery evidence in the Near East for specialized trading arrangements between the Argolid and Cyprus. For example, although Rhodes is a natural stopping-off place en route from the Aegean to Cyprus, the assemblage of Mycenaean pottery found there is very different from that found on Cyprus. Evidently, certain wares were discharged only to certain markets and not subject to peripheral trading en route. Tiryns seems to have been an important center of Cypriot-Argolic trade. Finally, the marked vases may be evidence that Cypriot merchants took substantial initiative in the administration and handling of that trade.

(Source: “Cypriots in the Mycenaean Aegean”, by Nicolle E. Hirschfeld, 1996)


Abstract Based on her study of distribution patterns, Vronwy Hankey suggested that Cyprus or Cypriots played some role in the trade of Mycenaean pottery eastwards to the Levant. She also noted that some of the Mycenaean pottery which reached both Cyprus and the Near East carried marks incised on handles or painted on bases.

This paper examines the possible relationships between the marks, Mycenaean pottery, Cyprus, and the trade in Late Bronze Age ceramics. Special reference is made to the evidence from the sites of Enkomi, Ugarit, and Tell Abu Hawam.


Based on her study of distribution patterns, Hankey suggested that Mycenaean pottery reached the Levant via Cyprus. She also noted that some of the Mycenaean pottery which reached both Cyprus and the Near East carried marks incised on the handles or painted under the bases.

Three decades later, Vronwy Hankey met me in Jerusalem and encouraged me to take up the examination of marks on the Mycenaean pottery. I began with the incised potmarks, and I concluded that these were made by traders who used a Cypriot method of marking their wares. In brief, the reasons for my conclusions were as follows:

-Potmarks are not ubiquitous. They were used for specific purposes at specific times and places, and these discrete uses are reflected in the archaeological record. Within the Late Bronze Age (LBA) eastern Mediterranean, a habit of marking pottery is evidenced only in Cyprus and Egypt. The potmarks of Egypt were made for and circulated almost exclusively within the pharaonic heartland.

-Incising highly visible marks on the handles, shoulders and bases, especially of large, closed containers, was regular practice on Cyprus, and was applied to imported as well as locally made and circulating pottery. Most Mycenaean vases with incised marks have been found on Cyprus.

-Most of the incised marks on Mycenaean vases are simple in form and cannot be definitely associated with any particular writing system. But a few complex marks can certainly be identified with signs of the LBA Cypriot script. (The Cypriot script has not been deciphered).

-Thus, incised marks on Mycenaean vases were made by people using Cypriot marking systems.

-The isolated signs cannot be “read”. The only c lues to their function(s) are contextual.

The incised marks on Mycenaean vases are generally made after firing, they are highly visible, and they appear on large, closed containers. There are no other patterns to indicate any particular function for these marks: there are no consistent correspondences between any particular mark and specific vase shapes or decoration, container sizes, or general or specific archaeological contexts. One explanation that satisfies all these observations is that the marks were made by individuals handling these vases in the process of exchange.

My continuing research focuses on other marked pottery exchanged within the LBA eastern Mediterraean: Mycenaean vases with painted marks, “Canaanite jars” and Cypriot vases with incised marks, Red Lustrous Wheelmade vases with marks made before firing, for example. Towards the eventual goal of a synthetic treatment, my method has been to start by analyzing the data in terms of individual sites. This paper discusses the potmarks from three sites: Enkomi, Ugarit, and Tell Abu Hawam. All three were important centers of exchange in the LBA eastern Mediterranean and marked pottery circulated through each of them. Enkomi serves as the starting point for an eventual island-wide study of how the Cypriots marked pottery. Ugarit, because of its geographical proximity and diplomatic and commercial ties with Cyprus, is the obvious initial place for an examination of ties in potmarking practices between the island and the mainland. The material from Tell Abu Hawam, interpreted as the debris of exchange (frainte), provides good testing ground for the hypothesis associating potmarks with the processes of trade. None of these sites necessarily provides fair representation of potmark use in general. Nor is the material presented here necessarily representative for each site since it is essentially a restudy of materials excavated several decades ago and published with varying degrees of completeness. The discussion here is intended as an initial foray into presenting the present state of our knowledge and the potential of further study.

