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History of excavations continued

J.W. Crowfoot’s excavations

Walters was succeeded by J.W. Crowfoot, a young student at the British School at Athens, who explored additional tombs in the same area as Walters in April 1898. Up to 40 men were employed over this period, though only eight days in total were actually spent digging. Some ‘fifty or sixty’ tombs along with ‘several wells’ were excavated between 12 April and the end of the month.  

Crowfoot's letters to the Principal Librarian of the British Museum are rather more detailed than those of Walters. They included some information about the form of the tombs, including a sketch plan of one example, a double-chambered tomb entered from a single pit dromos (numbers 11 and 12)., The surviving records list the contents of 11 tombs (confusingly numbered up to 13, as 7 and 10 were not apparently used or described).  Several of the tombs were allocated to the Cyprus Museum and the landowner (as was the case with a share of Walters’ material the previous year).

The main information about his excavations is found in a letter of 22 April 1898 to A.S. Murray and a report sent to the Principal Librarian of the British Museum on 27 April, extracts of which are transcribed below:

To enter into details – the site is a large one and I began work a few yards S.E. of the place where Mr Walters worked last year; it was in this spot that I sank most holes and obtained practically all my results, but trials were made without success (with one slight exception) in six other parts of the site, in fact wherever there was any depth of soil and no standing crop. I had no difficulty in finding fragments of pottery and traces of graves, but they all seem to me to have been rifled: the pottery and the gold found was as a rule outside the tombs, the former being usually fragmentary.

Crowfoot’s sketch plan of Tombs 11 and 12 included in his report to the Principal Librarian (BM Original Papers) 


On Thursday evening I found two tombs which seemed promising at first: there was a square D, at two sides of which were tombs each with a slab still in position marking the door. I was disappointed to find the same conditions here: both were double tombs, but one was full of earth, in the other the roof had fallen in to some extent, most of the pottery was broken and much wanting, the bones were not in position, and there was no trace of gold whatever. This discovery made it evident that the cemetery had been systematically rifled previously, and determined me in bringing work to a speedy conclusion.

Of the tombs I kept as careful a record as I could, but as the majority of the finds were ‘surface finds’ there are not more than five or six tombs whose contents are worth tabulating; these I will send when I have completed the whole. The depth to which we dug was in many cases considerable, 15–30 feet at least. There were never more than about forty men employed.

Crowfoot’s report to the British Museum, which accompanied the letter just cited, began with the following general comments on the location and nature of the tombs, followed by a more detailed account of specific finds (omitted here).

These excavations were made on a site called Visakia which belongs to the Turkish Monastery Khádet-i-Sultan Tekyé. They were begun on Tuesday Ap. 12, continued the next day, then broken off until the following Tuesday and finally closed upon the next Monday: the total number of days during which work was carried on was therefore eight.

West of the monastery and separated from it by a small stream are three or four gentle knolls, which run parallel to the lake. On one of the further of these, SE of the part excavated last year by Mr Walters and quite close to it, we began work. On the ridge nearest the monastery are two threshing floors: we had reason to believe that there were tombs there, but we were unable to obtain leave from the Evkaf to break them.

Part of the ground between these two points was covered by a crop of vetches: from this too we were debarred. But we sank small shafts round the threshing floor and in other parts of the site, altogether in ten or twelve different places, and only in the part first opened were we able to obtain any but negative results. Near the threshing floor we found some good fragments of Mycenaean pottery, two wells and a Byzantine (?) drain: elsewhere we also found wells, but otherwise nothing except on the first mentioned site.

On this part we opened fifty or sixty tombs and several wells: in no case did we find bones or vases in position. The ground was in many places a mass of fragments of pottery and bones, and the broken state of the majority of the tombs proved that the necropolis has been systematically rifled. Towards the close of the work we found two tombs at a depth of about 4 feet built of squared stones: Grigori Antoniou told me that similar had been found at Salamis, but they seemed to me to be even later and they contained nothing whatever.

