A Liminal Approach to Cultural Interaction and Maritime Exchange at Two Late Bronze Age Aegean Harbors (20 min)


Elliott J. Fuller, University of Toronto


I investigate how harbors facilitated and constrained cultural exchange by maritime agents through the contextual analysis of imported Cypriot pottery and exotica at two Aegean harbors. In the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean, the movement of merchants, craftspeople, and sailors can be glimpsed through the framework of cultural interaction: nonlocal iconography, script, and technology being produced and consumed in local contexts. Yet such mobility is notoriously difficult to detect in the archaeological record. For example, scholars have often claimed that Cypriots were dominant players in eastern Mediterranean trade. Yet at Kommos—where imported Cypriot pottery is relatively abundant—evidence for cultural interaction is lacking. Contrastingly, Tiryns has rich evidence of such interaction, and yet few imported Cypriot wares. To address the discrepancy between imports and interaction, I consider how reliable import quantities are as proxies of trade. Quantities alone cannot explain the differences in the historical trajectories of these sites. Instead, drawing on recent scholarship, I focus on harbors as liminal zones. Harbors are interfaces between land and sea, where people from diverse origins met and negotiated social roles. Thus, I explain what made Kommos and Tiryns open or resistant to cultural exchange through reference to the different roles they played in maritime networks. Tiryns, because it was a palace, fostered a demand for highly skilled foreign artisans, whereas such a demand did not exist at the nonpalatial town of Kommos. The presence at Tiryns of such artisans alongside local inhabitants provided a rich context for interaction. At Kommos, the merchants passing through the site did not remain there long enough to encourage the adoption of nonlocal objects or practices. Ultimately, adopting a liminal approach helps to recover the complex identity and agency of those who lived and sailed along the shores of the Mediterranean.