Enkomi Bowl

I was thrilled to have been able to handle and study this beautiful bowl, or cup as it sometimes described, at The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia (Acc. No.11.2.176, 200). It dates to the early 14th Century BC, approximately 1400-1375 BC, and was found in Tomb 2 at Enkomi, now in the northern sector of Cyprus. It is quite small, being only 6 cm high and just less than 16 cm in diameter.

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I spent several weeks working in the archives at the museum during an extended research trip to Cyprus last summer after having been awarded an ASOR/CAARI research fellowship. Having requested access to this bowl for closer study, and told simply ‘no problem’ by a wonderfully helpful member of staff from the museum archives, I was amazed by how much trouble, with some associated elements of drama as you will see shortly, they went to, to take the bowl off display from the museum gallery. Firstly, as the bowl is made of precious metals and displayed in a case full of other gold objects, the staff had to get permission from the directors of the museum, who in turn had to report to a higher authority, to turn the alarms off whilst they opened the display case. Even after all this, it was not quite as simple as unlocking the case. Presumably for security, the case had been built in such a way that it almost had to be taken apart to open it up. The drama I just mentioned, which with hindsight was quite funny, developed whilst they were opening the case under the watchful eye of the Director of Antiquities at the museum. The security guards had all been informed that the alarms were being turned off, but one of them had missed the announcement somehow. Something must have been triggered on his monitor to say that the alarms had been disabled and he came rushing into the gallery with a type of baton, only to find several security guards, the museum director, members of the archival staff, and myself, rather than the gang of looters he possibly expected to find. Who knows?

Anyway, drama safely over, I was able to have hands-on access to the bowl, somewhat nervously I must say, as having got a close look at it, I realised that it was in quite a fragile state as you can see from this photograph.



Although I was already aware of the rosettes spaced around the outside of the bowl, I was delighted to find another one on the finial of the wishbone handle attached to one side by rivets.



There is some debate as to the bowl’s origin as some of the decorative elements are clearly Aegean in character, possibly Mycenaean, as too is the inlay technique used on the bowl; whereas the hemispherical shape with wishbone handle was known from Cypriot pottery. It is possible that it was manufactured in Cyprus by an Aegean or Mycenaean craftsman. The decoration consists of inlaid bull or oxen heads, lotus flowers, and rosettes.

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The bowl itself is made of silver with the inlays being gold and what has long been claimed to be niello. However, more recent research by Giumlia-Mair (2012) suggests that the black substance is not niello, but rather what was known to the Egyptians as hmty km, and to the Mycenaeans as kuwano.

 There is no doubt in my opinion that this is a stunning artefact and I was, and still am, thrilled and honoured to have had, what I consider a privilege, as well as a research opportunity, in handling and examining this bowl. It is definitely ‘One of my Favourite Things’.

You can find out more about the analysis of the black substance by Giumlia-Mair at:

Giumlia-Mair, A. 2012. The Enkomi Cup: Niello versus Kuwano, in V. Kassianidou & G. Papasavvas (eds.) Eastern Mediterranean Metallurgy and Metalwork in the Second Millennium BC. A Conference in Honour of James D. Muhly. Nicosia, 10th-11th October 2009. 107-116. Oxford & Oakville: Oxbow Books.


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