3,500-Year-Old Tomb with Remains of 17 Elites and Precious Artifacts Found in Cyprus

3,500-Year-Old Tomb with Remains of 17 Elites and Precious Artifacts Found in Cyprus

Excavations in a Bronze Age city on Cyprus have revealed an industrious people whose community was burned twice in attacks, possibly during the upheaval caused by the Sea Peoples. The most recent discovery by Swedish archaeologists is of a tomb from years before the attacks in which they found remains of 17 high-status people buried with rich grave goods. The offerings, from around the Mediterranean, include gold jewelry, pearls, scarabs and beautiful pottery.

The tomb dates to about 1500 BC, at the end of the Late Bronze Age, and contains the bodies of nine adults and eight children. The items buried with the bodies were probably from Greece, Anatolia (Turkey), Mesopotamia and Egypt. Religious markings on the vessels show they were important symbolic offerings.

A ceramic bull-god figurine was found in 2014 at the site.

A ceramic bull-god figurine was found in 2014 at the site. ( Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer )

The tomb is in the harbor town of Hala Sultan Tekke. Lead archaeologist Peter Fischer’s website and his e-mails to Ancient Origins reveal a fascinating place that was occupied from at least the Bronze Age forward.

Around 1200 BC—about 300 years after this tomb was being used—the city was twice destroyed by fire, possibly caused by attacks, Dr. Fischer said.

Cylinder seals and figurines from the oldest stratum of the site; these items were not in the tomb recently discovered but were from the same time frame.

Cylinder seals and figurines from the oldest stratum of the site; these items were not in the tomb recently discovered but were from the same time frame. ( Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer )

Finds at the city have included an artificially deformed skull (see photo below) and many rich, interesting artifacts. They have found gold, silver and other types of jewelry, numerous stone tools and many other important objects around the ancient city.

The newly found tomb is large, measuring 3 by 4 meters (9.84 by 13.12 feet) and is the most elaborate and luxurious known from the late Bronze Age on Cyprus. The skeletons were scattered, apparently to make way for new bodies, Dr. Fischer said in e-mail. Nearby is an offering pit. There were no bodies in it, but the pit contains artifacts that the researchers think were meant to honor deceased ancestors.

Gold and silver jewelry from a home. The arrows point to a silver amulet and another gold object inside the molten silver

Gold and silver jewelry from a home. The arrows point to a silver amulet and another gold object inside the molten silver (Peter Fischer photo)

Dr. Fischer and his team of Swedish archaeologists expect the discovery will shed even more light on the early history of Cyprus. Dr. Fischer specializes in Cypriot and Near Eastern archaeology.

It appears Bronze Age peoples occupied Hala Sultan Tekke in three phases, the two most recent of which were destroyed by fires, Dr. Fischer said. Some of the town’s buildings are constructed of massive stone.

Dr. Fischer told Ancient Origins that it appears the town was burned both times in attacks by hostile forces. Archaeologists have found many sling bullets that they believe may have been used during the attacks. They also unearthed a defensive wall at the city.

Excavations have turned up these clay sling bullets, possibly used in an attack that destroyed the town.

Excavations have turned up these clay sling bullets, possibly used in an attack that destroyed the town. Credit: Peter Fischer

“There are a number of Cypriot sites which were destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age,” Dr. Fischer said in e-mail.”This … is also known as the ‘Crisis Years’ and often connected with the phenomenon called ‘the Sea Peoples,’ but there is no consensus about the importance and effect of south-eastward migration around 1200 BC. Look up Ramses III and the battle against the Sea Peoples—which is a much discussed topic.”

The archaeologists found evidence of textile manufacturing—spinning and weaving and. They found a basin in which cloth apparently was dyed, and crushed murex shells from which the ancient people probably extracted dye. They also found evidence of local pottery-making and metalworking. There was mining of copper at another place on Cyprus, but not at Hala Sultan Tekke, he said.

Dr. Fischer wrote in e-mail:

‘The island was very much depending on export. As regards Hala Sultan Tekke, refining of copper ore, the production of bronze objects together with purple-dyed textiles (maybe the most precious single group of items at that time, i.e. the Late Bronze Age), and the export of Cypriot pottery [were] the economic backbone of the [city]. Cypriot pottery was extremely popular in the Mediterranean and beyond. You can find it from southern Egypt over Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Greek mainland and islands, Italy and further west. Today, Cypriot pottery is used to establish synchronisation of various cultures, for instance, a certain Cypriot vessel type is found in Italy, the same in Egypt etc. which means one can establish a synchronisation of cultures.’

In 2014 the team discovered a skeleton that had an artificially deformed skull. The discovery, in a well, was not associated with the tomb and offering pit discovered this year.

Artificially deformed skull; X-rays of right mandible with tooth decay and infected bone

Artificially deformed skull; X-rays of right mandible with tooth decay and infected bone ( Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer )

“The artificial deformation of skulls became a fashion, especially during the Late Bronze Age,” Dr. Fischer wrote. “There were various types of deformations. However, not only in Cyprus but also, for instance, in Egypt. However, in the tomb from 2016 there is no evidence of artificial skull deformation. But remember, the skeletons were scattered.”

Apparently it wasn’t all hard work making textiles and pottery, metal-smithing, and fiery tragedy at the city. They had music, too. Dr. Fischer’s site states:

One of the finds from R30 is a complete very large violin bow fibula of bronze. It has been argued that this early type of fibulae is concentrated on the southern and eastern coast of Cyprus. It seems therefore that this object was mainly in use at urban sites connected to the sea trade. This observation supports the assumption that the fibula arrived in Cyprus through contacts with the Aegean and the western Mediterranean, or even central Europe.

Dr. Fischer’s website has many interesting articles, photos, drawings of artifacts and maps of the city and links to his scholarly articles.

Violin bow fibula

Violin bow fibula ( Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer )

Top image: Figurines from the oldest stratum of the site; these items were not in the tomb recently discovered but were from the same time frame. ( Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer )

By Mark Miller