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History of excavations

British Museum excavations in 1899

The rich archaeological remains that abound in the area around Larnaka Bay were repeatedly exploited throughout the 19th century by treasure hunters, collectors and antiquarians, digging both for profit and out of historical interest.[1]  After 1887, private excavations were forbidden and permits to dig restricted to the Cyprus Museum and institutions such as universities and museums.

Klavdia-Tremithos had already been explored when F.B. Welch began work here for the British Museum in 1899. In the previous year the antiquity collector W.T. Ready sold 15 items said to come from this area to the British Museum for £2.[2] Despite the relatively smalll sum of money (around £150 in 2011 terms), this group of objects includes five complete Mycenaean Pictorial Style vessels, Egyptian faience bowls and cylinder seals. The richness of the material also provides a hint as to why the Museum chose to excavate this site. Ever since the excavations at Enkomi in 1896 had revealed an extraordinary wealth of imported Late Helladic vases and other objects from, or inspired by, the Aegean, British Museum-funded fieldwork on the island concentrated on finding Mycenaean remains.[3]

Klavdia-Tremithos was first excavated officially in 1899 on behalf of the British Museum by F.B. Welch, then a student at the British School of Athens. This was one of a number of sites explored by the Museum near Larnaka at this time, including the nearby Late Bronze Age (LBA) cemetery and settlement of Hala Sultan Tekke by the Salt Lake, as well as the LBA cemetery close to the mouth of the Pouzis river to the south-west of Klavdia. Other sites were examined at the same time, but these do not appear to have been productive and so were passed over very quickly. Illegal excavations also seem to have been taking place, in part encouraged by the discoveries of officially licensed work, as knowledge of the sites circulated around the local community and to antiquity dealers and collectors in Larnaka.

A letter from J.W. Crowfoot, who had excavated for the British Museum at Hala Sultan Tekke the previous year, to the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, mentions large-scale digging in the area around Arpera chiftlik further down the Tremithos valley, though who was responsible is not stated (see below).  Claude Cobham, the British District Commissioner for Larnaka and a keen antiquarian and collector of antiquities, appears to have acquired items from this site, two of which he donated to the British Museum (see below, Guide to the Collection).[4]

Also involved in the British Museum work at Klavdia was a certain Percy Christian, who acted as a local agent for the Museum, mainly negotiating with the landowners, paying the workmen, or liaising with the authorities about permits and the division of finds with the Cyprus Museum. His connection with the excavations arose because he sometimes worked for his brother Charles and the latter’s partner J.W.Williamson, two British businessmen resident on Cyprus, who organised the original Turner Bequest Excavations between 1893 and 1896 on behalf of the British Museum.

The work at Klavdia was rapidly and superficially executed, between 8 and 24 April 1899, with a particular emphasis on the discovery of Mycenaean artefacts as already mentioned. Thirty three tombs were explored in one area, many designated with the letter A. This is probably the area called ‘Main Site’ on Welch’s sketch map showing the location of operations, which is reproduced here. One tomb was said to be intact, though which one is not stated in Welch’s report, while the specific tomb number of many of the finds do not appear to have been recorded, as this information is not included in the registers of either the British Museum or the Cyprus Museum.

Several other sites were explored in the same area, where at least five tombs were given numbers designated ‘B’. The exact location is unknown, but may have been one of the smaller hatched areas shown on the sketch map. Welch subsequently moved his workforce to the mouth of the Pouzis river, further to the west, where he worked for another few weeks, though as noted above very little was recorded about this part of the campaign.

The main source of information on these excavations comes from a letter and accompanying report sent by Welch to A.S. Murray, the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum on 16 June 1899.[5]  Information entered in the Registers of the (then) Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities allows some items to be assigned to tombs, but no other details are recorded of the original context. Unlike the earlier work at Amathus, Kourion and Enkomi, no field-notes are preserved. Apart from the letters just mentioned, the only information about the site, therefore, comes from the objects themselves and from later visits to the site by modern archaeologists. The original report is nonetheless worth quoting in full.

[Note: The first part of the letter refers to excavations carried out around Kouklia (Palaepaphos) in western Cyprus before Welch moved his operations to the Larnaka area. It is included here to provide a broader context for the account of the work at Klavdia. Material from Kouklia will appear in a subsequent chapter of the Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum Online Research Catalogue. Some paragraph breaks have been introduced to improve legibility.]

British School, Athens, June 16th 99.

Dear Dr. Murray,

I am very sorry I have been so long in sending you in a report on our excavations – but I wanted to look up a few references first here, & my journey was unexpectedly delayed, because I tried to return via Egypt & as soon as I arrived in Alexandria, the plague began: so I was detained 10 days in Cairo, hoping to escape quarantine: finally I was obliged to return, & do 11 days quarantine at Delos, whence I arrived here the day before yesterday. You will see we tried several sites near Larnaka.

Christian only came over to Larnaka for about a week while we were there, and was of very little use, as he was quite taken up with his approaching marriage. He went off to Egypt just before the Greek Easter, & I had to apply to Mr Cobham for £50 to pay the men. I suppose Christian has arranged it with you. Afterwards I went up to the Carpass, & saw a Mycenaean site at Koma tou Yialou which Grigori, who was with me, thought might be worth digging. After my departure, Grigori was going to report on a fresh site at Skilloura, north west of Nicosia. I do not know if my report is full enough: If not, I can write a fuller.

