Cyprus, third largest of the Mediterranean islands, was first inhabited during the Proto-Neolithic period
(ca. 10,000 BC). The earliest evidence for the migration of humans to the island derives from the south coast site of Akrotiri Aetokremnos. The bones of birds, fish, and peculiar pygmy hippopotami (now long extinct) testify to an active culture on the island which has left few other traces. There is no cultural continuity between the people of Akrotiri and the subsequent Aceramic Neolithic
period (ca. 8000-5600 BC). As the name of the period implies, there is also no evidence at this time for the production and use of pottery. Some of the most significant sites of this culture include Khirokitia, Kalavassos Tenta, and Parakleshia Shillourokambos (the earliest Aceramic settlement discovered thus far) on the southeast coast of the island. These settlements are characterized by
circular houses of stone and mud brick, intramural (i.e. inside the settlement) burials, and an agropastoral (farming+herding) economy represented by the remains of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, fallow deer, and domesticated cereals. As with the culture of the Proto-Neolithic, this culture too would mysteriously cease to leave a trace on the archaeological record of Cyprus. By ca. 5600 BC few traces of the people that inhabited the island during the Aceramic Neolithic are found, and humans seem to have remained absent from the island for nearly a millennium. This period of abandonment would end with the advent of the Ceramic Neolithic
(ca. 4500-3900 BC). Immigrants, from the lands of Syria or Anatolia, built settlements across the island at such sites as Khirokitia and Sotira Teppes. Like their Aceramic Neolithic predecessors, these people lived an agropastoral lifestyle characterized by farming and herding. The shelf life of their produce was lengthened significantly through the manufacture and use of pottery crafted in a characteristic red-on-white style. Cultural change from the previous period is further evident in burial customs; burial outside the settlement becomes the norm.
The archaeological record suggests cultural continuity as society on the island became more technologically and socially complex. Cyprus has long been a rich source of copper, and the Cypriots of the Chalcolithic Period (or "Copper Age", ca. 3900-2500 BC) were probably first to make use of it by hammering out small tools and implements. This growing technological complexity is mirrored in settlements such as Erimi Pamboula (on the south coast) and Kissonerga Mosphilia (on the west) by a growing social complexity that would become explicit in the Early Bronze Age. Red-on-white pottery remains diagnostic, but there is a widespread shift in burial customs. While most individuals seem to have been buried within settlements, a select few are laid to rest in cemeteries of rock-cut tombs. Artistic expressions, likely associated with votive and ritual behavior, become increasingly common during the Chalcolithic; among the most striking are small cruciform figures crafted from stone and terracotta.
The first evidence for the Early Cypriot period can be found along the banks of ancient rivers north of the Troodos Mountains. The culture quickly spreads, primarily occupying well-watered sites with access to good farmland. There is evidence during this period for the commencement of mining activity on the island, likely carried out under the influence of Anatolians who had previously developed the necessary techniques. The economy of the period continues to be characterized by farming and herding, though methods become more complex and productive with the introduction of donkeys and the plough. Burials provide most evidence for the culture of the Early Cypriot. Lapithos, Vounous, and Kalavassos all boast cemeteries of rock-cut chamber tombs containing metal objects and diagnostic Red Polished pottery. As in Egypt, genre models of terracotta are sometimes found in graves late in the period. These models offer a snapshot of the everyday life and ritual of the day. Adding to our knowledge of the Early Cypriot period are two excavated settlements: Marki Alonia near Nicosia and Sotira Kaminoudhia on the southwest coast.
