Hala Sultan Tekke: A Bronze Age trade hub for copper and luxury goods

The University of Gothenburg’s excavation team has uncovered evidence that Hala Sultan Tekke, a Cypriot village, was transformed into a significant trading hub during the Late Bronze Age due to its abundant copper resources and sheltered location. The team’s research, which has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, confirms that the city played a crucial role in the Mediterranean’s first period of international trade.

According to Peter Fischer, the excavation’s leader and an emeritus professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Historical Studies, the team discovered large quantities of imported pottery and luxury goods, such as gold, silver, ivory, and semi-precious gemstones, that demonstrate the high demand for the city’s copper production as a trade commodity.

The Swedish Cyprus Expedition, which started in 1927 to map the island’s archaeological history, has continued for 13 seasons, with the most recent expedition led by Peter Fischer at Hala Sultan Tekke, near the modern-day city of Larnaca on the south coast of Cyprus, since 2010. The excavation team’s findings reveal that the city covered at least 25 hectares, with its center comprising 14 hectares surrounded by a city wall. Objects from this period have also been discovered in a broader area.

Peter Fischer stated that their investigations and excavations indicate that Hala Sultan Tekke was more extensive than previously assumed, spanning an area of 25 to 50 hectares, which was a substantial city by the standards of that era. Settlements during this time and in this region typically only covered a few hectares.

Largest copper producer

Cyprus was the primary copper producer in the Mediterranean region during the Bronze Age. This metal, combined with tin, was used to create bronze, which was utilized to make jewelry, weapons, and tools before the introduction of iron.

According to Peter Fischer, the excavations in Hala Sultan Tekke revealed traces of widespread copper production, including smelting furnaces, cast molds, and slag. The ore used for copper extraction was transported from mines located in the Troodos Mountains nearby. The workshops were situated in the northern part of the city, where the winds typically blew from the south, carrying the soot and odor away from the settlement. The copper production process generated significant amounts of soot and waste products, such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium, which are highly hazardous to health. However, the people of that time were unaware of the risks associated with the production process. Such a process would be deemed unacceptable today.

Drone photograph of Hala Sultan Tekke; excavated city quarters (CQ1-4) in foreground; cemetery (Area A) in background; Larnaca Salt Lake to the northeast; Mediterranean in background; international airport of Larnaca between Salt Lake and Mediterranean (drone photograph by P.M. Fischer, map by T. Bürge). Credit: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103722

Large quantities of imported goods

Thanks to its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean and a well-protected harbor, Hala Sultan Tekke in Cyprus was an important center of trade during the Bronze Age. Archaeologists have discovered a plethora of imported goods, including pottery, jewelry, and luxury items from neighboring regions such as Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and Egypt, as well as distant places like Sardinia, the Baltic Sea region, Afghanistan, and India.

These findings suggest that the city was one of the most significant trading hubs between 1500 and 1150 BC, during the early days of international trade in the region. Apart from copper, Hala Sultan Tekke was also famous for its purple-dyed textiles, which were made from a type of murex shellfish. The city also produced and exported pottery with distinct painted motifs depicting humans, animals, and plants. The artist behind these motifs is referred to as the “Hala Sultan Tekke painter.”

Peter Fischer noted that the pottery finds are valuable resources for archaeologists worldwide. The locally made pottery found in the same layer as imported pottery can help synchronize and date finds from other sites around the Mediterranean, which were previously challenging to date.

Trade flourished for 500 years

The Bronze Age city was originally named after the nearby Hala Sultan Tekke mosque by the expedition that first excavated the site. The city thrived for almost half a millennium, but like many other advanced Bronze Age civilizations in the Mediterranean, Hala Sultan Tekke collapsed around 1200 BC. The traditional explanation for this collapse was the invasion of the “Sea Peoples” who wreaked havoc on cities and ended the Bronze Age.

However, recent research conducted by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition has offered a more nuanced perspective on this theory. Written sources from Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt from this period describe epidemics, famine, and wars by invading peoples, suggesting that multiple factors contributed to the collapse. The excavation findings also indicate that climate deterioration was another significant factor. This could have led people to migrate southeastward in search of better living conditions, leading to conflicts with cultures in Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus.

“By analyzing various pieces of evidence, we can see that the collapse of Hala Sultan Tekke was likely caused by a complex combination of factors. This new perspective on the event can help us better understand the Bronze Age collapse and the movements of people and cultures during that time,” says Peter Fischer.

Source: University of Gothenburg

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