Yours Truly, F.B. Welch

On March 3rd I arrived at Limassol, & on the next day to Kouklia, where we began work on Monday, the 6th. We first tried the fields on either side of the path leading S.E. from the village to Orites, & the Kha River. Here we picked up a few fragments of the white slip bowls with dark brown decoration, but could only find early Cypriote tombs, dating just after the time of Mycenaean importations, as we found many copper bowls, & 4 bügelkanne in Cypriote ware, as well as a cup with a bird in a metope in an imitation of Mycenaean ware. Along with these were the usual Cypriote red ware, bronze weapons, spirals, fibulae. In a later tomb we found broken some hollow clay Phoenician images, modelled on Egyptian royal statues; also scarabs, & in the loose earth of a tomb a Phoenician glass bottle.

On March 15th we left this site, & tried in the ravine just N. of the threshing floor by the chiftlik, where we picked up pieces of a Mycenaean vase with men in chariots, but could only find Roman tombs with glass. On the 18th we sent a few men to a mound just S. of the chiftlik, but only found late foundations, so on the 19th moved all to the S. end of the plateau, running S. from Kouklia. This was known to contain large Roman and Greco-Phoenician tombs on the slopes, but on the surface on top were pieces of early ware. On the 21st we moved all across the stream to the promontory formed by the meeting of the Kouklia south ravine, & the ravine south, coming from Orites. Here after much work, we finally found in the middle of our previous diggings, a solitary tomb, containing the black ware with white lines, some dark grey bowls with twisted handles, & 2 Mycenaean vases, a broken σταμνος [jar] and a small jug. Besides this we only found Roman & Greco-Phoenician tombs, so on the 25th we gave up Kouklia. A few days afterward, a man brought us a small bronze shovel from a tomb near the river Dhiarrizos, close to the sea.

We then transferred work to the Larnaka district, to a site some 400–500 yards south of the point where the main road from Larnaka to Limassol crosses the river Tremitus, south of Clavdia, and just West of the path from Clavdia to Arpera. Here we began on April 8th, and on the first day hit on an Earth tomb 12 feet deep, unplundered but collapsed, and in great confusion. Here we found the usual bronze spearheads, knives, tweezers, pins, chisels – a very poor ironstone cylinder – a small engraved ivory ivory disc with rosette – a lot of the common early pottery – a gold diadem with human head, moufflons, and lions – 2 Mycenaean bügelkanne, a stamnos, a pyxis, and fragments, one with a goat – as well as a broken pomegranate in coloured glass.

From April 10th till the 24th we continued to find tombs, 33 in all, all plundered, & full of the usual common pottery, and also a quantity of Mycenaean fragments. Some of good ware, representing chiefly heads of oxen, or whole oxen. In all 21 out of 33 tombs contained Mycenaean ware. The only unbroken ones were common pyxides and σταμνοι. Several contained the long red Syrian jars – one had only very fine incised early red ware fragments.

Besides pottery, we found quant[ities]of bronze spear-heads, chisels, tweezers, spirals (also in silver lead), pins – the common little black rude cylinders – common beads – 2 plain spiral gold rings – flat discs of ivory, engraved with rosettes, ivory pins – fragments of black and white and black and yellow porcelain – large stone maceheads, a broken white marble jar, a clay Venus with earrings (Nicosia Museum), a scarab in same tomb as Venus, a broken ostrich egg – also in the loose earth 3 stone moulds (one in Nicosia), four knives of curious type.

Besides such objects, we found one good black cylinder with rows of animals’ heads of fine workmanship – on the last day there we found a plundered tomb with the usual vases, Mycenaean pieces with scale pattern, and a large vase with 4 rather geometric looking birds – unfortunately most of the paint came off in the wet earth. As this site seemed so thoroughly plundered, we tried further sites between it and the river, across the river, and also north of the road across the river. Everywhere finding poor early tombs plundered.

Some of the 24th we moved to the mouth of the Pouzi river, just north of the spot, where the old Limassol road crosses – here we found a very large early site with tombs in small patches of 5 or 6 – earlier than the Tremitus [sic] site – with none of the later wares. One patch of 3 tombs were about 3 feet deep & round, containing gold beads, 1 spiral gold ring, carnelian & ivory beads, 2 copper chisels, a very rude black stone cylinder, & a few early black relief and white bowls with 2 small Mycenaean vases and fragments. The other patches of tombs had small circular shafts, 3 feet across & 3–4 ft deep, with one or two large circular graves at the bottom, with doors of flat stone slabs, & once a broken piece of a pithos.

The most noticeable feature was the extreme poorness, & large quantity of the pottery [sic]. In one we found 33 large black relief jugs, 24 white bowls, many other vases, & nothing else but a copper knife & arm-ring. Nearly all were unplundered, but only containing worthless objects. In several we found a large vase, with bones of small birds or animals – also a small marble cup on a foot – The site seemed not worth continuing, and as Mr Christian had soon to leave for England, we decided to give up work on May 6th.

[New Para: Another short description of the site was provided by Percy Christian in a latter to Murray dated 10 April 1899 (illustrated here). Of particular interest is the fact that he was struck by the differences between the tombs containing Red Polished wares, and those with Mycenaean pottery. While he was aware of the potential chronological significance of this observation, he did not understand that he was dealing with a site which had been used for many centuries. Christian was not a trained archaeologist, and it was only around this time that John Myres was developing the first fully modern framework for the study of Cypriot prehistory. 


  • ^ [1] - Goring 1988 provides an overview of digging in this period; Nicolaou 1976, 16–40 surveys the early travellers and excavators in the Larnaka area.
  • ^ [2] - GR Register 1898,10-20.1–15.
  • ^ [3] - Steel 2001.
  • ^ [4] - GR Archive, Excavations in Cyprus: Correspondence: 28 April 1899, fol. 60–2.
  • ^ [5] - GR Archives, Excavations in Cyprus: Correspondence, 16 June 1899, fol. 71–5.