A Greek-Cypriot town has footprints of 3000 years old trade centre

A Greek-Cypriot town has footprints of 3000 years old trade centre

Monitoring Desk

Excavations carried out by the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition in Hala Sultan Tekke near Larnaca, a Greek Cypriot-administered city, reveal multiple generations in tombs and goods including gold jewelry, Greek pottery and a Babylonian cuneiform seal.

Archeologists have recently dug out two ancient tombs containing a trove of valuables such as gold, gemstones and other items in Greek-administered Cyprus.   

The New Swedish Cyprus Expedition (The Soderberg Expedition) has had “several rounds” of excavations in Greek-administered Cyprus since 2010. 

According to a news release, the two tombs were discovered in 2018. They were “in the form of underground chambers, with a large number of human skeletons”. 

“Managing the finds required very delicate work over four years, since the bones were extremely fragile after more than 3,000 years in the salty soil,” says the press release.

The two ancient tombs contain a treasure of “gold jewelry, gemstones, ceramics, and human skeletons from the era of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti’s reign in the Greek Cypriot-administered city of Larnaca,” Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reports.

The University of Gothenburg news release also notes that “in 2018, in addition to the skeletons of 155 individuals, the team also found 500 objects …. In layers on top of each other” which suggests that the tombs had been used for multiple generations.

Egyptian lotus jewellery with inlaid stones (ca. 1350 BCE). “Comparisons with other finds from Egypt show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BCE. Nefertiti wore similar jewellery.”
Egyptian lotus jewellery with inlaid stones (ca. 1350 BCE). “Comparisons with other finds from Egypt show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BCE. Nefertiti wore similar jewellery.” (Courtesy of P.M. Fischer and T. Burge)

The Daily Mail notes the resemblance of the solid gold necklace found in Cyprus to the ones in ancient Egypt, described as “shaped like a lotus flower with inlaid gemstones … similar to jewelry worn by [Nefertiti], the ancient Egyptian queen of the 18th dynasty,” and suggests trade between the two settlements.

The tombs were discovered in 2018 but have only been fully explored recently. 

“A large-scale magnetometer and radar survey carried out by us in 2017 indicated cavities below the surface in an area east of the city and it has been shown in previous investigations that these cavities are passages going to burial chambers,” says Peter Fischer, Professor in Archaeology who is leading the Swedish expedition along with Dr Teresa Burge, both from the University of Gothenburg.

The first chamber was investigated in 2018. The second one was examined in 2021 and a third has been left for future excavations.

Large vessel with war chariots from Greece (ca. 1350 BCE). The ceramic vessels, particularly those imported from Greece and Crete, are decorated with painted scenes of horse-drawn chariots, individuals carrying swords, animals and flowers.
Large vessel with war chariots from Greece (ca. 1350 BCE). The ceramic vessels, particularly those imported from Greece and Crete, are decorated with painted scenes of horse-drawn chariots, individuals carrying swords, animals and flowers. (Courtesy of P.M. Fischer and T. Burge)

The first tomb, with two chambers, revealed 52 human skeletons and a large quantity of grave goods there. One of the grave goods was a “complete vessel from Greece from around 1350 BCE with painted scenes of horse-drawn war chariots and people with swords.”

The vessel, according to the researchers, points to the site being a  place of worship, beyond just a simple gravesite: “In view of this ritual object being found and the large quantity of finds not associated with the skeletons, this structure must be explained as something more than just a large tomb. Our interpretation is that we have exposed a place of worship where rites in connection with death were practised,” says Peter Fischer.

This necklace was also found with the skeleton of the five-year-old buried with a gold tiara.
This necklace was also found with the skeleton of the five-year-old buried with a gold tiara. (Courtesy of P.M. Fischer and T. Burge)

Of the buried bones, DNA samples were taken to understand the origins and kinship of individuals, and strontium isotope analyses would reveal whether they were migrants or from the local population.

“We have also taken bone samples for analysis in a synchrotron to find out about the environment during their lives through studying the accumulation of toxic substances in the bones of individuals,” explains Peter Fischer.

Tons of copper slag was also found on the site, and because copper is often mixed with lead and arsenic, the extraction likely poisoned the people who came in contact with them.

Further analysis revealed that the buried individuals suffered from parasites, and life expectancy was low, with 40 being the oldest.

“The second tomb excavated in 2020 turned out to contain hundreds of finds, many of which were imported from areas corresponding to today’s Greece, Crete, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt,” the University of Gothenburg announces.

There were also the bones of a 5-year-old child buried with gold earrings, gold tiara and gold necklace. “The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city …This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family,” says Fischer.

Left: Mesopotamian cylinder seal of hematite with cuneiform inscription (18th century BCE); right: Egyptian scarab with hieroglyphs (c. 1350 BCE).
Left: Mesopotamian cylinder seal of hematite with cuneiform inscription (18th century BCE); right: Egyptian scarab with hieroglyphs (c. 1350 BCE). (Courtesy of P.M. Fischer and T. Burge)

The archaeologists also found a cuneiform seal from Mesopotamia, from the Babylonian Empire (current-day Iraq), dating back to 1800-1600 BCE. They believe the seal “was used for about 300 years before it ended up in Hala Sultan Tekke.”

“In addition, which is the most sensational, there are three lines of cuneiform characters, making it the most important find here in archaeological circles. You can read the name of a king for example, and we are currently looking for that king in various cuneiform archives from Mesopotamia, which will give us a more accurate date and perhaps an explanation for how the seal ended up in Cyprus, 1200 kms away.”

Hala Sultan Tekke, the ancient city on the shore of Larnaca’s salt lake, was the city’s harbour during the Bronze Age, but geographic events separated it from the sea.

“The protected situation of the harbour helped Hala Sultan Tekke to become a trade metropolis for 500 years, with long-distance contacts evident from the very abundant find material,” says Peter Fischer. War and climate change combined with isostatic uplift contributed to the demise of the city,” he adds.

The artefacts discovered during the excavation were turned over to Greek Cypriot authorities, who housed them in museums in Nicosia and Larnaca.

In the tombs, the archaeologists found figurines of goddesses with bird faces. This is likely a goddess with a bird’s head holding a child that is half bird and half human.
In the tombs, the archaeologists found figurines of goddesses with bird faces. This is likely a goddess with a bird’s head holding a child that is half bird and half human. (Courtesy of P.M. Fischer and T. Burge)

THUMBNAIL IMAGE: Skeleton of a 30-40 years-old female from the uppermost layer of tomb with decorated Egyptian ivory disc on her chest (part of the shroud; c. 1300 BCE).

HEADLINE IMAGE: One of the skeletons belonged to a five-year-old buried with lots of gold jewellery, including this tiara.

Courtesy: TRTWorld and agencies

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