Excavating Ancient Cyprus

For the last several summers, history professor Bonny Bazemore has brought a group of students to an excavation site in Cyprus to catalog thousands of artifacts, the earliest of which are 8,000 years old.

While working under the authority of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus, Bazemore has completed five seasons of rescue excavations and surveys in anticipation of the construction of the largest tourist complex in the Middle East. In all, she has uncovered 15 sites.

One of those sites, the Rantidi Forest Excavations, was founded to excavate the site that had produced more inscriptions in the peculiar script of Cyprus than any other site in the world. “Cyprus was the only place in the ancient world that did not use the Greek alphabet to write the Greek language, and that is what interested me,” said Bazemore. “But when I received my excavation permit in 1996, I was told that the largest tourist development in the Middle East was to take place in and around the ancient site. So I was set on a path to survey the area intended for development, and that has been occupying me for the last 16 years.”

In the survey site, which is 7 kilometers by 2 kilometers in extent, Bazemore has found a village that dates to the Chalcolithic period, which was approximately 6,000 B.C. The village was a major quarry and tool-producing area. “We have found more than a thousand chert blades, pounding stones, mortars and pestles, and, most interesting, two stone idols and an ochre stone. Ochre is a soft mineral that is ground to use as a dye. This particular ochre stone has been used to pound red ochre, and its stain is almost 8,000 years old.”

Future excavations involving as many as 20 EWU students will concentrate on the hilltop temple of Adonis. “Within our excavations, there is a large temple complex that is dedicated to the lover of the goddess Aphrodite, in what Homer himself identifies as her home sanctuary at Paphos,” said Bazemore. “Here we have found almost 2,000 pieces of life-sized and over-life-sized terra cotta statues, and the largest number of inscriptions found in a half-century written in the arcane script of Cyprus, the so-called Cypriote syllabary.”

Bazemore is concentrating on two other sites as well. “We also have two very important medieval sites, which were used for industrial purposes, probably in relation with the sugar cane production in the area,” she said. “Associated with this site is the largest threshing floor that has plaques, or stone pavers, in the Republic of Cyprus.”