One point needs to be emphasized before launching into detailed discussion of the potmarks: potmarks are rare! Even at these sites, chosen partly because of the “abundance” of potmarks (ca. 18-250), the marked vases comprise only a fractional percentage of the (tens ot) thousands of ceramic vases and sherds uncovered during excavation. In addition to the questions presented below about the use of potmarks, the bigger question that also needs to be addressed is why most pots were not marked. Throughout the LBA eastern Mediterranean, most vases were circulated, used , and deposited without being marked.


Enkomi The painted marks are distinctive in ways other than their context. They occur almost exclusively on Mycenaean pottery, whereas incised marks are also found on “Canaanite jars” and a variety of Cypriot wares. Painted marks occur on a much wider range of shapes than the incised marks, which are almost always associated with large, closed containers. Shapes with painted signs include kraters, cups, bowls, and small stirrup jars. Finally, painted marks are usually located under bases and in the interiors of vases, while incised marks tend to be located in highly visible places on the vase- handles and shoulders. None of these features immediately clarify the nature of the association between painted marks and funerary contexts, but it is the observation of such patterns of deposition and application which must form the basis of any auempt to understand the purpose(s) for marking.

The forms of the marks themselves also provide information. There is a great variety and very little repetition. The 250 marks from Enkomi include at least 89 different signs, of which only a handful are repeated in any quantity. Some signs are universal but there also seem to be distinct sign repertoires on different sorts of pottery. The marks painted on Mycenaean pottery correlate with the marks incised on Mycenaean vases, even though their applications are very different. These marks and the marks incised on local vases have some connections with the Cypro-Minoan writing, and all three marking systems are closely connected with Cyprus. But the marks incised on “Canaanite jars” hardly overlap with the marks on local and Mycenaean vases, and the pre-firing marks incised into the bases of Red Lustrous Wheelmade spindle bottles are altogether different from any of the post-firing incised repertoires. Any explanation of how the marks functioned will have to account for the overlaps and divergences in the application of different marking repertoires.


Ugarit At first glance, the potmarking situation at Ugarit mirrors that at Enkomi: there are (relatively) many, they are varied and occur on a wide range of pottery. Excavations at Ras Shamra, Minet el-Beidha and Ras lbn Hani have yielded at least 120 potmarks. Two-thirds of the marked vases are Aegean, one-quarter is identified as local, and “Canaanite jars” and a few Cypriot vases comprise the rest of the corpus.

Marked pottery found at Ugarit shares other characteristics with that from Enkomi. The Aegean imports to Ugarit are marked in the same ways as those in Enkomi, and the same distinction between incised marks on the handles of large, closed containers and painted marks on other shapes holds true.

Only (pictorial?) kraters may carry both types of marks. Not enough marked “Canaanite jars” have been found at Ras Shamra to determine whether there is a difference in the repertoires of incised marks on amphoras and Aegean vases, as seems to be the case at Enkomi. There is a tremendous variety of marks at Ugarit, and not much repetition: the ca. 120 vases display 75 different signs. The forms of the marks are in general like those found at Enkomi; there are many parallels, and the Ugaritic potmark corpus includes some which certainly are derived from the Cypro-Minoan script. None of the marks, on the other hand, bear any relation to cuneiform, the script used in Ugarit.

In summary, the potmarks of Ugarit and those of Enkomi are very much alike. The dffference is that Enkomi’s potmarks fit into an island-wide pattern of marking, whereas Ugarit’s use of potmarks is unique among excavated Canaanite sites. The number and types of marked Aegean pottery at Ugarit far exceeds those found elsewhere in the Levant where there is no attested local potmarking tradition. Thus, the potmarks suggest especially strong connections between Ugarit and the neighboring island. There are, of course, other indications in the archaeological record of close interaction between these two regions, including the presence of documents in the Cypriot script among the official archives of Ugarit. The presence of Aegean vases marked in the Cypriot manner suggests, as Hankey proposed, that these vases arrived on the shores of Syria via Cyprus or through the agency of Cypriots. I would add furthermore that the very practice of marking pottery may in itself be evidence of associations with Cyprus.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Ugaritic potmark corpus is the large number of local vases with potmarks. The marks on Mycenaean and Cypriot imports may have been marked en route from/through Cyprus or Cypriots, but how can marks on local pottery be explained? Was the practice of marking pottery an independent, native tradition, or was it influenced (and to what extent?) by contact with Cypriot products, Cypriot traders, or even perhaps resident Cypriots?


