Dienstag, 7. November 2017

Under the Mediterranean. The Honor Frost Foundation Conference on Mediterranean Maritime Archaeology to commemorate the Anniversary of the Centenary of Honor Frost’s birth on the Island of Cyprus (28 October 1917). 20-23 October 2017, Nicosia, Cyprus.

Blog entry by Mari Yamasaki.

The Lady of the Sea and the Honor Frost Foundation

Of an English family, Honor Frost was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, in October 1917. She was a pioneer in the field of underwater and maritime archaeology. She was one of the first to take the archaeological investigation beyond its land borders and into the sea. She explored the submerged harbours of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre; she took part in the excavation of the shipwreck of Cape Gelidonya with George Bass and Peter Throckmorton, and was the first to identify it as a Phoenician vessel, thus demonstrating that Phoenicians were sailing across the Eastern Mediterranean already during the Bronze Age. 
In October 2017, she would have turned 100 years old, and it is to her, Honor Frost, the Lady of the Sea, that this conference was dedicated. The venue was the very modern Campus of the University of Cyprus (Figure 1), which, together with the University of Southampton (UK) is one of the two institutions to offer a degree in Maritime Archaeology. And not by chance, the two organisers, Stella Demesticha and Lucy Blue are chairs of the respective courses in Cyprus and Great Britain. The very first session “In the footsteps of Honor Frost” was thus devoted to the collection of personal memories of the many scholars who had the chance of working with her. Rare photos were shown, funny anecdotes and sweet recollections were narrated during this first touching session, where the scientific admiration for the archaeologist went hand in hand with profound appreciation for the person.

Figure 1. University of Cyprus. Campus (Photo by Mari Yamasaki).


The Maritime Cultural Landscape

Honor Frost maintained that the world of a coastal community does not end at the border with water. In the same way a maritime-oriented way of life does not end upon touching the shore. Therefore, the study of the Maritime Cultural Landscape comprises not only harbours and shipwrecks, but also a constellation of land features that denote their marine orientation. The study of this liminal environment may be approached from a variety of perspectives and disciplines as the two sessions dedicated to the topic, namely “Maritime Cultural Landscape” and “Maritimity” proved. The two main threads that the majority of the talks followed may be summarised as: 
  •  Archaeo-geomorphological approaches, focused on the reconstruction of the ancient coastlines;
  •  Ethnoarchaeological approaches, interested in individuating the cultural variables of coastalness through comparison with ethnographical contexts.
The geomorphological case studies chronologically ranged from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages, and posed a variety of research questions. Most evident was the concern with the identification of the ancient ports and anchorages: such was the case of the embayment of Marsa Bagoush, presented by Ehmad Khalil, or the geophysical implications in the study of the port of Byblos, as shown in the co-authored paper by George Papatheodorou et al.; another major point was ascertaining the existence of land bridges between islands in the remote past, which would have allowed for an easy access of now isolated sites – or alternatively prove the seafaring ability of some groups of early humans, as was the case with the Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago illustrated by Dimitris Sakellaris et al.. Lastly, Ehug Galili showed the importance of moving the investigation underwater in search for potential submerged sites, by presenting his most celebrated discovery: the submerged Neolithic fishing village of Atlit Yam.
The ethnoarchaeological approach focused on the material culture remains that may indicate a marine-oriented and coast-centered lifestyle. A very interesting talk by Linda Hulin examined the evidence for taverns and inns in known Bronze Age harbor towns, which showed an unusual concentration of non-local goods, but in a very small scale. According to her interpretation of the record, many low-profile imported potteries from a variety of different regions suggest the frequentation of the tavern by people of different provenances, engaged in small scale – yet long distance – exchange of goods, or as Michal Artzy proposed, the existence of a sailors meeting place where they would trade their few possessions. My own take on the topic referred to the coastal landmarks – particularly on the architectural features – that may have helped a ship in her sailing towards ports and anchorages (Fig. 2). Shelley Wachsmann proposed a fascinating review of the evidence for the survival of an ancient marine ritual, the Navigium Isisidis, into modern day Orthodox Easter celebrations on the Greek island of Hydra.

Figure 2. The author during her talk (Photo by Francesca Meneghetti).

