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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 71-83

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The Cyprus American Archaeological ResearchInstitute:
Past, Present, and Future

Robert S. Merrillees

Until the establishment of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia in 1979, there had existed no foreign schools of its kind in Cyprus. In this respect, the situation in Cyprus differed markedly from the experiences of other countries around the eastern Mediterranean, where European and North American institutions had come into existence in the nineteenth century and subsequently been joined by others from the New World, like those from Australia. The reasons for this divergence are numerous and interrelated and reflect the diverse political, academic, and administrative histories of the countries in which these foreign academic implantations were made. Contrary to popular perception, which is colored by the apparently similar and intractable tensions and conflicts that beset the Near East today, archaeological activity in the Levant has been regulated by different series of practices and expectations that have grown up over the years since investigation of the past became a scientific discipline, and they are peculiar to each of the national antiquities services concerned. Cyprus is no exception.

All the political, economic, and strategic forces at work in Europe in the first half of the past century, especially the consequences of social revolution in France and industrial revolution in Britain, brought about renewed interest and involvement in the Near East, especially the eastern Mediterranean region. In the intellectual and cultural sphere, this manifested itself in the exploration, and exploitation, of those areas familiar to the educated elite through the Classics, the Bible, and Freemasonry. Diplomats, academics, [End Page 71] and servicemen, among others, took advantage of the increasingly favorable circumstances in and around the Levant to record and collect remains from the ancient territories of the Greek and Roman civilizations, the Holy Land, and Egypt. This concentration of effort inspired scholars in Europe to promote the concept of foreign archaeological schools in specific centers, not so much to teach the subjects in which the students would specialize but to facilitate the research being conducted by their compatriots. This helps explain why the oldest institutions of this kind were established in Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, and Cairo. For all their commitment to academic pursuits, however, it must be noted that rivalry between the main imperial powers, notably Britain and France, contributed in no small measure to the creation of these new bodies.

Prior to the advent of British administration in Cyprus in 1878, antiquarian pursuits had been the prerogative of amateurs--some talented and some not. For the most part they were resident foreigners who helped themselves with few if any qualms to the plentiful remains of the island's long and tumultuous past. The depredations of these collectors caused less concern among the Ottoman authorities than they did among the Ottomans' British successors, who ironically upheld the antiquities law they inherited with commendable rigor. Fortunately, among these amateur archaeologists were a number of thoughtful individuals who applied themselves to making historical sense of the objects and other remains recovered on their behalf by the local workmen they engaged. The first scholarly work on Cypriot prehistory was written by a British consul, T. B. Sandwith, who was posted in Larnaca from 1865 to 1870. Unfortunately, the circumstances under which the United Kingdom acquired its latest colonial possession did not lend themselves in the beginning to a wholly efficacious management of the island's heritage, and for several decades preservation of Cypriot monuments and antiquities was bedeviled by a lack of money and concern. Nevertheless, the foundations of archaeological research as a scientific enterprise were laid and developed, particularly by the British and Cypriots, before and after the First World War.

Unlike in other areas of official activity, the British administration did not hesitate to involve local inhabitants, Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, in the governance and work of the Cyprus Museum, which was established by [End Page 72] public subscription in the 1880s. This act of enlightenment, less conscious than inadvertent, created a tradition of cooperation between ruler and...


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