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Sensational grave find in Cypriote Bronze Age city

August 10, 2016

An archaeological expedition from the University of Gothenburg has discovered one of the richest graves from the Late Bronze Age ever found on the island of Cyprus. The grave and its offering pit, located adjacent the Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke, contained many fantastic gold objects such as a diadem, pearls, earrings and Egyptian scarabs, as well as more than 100 richly ornamented ceramic vessels. The objects, which originate from several adjacent cultures, confirm the central role of Cyprus in long-distance trade.

Hala Sultan Tekke, a Bronze Age city from 1600-1150 BC that covered an area of up to 50 hectares, had far-reaching trade connections that included Sweden. Peter Fischer, professor of Cypriote archaeology at the University of Gothenburg, has led the excavations performed by the Swedish Cyprus expedition for seven seasons since 2010.

'The excavations in May and June this year were the most successful to date. We discovered an older city quarter from around 1250 BC and outside the city we found an incredibly rich grave, one of the richest in Cyprus from this period, and an offering pit next to it. The fact that we have discovered a burial site from the Late Bronze Age is quite sensational, since those who died around this time were usually buried within the settlement,' says Fischer.

The area where the grave was found is exposed to erosion caused by farming. Prior to the excavation, a so-called geophysical survey was performed using radar equipment able to identify what is in the ground down to a depth of two metres. The surveying revealed almost 100 underground 'pits', some of which turned out to be wells, some offering pits and - as this year - a grave.

'Wells are usually one metre in diameter, but this structure was 4 x 3 metres. The grave seems to be a family tomb for eight children ages 5-10 years and nine adults, of whom the oldest was about 40 years old. The life expectancy was much shorter back then than it is today,' says Fischer.

The archaeologists found over 100 ceramic vessels and several gold finds, including a diadem, beads, earrings and Egyptian scarabs (picture 1), in the grave and the offering pit. The finds also include gemstones and five cylinder seals, some produced locally and some from Syria and Mesopotamia, as well as a bronze dagger.

The archaeologists assign the greatest importance to the more than 140 complete ceramic vessels, most of which were decorated with spectacular illustrations of for example people sitting in a chariot drawn by two horses and a woman wearing a beautiful dress (picture 2). There were also vases decorated with religious symbols and animal illustrations of for example fish. Many of the vessels were imported mainly from Greece and Crete but also from Anatolia, or the equivalence of present-day Turkey.

'The pottery carries a lot of archaeological information. There were for example high-class Mycenaean imports, meaning pottery from Greece, dated to 1500-1300 BC. The motif of the woman, possibly a goddess, is Minoan, which means it is from Crete, but the vase was manufactured in Greece. Back in those days, Crete was becoming a Greek "colony",' says Fischer.

According to Fischer, the painting of the woman's dress is highly advanced and shows how wealthy women dressed around this time. The motif can also be found on frescos for example in the Palace of Knossos in Heraklion, Crete. Other finds are from Egypt. Two of the stone scarabs are gold-mounted and one features hieroglyphs spelling 'men-kheper-re' next to an illustration of a pharaoh. This has given the archaeologists a unique opportunity to tie the roughly 3 500-year-old find to a historic person. The inscription refers to Egypt's most powerful pharaoh Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC), during whose reign Egypt peaked in size and influence as he conquered both Syria and parts of Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq.

'We also found evidence in the city of large-scale manufacturing and purple-dying of textiles. These products were used in the trade with the high cultures in Egypt, Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, which explains the rich imported finds.

What is most interesting about the finds is the dating: they are from 1500/1400 BC, but the researchers have still only found the burial site but not the city from this period.

'It must have been a rich city judging from the grave we found this year. But it is most likely located closer to the burial site in an area that still has not been explored,' says Fischer.

This year's excavation period is over and until next year's on-site work begins, the researchers have some intense processing of finds to look forward to.

'In spring 2017 we'll continue our uncovering of parts of the city and the burial site. As the integrity of both areas is threatened by agricultural activities, there is a need for quick action to secure our shared cultural heritage before it is destroyed forever,' says Fischer.
-end-


University of Gothenburg

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