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Project team

Principal investigator: Dr Anastasia Christophilopoulou

Project team: Jennifer Marchant (Conservator) and Dr David Evans (Exhibition Manager)

Project summary

The Fitzwilliam Museum has embarked on a new research project inspired by the results of ‘Cyprus in Context’ research project, part-funded by the A. G. Leventis Foundation (2016-2019). Led by Dr A. Christophilopoulou, this new three-year research project, Being an Islander, will be supported by a team of conservators, invited specialists in Mediterranean Archaeology, as well as the Fitzwilliam Museum’s specialist teams. This project aims to elucidate what defines island identity in the Mediterranean, and explore how insularity affects and shapes cultural identity using the examples of Cyprus, Crete and Sardinia. This project will make a case for thinking of the Mediterranean regions surrounding this dynamic body of water based on connectivity, rather than disciplinary and modern political boundaries.

The originality of this research project lies in its diachronic scope and analytical approach, as well as its multi-scalar approach to human interaction within continental and island environments. Research will address and confront several important, current debates in Mediterranean Archaeology, such as the perceived disciplinary division between Aegean prehistory and classical archaeology, the issue of regionalism within Greek archaeology, and finally the descriptive, rather than interpretive, approaches to interaction.

The cultural history of the large Mediterranean islands from Antiquity to the present day is very complex and can narrate – as well as explain – many complex social phenomena. Islands such as Cyprus, Crete and Sardinia demonstrate, through their art and material culture production, a continuous battle (or influence and assimilation) between indigenous forms and representations with patterns, art techniques and forms travelling from the surrounding mainland regions. These islands have not just been places with expansive contacts by sea, but also loci for the transmission of many products and ideas across a variety of people from the Near East and the rest of the Mediterranean. These ‘ideas in transit’ go on to become major trends in the art of the Bronze Age, Early Iron Age and classical worlds. Furthermore, new theoretical advances in the fields of archaeology, cultural anthropology and history now securely link Cyprus, Crete and other islands with major cultural and historical events in the Near East and north Africa.

The shift from the end of the Bronze Age to the beginning of the Early Iron Age in the Eastern Mediterranean periods, and eventually to the later historic periods (Classical- Hellenistic) is marked by patterns of decentralisation, accompanied by a so-called ‘media revolution’ in the form of the invention of the Greek alphabet and a dramatic explosion of figural art. Conversely, large Mediterranean islands during the Roman period have been characterised by researchers as either experiencing a period of ‘tranquil obscurity’, while Rome’s cultural influence on them is ‘all-pervading’ or as struggling to maintain a distinct identity.

Planned outputs

The research will culminate in an ambitious exhibition to be held from October 2021 – February 2022, which will showcase representative objects from the Aegean and Cypriot Collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. It will also incorporate a number of important national and international loans. The exhibition will provide a platform to debate cultural evolution in the islands as opposed to the surrounding mainland. This theme will be explored in an interactive way, extending to the discussion of Britain’s own (perceived or not) island identity. Articles and a peer-reviewed volume will also be published. 

 

Thursday, 29 November, 2018