Richest tombs ever found in Cyprus reveal secrets of Bronze Age city

An extraordinary discovery has been made by the University of Gothenburg’s archaeological expedition in Cyprus. Just outside the bustling Bronze Age trading hub of Hala Sultan Tekke, a series of tombs has been unearthed, showcasing unparalleled opulence and significance in the Mediterranean region. These remarkable burial sites, containing a treasure trove of valuable artifacts, provide compelling evidence that their inhabitants once held dominion over the city. Hala Sultan Tekke, renowned for its prominent role in the copper trade between 1500 and 1300 BCE, likely saw these influential figures wield power within its governance, although historical records shed limited light on the specific form of government at that time.

The tombs themselves are located on the outskirts of the expansive 50-hectare Bronze Age city. Accessible through a narrow passage leading from the surface, they reveal underground chambers of varying sizes, some measuring an impressive 4 by 5 meters. These dimensions emphasize the grandeur and significance of the resting places within, underscoring the status and prestige of the individuals interred there.

Professor Peter Fischer, an esteemed archaeologist and the leader of the expedition, affirms the compelling assumption that these burial sites belong to royalty. The sheer abundance of lavish grave goods discovered strongly supports this hypothesis, solidifying the notion that those laid to rest here were integral members of the city’s government. While the precise political structure of Hala Sultan Tekke during that era remains elusive, there is no doubt that these tombs provide a profound glimpse into the lives and rulership of the city’s elite inhabitants.

More than 500 artifacts

The ongoing Söderberg expedition from Sweden, dedicated to excavating the remarkable site of Hala Sultan Tekke near the coastal city of Larnaca in Cyprus, has been unearthing chamber tombs since 2010. Prior discoveries by this diligent team have already yielded chamber tombs containing valuable grave goods. However, what sets apart the recently unearthed chamber tombs is the sheer abundance of artifacts and their exceptional craftsmanship.

Astonishingly, more than 500 intact artifacts have been meticulously cataloged, carefully distributed across two tombs. The assortment is nothing short of extraordinary, comprising a dazzling array of precious metals, exquisite gemstones, delicate ivory, and impeccably crafted ceramics.

The magnitude of this discovery surpasses previous findings, presenting an unparalleled collection of treasures. Each artifact stands as a testament to the wealth and opulence that once thrived within Hala Sultan Tekke, painting a vivid picture of the sophisticated culture and the refined tastes of its inhabitants.

The tireless efforts of the Söderberg expedition have illuminated the historical significance of these newly revealed chamber tombs, shedding light on a bygone era of prosperity and artistic brilliance. This extraordinary assemblage serves as a valuable resource for understanding the ancient world and enriching our knowledge of this Bronze Age trading metropolis.

Large Mycenaean (Greek) “Chariot krater” (c. 1350 BCE). Credit: P.M. Fischer

A fascinating aspect of the newly found chamber tombs is the significant presence of imported artifacts originating from neighboring cultures. Approximately half of the discovered objects were sourced from distant lands, highlighting the extensive trade networks that once connected Hala Sultan Tekke with the world beyond its borders. Notably, gold and ivory were imported from the illustrious land of Egypt, adding a touch of regal splendor to the collection. Precious gemstones like deep blue lapis lazuli, rich red carnelian, and vibrant blue-green turquoise were obtained from far-flung regions such as Afghanistan, India, and Sinai respectively. The tombs also harbored amber objects, hailing from the Baltic region, thus representing the vast reach of Hala Sultan Tekke’s trading endeavors.

The employment of magnetometers played a pivotal role in the discovery of these extraordinary tombs. These sophisticated instruments possess the remarkable ability to generate images, unveiling objects and structures concealed up to two meters beneath the surface. The meticulous exploration of the site involved a comparative analysis between areas where fragmented pottery had been displaced due to farming activities and the magnetometer map. This insightful approach revealed prominent voids, indicating the presence of large cavities beneath the surface. Building upon this initial discovery, further investigation of the area ensued, ultimately leading to the remarkable revelation of the tombs themselves.

The utilization of cutting-edge technology, combined with astute observations and meticulous fieldwork, has proven instrumental in unearthing these hidden treasures. The newfound understanding of Hala Sultan Tekke’s extensive trade connections and the remarkable craftsmanship showcased in the imported artifacts adds yet another layer of intrigue to this captivating archaeological expedition.

Woman buried with one-year old

Within the tombs, several remarkably preserved skeletons have been unearthed, offering glimpses into the lives of those laid to rest. One notable discovery includes the remains of a woman, encircled by an array of ceramic vessels, intricate jewelry, and a once gleaming, polished round bronze mirror. A poignant detail lies beside her—a ceramic toy, belonging to a one-year-old child. These poignant artifacts signify the personal and emotional connections woven within the tombs.

Among the entombed individuals, both men and women, resplendent diadems adorned their heads, while necklaces bearing impeccably crafted pendants of the utmost quality were discovered. These exceptional pendants, potentially crafted during Egypt’s 18th dynasty, were likely produced contemporaneously with pharaohs such as Thutmos III, Amenophis IV (Akhenaten), and his esteemed wife, Nefertiti. The diadems themselves boasted embossed images depicting majestic bulls, graceful gazelles, fierce lions, and delicate flowers, reflecting a profound artistic sensibility.

The ceramic vessels found within the tombs primarily originated from the region we now refer to as Greece, while additional pots were traced back to Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. This assortment underscores the extensive trade networks that Hala Sultan Tekke actively participated in, serving as a hub for the exchange of goods and ideas.

The grave goods extended beyond ceramic treasures, encompassing bronze weapons, some adorned with delicate ivory inlays. Additionally, a remarkable gold-framed seal, meticulously crafted from the durable mineral hematite, was discovered. This intricate seal bore inscriptions depicting gods and rulers, offering insights into the spiritual and societal beliefs of the era.

Professor Peter Fischer emphasizes that the vast wealth possessed by the entombed individuals was derived from the flourishing copper production within the region. Nearby mines in the Troodos Mountains yielded abundant copper ore, which was subsequently refined within the city. Hala Sultan Tekke, as a prominent port city, exported significant quantities of the refined metal to neighboring cultures. The value of copper as a commodity cannot be understated, as when combined with tin, it forms the formidable alloy known as bronze—an essential material of the Bronze Age, lending its very name to the era.

The multifaceted tapestry woven by these discoveries highlights the interconnectedness of cultures, the prosperity derived from resource exploitation, and the undeniable craftsmanship and artistic finesse that defined Hala Sultan Tekke and its illustrious inhabitants.

Source: University of Gothenburg

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