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Free for all in neolithic Cyprus

I was staying at the officer's mess at RAF Akrotiri on a work trip. Cunningly, I booked a day's leave to be taken whilst there to do with whatever I liked. And what I like is to sniff out neolithic and bronze age goodies.

Cyprus is just dripping archaeology from just about every period, being geographically -and therefore strategically- important. Its the greek and roman stuff which gets top billing, car parks, entrance fees and glamorous road signs, but I was surprised how easy it was to find said goodies with only a ten minute web search for names of sites and a road map given to me when I arrived.

Kalavassos Tenta is a beautifully excavated and preserved late neolithic village.

Clearly a site of great importance, it was signposted from the motorway running between Larnaca and Limassol. Unfortunately, being 'out of season' the big spiky wooden main gates were locked and the whole site was fenced off. I hadn't come all this way to give up...there was nothing for it except to climb over and risk serious damage to my arse on the spikes. Besides, there was no one around to ask- or indeed witness - my trespassing.

Under a great awning lies a series of foundations and the top few feet of walls of small and much larger hut circles, stunningly preserved, some of mud brick, some of stone. Visitors (and trespassers) are able to walk above the complex on wooden walkways. The construction, sizes and proximity of each dwelling or chamber reminded me very much of the layout of the mudbrick villages of the Dogon people in Mali, West Africa, who still live in places like this.

Aware that I was possibly committing a serious crime, I quickly took some photographs and legged it back to the gates, disturbing a hoopoe as I ran, which flew off revealing its unmistakeable and dramatic orange, black and white plumage.

To the west of Limassol, driving on the beautiful coast road looking for some views to paint, I took a left turn towards the sea at Curium (also spelled 'Kourion') known for its roman temples and hellenistic bits and bobs. Stopping to photograph the light casting incredible shadows on some cliffs, I noticed that in places they had been 'worked' so I got out to have a closer look. The nearby village was called Agios Ermogenis, near Episkopi, but there was no archaeology here marked on my road map. But as soon as I started tramping about a bit, I realised that before me lay a significant rock cut cemetary!

Cor! Perhaps 20 or more tombs cut out of the flat rock on which I walked and some cut into the cliffs in various stages of depth and working, I was seriously impressed. I peered into one of the maybe 15 cliff cut tombs and saw sculpted ledges, complex chambers and carvings. I concluded that this probably wasn't roman because
1. it didn't seem to be connected to the site roman site 500ms away which required an admission fee and
2. it was rock cut and the romans preferred to build.

It was absolutely thrilling stuff and hadn't even had to pay an admission fee. Subsequent research reveals that this site is indeed bronze age.

Later that evening as the sun was setting, I returned to the RAF base and thought I'd drive south as far I could following the runway to the beach to watch the sun set.

I did a little double take as I noticed a battered road sign saying 'Lania rock cut chambers', initially thinking my overactive imagination had optimistically dreamt it. Spinning the car round, I screeched up the sandy track and found to my sheer delight a fantastic ruined construction of rock-cut tombs and chambers right here on the airbase, just 500ms or so from the runway, on this, the very tip of southern Cyprus.

The sun was setting fast, the moon was already high in the fast darkening sky and the mozzies had come out in force to feast upon my blood. I put to one side being insect food for a few minutes and took no notice of the sign that said 'no access after dark' (presumably because it would be so easy to slip and fall into one of the deep uneven chambers) and went exploring.

An information board said that the three massive chambers, including a water cistern, were in used here in hellenistic times, but the romans also replastered it and used the site, after which it was used as a rubbish dump until the venetian period when it was filled in.

The two earlier chambers were believed to have been used for 'cult worship' purposes. When I later read that the construction of it included a space which admitted light and ventilation to illuminate the room I immedately thought 'light box', but have found no further information on this. The eastern chamber was huge, probably more than 20 ms long and 12ms wide and consisted of side chambers and even a bit of roof. All rock cut! Whatever this site was, it impressed me enough to hang around for a good look and get thoroughly munched by clouds of voracious, whirring mozzies.

Jane Posted by Jane
21st April 2004ce
Edited 25th November 2005ce

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