There is a wide-open gap of nearly five centuries in Cypriot archaeology, between the collapse of Roman control in the mid- 7th century and the incorporation of Cyprus into the Crusader Levant in the 12th century. The political upheaval at the beginning of the period was seemingly accompanied by systems-collapse which is manifest in the disappearance of the highly sophisticated material culture of the Late Roman period. Only a handful of sites, with hardly any material-culture remains, can be dated to the time of the co-regency of the Muslim Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire (AD 648-965).
Written evidence is similarly elusive, and most of it from outside Cyprus, but at least one source belies the impression of economic collapse in testifying that high taxes were paid to both the Caliphate and the Empire. This indirect evidence for a robust economy, however, has no support in local sources, and until recently, archaeology failed to provide any clues. The first indication that the unglamorous material culture of everyday life may be the key to rendering the period visible came in 1998, when Marcus Rautman published and interpreted a corpus of late 7th century handmade pottery. The ubiquity of such pottery and its endurance in the archaeological record make it an obvious tool for identifying settlements, and by implication population of the period. Rautman’s pioneering work and my subsequent publication led to better recognition of the handmade pottery that dates to the first century of the gap period, and a targeted and informed collection of it has begun. Moving beyond the mid-8th century is the next crucial step.
The need for a methodology that will help ‘fill-in the dots' in gap periods, goes far beyond Cyprus. Similar dark ages waiting to be resolved abound in the eastern Mediterranean. Significantly, the solution, like the problem, is common to the whole area: throughout the eastern Mediterranean, in this and other periods, handmade pottery emerges in the archaeological record after systems collapse. We may therefore accept the argument for a correlation between an upheaval in socio-economic systems and particular changes in material culture. We argue that there is subsequent development of specialised manufacture of handmade pottery; however, for three decades the study of ceramics in archaeology has been dominated by a model that was developed by David Peacock for the Roman economy, in which craft specialisation requires transition from hand-forming to wheel-throwing. It is high time for a model that complements Peacock’s, and addresses craft specialisation in handmade pottery. The particular circumstance of the extreme insulation of Cyprus during the gap period increases considerably the possibility of isolating internal development processes, and makes it an ideal place to develop a model based on study cases, and to test its applicability.
Consequently, although the project revolves around pottery, and is confined to Cyprus, the methodology that will be developed will be applicable in a wide geographical and chronological context, and will serve to approach a range of issues relating to landscape use and economy, far beyond the confines of pottery, or even material culture as such.
The project feeds into two topics of developing research in the last two decades: Revival in Byzantine studies in the previous Ottoman Empire; and a push for dedicated research into handmade pottery, with an emphasis on its potential to elucidate settlement pattern, social conditions, and economic processes. Scholars emphasized the effect of the neglect of this huge body of material on understanding patterns of behaviour and landscape use. Yet there is hardly any systematic study of handmade pottery industries or of material culture in periods of socio-economic disintegration.