Copper slag Cyprus

Copper slag from one of the city workshops. Photo credit: T. Bürge

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg have uncovered evidence highlighting the importance of the Cypriot village of Hala Sultan Tekke during the Late Bronze Age. Through excavation, the team has determined that the village’s strategic location and its abundant reserves of the prized metal copper played a crucial role in making it one of the most important trading centers in the early stages of international trade in the Mediterranean. The results were published in Journal of Archaeological Science.

“We found vast amounts of imported ceramics at Hala Sultan Tekke, as well as luxury goods made of gold, silver, ivory and semi-precious stones, showing that the city’s copper production was a highly sought-after commodity,” says Peter Fischer, professor emeritus at the Institute of History Studies at the University of Gothenburg and head of the excavations.

The Swedish Cyprus Expedition is a research project that began in 1927 to map the island’s archaeological history. The most recent expedition, led by Peter Fischer at Hala Sultan Tekke near the modern-day city of Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus, began in 2010 and lasted 13 seasons. The excavations have shown that the city covered at least 25 hectares, 14 of which formed its center surrounded by a city wall. The expedition also found objects from this period scattered over an even larger area.

“Our research and excavations show that Hala Sultan Tekke was larger than previously thought, covering an area of ​​about 25 to 50 hectares, which is a large city by the standards of the time. At that time and in this area, settlement usually only covered a few hectares,” says Peter Fischer.

During the Bronze Age, Cyprus was the largest copper producer in the Mediterranean. Alloyed with tin, this metal formed the basis for the manufacture of bronze, which was then used to cast tools, weapons, and jewelry before iron was used.

“Remains in the city show extensive copper production in the form of furnaces, molds and slag. The ore from which the copper was extracted was brought to the city from mines in the nearby Troodos Mountains. The workshops produced a lot of soot and were placed in the north of the city so that winds mainly from the south would blow away the soot and stench from the city. This type of production would be impossible today, as waste products such as arsenic, lead and cadmium are produced during production, but back then it was not known how dangerous the process is,” says Peter Fischer.

Import goods from Sardinia

Imported goods from Sardinia (1), Italy (2), Crete (3), Greece (4), Türkiye (5), Israel (6), Egypt (7), Iraq (8), necklace with pearls and a scarab (Rameses II) from Egypt, Afghanistan and India (9) have all been found in Hala Sultan Tekke. Photo credit: T. Bürge

Large quantities of imported goods

The central location of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean and a well-protected port created very favorable conditions for lively trade in Hala Sultan Tekke. Large quantities of imported goods in the form of pottery, jewelery and other luxury goods from neighboring regions such as present-day Greece, Türkiye, the Middle East and Egypt, as well as longer-distance imports from Sardinia, the Baltic Sea region, Afghanistan and India have been found. These finds show that the city was inhabited in the period from 1500 to 1150 BC. It was one of the largest trading hubs and was of great importance in the early days of international trade in the region.

In addition to copper, highly sought-after purple-colored textiles were also produced. The dye was derived from purple dye murex[{” attribute=””>species from which the mucus that produced the purple dye was extracted. The city also produced and exported pottery with characteristic painted motifs of humans, animals, and plants. The researchers refer to the artist behind these painted motifs as the ‘Hala Sultan Tekke painter’.

“The great thing about the many pottery finds is that we can assist our colleagues around the Mediterranean and beyond. No pottery has the same spread as the coveted Cypriot pottery during this period. By finding locally made pottery that we can date in the same layer as other imported pottery that was previously difficult to date, we can synchronize these and help colleagues date their finds,” says Peter Fischer.

The name of the Bronze Age city comes from the expedition having initially named the site after the mosque, Hala Sultan Tekke, which now stands close to the excavation site. Trade flourished in the city for almost 500 years, but like several other sophisticated Bronze Age civilizations around the Mediterranean, Hala Sultan Tekke collapsed just after 1200 BC. The prevailing hypothesis was that the ‘Sea Peoples’ invaded the eastern Mediterranean around this time, destroying its cities and bringing the Bronze Age civilizations to an end.

“In the past, it was thought that the ‘Sea Peoples’ were the sole explanation. Our research in recent years has given more nuance to this explanation. For example, there are now new interpretations of written sources from this period in Anatolia (modern-day Türkiye), Syria, and Egypt, which tell of epidemics, famine, revolutions, and acts of war by invading peoples. In addition, our investigations indicate that a deterioration in the climate was a contributing factor. All of this may have had a domino effect, that people in search of better living conditions moved from the central Mediterranean towards the south-east, thus coming into conflict with the cultures in modern-day Greece, on Cyprus and in Egypt,” concludes Peter Fischer.

Reference: “Interregional trade at Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus: Analysis and chronology of imports” by Peter M. Fischer, 14 November 2022, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103722


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *