How Old Are the Most Ancient Houses in a Prominent Cypriot City?
Polish archaeologists working on Cyprus have discovered the oldest-known homes in Nea Paphos, a prominent capital city and harbor of the ancient Greeks. The homes date back an impressive 2,400 years and shed new light on the earliest days of an important city.
Teams of Polish archaeologists have been working in the city since 1965 but have so far excavated just 10 percent of it, so they expect to excavate many more great finds.
The homes were in use for about 1,000 years, from 400 BC until about the 7 th century AD, says a press release about the find on the website Science & Scholarship in Poland, or PAP.
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“During the last excavation season we managed to reach some of the first buildings erected in this ancient city,” Dr. Henryk Meyza of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences told PAP. His team does research in the city’s residential district.
Another team also works in the vicinity—the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, also headed by Dr. Meyza. Speaking on the discovery, Dr. Meyza said:
"From the beginning, they [the houses] were erected on a regular grid of streets, which cut the area into about 100 by 35 m [328 feet by 115 feet] lots. The houses were rebuilt and erected in a similar way in successive decades. This was also because the construction of this district was preceded by the construction of water drainage system in the stone substrate that was used throughout the history of the city.”
The remnants of a water tank in Nea Paphos; the founders of the town built a water system before building the homes. (Photo: Dr. Henryk Meyza)
The city of Nea (New) Paphos was founded because Palea (Old) Paphos’ harbor was no longer accessible. Nea Paphos had a convenient harbor on which were built large piers. The last independent king of the state of Paphos founded the new city, Dr. Meyza said.
The capital called Nea Paphos would become the largest Greek fleet town after Alexandria in Egypt. Cyprus had much timber, mainly cedar, for the construction of ships back then. As such, it was a valuable asset to the Egyptians of the Ptolemy dynasty. They made the city bigger and more important. "However, the majority of visible relics come from later times," said Dr. Meyza.
Excavations have been ongoing in the area since 1965. (Photo: Dr. Henryk Meyza)
In recent years, the archaeologists have been working to excavate a house they call Hellenistic because it dates to the 4th century BC. It has a simple layout. Several homes are centered around three courtyards, the press release states. The central courtyard was a square with colonnades around it and a garden in the middle. As Dr. Meyza told PAP:
“The house has been researched since the 1980s, but because of its large stylistic heterogeneity it has always been a mystery to us. It was only in recent years that we learned how many redevelopments and changes in its layout had taken place. The central part housed pools of different sizes, and the largest, square pool had a side length of about 7 m. The last phase of development, with the garden, was built only in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, already in the Roman period.”
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The researchers try not to disturb later walls while also getting to the deepest layers to excavate the oldest buildings. These buildings date back to the city’s founding the 4th or 3rd century BC. Archaeologists have independent knowledge of when it was founded from ancient written sources.
Dr. Meyza added that the oldest houses are not that impressive aesthetically. They have clay floors, unlike the newer homes which had beautiful mosaic floors or stone slabs. But they do give insight into the way residences were constructed in that era.
To prevent the destruction of the ruins of the ancient city, the archaeologists dig only where they can look under the earth’s surface. This prevents them from damaging well-preserved relics of walls from more recent times. But even with this extra care, the archaeologists have been able to make some conclusions about the city’s importance.
Top image: A house and villa in Nea Paphos, a town of vital importance to Greek and Egyptian rulers for its harbor and nearby timber for ship construction. (Photo: Dr. Henryk Meyza)
By Mark Miller