Kissonerga-Skalia: An Early-Middle Bronze Age settlement in western Cyprus

Lindy Crewe

Crewe-Fig-1 Fig. 1

The area surrounding Kissonerga village, near Paphos in western Cyprus (Figure 1), is extremely rich in prehistoric remains, primarily dating from the earliest Neolithic occupation of the island through the Chalcolithic period, investigated through survey and excavation since the 1970s by the University of Edinburgh’s Lemba Archaeological Project (LAP) (Peltenburg et al. 1998, 2003; Philip 1983). The University of Manchester  project is the first time that a settlement dating to the Early-Middle Cypriot Bronze Age (EC-MC, ca 2400-1650 BC) has been excavated in the area. In addition to the prehistoric occupation, the village was inhabited from the Late Roman through Medieval periods. Given the area’s rich past, the overarching aim of the project is to integrate all of the archaeological evidence at Kissonerga over its 10,000-year history. In future seasons we will integrate environmental, survey and previous excavation data towards this aim.

Crewe-Fig-2 Fig. 2

Although some of the site was destroyed by levelling for agricultural purposes during the early  1970s, Kissonerga-Skalia remains extremely important for understanding the Cypriot prehistoric Bronze Age. Excavations in other parts of the island (see Alambra-Mouttes, Marki-Alonia and Sotira-Kaminoudhia in the bibliography below and on Figure 1) have revealed that EC-MC settlements shared many common features, such as architectural styles and technologies, but had pronounced regional differences in pottery styles (see Steel 2004 for an overview). The southwest has long been thought to be the home of a pottery style known as ‘Drab Polished ware’ (Figure 2), which is poorly understood, as only small amounts have been excavated from multiple-use tombs or as exports to sites in other parts of the island. Drab-Polished ware is the most common pottery style at Kissonerga-Skalia and obtaining a stratified sequence will enable us to build a framework for understanding the origins and duration of this extremely well-made pottery. Other characteristic features of settlements of EC-MC date have been their small rural nature, located by arable inland valleys and often near copper sources. Kissonerga-Skalia therefore also stands out for its exceptional coastal location, only 300m from the sea.

The 2007-9 Seasons

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We have now conducted three seasons of excavation at the site, revealing well-preserved architecture and other features. During the preliminary season of excavation in August 2007 a series of test trenches were sunk in areas that had either been obviously truncated by the 1970s terracing, or potentially protected by overburden from levelling operations, to establish in which areas in situ architecture might be preserved. All trenches proved productive to some degree and the 2008-9 seasons have focussed on extending these to expose the preserved remains (Figure 3). Upper disturbed layers contained quantities of pottery, including EC-MC, Chalcolithic and Late Roman to Byzantine. Chalcolithic pottery has either eroded downslope from the neighbouring site of Kissonerga-Mosphilia (Peltenburg et al. 1998) or the occupants of Skalia were mining the remains of the Chalcolithic settlement to obtain building materials for their mudbrick houses.

Trench D

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In Trench D (Figure 4) stone footings of typical EC-MC dwellings have been revealed. The aim of the 2009 extension was to further expose stone wall footings revealed in previous seasons and to expose returns for these walls in order to obtain a bounded architectural unit to begin to establish a stratigraphic sequence for the site. This aim was achieved in the sense that we now have four walls at right angles forming a ‘room’ but the trench requires further excavation to the SE to reveal the entire extent. Two floor deposits were excavated within the room. Associated with the lowermost surface reached in 2009, surface 257, was a circular stone and mud plaster bin. Deposits overlying the floor were rich in animal bones and edible seashell remains, which along with coarse pottery cooking pots and storage vessels, suggest a domestic assemblage.

Trench B

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To the north in Trench B (Figure 5) we have exposed a large furnace-like structure (Feature 33). Feature 33 appears to have been a large mud plaster-built structure with thick curvilinear walls of at least 0.8m high, which the concavity suggests may have been a domed roof with a  rounded opening, not dissimilar in appearance to a traditional village fournos. It measures 2.6m x 1.9m with an opening 0.8m wide in the southern side. Feature 33 saw a complex series of reuse and cleaning episodes, indicated by a series of ashy deposits in the interior and on the exterior to the west of the entrance, prior to collapse and later truncation by ploughing. The earliest level has now been exposed, revealing a large (c. 1.2m high), partially collapsed, pithos of coarse Red Polished ware embedded in a pit in the base. The pithos was placed upright with its mouth in front of and level with the entrance. At the base was an ashy deposit containing a cooking pot. Stylistically, the pithos is most similar to those excavated at Episkopi-Phaneromeni, dated to LC IA. Despite 100% floatation of the interior fills the function of Feature 33 remains enigmatic, with insufficient burning on the base and walls of the feature to suggest sustained exposure to high temperatures. The large scale, high walls, and free-standing nature of Feature 33 make it unique in the Cypriot archaeological record. Further work is required to investigate the associated exterior surface and its relationship with the two stone walls now partially revealed at the SW and NE limits of the trench.

Trenches G and G22

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Within Trenches G and G2 (Figure 6) we have revealed the remains of an unusually wide (1.2m) rubble wall (Wall 67). After the 2007-8 seasons it was thought that Wall 67 was curvilinear at the northern extreme. Investigations in 2009 on the exterior of the wall to its foundation, on what appears to be a largely sterile subsoil, have revealed that the larger stones at the curve are likely to represent a later entrance blocking episode and the 2009 extensions indicate that the wall continues straight in either direction, meeting at an obtuse angle, rather than the more usual 90°. Trenches G and G2 have now exposed around 17m length of Wall 67 with no evidence for a return or any interior subdivisions. The latest occupation surface on the interior has been partially displaced by bulldozer teeth but reveals a series of plastered pit emplacements, pot spreads and ground stone tools. The latest pottery associated with the occupation dates to the threshold of the Late Cypriot, including late White Painted V-VI sherds imported from the northwest, probably the Ovgos Valley area. There is no pottery later than this in any of the disturbed deposits and it would appear that the site was abandoned during LC IA, following the pattern seen at other sites such as Episkopi-Phaneromeni and the houses at Kalopsidha. Wall 67 therefore makes most sense as part of the phenomenon of the construction of monumentalising architecture, often referred to as ‘fortifications’, seen on Cyprus at this time, and is therefore extremely important as the first building of this nature to have been excavated in the west. On the northern exterior of Wall 67 a second construction, similar in style to Wall 67 was partially exposed. The space between the two (0.20m) is not wide enough for a passage but they do not appear to be joined. An embedded pebble-and-sherd surface on the exterior also included a piece of high-quality copper slag, indicating that copper working was undertaken at the site. Further investigation and extension of Trenches G and G2 is required to understand these structures.

Crewe-Fig-7 Fig. 7

In addition to the preserved architecture, finds include beads, pendants and copper fragments. One complete bent copper needle (Figure 7) was found in the upper levels of the ashy fill in the lower pit in Trench B. We also have evidence of textile production in the form of spindle whorls and a loom weight, and numbers of chipped stone and ground stone tools, including agricultural types such as querns, and gaming stones. The site has also yielded evidence of faunal (cattle, deer, sheep/goat, pig) and marine (crab and shellfish) exploitation and well-preserved botanical remains (grape and lentil). Again, Kissonerga-Skalia’s coastal position may supply information on marine exploitation strategies not attested at the inland sites. In order to address some of these questions and fully expose architecture, excavation will continue in future seasons.

The excavation runs during the university break as a summer field school for archaeology undergraduates. Thanks to the team for all their hard work over the last three seasons.

The project has been implemented with support from the Department of Greece and Rome, The British Museum; the Council for British Research in the Levant; and the British Academy.

Bibliography and further reading

  1. Coleman, J. E., J. A. Barlow, M. K. Mogelonsky and K. W. Schaar 1996 Alambra. A Middle Bronze Age Settlement in Cyprus. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology CXVIII, Jonsered.
  2. Crewe, L., P. Croft, L. Graham and A. McCarthy 2008 “First preliminary report of excavations at Kissonerga-Skalia, 2007”. Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus: 105-120.
  3. Frankel, D. and J.M. Webb 2006 Marki-Alonia. An Early and Middle Bronze Age Settlement in Cyprus. Excavations 1995-2000. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology CXXIII:2, Sävedalen.
  4. Peltenburg, E. et al. 1998a Excavations at Kissonerga-Mosphilia 1979-1992. Lemba Archaeological Project II.1A. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology LXX:2 (Jonsered).
  5. Peltenburg, E. et al. 1998b Excavations at Kissonerga-Mosphilia 1979-1992. Lemba Archaeological Project II.1B. University of Edinburgh. Available online
  6. Peltenburg, E. et al. 2003 The Colonisation and Settlement of Cyprus. Investigations at Kissonerga-Mylouthkia 1976-1996. Lemba Archaeological Project Volume III.1. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology LXX:4, Sävedalen.
  7. Philip, G. 1983 “Kissonerga-Skalia ceramics” in Peltenburg, E.J. and project members “The Prehistory of West Cyprus: Ktima Lowlands investigations 1979—1982” Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 9-55.
  8. Steel, L. 2004. Cyprus Before History. From the Earliest Settlers to the End of the Bronze Age. Duckworth, London.
  9. Swiny, S., G. Rapp and E. Herscher (eds.) 2003 Sotira Kaminoudhia. An Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus. Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute Monograph Series, Volume 4. ASOR, Boston, MA.