Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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History of excavation at Enkomi

Enkomi has a long and colourful history of excavation. Major Alexander di Cesnola (brother of Luigi Palma di Cesnola) seems to have been the first person to draw the site to the attention of archaeologists but by this time many of the tombs had already been looted. Following a bequest from a Miss Emma Tourner Turner to be used to fund excavation, the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum was allocated the money to conduct investigations on Cyprus. In addition to Enkomi explored in 1896, the sites of Kourion, Amathus, (Murray et al. 1900; Tatton-Brown 2003), Hala Sultan Tekke (Åström et al. 1976), Maroni (Johnson 1980) and others were also excavated over a period from 1892–9.

The impetus for an investigation of the area was the presence of two looted tumuli inland from the later Iron Age town of Salamis, near the modern village of Enkomi. The Museum expedition excavated a total of 100 tombs, many of which had been previously looted, and encountered a series of wells, which they believed yielded no evidence for dating. The ruins of two small chapels, and a few shallow graves cut into the upper soil layer containing glazed mediaeval wares, led them wrongly to conclude that the wells and architectural remains all dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth century AD (Murray et al. 1900:5).

The publication of the wealth and extent of the cemetery led to further excavations in the area. In 1913 the Cyprus Museum undertook a trial excavation and in 1927 another was begun by a Mr R. Gunnis (Catling 1964: 281-282; Myres 1946). Both were unsuccessful in locating further tombs. The next large-scale excavation was undertaken over two months during 1930 by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition (Gjerstad et al. 1934: 467-577). A total of 22 ‘productive’ tombs were excavated. It was not until 1934 that the contemporaneity of the settlement and tombs was recognised by C.F.A. Schaeffer (Schaeffer 1934: 83-93). Schaeffer immediately commenced digging trial trenches but was unable to return to the site again until 1946, after the war (Schaeffer 1952). Due to commitments to his concurrent excavation at Ras Shamra in Syria, Schaeffer requested the assistance of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities and a joint project was instigated. The two teams dug separately, at different times of the year, in order to utilise the same foremen and local workforce. The Cypriot excavation, carried out under the directorship of the then curator of the Cyprus Museum, Porphyrios Dikaios, was undertaken over twelve seasons from 1948 to 1958 and has been fully published (Dikaios 1969–71). Schaeffer led the French Mission until 1970 when directorship passed to O. Pelon who continued until 1973, after which time the Turkish invasion and subsequent partition of the island in 1974 brought an end to excavations. Some of the French Mission’s work has been published in a series of volumes and preliminary reports (including Schaeffer 1936, 1952, 1971; Courtois 1981; Lagarce & Lagarce 1985; Courtois, Lagarce & Lagarce 1986).

Around 185 tombs have been excavated at the site by all the missions but there is a lot of variability in excavation techniques and thoroughness of publication. Despite all these shortcomings, a glimpse into the changing structure of the town and the relationship of the tombs to the buildings can be gained from the Cypriot excavation areas (Dikaios 1969–71, Volume IIIB, Plates 242–93). Built initially into courtyards and open spaces between buildings, tombs may have been sealed (or contents relocated) during expansion of settlement areas, or else incorporated into building and street plans if still in use. By the later LCII and earlier LCIIIA periods (ca. 1300-1100 BC) which is marked by the appearance of a town grid and monumental ashlar buildings all over the excavated portions of Enkomi, the majority of earlier tombs had been sealed by the expansion of the settlement. The later LCIIC and LCIIIA tombs are generally pit or shaft graves within the area of the buildings or else burials placed in older chamber tombs which remained in use.