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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Archaeological Excavations at Kissonerga-Skalia 2007 ]

Archaeological Excavations at Kissonerga-Skalia 2007

Living by Nicholas Georgiou

Hidden beneath our feet

Uncovering Cyprus’ past is dusty, dirty, pain-staking work. It is also amazingly rewarding

For those interested in the archaeology and history of Cyprus, the Paphos district provides a rich layer-cake of information which, if properly excavated, analysed and interpreted, can tell us much about the unique story of the island and its inhabitants.
Indeed, Cyprus has a long and epic history that could easily be committed to lengthy tales of war, tragedy, romance, heroism, disaster and revenge. The island has witnessed the coming and going of many peoples and their leaders. Think of Onesilos’ revolt against the Persians, Cleopatra’s reign of Cyprus, early hunters chasing around pygmy hippos and the influence of the cult of Aphrodite. These are all facets of the Cypriot story which attracted me to the island’s history, and from there, archaeology was but a short leap. Even more fascinating is that so much of this story remains untold because so much of Cyprus’ history is still buried beneath our feet.

I came to Paphos as a student in August 2007 to participate in a new field archaeology project at Kissonerga-Skalia - a rural site located just outside the village of Kissonerga. Most of the students, including myself, were from the University of Manchester and under the directorship of Dr Lindy Crewe. We were joined by more advanced students from the University of Cyprus, as well as a group of experienced supervisory and specialist staff from various other backgrounds.

Our base camp was at the Lemba Archaeological Research Centre in the neighbouring village of Lemba. Here we had a meet and greet on the first day, and were introduced to our home for the next four weeks. My initial fears of isolation proved unfounded: the centre was well placed for our needs, located just a short walk from the nearest beach, and well within reach of both a kiosk and a local supermarket. From here, we would conduct all of our field operations, and the schedule was explained to us in great detail.

Participating in an excavation during the height of the Cypriot summer was hard work in a hot and dusty environment. We had all anticipated the sheer manual drudgery of digging the ground, moving spoil heaps and endlessly scraping back the compacted soil with pointing trowels. No one was na?ve in this respect. It was hard work, and certainly not simple. Digging in an archaeological excavation requires careful organisation. The students were divided up into small groups, each under the strict supervision of one of the team specialists who directed and controlled our every move from the moment we first penetrated the surface of the soil. It was made crystal clear how important it was to dig the soil in carefully controlled and measured phases or layers called “contexts”. Each context has its own unique geological and/or archaeological story behind it, and any artefacts found within that context have to be kept separate from those in other contexts.

I formed a number of friendships in the trenches, in particular Trench G, which was the site where I spent the majority of my time. We often worked in close-knit groups, but occasionally, people were switched around to work on other things. You would be surprised how well you can get to know other people when you are all on your knees, two feet down, chipping away together at the compact earth with trowels. Conversation was varied, free-flowing and often as revealing as the soil in which we were digging. Trench G itself was, in my opinion, the most exciting trench, as it contained a curved portion of the foundations of a huge circular wall, and endless quantities of pottery, some modified.

Field archaeology is a rewarding practice, regardless of the complexity of contexts, surveying and so forth. For me, there is nothing more exciting than digging something out of the ground that has not seen the light of day for perhaps thousands of years. Something human-made. Something handled and used by our ancestors, and then either hidden or lost by time and soil. During my time at Kissonerga-Skalia, I must have personally dug up a hundred pieces of pottery fragments, each one carefully assigned to its context. Between all of us, we must have brought thousands of pieces to the surface, and they all had to be analysed and recorded.

During our four weeks at Kissonerga-Skalia we discovered many artefacts commonly associated with rural settlements and agricultural practices. These included hammers, axe heads, adzes and grinding stones. We uncovered a flat stone with rows of holes drilled into it, possibly an early board game. From our pottery collection, we also assembled two near-complete pots, thanks to the fact that we knew where every single piece came from using contexts. Of course, the most exciting finds at Skalia were undoubtedly architectural. Our trenches partially uncovered the foundations of circular stone walls, indicating that there was a settlement on the site.

Post-excavation - that essential part of field archaeology - took place back at the base-camp, where every day bags full of pottery were brought back from the trenches, along with any movable artefacts we had uncovered. First and foremost, these had to be cleaned, and it was the job of the students to take out wash basins and toothbrushes, and thoroughly clean the dirt from the pottery fragments so that they could later be analysed. Post-excavation was also when data were collected for permanent records and when the specialists would apply their analytical skills to the new material.

Post-excavation and housekeeping duties aside, our time at Lemba was by no means all work, work, work, and we found ourselves with an abundance of spare time during the workday. On Friday afternoons and every Saturday we were left to our own devices. There were near-daily excursions to the beach, and the weekends saw visits to Kato Paphos for shopping, sightseeing and visits to the local bars and restaurants. A weekly night-out was also organised to Bar Street in Paphos which, I think, defies worthy description in this article.

Our time was so completely taken up by work and play, it did not seem long before our four weeks in the sun was up. On our final day on site, our job was to backfill the trenches we had dug, covering the exposed archaeology with soil in order to protect it for future study.

For anyone interested in becoming an archaeologist, or wishing to develop a general interest in the subject, I strongly recommend Cyprus Before History: From the Earliest Settlers to the End of the Bronze Age, by Louise Steele as a starting point.
Archaeology is a very attractive career, but it sometimes attracts the wrong kind of attention. Archaeologists are not treasure hunters and even students don’t like being asked if we have found “anything of value” as the question implies that value means gold, silver, coins or precious artefacts. Value to the archaeologist is the amount of precious information which can be derived from an artefact, in order to build an accurate picture of the past. It is not about monetary value. For the true archaeologist, it never is.

In Cyprus we should all work together in the discovery, study and preservation of archaeology. Help is especially useful from people who work the land, such as farmers or land developers, and we appreciate any support we can get. And if you find what you believe to be archaeological remains on your land, the absolutely best thing to do is to leave the remains exactly where they are and contact the Department of Antiquities, so that someone can drop by and take a look. The remains may only be of minimal significance, in which case the archaeologists will only have to perform some brief work, before removing the articles for further study.

In recent years, the public awareness of archaeology’s importance has grown immensely, but there is still so much more to be done. I, for one, am proud that I had a role, however small, in revealing a tiny layer of Cyprus’ history. And I can hardly wait to finally know what lies beneath those buried trenches at Kissonerga-Skalia, silently awaiting our return.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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