Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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The Enkomi Foundry Hoard in the British Museum

H. Catling

Groups of copper and copper-alloy objects (bronzes) are an important and fairly rare type of find complex in the excavation of Bronze Age – especially Late Bronze Age – sites in Cyprus and the Aegean area. They are customarily described as ‘Hoards’ or ‘Treasures’. After 1960, two shipwrecked Late Bronze Age cargoes found and archaeologically explored off the south-west coast of Asia Minor – the Cape Gelidonya ship and the Ulu Burun ship, both loaded to the gunwales with bronze – added a previously unimaginably rich category of the same general kind.

Image: the Enkomi Foundry Hoard (Excavations in Cyprus, fig. 25, p. 15)


Such groups of metal objects are studied with growing awareness of their chronological and taxonomic importance, their place in the history of metal technology and, most recently, to explore the possible reasons for their deposition. Such find complexes must not of course be confused with the very large numbers of metal objects deposited in rich Late Bronze Age graves (e.g. the shaft graves of Circles A and B at Mycenae, the Dendra and Nichoria tholoi and, in Crete, LMII and LMIIIA graves at Zapher Papoura and Sellapoulo (Knossos)).

Hoards/treasures are of two chief kinds, which must be kept distinct. First, a hoard may be a collection of complete/ nearly complete manufactured objects (tools, weapons, vessels), either deliberately concealed by their owners in time of danger and never retrieved, or overwhelmed and hidden by disaster in the catastrophe that destroyed their place of use until disturbed again in our own times by chance, or the excavators pick. Conspicuous examples include the group of four huge cauldrons at the Minoan villa of Tylissos, the palatial treasures of Knossos (NW Treasure House; N. House; House SE of the S. House). In Cyprus, the group of objects found by C.F.A Schaeffer in 1934 in his ‘Maison des Bronzes.’ It is axiomatic that the constituent elements of such collections had all been usable up to the time of their concealment, or of the destruction of their context. This is in marked contrast with the complicated character of the second kind of hoard.

The second type of hoard leads, through its contents, directly to a workshop. The objects are usually, though not invariably, of very heterogeneous character, including a minority of objects which could have been used, but a large majority either not yet ready for use, or alternatively, long past their period of usefulness, judged by their worn or damaged state, or comprising fragments of erstwhile objects, deliberately broken up. There are often unfinished castings, there are also bars, billets, slabs of metal capable of being hand-worked into objects, or components of complex objects. Often, too, there are waste products of the casting process, including jets, runners and risers, web from two-piece moulds or cire-perdue (lost wax) moulds. Apart from the few items that could have been used, and the cast blanks capable of being hand-worked to shape, all such material must have been destined for recycling. In addition, these hoards quite frequently include raw material, usually in ingot form – buns, slabs, oxhide ingots. It is unusual to find intact oxhide ingots; their presence can be recognised by the carrying handles broken from the main body, or broken lumps from the main body of varying shapes and sizes. Melting hoards, to give them their best descriptive title, will have been lost in Antiquity by the same kinds of mischance that befell ‘storage’ hoards, the first kind described above.