Terraces and Rural Land Use at Politiko-Troullia

As I am putting the final(ish) touches on the conclusion to a survey volume based on our work on the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, I have a good excuse to catch up on reports from other little survey projects on the eastern part of the Cyprus. Yesterday, I read through P. L. Fall, S. Falconer, C. S. Galletti, T. Shirmang, E. Ridder, and J. Klinge, “Long-term agrarian landscapes in the Troodos foothills, Cyprus,” Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (2012), 2335-2347.

The article looked at terraced hillsopes at the site of Politiko-Koloiokremmos and, the better known, Politiko-Troulia in the eastern Troodos and argues that at least some of these terrace walls relate to surface assemblages of Prehistoric Bronze Age material in a statistically meaningful way. The authors ground these conclusions in a careful typology of terrace walls (which may become a useful guide to any project confronting numerous terraces on Cyprus) and a systematic surface survey.

Their survey covered an area of 20 ha with 174 2 meter radius total collection circles which produced material from almost every period from the Bronze Age to Medieval times. Sherd densities were 30-50 sherds/100 m2. This density ranked higher than the threshold of 20 sherds/100 m2 that the nearby Sydney Cyprus Survey Project suggested for “agricultural background”.  Geophysical investigation demonstrated that the surface scatter was indeed associated with a tangle of subsurface features and excavation dated these features to the Cypriot Bronze Age. The presence of significant Bronze Age material and the investment in terrace walls seems to indicate an “intensively utilized, but apparently isolated, agrarian locality” dating to before the large scale urbanization of the island in the Late or Protohistoric Bronze Age.

Curiously, later material in the surface assemblage does not seem to relate to any of the subsurface features excavated at the site. The authors suggest that the proximity to the later city of Tamassos which emerged as an important political center in the Iron Age might account for the later material on the surface as the site falls within what the authors regard as a plausible manuring halo for residence of the city of Tamassos. They do concede, however, that the low density scatter might represent “dispersed field structures or farmsteads.”  The presence of Roman or Medieval roof tiles indicates that some of the later, low density scatter of material in the area might be related to a Roman or Medieval structure built atop the low rise of the site. 

The authors conclude with the observation that the site of Politiko-Troulia/Koloiokremmos has evidence for over 4000 years of continuous agricultural use and investment. The stability of the such long-term agrarian landscapes on Cyprus is, indeed, striking, but not particularly unusual in the Mediterranean basin. The far more pressing issue, of course, is why are these localities so persistently appealing despite shifts in settlement distributions, demographic expansion and contraction, economic fluctuations, and changes in cultural attitudes toward the landscape.

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