Maritime Cyprus

Being in Cyprus, it would have been impossible to not talk about the peculiarities of this island, located in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean yet somewhat estranged from the sea for a long portion of its cultural history. The relationship between Cyprus and the Sea is a complex one, which was at the centre of a symposium specifically dedicated to this topic in 1993.[i] Much work has been done in the last 24 years, and during the dedicated session at the present conference, the most recent developments concerning the study of Cypriot harbours and interregional connections were presented. Many were the controversies concerning the location of historical ports known from the literary sources that, apparently, did not match the archaeological evidence. Such was the case illustrated by Nikola Babucic and the Polish research group on the “triple” port of Paphos, which has not yet been identified; or also the Hellenistic port of Amathous, as presented by Jean-Yves Empereur, which appears to have been built with grandiose intents, but was never actually used.
An interesting ethnoarchaeological account, which John Leonard balanced between ancient sources and modern accounts from less than a century ago, referred to the carob trade as a major – often neglected – resource of the island, and how the local, agricultural produce bypassed the larger harbours in favour of closer, small anchorages to sell their “brown gold” to avoid duties on the cargo and maximise the individual farmers’ own profit.

Connected by the Sea

Quite naturally, another main chapter of the conference was dedicated to ancient navigation and connectivity with four sessions dealing with ports and harbours, shipwrecks, ship construction and connectivity. Bernard Knapp (Fig. 3), an authority when it comes to Mediterranean connectivity, presented a brilliant and quite entertaining talk on piracy in the Bronze Age, which reviewed the evidence – or better lack thereof – of a phenomenon already well known from classical sources, the origins of which, however, are still eluding us. Ports and harbours were also the subject of several talks, many of which dealt with the geomorphological problems of locating the ancient structures along sometimes considerably different modern landscapes. The survey and excavation of hellenistic Ainos, conducted by the Mainz Romano-Germanic Central Museum and presented by Thomas Schmidts, brilliantly summarised the difficulties and challenges of dealing with an ever-changing coastal area.

Figure 3. A. Bernard Knapp during his talk (Photo by Mari Yamasaki).

Tightly related to the study of ports is that of ancient ships and their construction. A number of projects were presented, among which I would like to mention here the excavation of a Byzantine merchantman that sunk in the Commercial Port of Rhodes around the second half of 12th century. As Eric Rieth and George Koutsouflakis said, the difficulties in this case lay mostly on the location of the wreck in the channel of a busy port of the Mediterranean. Whilst at a relatively accessible depth, the continuous traffic of large cruise ships represented a hazard both for the remains and for the excavation crew. The controversial decision of re-burying the ship was not unanimously positively judged by the conference audience and was subjected to some criticism. This shows, however, how it is not always possible to reconcile heritage management practices, scientific interest and contemporary economic demands, and that archaeologists who find themselves in such predicaments have often to reinvent the rules and accept difficult compromises. Less dramatic but just as interesting was the account by Avner Hillman and Deborah Cvikel of the exerimental reconstruction of the Ma’agan Mikhael II by following as closely as possible all the evidences for ship building techniques. 

The Kyrenia Liberty: sailing back in time

To conclude with another famous ship reconstruction, at the end of the conference we were offered the possibility of sailing on board the Kyrenia Liberty (Fig. 4), the faithful replica of a 4th century BC Greek merchantman that sunk right off the shore of Kyrenia, and named after the find spot. The Kyrenia wreck was in an exceptional state of preservation, which allowed the study of the ship construction techniques, including evidences for maintenance and repairs. Following this study, three experimental replicas were build, differing in those elements that could not be inferred directly from the wreck. The Kyrenia Liberty is the last of them. On board this beautiful craft, we were shown all the characteristics resulting from the lessons learnt from her two predecessors, including a new angle of the stirring oar, a more efficient – and realistic – rigging, and increased manoeuvrability of the single square sail. During our short trip we reached a comfortable top speed of 5 knots (ca. 9 km/h) that would have been sufficient to connect Cyprus with the Aegean and Egypt. Longer experimental trips to the Greek islands have shown the limits and potentials of a seafaring vessel of this type, especially concerning her reliance on favourable winds since ancient square rigs could not tackle. 

Figure 4. The Kyrenia Liberty and the flag of the Honor Frost Foundation (Photo by Mari Yamasaki).

And with favourable winds, we sailed in the sunset back to Limassol Marina where we parted ways with new and old colleagues, all of us hoping to continue our research "in the footsteps of Honor Frost".

[i] Karageorghis et al. (Eds.). Proceedings of the International Symposium Cyprus and the Sea. 1995.

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