Cypriot material culture is found all over the land of Mediterranean in a variety of contexts. They are also some of the oldest, as the copper mines from Cyprus were one of the only sources of the metal in the Mediterranean making it a highly lucrative place to live. However, Cypriot remains have not only been found on land. In fact, three of the four oldest shipwrecks ever discovered have had cargos of Cypriot pottery, even though none were Cypriot in origin. The richest of these shipwrecks was the Uluburun wreck. Located off of the southern coast of Turkey in the Late Bronze Age during the year 1320 BC (±15 years). The ship was crewed by four Syrio-Canaanite merchants, and was also accompanied by two Mycenaean emissaries. The ship travelled from somewhere on the Carmel (modern Israel) coast, and was probably going to a Mycenaean port on mainland Greece. The ship itself carried a cargo of gifts sent from a palace in the Near East; 17 tonnes of material, over 15,000 artefacts. The artefacts were from a variety of cultures including Syrian, Canaanite, Hittite, North African, Egyptian, Grecian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Cretan, and Cypriot.

Some of the finds from the Uluburun shipwreck are actually quite similar to some of the artefacts in the Bridges Collection. Inside of the hold of the ship were large pithoi which held all sorts of pottery forms. The two pieces which show parallels are a fine-ware slip II milk bowl, and a coarse-ware base ring bowl (pictured below). The similarities between the coarse-ware base ring bowls is especially clear. Both forms have a distinctive ‘base-ring’ which can be seen in the indentation right above the foot of the piece. Additionally, both of these have a typical ‘wishbone’ handle, that swings up from the rim and then goes back down. This form of handle was a common feature in many pieces of Late Bronze Age Cypriot pottery.

Wishbone handles are also a feature of both of the white painted bowls. The handles on these artefacts are different, with the Uluburun example extending horizontally, and is joined smoothly to a point. The Uluburun example on the other hand extends out and up and had the two flat sides of the handle joined. While the designs on the bowls are different, what can be seen is that they employ a similar use of geometric patterns, which is typical for Bronze Age pottery.

The similarities between these pots does not imply that they are chronologically exactly the same, or even that they were made in the same part of Cyprus. These were wide spread and popular forms of pottery that persisted for hundreds of years. What the similarities do show is that these forms of pottery were so widespread that they were even found on a vessel which was taking part in royal gift exchange. It shows that Cypriot pottery was a prized possession by those all around the Mediterranean, and that it could have been used by a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of places. It is important to remember that the archeologically material which survived to modern day is only a fraction of what must have existed at one point, and so Cypriot pottery must have been a widely desired and distributed form.

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Figure 1. The artefacts from Uluburun. Right: Coarse-ware base ring bowl. Left: Fine-ware slip II milk bowl.

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Figure 2. Artefacts from the Bridges collection. Right: Base ring bowl. Left: White painted bowl.

Further Reading:

If this topic interests you, pages 288- 385 in Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. by Aruz, Benzel and Evans (eds.), the Uluburun wreck in full, and offers comparative evidence for each of the incredible finds from the site.

 

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