Amanda Perry-Kessaris

Image (c) Trustees of the British Museum

Object: Ox-hide copper ingot
Location: The British Museum Room 72 (Ancient Cyprus)

This 37 kilo ox-hide ingot is made of raw blister copper. It is named for its distinctive and organic shape, which was a standard format for transportation in the Mediterranean 3.5 thousand years ago (around 1200 BCE). It could be carried across the back of one person or in the hands of two people (Dale et al. 1986 p.82), and it was easy to stack in a ship’s hold. Although Cyprus was known for its copper (Dale et al.1986: 83) and this particular ingot was found in Cyprus (British Museum curatorial notes), we cannot be certain of where any such ingots originated, or what patterns of trade they represent (Muhly 1977:81).

For me this ingot is a vibrant metaphorical inspiration for my research into law and contemporary economic interactions between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

Cypriot inter-communal trust has been under periodic and rising stress through Ottoman and British colonial times. In post-independence 1963 there was enough violence to prompt the UN to establish an (ongoing) peacekeeping mission. And in 1974 Greek-backed attempted military coup triggered an invasion by Turkey. Cypriots have been culturally, socially, politically, militarily, physically and economically divided ever since (Kerr-Lindsay 2011). In the last decade restrictions on the movement of people and goods have been eased somewhat. Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot economic actors (producers, distributors, consumers, traders) have begun to interact across the divide, prompting open and compelling speculation as to the actual and potential dividends to the Island from inter-communal economic activity and, ultimately, reunification (Mullen et al. 2014).

My research focuses on how law does/might support these economic interactions, in particular by nurturing, and not undermining, inter-personal trust.

In this ingot I see both what has been lost, and what is possible for economic life in Cyprus:

  • Its organic, symmetrical and radial shape implies economically-relevant themes such as pragmatic standardization, collaborative networks, and mobility.
  • Its carunculated surface suggests an ancient history; but one that has, like Cypriot economic life, been on pause, ever since this ingot was buried for safe-keeping near the village of Engomi around 1200 BCE.
  • Its material capacity for redeployment through smashing and smelting into new forms speaks of econo-socio-legal transformation.
  • Presented in a glass museum display case, it references the helpful/harmful preservation of, and reverence for, histories; the painful and positive memories they harbour; and their power to facilitate/destroy inter-communal economic life and reconciliation.

How can we activate the ideas suspended behind this glass?

We could cast a prosaic gaze over the modern copper industry in Cyprus: a factory-based affair that lives at Skouriotissa, the world’s oldest copper mine; which is squashed between the UNFICYP Sector 1 HQ San Martin Camp, and the buffer zone that divides Cyprus; and which was run without benefit to colonial Cyprus (Christodoulou 1992:79) and is currently run by Hellenic Copper Mines, whose logo is a man carrying an ancient ingot on his back.

But I choose a metaphorical gaze, through which I spy a cornucopia of miniature, palm-sized, ox-hide copper ingots that were circulated in Cyprus contemporaneously with the full size versions (Kaiser 2013:7).


These miniatures were originally understood by archaeologists to be a form of currency (Mulhy 1977:81) referencing the use of cattle as a unit of account (Einzig 1960:200). But later it was concluded that they were in fact votive offerings (Kaiser 2013). Both interpretations have metaphorical resonance for my purposes.

So I have made a set of miniature modern replicas as embodiments of memories of / hopes for econosociolegal pasts/futures. It is in those binaries that inter-communal trust can form, in support of which law ought in turn to be deployed.

I intend to share them with those with whom I collaborate – in interviews, experiments, field visits and so on – to uncover and tell the story of law, economy and trust in Cyprus.


Christodoulou (1992) Inside the Cyprus Miracle: The labours of an embattled mini-economy. Minnesota Mediterranean and East European Monographs. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Einzig (1966) ‘Ox and Base Metal Currencies in Greece’ Primitive Money: In its Ethnological, Historical and Economic Aspects Chapter 10 Pergamon Press

H. Gale and Z. A. Stos-Gale ‘’Oxhide Copper Ingots in Crete and Cyprus and the Bronze Age Metals Trade’ The Annual of the British School at Athens Vol. 81 (1986), pp. 81-100.

Giumlia-Mair, V. Kassianidou, and G. Papasavvas (2007) in P. P. Betancourt and S. C. Ferrence Metallurgy: Understanding how, learning why: Studies in honour of James D. Muhly. INSTAP Academic Press: Philadelphia.

Hadjioannou (2016) ‘Skouriotissa Copper Mine’. Video. Available at: (Accessed February 22).

Hellenic Copper Mines (2015). Video. ‘Video about Hellenic Copper Mine in Cyprus’. Avaiable at: (Accessed 22 February 2017).

Kaiser (2013) Copper Oxhide Ingot Marks: A database and comparative analysis Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Archaeology.

Kerr-Lindsay The Cyprus Problem: What everyone news to know OUP.

Liard (2010) ‘Le cuivre chypriote et La crète Les régions d’importation des lingots peau-de-bœuf’ 49:1 Revue archéologique 47-65.

F. Mullen, A. Apostolides and M. Besin (2014) The Cyprus Peace Dividence Revisited: A productivity and sectoral approach. Nicosia: Prio Cyprus Centre.

Van Lokeren (2000) ‘Experimental reconstruction of the casting of copper ‘oxhide’ ingotsAntiquity 74 (2000): 275-6.

Yahalom-Macka, E. Galilic, I. Segald, A. Eliyahu-Behara, E. Boaretto, S. Shilstein, I. Finkelstein (2014) ‘New insights into Levantine copper trade: analysis of ingots from the Bronze and Iron Ages in Israel’ Journal of Archaeological Science 45 (2014) 159 – 177