Archaeology

Archaeology of the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus

 

Please note that the Akrotiri peninsula, including the Salt Lake and the beaches which frame it, is a UK Sovereign Base Area. Much of it is taken up by RAF Akrotiri airfield and other military installations. Archaeological sites in these zones are not accessible to the general public.

 

Archaeological sites on the Akrotiri peninsula (Image (c) Google Earth and Digital Globe, 2018)

  1. Katalymata ton Plakoton Byzantine church complex
  2. Contemporary Akrotiri village
  3. Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats
  4. RAF Akrotiri runway
  5. Lania (Lamies) chambers
  6. Aetokremnos pygmy hippo site

7a.   Dreamer’s Bay (Nissarouin)  ancient harbour and quarries

7b.   Dreamer’s Bay (Nissarouin) shoreline port buildings

 

The Akrotiri peninsula, forming the southernmost site of Cyprus, is noteworthy for its rich natural environment , exemplified by the famous flamingos of its Salt Lake. The relative lack of modern development in the area, a consequence of its current use as a UK military base, has also helped preserved rich remains of the ancient cultural environment—archaeological sites. Most of these belong to the Greek, Roman and early Byzantine periods (roughly 600BC—AD600). However, Akrotiri also boasts the oldest known evidence of human activity so far found in Cyprus. These cultural riches have been discovered and explored by local Cypriots and interested UK service personnel and residents, as well as professional archaeologists. And indeed both the modern Akrotiri village and the RAF airbase are now themselves part of the historical heritage of the peninsula. Archaeology starts yesterday!

On the southern cliffs of the peninsula lies the site of Aetokremnos , where large numbers of pygmy hippo and elephant bones were found in association with human–made flint tools. About 12,000 years old, these remains currently mark the beginning of the known human story in Cyprus.

Thereafter, researchers have found few traces of substantial human presence on Akrotiri before later Greek times (the last few centuries BC) and the Roman imperial era (the early centuries A.D.). One of the most impressive sites on the peninsula is Lania (Lamies), an ancient stone quarry where probably in late Greek or early Roman times, people cut two large and elaborate underground chambers. The purpose of these remains mysterious.

There are several known ancient abandoned village sites on the peninsula. Pottery on the surface suggests these were occupied in the later Roman period (c.AD300600), although it is possible they were established some centuries earlier. Along the southern cliffs are a number of chamber tombs of late Greek or early Roman type (around 200BCAD200), and simple cist graves probably belonging to later Roman and Byzantine times (about AD200600). The village sites and tombs indicate a significant population on the peninsula during those centuries.

A substantial ancient port also lay on the south coast, focused on Dreamer’s Bay (Nissarouin) . Comprising a harbour protected by a stone-built breakwater or jetty,  an extensive complex of shoreline buildings, and large stone quarries, the port appears to have flourished during the Roman and early Byzantine periods.

The most spectacular archaeological site yet known of the peninsula, a remarkable church complex at Katalymata ton Plakoton , also dates to early Byzantine times. (NB this site is outside the airbase, but not normally accessible to the public.)

From the seventh century AD the peninsula seems to have been largely abandoned for hundreds of years. The Monastery of St Nicholas of the Cats was established by the 15th century, and the modern village of Akrotiri probably more recently. The modern airbase, RAF Akrotiri, was built in the 1950s. Exceptionally for the time, an archaeological survey was undertaken before construction began, resulting in identification of key historical sites and their scheduling as ancient monuments. Although today Akrotiri is UK Sovereign Territory, the peninsula’s  cultural heritage still belongs to Cyprus. It is protected by the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities, and managed under the stewardship of the  UK military authorities.

No recent detailed survey of the archaeology of the peninsula has been published. However, Heywood’s 1982 account remains useful, though increasingly out of date:

Heywood, H.C. 1982. ‘The archaeological remains of the Akrotiri peninsula’, in H.W. Swiny, Ed., An Archaeological Guide to the Ancient Kourion Area and the Akrotiri Peninsula, Nicosia, Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, pp. 162-175.

 

Chamber tombs on the southern cliffs of Akrotiri (image (c) Simon James).

 

Cist graves above Dreamer’s Bay  (Νισσαρούιν) (image (c) Simon James).

 

This page was created by the University of Leicester in collaboration with the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre. Archaeological research generously supported by the Honor Frost Foundation.

 

 

Last updated: 22 May 2018

Archaeology of the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus