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Geography and natural resources

The Kouris river, flowing south from the Troodhos mountains to enter the sea between the modern towns of Episkopi and Erimi, was the largest and most powerful watercourse on Cyprus before the construction of the modern dam near the village of Alassa. Apart from its value as a source of water for early settlers, the river valley provided an important communication route to the centre of the island, continuing further north through the Ammiandos pass and on to Morphou Bay on the north-west coast.[1]

In addition to linking together various ecological zones from coastal plain to upland forest, the Kouris valley, together with a number of other drainage systems in the region, gives easy access to the copper-bearing areas around the villages of Ayios Mamas, Gerasa and Pefkos. Sherds dating to Late Cypriot (LC) I (c. 1650–1550 BC) found in a slag heap at the site of Ayios Mamas-Skourka suggest that this ore body was being used as early as that time.[2]  Local communities also probably mined copper during the preceding Early Bronze Age (EBA) and Middle Bronze Age (MBA) periods, though probably on a much smaller scale.[3]  It is widely assumed that the importance of several sites along the Kouris valley in the Late Bronze Age (LBA) was based at least in part on the trade in copper ore, which was exported to the metal-hungry economies of the eastern Mediterranean via coastal sites such as Episkopi-Bamboula and Erimi-Pitharka.

In addition, numerous tombs discovered around modern Limassol attest to one or more communities in this area, living close to the modern shore of Akrotiri Bay during the Bronze Age, perhaps representing the end of a route to the copper sources along the Garyllis river. The presence of imported luxury goods from the eastern Mediterranean attest to the economic connections of these settlements, which may have functioned as coastal entrepôts for inland areas in addition to exporting copper and other resources.[4]

Apart from supplying major resources such as copper, the area can support a mixed farming regime of animal husbandry and crop cultivation, and this formed the economic basis of the region for millennia. The coastal plain between the acropolis of Kourion and modern Limassol Bay is relatively extensive and well watered, attracting human settlers from an early period. These factors also contributed to the wealth of the kingdoms of Kourion and Amathus during the first millennium BC, both of which controlled extensive territories, as well as the prosperous Hellenistic and Roman communities that succeeded them.[5]  Later, during the Middle Ages, the well-watered areas around Episkopi and Kolossi supported a prosperous sugar refining industry as well as being an important producer of citrus fruits.[6]

Map of the mouth of the Kouris river, showing the processes by which the geomorphology of the area has changed in the long term. (Blue 1997, fig.1; reproduced by kind permission of the author)

 

It should be noted, however, that the landforms in earlier periods were very different from today, an important factor that must be taken into account when considering the location (or absence) of sites in some areas. The mouth of the Kouris river was probably a navigable lagoon in prehistory,[7]  so that the LBA sites close to Episkopi and Erimi shown on the accompanying map were originally much closer to the sea than at present. When first occupied by human settlers, the Akrotiri peninsula was a number of islands separated from the mainland by a narrow channel; at a later stage, the modern salt lake next to the modern RAF base was a small lagoon open to the sea on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Map of the Kouris valley area. (Swiny, Rupp and Herscher 2003, fig. 1.2; reproduced courtesy of Dr Stuart Swiny)

 

These changes were probably caused by large scale alluvial deposits laid down over centuries by the Kouris and other drainages entering the sea along this stretch of coastline. These processes are also likely to have buried many sites under metres of alluvium, often making the sites difficult to find, even with modern archaeological methods. Some of the most exciting research in recent years has been the reconstruction of the ancient coastline using a combination of traditional archaeological prospection and modern scientific techniques (as at Maroni-Tsaroukkas).

  • ^ [1] - Swiny 1981, 81–2; Bekker-Nielsen 2004, 207–11.
  • ^ [2] - Swiny 1982, 77.
  • ^ [3] - Swiny 1981 passim.
  • ^ [4] - Kiely 2005, chapter III.
  • ^ [5] - Petit in Aupert et al. 1996, 173–82; Fourrier 2006.
  • ^ [6] - Christodoulou 1959, 214; Swiny in Swiny 1982, 1–5; Luttrell 1996; von Wartburg 2000.
  • ^ [7] - Blue 1995, fig. 1.