Tell Abu Hawam In most respects, the potmark assemblage from Tell Abu Hawam is typical of LBA Canaan. Hamilton’s excavations yielded eighteen marked LBA vases: fifteen Mycenaean vases, two Canaanite jars, and one Cypriot jug. The marked vases are characteristically closed and large, including a Cypriot jug, two “Canaanite jars”, three large coarse-ware stirrup jars, four or five large fine-ware stirrup jars, and three large piriform jars. Three vases with painted marks can only be identified as closed shapes. This is somewhat unusual, as painted marks in particuliir tend to be associated with open shapes, but these are not the only exceptions to that generalization. All except one of the marks from Tell Abu Hawam were made after firing. Fifteen or the marks from Tell Abu Hawam are incised and the other three are painted. Both the painted and the incised marks are simple in form and there are many parallels for each. The only mark with any degree of complexity is incised into the handle of a Mycenaean piriform jar, and it can be identified with Cypro-Minoan sign no.55.

This assemblage of potmarks is exceptional, however, in the proportionally large number of marked Myceanaean vases. Marked Mycenaean vases are rarely found in Israel: four were discovered at Deir el-Balah, and single examples were recovered from Ashdod. Beth Shan. Lachish, and Ta’anek. The size of Tell Abu Hawam’s assemblage (fifteen!) suggests something unusual. It is difficult to be more specific. The marked vases were found in many different contexts, so it is not a matter of a single cache. There must be some recurring reason for the appearance of Cypriot-marked Mycenaean vases on the site. Balensi’s hypothesis of the Tell Abu Hawam sherds as transit refuse (frainte) fits well with my understanding of the role of the marks in trade.


Conclusions A small percentage of the Mycenaean pottery exported to Cyprus and the Levant was marked at some point after firing by means of large signs incised on the handles or sometimes shoulders, or painted under the bases or in the interior. Painted or incised, these marks are a Cypriot habit and their presence on a vase indicates that that vase travelled through Cyprus or was handled by someone accustomed Lo Cypriot ways. As excavations uncover more marked Mycenaean ceramics, the accumulating evidence strengthens Vronwy Hankey’s hypothesis of the transshipment of Mycenaean goods Lo the Near East through Cyprus or Cypriots.

(Source: “Eastwards via Cyprus? The Marked Mycenaean Pottery of Enkomi, Ugarit and Tell Abu Hawam”, by Nicolle E. Hirschfeld, 2004)


Introduction Today, it is almost universally agreed that the Iron Age I material culture in Philistia reflects the arrival of immigrants from the west, probably from the Aegean and/or Cyprus. Thus, for many decades scholars have been searching, largely in vain, for clear evidence of Aegean or Cypriot script or related recording systems in the material culture of Philistia.

The question of the language and scripts of the early Philistines has been raised several times in the past. Yet this topic remains enigmatic and highly speculative.

One of the artifact groups that has received less attention but may shed light on this problematic issue is pottery vessels with incised and impressed marks. These marks are especially common on storage-jar handles from the early Iron Age on in Philistia.

Jar handles and other pottery vessels with marks or various signs first appear in several centers in the eastern Mediterranean during the second half of the 2nd millennium b.c.e. In particular, the marks on commercial storage jars or amphorae (the “Canaanite jars” or other jar types derived from this form) are quite common. These marks may relate to various aspects of administration, especially in regard to commodity distribution and redistribution.