The Middle Cypriot period on the island is established primarily on the basis of ceramic typology with the introduction of White Painted (II) ware. Red Polished pottery also remains popular throughout the period, while a Black Polished variant forms only a small percentage of the ceramic assemblage. At Lapithos and Karmi there is increasing evidence for social division, with certain tombs far outpacing others in size and the number and value of grave goods. Particularly diagnostic of wealth is the inclusion in some tombs of large bronze blades. A number of sites across the island have yielded remains from this period: Alambra Mouttes, Episkopi Phaneromeni, and Kalopsidha among them. The sites of Nitoviklia, Dhali Kafkalia, and Krini were all encircled by fortification walls. This behavior general signifies insecurity or the need for protection-- from whom is not certain, though Cyprus' isolation in the Mediterranean suggests the threats were internal. The increasing appearance of bronze weaponry in the archaeological record may indicate competition for the island's limited resources of arable land and metal, the latter of which was now being mined intensively at sites such as Ambelikou Aletri, both for export and internal use. There can be little doubt that Cyprus' rich copper resources drew the attention of the larger Mediterranean economy. There is evidence for trade with the thriving cultures of Minoan Create and the Levant, and Cyprus (referred to as Alashiya) appears in near eastern texts. As of yet there are no such references found on the island itself. Indeed, this period must be considered essentially prehistoric as the script of the culture, known as Cypro-Minoan, is undeciphered
Cyprus becomes increasingly wealthy during the Late Cypriot period. Fueled by copper exports and its location along significant Mediterranean trade routes, the economy of the island drove a select group of Cypriots to prominence. Fortified cities expanded at sites such as Enkomi, side-by-side with open trading settlements like that at Alassa. Both Syrian and Egyptian texts discuss relations with the kingdom of Alashiya during this period--Cyprus has been integrated into the world system of the Mediterranean. Cypriot social organization was intensely hierarchical during the Late Cypriot, with a handful of individuals or families controlling the means of copper production. Such elites glorified themselves through large, wealthy graves.
The roots of Greek culture on Cyprus can be traced to the Late Cypriot with the arrival of the Mycenaeans who came as settlers and traders, bringing with them their own ceramic styles that would influence the indigenous styles of Cyprus. Around 1200 BC there was a great upheaval on the Greek mainland, often (though perhaps misleadingly) referred to as the Dorian Invasion. At about the same time, destruction levels can be witnessed at many near eastern cities (e.g. Ugarit), and Egypt is confronting the threat of a culture known as the "Sea Peoples". Refugees from all over the Mediterranean flocked to the relative safety of Cyprus in this time of disarray, each influencing Cypriot culture in their own way.
The Cypro-Geometric period is marked by a paucity of written records, but funerary evidence from Salamis and Lapithos suggests a continuation and further entrenchment of status elites. Wealthy tombs have a multi-national character: pottery imported from Greece and Syria, scarabs imported from Egypt, fine gold and silver jewelry, and intricate metalwork. Surely the international ties developed in the Late Cypriot had not been severed, and the demand for copper remained strong. The Phoenicians settled on the island by the 9th century BC, occupying sites such as Kition and Amathus and founding new ones as well. Other significant sites of the period include Salamis, Kourion, and Ledra (which would ultimately become modern Nicosia). The island was divided politically during this period into ca. 10 city-states, each vying with the others for control of the island's resources.
The isolation of Cyprus from the mainland ceased to insulate it during the Cypro-Archaic period. Many of the great nations of the day record some kind of domination over Cyprus. Assyria indicated that Cyprus paid it tribute, but there is no evidence that they invaded the island. The pharaoh Amasis, of Egypt's 26th dynasty, laid claim to Cyprus in the C6th BC, but again we lack evidence for an actual invasion. Cyprus was incorporated into Persian Empire around 550 BC, but joined the Ionian Revolt against Persian domination in 499. The revolt failed, and Cyprus remained for a time under the Persian yoke.
The island was increasingly beholden to other nations during the Cypro-Classical period, as Athens and Persia vied for supremacy on the island. This struggle came to a close In 386 BC, when the Athenians gave their claim to the island over to Persia. Cyprus would remain under Persian influence until 333 BC, when Alexander the Great would add the island to his growing list of conquests. Throughout the Hellenistic Period, Cyprus was ruled by the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt until, in 22 BC, the island formally came under Roman and, later, Byzantine rule.