Excavations of Bronze Age Tombs in Cyprus Reveal Skeletons, Gold

LARNACA – An excavation of two Bronze Age tombs in Cyprus revealed more than 150 human skeletons and close to 500 items including gold jewelry, gemstones and ceramics from circa 1350 BC, Scienmag, a science magazine, reported on December 1. The excavation, now concluded, was carried out by archaeologists from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

“Since 2010, the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition (The Söderberg Expedition) has had several rounds of excavations in Cyprus,” Scienmag reported, adding that “in 2018, archaeologists discovered two tombs in the form of underground chambers, with a large number of human skeletons” and “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” of the Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaca Salt Lake Complex.

“In addition to the skeletons of 155 individuals, the team also found 500 objects,” Scienmag reported, noting that “the skeletons and ritual funeral objects were in layers on top of each other, showing that the tombs were used for several generations.”

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city. For example, we found the skeleton of a five-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family,” Professor Peter Fischer, the leader of the excavations, told Scienmag.

The excavation revealed “jewelry and other objects made of gold, silver, bronze, ivory and gemstones and richly decorated vessels from many cultures,” Scienmag reported.

“We also found a ceramic bull. The body of this hollow bull has two openings: one on the back to fill it with a liquid, likely wine, and one at the nose to drink from. Apparently, they had feasts in the chamber to honor their dead,” Fischer told Scienmag.

“One particularly important find is a cylinder-shaped seal made from the mineral hematite, with a cuneiform inscription from Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), which the archaeologists were able to decipher,” Scienmag reported.

“The text consists of three lines and mentions three names. One is Amurru, a god worshiped in Mesopotamia. The other two are historical kings, father and son, who we recently succeeded in tracking down in other texts on clay tablets from the same period, i.e., the 18th century BC. We are currently trying to determine why the seal ended up in Cyprus more than 1000 kilometers from where it was made,” Fischer told Scienmag.

“Among the finds are the red gemstone carnelian from India, the blue gemstone lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and amber from around the Baltic Sea, which shows that the city had a central role for trade during the Bronze Age,” Scienmag reported, adding that “the gold jewelry, along with scarabs (beetle-shaped amulets with hieroglyphs) and the remains of fish imported from the Nile Valley, tell the story of intensive trade with Egypt.”

“By comparing with similar finds from Egypt, the archaeologists were also able to date the jewelry,” Scienmag reported.

“The comparisons show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BC. Like a gold pendant we found: a lotus flower with inlaid gemstones. Nefertiti wore similar jewelry,” Fischer told Scienmag, noting that “the ceramic finds are also important.”

“The way that the ceramics changed in appearance and material over time allows us to date them and study the connections these people had with the surrounding world. What fascinates me most is the wide-ranging network of contacts they had 3,400 years ago,” Fischer told Scienmag.

DNA analysis will be carried out on the skeletons, Scienmag reported. “This will reveal how the different individuals are related with each other and if there are immigrants from other cultures, which isn’t unlikely considering the vast trade networks,” Fischer told Scienmag.

“All of the objects from the excavation belong to Cyprus and are stored in museums in Nicosia and Larnaca,” Scienmag reported adding that “some of the most important finds are already on display.”

According to UNESCO, which has the Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaca Salt Lake Complex on its tentative list to be named to the World Heritage list, “the site, located in the Larnaca District, comprises a Salt Lake Complex, and the so-called Hala Sultan Tekke, which is a mosque of great importance for the Muslim world. The site also includes a prehistoric settlement, suggesting the diachronic habitation of the region and the assimilation of different cultural traits over time.”


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