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Left, Hala Sultan Tekke, Larnca, Cyprus. Right; Assorted artifacts found at the Hala Sultan Tekke site.	Source: Left; Dickelbers, CC BY-SA 3.0. Right; Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg

Multicultural Ancient Treasure Hoard Discovered In Cyprus Tombs

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Archaeologists in Cyprus have excavated two Bronze Age Tombs at one of the most important holy sites in the Islamic world. The treasures they discovered reveal the presence of a far-reaching trade network, and the importing of rare luxury goods from distant ancient worlds.

The Hala Sultan Tekke monument was built between 1760 and 1817 about 3 kilometers west of Larnaka, on the road to Kiti, on the main Salt Lake in Cyprus. The dervish Sheik Hassan first found the twin chambered tomb and considered the place a holy site in the surrounding Muslim community. This historic mosque still serves as one of the most important religious monuments in the Islamic world, being associated with Umm Haram , the Prophet Mohammad’s wet nurse.

History records a vast Arab army invading Cyprus between the years of 647 AD and 649 AD, when Umm Haram was an old woman. After she fell off a donkey and died, Muslim traditions maintain she was buried, facing Mecca, behind the 18th century mosque. However, this site is surrounded by archaeology dating to around 1,500 BC and a team of archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg recently excavated 155 human skeletons and around 500 ancient artifacts, dating to around 1350 BC.

Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, Cyprus (Public Domain)

Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, Cyprus ( Public Domain )

The Golden Child Of An Elite Family

The New Swedish Cyprus Expedition (The Söderberg Expedition) launched in 2016 and in 2018 a team of researchers discovered two underground chambers. Recent excavations found 155 shattered skeletons and almost 500 artifacts dating to over 3,000 years ago, and it was determined that the tombs were reused over several generations.

The researchers excavated through the different archaeological layers, separating skeletons from grave goods, to build a clearer picture of burial activities at the site. Professor Peter Fischer was lead archaeologist on the recent excavations, and in an article published by the University of Gothenburg he said the discoveries suggest the two chambers were ‘family tombs for the ruling elite in the city.’ This was evident when the skeleton of a five-year-old child was found ‘wearing a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara.’

One of the skeletons belonged to a five-year-old buried with lots of gold jewelry, including this tiara. (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg)

One of the skeletons belonged to a five-year-old buried with lots of gold jewelry, including this tiara. (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg )

An Ancient Fulcrum Of Distant Arts, Crafts And Treasure

Further determining the ‘elite’ nature of the twin tomb the archaeologists also discovered many gold, silver, bronze and ivory artifacts. Furthermore, rare gemstones and richly decorated vessels from distant cultures were also discovered. A ceramic drinking bull has an opening on the back that was filled with wine, and another hole on the nose allowed drinking. This artifact has been associated with a post-death ritual feast.

Numerous death cult objects have been uncovered at a mass burial site in Cyprus. (Peter Fischer and Teresa Bürge)

Numerous death cult objects have been uncovered at a mass burial site in Cyprus. ( Peter Fischer and Teresa Bürge )

The researchers also found a cylinder-shaped seal made from hematite, bearing three lines of cuneiform inscription. Professor Fischer said this particular artifact had come from Mesopotamia and that the text mentions three names.

Firstly, the name Amurru referred to an old Mesopotamian god of the Amorite/ Amurru people. As the patron deity of the lost Mesopotamian city of Ninab, Amurru was worshiped as the ‘lord of the mountain.’ The other two names are those of a father and son, who were kings, but the big outstanding question is how the Mesopotamian seal travelled the 1000 kilometers to Cyprus.

Artifacts From The Time Of Queen Nefertiti

Deep economic connections were established with ancient Egypt in the discovery of several hieroglyph encrusted scarabs ( beetle-shaped amulets ). Furthermore, fish bones were found from species that had been imported from the Nile Valley which provided organic samples that allowed the archaeologists to date a contemporary gold pendant. Shaped as a lotus flower and inlaid with gemstones, this treasure dates to 1350 BC, around the time of the rule of Queen Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton.

Egyptian lotus jewelry with inlaid stones (ca. 1350 BC). “Comparisons with other finds from Egypt  show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BC. Nefertiti wore similar jewelry (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg)

Egyptian lotus jewelry with inlaid stones (ca. 1350 BC). “Comparisons with other finds from Egypt show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BC. Nefertiti wore similar jewelry (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg )

A goddess figurine featuring a woman’s body with a bird head, holding a half bird and half human child, ranks as one of the most mysterious finds at the Bronze Age site. However, the discovery of a gemstone lapis lazuli that had been imported from Afghanistan, amber from the Baltic Sea and a carnelian red gemstone from India, all demonstrate that the ancient city was an important global center of Bronze Age trade.

In the tombs, the archaeologists found figurines of goddesses with bird faces. This is likely a goddess with a bird's head holding a child that is half bird and half human. (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg)

In the tombs, the archaeologists found figurines of goddesses with bird faces. This is likely a goddess with a bird's head holding a child that is half bird and half human. (Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg )

In conclusion, people at this site had formed a ‘wide-ranging network of contacts’ around 3,400 years ago. Now, the race is on to understand how the 155 different individuals might have been related to one another. But equally, to assess how many immigrants lie buried among the locals, those brave people who navigated wild lands and dangerous waterways stashing rare luxury artifacts from distant cultures, and met their fates in Cyprus.

Top image: Left, Hala Sultan Tekke, Larnca, Cyprus. Right; Assorted artifacts found at the Hala Sultan Tekke site. Source: Left; Dickelbers, CC BY-SA 3.0 . Right; Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge / University of Gothenburg

By Ashley Cowie

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