The marks themselves are often quite simple, but in certain cases they are more complex and may even be evidence of a more formal script. The marks may have indicated the quantity or nature of the vessel’s contents, its origin, ownership, or destination; or they may have had other unknown meanings. In any case, these marks probably reflect a rudimentary type of administration and/or recording system. If indeed an actual script was used, it may be possible also to assess the “ethnic” aspects of the people marking and using the storage vessels. Indeed, a study of several marked jar handles from Philistine Ashkelon has suggested that they bear Cypro-Minoan signs (Cross and Stager 2006). Few early Iron Age handles with various types of incised marks from Tel Miqne–Ekron, Ashdod, Tell Qasile, Tel Batash, and other sites in the southern Levant have been published to date (see below). At Philistine Tel Miqne–Ekron, a large assemblage of handles with such incised marks (including 213 marked handles, mostly dated to the Late Bronze II [henceforth, LB II] and Iron Age) has not yet been studied (except for 3 from Field INE, Ben-Shlomo 2006b: cat. nos. 2–4), nor has the phenomenon as a whole been examined. These marks seem to be less common in LB II contexts and at sites outside Philistia during Iron Age I. However, this impression needs to be substantiated by more comprehensive research.

In this paper, by means of a short survey of the published and unpublished material from Tel Miqne–Ekron and other sites in Philistia and the southern Levant, I aim to shed more light on the issue of marked handles with regard to Philistine material culture.

The Assemblage of Marked Handles from Tel Miqne–Ekron and Other Regional Sites

Aside from the type of marks, various aspects of the mark itself can be indicative of the cultural background of the makers. These could include the shape of the mark, its angle or orientation in relation to the vessel, and its location on the body or handle. Moreover, one should take into account the specific type of vessel on which the mark appears. Most vessels discussed here are storage jars, but similar marks also appear on cooking pots, kraters, jugs, and other types of vessels. In certain cases, marked handles can be too fragmentary to identify the type of vessel.

Altogether at least 213 marked pottery vessels were found at Tel Miqne–Ekron. These have been preliminarily studied and classified by type of mark and context. It seems that the majority (about 200 items) are storage jar handles. In a group of 126 marked handles, over 60% of them are incised, with the incisions made mostly after firing. Indeed, 104 were incised after firing and 16 to 22 before firing. Of the remaining 40% (77 examples), most were jar handles that had been impressed before firing, probably by a finger. The majority of incised handles come from Iron Age I levels (Strata VII–IV, 70% of the stratified examples). The peak time of their appearance seems to have been during the latter part of Iron Age I (Stratum V, the 11th century b.c.e.).


Discussion: Marked Handles in the Eastern Mediterranean

The nature and function of the marking of pottery vessels, mostly after firing, in the Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean—primarily from the Levant and Cyprus—have been studied in the past by Nicolle Hirschfeld. In a study of over 100 marked vessels from Ugarit and Ras Ibn Hani, including painted marks, most marked items were Aegean vessels, often marked under the base, while some were Canaanite jars. Marks under the base seem to preclude a redistributive related function of the marks, because one must turn over the vessel for viewing. Many of these vessels come from tombs (usually one marked vessel per tomb); incised marks are more common on handles; some vessels have painted marks on bases; and some carry both. The most common marks are “+,” “x,” and two horizontal lines with one vertical line; only a few marks (all on Aegean vessels) correspond to known Cypro-Minoan signs. Hirschfeld suggests that the specific marking on the handles of non-Aegean vessels could be a local marking system, maybe related to funerary rites in tombs, or could possibly be related to some Cypriot language and/or script; however, this is still difficult to prove (Hirschfeld 2000: 184), especially since the Canaanite jars do not bear signs corresponding to Cypro-Minoan signs. Therefore, these marks could fit different redistribution or exchange systems in the Aegean, Cyprus, and the Levant. Because post-firing incised marks are also common in Cyprus on nontransport vessels, it has been suggested that this system could have originated in Cyprus; however, it was used outside the island as well.

At Enkomi, at least 250 marked vessels were found, some from tombs dated to Late Cypriot I–Late Cypriot IIC (until 1,200 b.c.e.), while a few date later. Of these, 25 have more than one sign on them, apparently representing “inscriptions.” Nonfunerary marked vessels mostly come from secondary deposits.

The marks show a great deal of variety, with no more than 5 vessels having the same mark. Most signs from Philistia described above also appear in this repertoire. However, clear Cypro-Minoan marks appear only on Aegean and Cypriot vessels, and none on Canaanite jars. In addition, red-lustrous bottles have pre-firing marks on the bases, which are probably real “potter’s marks”.

The site with the largest number of incised storage jar handles to date outside the Levant is Hala Sultan Tekke on Cyprus. The assemblage of 247 marked vessels from this site was catalogued by Hirschfeld. Around 80 of the markings can be clearly linked with “Canaanite jar” handles, while the rest were made on Mycenean or Cypriot vessels, on jugs, or on cooking pots. These markings include all common signs appearing on Canaanite jar handles in the Levant: the “x” sign; the “+” sign; horizontal lines; the “v” sign; diagonal and horizontal lines; and “psi-like” signs. Nearly all the signs appearing at Tel Miqne also appear at Hala Sultan Tekke; however, many other types, such as finger-impressed jar handles also appear.

A preliminary survey of examples from Kition, which probably date from the late 13th to the 11th centuries b.c.e., indicates a variety of signs that also appear in the southern Levant. For example, the “x” sign, the “+” sign, two horizontal lines crossed by a vertical line, the “sun-dial”, and a square.

As in other Cypriot sites, several other signs appear, and there are several examples of two to five consecutive or linked incised signs on the handle that probably reflect “inscriptions”. While some single signs may also ref lect parts of similar “inscriptions,” several are clearly freestanding single signs.

While these marks seem to be some sort of administrative marking system, the connection between most of the signs and the Cypro-Minoan script is still far from clear. At first glance, this marking system seems to represent a similar picture to that appearing in Philistia. Moreover, practically all the signs appearing on the published handles from Ashkelon have been interpreted by Cross and Stager as representing Cypro-Minoan signs. Five or six of the more complex signs come from Bronze Age levels, while only one or two are from Iron Age I levels. Nevertheless, simple signs such as the “+,” “x,” “v,” or horizontal/vertical/diagonal lines appear in various sites and periods in the southern Levant and elsewhere (see above). It therefore seems that the evidence from Ashkelon regarding the usage of Cypro-Minoan signs by the Philistines reflected in the marks incised on jar handles is still quite limited and indeterminate. A similar conclusion was made by N. Hirschfeld based on 12, mostly Late Bronze Age, marked handles found at Tel Mor.

Thus, the more complex signs, possibly relating to the Cypro-Minoan system, are more likely to represent marking practices used during the LB II period in Cyprus, and possibly in the southern Levant, as was suggested for a marked handle from 13th-century b.c.e. Aphek. Generally, however, the very similar repertoire of signs appearing in Philistia, other Levantine sites, and Cyprus on the same type of vessels, such as the Canaanite commercial jar (or linked types), cannot be ignored and is unlikely to be coincidental. Moreover, larger assemblages of such incised handles were found in Philistia than in other regions in Israel, especially during Iron Age I. Therefore, the “Cypriot connection” of this marking system in Iron Age Philistia can be suggested at least on circumstantial grounds.

The preliminary petrographic results from Ashkelon, Tel Miqne, and the single LB II example from Aphek show that the jars that were marked were produced in several places: Cyprus, the northern Levant, and the southern Levant. This variability makes the interpretation of the marks themselves more difficult. While jars made in Cyprus that carry possible Cypro-Minoan signs were more likely marked in Cyprus, jars with similar marks but made in the Levant could have been marked either in the Levant or in Cyprus (reused there, as Yasur-Landau and Goren 2004 suggest for the example of Aphek).

Interestingly, none of the Iron Age I marked jars was made in Cyprus (according to both the Ashkelon and Tel Miqne results); thus, these examples were probably marked in the Levant. It is very likely that the marking system represented by the various incised marks on the handle, which may have had its roots in Late Bronze Age Cyprus, was quite well known and used in the Levant in the early Iron Age. Notably, in the same period, this system’s use on Cyprus seems to have been radically decreasing.

This recording system was clearly related to some small-scale administration or redistribution system in the region. Whether it was linked more strongly to Philistine culture in the southern coastal plain and whether it was directly linked to some Cypro-Minoan script, possibly brought by the Philistines, is still to be determined.

(Source: “Marked Jar Handles from Tel Miqne–Ekron”, by David Ben-Shlomo, 2014)


Abstract Marks incised or painted on Eastern Mediterranean pottery from the LateBronze Age – generically known as «potmarks» – have been extensively studied in the past two decades. Incised markings have also appeared on ingots and other metallic supports, although these have arguably received less attention. It has long been clear that some of these marks consist of signs drawn from existing writing systems, with Cypro-Minoan playing a special role, and this has contributed to scholars’ research on the relationship between marks and script. However, many unknowns remain.

An old and significant problem relates to difficulties in assessing which marks can be securely identified with Cypro-Minoan signs, stemming from the lack of a detailed palaeographical study of the script’s signary. Recent advances in our knowledge of Cypro-Minoan, especially with regards to the palaeographic variation and identity of its signs, now enable us to better understand which marks are extracted from that writing system and which are not. With a special focus on ingot- and potmarks from the Eastern Mediterranean and Sardinia, this article discusses methods for distinguishing Cypro-Minoan marks from non-Cypro-Minoan marks. It is argued that a greater number of marks can now be securely identified with signs of the Cypro-Minoan script. In a second stage, findings are compared with other parameters, such as vessel shapes and functions, find-spots and places of import, and methods (incised or painted) and timings (before or after firing or casting) of the marks. This re-evaluation reveals no significant distribution patterns, suggesting that many different marking systems might have been in use or that the choice of Cypro-Minoan signs used as marks was not very systematic. In our conclusions, we discuss the implications of these results for our knowledge of the dynamics of Bronze Age Cypriot society.


Cypro-Minoan and marked objects in the Late Bronze Age In the past two decades there have been an increasing number of studies about marks incised or painted on pottery – commonly known as «potmarks» – found at Late Bronze Age coastal and underwater sites of the Eastern Mediterranean. Emblematic sites where they have been discovered include Ugarit (coastal Syria), Enkomi (Cyprus), Tiryns (Peloponnese), and the Uluburun shipwreck (off the southern coast of Turkey), but the list of sites is much longer. Many of these marks consist of signs of writing and, when they do, the signs almost always belong to Cypro-Minoan, the undeciphered syllabary of Cyprus (ca. 1525-1050 BCE). In fact, the appearance of post-firing marks on Cypriot and Mycenaean vessels, as well as the so-called Canaanite jars or amphorae coincides with the flourishing of Cypro-Minoan in the Late Bronze Age. However, marks related to Cypro-Minoan are not limited to pottery. They also occur on other types of objects, particularly of stone or metal, including ingots, tools, weights, stone blocks, etc. The common denominator of most of these items is that they have travelled and therefore appear not just in Cyprus, but also in the neighbouring regions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and even in the Central Mediterranean, on the island of Sardinia. In some cases, the marked objects have been found in shipwrecks, so they were transported across seas. This is a first hint that, at least occasionally and when the items marked consist of containers, the marking has todo with the distribution (production and export, or import and channelling) of the objects or their contents.

Advances in the identification of marks as Cypro-Minoan signs A mark can be securely linked to a particular writing system such as Cypro-Minoan only if (1) its shape and ductus correspond to a sign that is peculiar to that writing system, or if (2) the sign is accompanied by (and inscribed at the same time as) another sign that surely derives from that writing system, thus in effect forming a potential two-sign inscription .Clearly, a thorough palaeographical study of Cypro-Minoan signs and the establishment of a judicious sign-list are both prerequisites not only for the study of inscriptions, but for the study of marks as well.


The use of numbers in Cypriot marking systems Cypro-Minoan numerical signs are so far rarely attested, as they occur in no more thanten documents, but their existence is indisputable. Palaima deals with the use of numerical notations on Cyprus at some length, and Olivier has catalogued numbers («arithmograms» in his terminology) alongside phonograms in his sign-lists. Despite the rarity of numerical signs, in general it seems that units were indicated by vertical bars and tens by dots, just as in Linear A.


Cypriot writing in marking systems: Conclusions and prospects for further investigation 

•Marks on pottery were probably made by manufacturers or handlers of transport and storage containers, and most likely denote information related to the management and distribution of goods (ownership, provenance, destination, and so on). The people who incised the inscriptions and markings need not necessarily have been literate.

•Marks and short Cypro-Minoan inscriptions on metal tools (such as shovels, hoes, axes, etc.) were probably made, at least some of the time, by the same people who created the longer Cypro-Minoan inscriptions on metal jewellery and vessels. Again, these people clearly had the technical skill to engrave the inscriptions and markings, but need not have been literate.

