Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

Search this Catalogue

Advanced search

The Foundry Hoard – page two

Thanks to the British Museum’s 1896 Turner Trust excavations at Enkomi, the Museum possesses the first melting hoard of bronzes to have been reported from Cyprus. The find circumstances were briefly described in Excavations in Cyprus (p.16) which merely says ‘…we found…in what appeared to be the remains of a foundry or smith’s workshop a series of bronze implements…’, with a reference to op. cit. Fig. 25, a line drawing of 21 objects form what has come to be known as the ‘The Enkomi Foundry Hoard’.

In fact, the hoard comprises nearly 100 individual items, whose varied character makes this the quintessential melting hoard. It has a number of objects fit for use – tongs, charcoal shovels, a sledgehammer, furnace spatulae, all gear from a metalworker’s kit. There is raw material in plenty – a complete oxhide ingot weighing 36.92 kg, and six fragments broken from similar ingots. There were worn or broken tools from the farm – ploughshares (points for wooden scratch ploughs), sickles and pruning hooks. There were carpenter’s tool’s – fragments of large, toothed saws, flat axes and adzes, a shaft-hole adze, double shaft-hole adzes, and axe-adze, tanged and socketed chisels. A number of bars and billets, quite solid strips and slabs of metal, all basic castings that a smith would have worked into finished forms, either complete in themselves or components of larger, complex objects. There were also many fragments of once sizeable objects that had been deliberately cut up into pieces manageable in the remelting process, including many pieces of a large tripod stand, reconstructed by the museum’s conservation department. One or two items in this category must have come from complex objects no complete example of which has survived, one of which is truly a bronze-worker’s tour-de-force – a pair of bronze ten-spoke wheels, the axle on which they were mounted, and the mechanism for attaching them to a much larger object, at the identity of which only guesses can be made. Surely, this was part of something that ran on wheels – if so, whatever it was must have possessed at least four sets of such wheels.

Perhaps the most significant objects are the least prepossessing. These are the eight jets, each one with between one and four runners, each one representing a separate casting process, either in a two-piece mould that would have been used again or again, or in a cire-perdue (lost wax) mould, made for a single use and destroyed in the process of removing the casting from its embrace. Molten metal had to continue to be poured into the mould until the integral pouring cup at the top of the mould was itself full of metal, which in turn meant that the one or more channels within the mould via which the molten metal was distributed as rapidly as possible into the casting space, were also filled. When the mould was opened, or broken and the cast removed, it had adhering to it the metal that had filled the channels and the pouring cup. These excrescences were broken off by the founder and, no doubt, stored away in a recycling box. There were other kinds of waste from a successful casting, but none of these are represented in the hoard. Missing from the hoard, too, is any trace of a mould, or of the crucible(s) in which metal would have been melted ready for casting.

The importance of the Foundry Hoard was first highlighted by C.F.A. Schaeffer (Schaeffer 1952, 29-31) some years after he had correctly identified the site of the Enkomi settlement whose cemeteries had been so mercilessly plundered or excavated for the previous 40 years and more. He demonstrated that the settlement was in the very area where at least four archaeological excavations had taken place in search of tombs, repeatedly encountering massive walls and other proofs   of settlement without understanding that these ruined structures were of the same period as the tombs they sought. It remains surprising that the 1896 discovery of the Foundry Hoard did not then or later alert students of the Late Cypriot Bronze Age to its full significance.

From the middle of the twentieth century further excavations by C.F.A.Schaeffer, and by Porphyrios Dikaios for the Cyprus Department of Antiquities have recovered other melting hoards at Enkomi, though none as eloquent as the Foundry Hoard. Comparison of the contents of these new hoards with the Foundry Hoard has suggested that they all probably belong to a particular horizon in the town’s history, at a period near the end of the Bronze Age, a period of high prosperity shortly to be brought to an end by the major misfortunes by which the settlement was overwhelmed. Estimates of the date at which these hoards may have been lost vary from late in the thirteenth century BC to early in the twelfth century BC.

The Foundry Hoard objects are numbered F.1 to F.86 in this catalogue.