This discovery however and the late drain mentioned before are significant in regard to the present state of the cemetery. I have also seen in shops in Larnaka cylinders and vases which came from the Tekyé ‘last winter’ according to their present owners. There are not wanting explanations to account for our failure, though it is made the more annoying by the fineness of these clandestine spoils. Possibly there may remain much under the threshing floor or under the vetches, but the trials which we made near these were quite barren of indications which might lead us to suspect it.

The tombs were cut in hard earth, at a depth generally of 10–12 feet, sometimes 15–16. Frequently we found two or more at right angles to one another or in the same line, and those which were most perfect were the most nearly rectangular. The appended sketches give the elevation and the ground plan of the most perfect tombs found. The walls of the central dromos were carefully cut: the doors – two slabs of stone – were still in position. Each was divided at the end by a wall projecting to the middle of the tomb, perhaps as much to support the roof as for any other purpose, for in one tomb the shaft grave was cut in front of it and there was none beside it. The tombs had been cut out with an implement resembling the modern Κουσπος [pick-axe], the marks of the flat end of which could be seen distinctly: they measured 52 millimetres in breadth.

Although the doors were in position, here too we found that we had been preceded: the roof had fallen in slightly in the larger tomb but this would not have accounted for the confusion of the bones, the fragmentary state of most of the pottery and the utter absence of gold of valuables. The other tomb was full of earth. All the other tombs opened seemed to be of the same general character, though they had – many of them – lost their rectangular shape, and no others retained their doors.

Later excavations at Hala Sultan Tekke

The British Museum excavations at Hala Sultan Tekke were not published in detail at the time. As with the material from other sites explored during the 1890s, individual items were included in the various catalogues published by the Museum over the next decades, such as pottery, terracottas, bronzes, gems and jewellery, though these included little or no discussion of their original findspot. Important objects were also included in studies of LBA culture during the 20th century, particularly dealing with the Mycenaean finds, but also more systematically by Lena and Paul Åström in volumes IV/1B–D of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition publications, which appeared in 1972.

All the objects that could still be identified in the British Museum, together with the relevant documentation, were published by Mr Donald Bailey of the then Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (now the Department of Greece and Rome) in 1976 (referred to as Bailey 1976 in the discussion below). This was a chapter of a volume entitled Hala Sultan Tekke 1 (Åström et al. 1976) which attempted to bring together all the available information on the site before the beginning of large-scale excavations there by the late Professor Paul Åström. Material from the British Museum excavations allocated to the Cyprus Museum was also included in this volume, in a chapter by Åström, though both authors stressed the difficulties of identifying material from the 1897–8 excavations assigned to Nicosia because of the poor documentation of the original work.

Hala Sultan Tekke 1 also included surface material collected by Hector Catling in 1951 for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The latter was among the first scholars (along with Arne Furumark a few years earlier) to recognise the importance of the site as a major LBA coastal settlement.[2]In addition, the volume provided a full publication of two LBA tombs investigated by Professor Vassos Karageorghis of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus in 1968 (discussed above). These represented the first scientific excavations at the site and provide a detailed and valuable picture of a number of intact burial deposits of the same period as the tombs opened by the British Museum.

The reader should refer to this seminal report for full documentation of the material, including detailed discussion of the problems of assigning individual items to their original tombs, though more recent information is provided in individual records.

The Swedish-led excavations began by Professor Paul Åström in 1971 continued under his direction down to 2005, revealing extensive traces of the contemporary settlement as well as additional tombs, including one of the richest burials of the LC III period (Tomb 23). Since Åström’s death in 2008, the project has been directed by Dr Peter Fischer of Göteborg University: renewed excavations began in 2010 and will continue for the foreseeable future.[3]Intensive research into the site is also being conducted at the Mediterranean Archaeological Research Institute at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium led by Dr Karin Nys, who is responsible for the post-excavation work on unpublished material discovered up to 2005.[4]

  • ^ [2] - Catling 1963; Furumark 1947; cf. Åström 1965.
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