• Marks on ingots often depict objects of a marine or nautical nature, and so were probably made at coastal sites by people «closely involved with the sea». Interestingly: we have been unable to find any uncontroverted examples of Cypro-Minoan signs on ingots, suggesting that although Cyprus was a major source of metal, the systems for marking ingots were more at the behest of the (international) merchant rather than the manufacturer (even when the latter was Cypriot).

• Marks and two-sign inscriptions on tools (such as the above mentioned hoe from the Hishulay Carmel shipwreck, or the inscribed axe PYLA Mins 001 ##173 from Pyla-
Kokkinokremos) most likely denote ownership.

Three further conclusions are possible:

• A larger number of forms used as markings than hitherto acknowledged can be identified as signs from the Cypro-Minoan script.

• While not all marks can be seen as writing stricto sensu, some of them – especially those of the «1+1» type – may very well constitute short inscriptions that convey linguistic information, e.g. in the form of abbreviations.

• The subset of evidence that we have examined displays no significant distribution patterns, suggesting that many different agent-specific marking systems were in use across the eastern Mediterranean, and that the use of Cypro-Minoan signs as marks was (again) agent-specific, and thus not systematic.

(Source: “Cypro-Minoan in marking systems of the Eastern and Central Mediterranean: New methods of investigating old questions”, by Miguel Valério, Brent Davis, 2017)


NovoScriptorium: First of all let’s have a look at the picture below


(Picture taken from: J. Chadwick, Reading the past, Linear B and related scripts, British Museum Publications, London 1987, fig. 33. A comparison of classical Cypriot signs with Linear A and Linear B).

It is rather clear that all these forms of Writing are directly related. Since we know already that Linear B was a form of Writing to picture the Greek Language, it is more than obvious that both Linear A and Cypro-Minoan are forms of Writing picturing the same Language.

It is also very well known that Greek Language consisted of various dialects (e.g. Ionian, Doric, Aeolian, etc). This short of variations are persistent even in our times (e.g. dialects of Cyprus, Crete, Pontus, etc) -obviously for different historical reasons. Studying the Greek Tradition-Greek Mythology we learn of this fact as something taking place from the very begginings of Language in the Greek peninsula. We also learn of countless of movements of populations from the Greek peninsula towards everywhere in the horizon. Mythology insists that the farthest those populations went and the biggest the time-gap of their migration from the Cultural Centre was, the biggest their ‘barbarization’ in terms of Language and Customs became. Hence, according to Greek Mythology itself, it comes as no surprise to find various ways to write the same Language in its variant forms.

About Ugarit:

a) Ceramics from Minet-el-Beida necropolis and the Ras Shamra were found to be of Cypriot-Mycenean origin – A.J.B. Wace “Prehistoric Greece”, Cambridge Ancient History, I, 1923, p. 173-80)

b) The chambers of the necropolis were found intact and they ressemble those from Cyprus (E. Gjerstad – “The Swedish Cyprus Expedition, 1927-1931”, Stockholm 1934-37, I, 405)

c) C.F.A. Schaeffer wrote that the burial chamber at Trachones, Karpasia, Cyprus, looks exactly the same with the tomb chambers from Ugarit. He aslo noted Minoan and Mycenean influences (“The Cuneiform Texts of Ras Shamra – Ugarit”, London 1939, p.29)

d) Charles Virolleaud wrote “the influence that appears to dominate it is that of Cyprus. The offerings/funeral gifts are clearly Cypriot” (“Les inscriptions cuneiformes de Ras – Shamra”, Syria, Revue d’ art oriental et d’archéologie”, X, 1929, 308)

e) P. Demagne wrote “the expansion of the Mycenaean world into the Syrian-Phoenician zone and beyond, brought about the development of mixed Eastern-Mycenaean cultures in the Near East” (“Naissance de l’ art grec”, Paris 1964)

f) On the plates of Ugarit a king named “NCMD” is often mentioned. Two authorities in Semitic languages, Czechoslovakian Hrozny and French E. Dhorme, argued in 1932 that proper reading was “Nicomedes” and that it was a Greek name (Archiv Orientàlni, IV, p. 129 and 176)

To conclude, in our opinion, Ugarit must have been a multi-national, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural city, a Trade Centre of its time, with major influences from the Aegean and Cyprus.


Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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