The southern coast of Cyprus is dominated by the dramatic foothills of the Troodos mountains, which, in many places, extend almost down to the sea. As a result of thousands of years of erosion, the countryside here resembles an almost lunar landscape of dramatically shaped but often barren hills. Despite the somewhat inhospitable appearance of the landscape, especially during the arid summer months, these foothills are dissected at regular intervals by numerous river valleys. For millennia they have supplied precious sources of water for settlers exploiting small pockets of arable land but also provided easy access to the diverse natural resources of the upland areas.
The Maroni (or Ayia Minou) river valley, approximately 35km south-west of Larnaka, is one such drainage system, which has been a focus for human settlement from the seventh millennium BC down to the present day. Although the modern landscape, particularly the relatively featureless coastal plain, betrays little direct sign of this long sequence of occupation, over a century of archaeological investigation has revealed a fascinating human story.
This chapter of the Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum Online Research Catalogue explores just part of this long story. It is based in particular on almost 200 objects excavated at the vibrant Late Bronze Age (1650–1050 BC) harbour settlement located south-east of the modern village at a place called Tsaroukkas. These were excavated by a team from the British Museum in 1897. A small group of objects of Chalcolithic and Bronze Age date collected by the same team between the villages of Kalavasos and Mari is also described here. Under the antiquities legislation of the time, approximately two-thirds of the finds from the 1897 campaign were allocated to the British Museum. The remaining objects were assigned to the Cyprus Museum.
Furthermore, we have included some artefacts that are said to come from the area of Maroni or Mari, acquired by late 19th-century collectors or excavators such as Luigi Palma di Cesnola, Max Ohnefalsch-Richter and Charles and Percy Christian.
The objects from the 1897 excavations are mainly burial offerings placed in tombs with the dead, but also include some items from the contemporary settlement whose buildings were overlooked by the 19th-century diggers. The grave goods comprise a rich selection of painted pottery (especially Mycenaean imports), glass and faience, ivory, jewellery and seal-stones. They illustrate many aspects of the social life, economy and religious beliefs of the community who lived here in the second half of the second millennium BC, particularly the élite classes. Some of the objects were imported from other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, particularly the Aegean, Egypt or the Levant.
Apart from representing typical grave goods of the better off members of the community, these objects cast light on the trading contacts and wider cultural relationships of the local population. These connections contributed to the prosperity of the Maroni region during the Late Bronze Age. Two terracotta boat models were found during these excavations, one of which was originally filled with knucklebones used for gaming or fortune-telling. These finds are richly evocative of the maritime outlook of Maroni’s cosmopolitan population and a telling symbol of its role as a major Late Bronze Age harbour town and entrepôt.
Modern excavations and surveys in the area since the 1980s have dramatically expanded our knowledge of the area in ancient times, particularly the numerous settlement sites overlooked in 1897. This chapter, therefore, provides some introductory essays on the area in antiquity, especially during the Late Bronze Age, to help the reader to understand the older discoveries in the light of modern archaeological research. The production of this chapter has been greatly aided by the valuable input of our colleagues from the Maroni-Vournes excavations and the Maroni Valley Archaeological Survey Project, especially Gerald Cadogan, Sturt Manning and David Sewell. They shared their knowledge at a special study day convened at the British Museum in December 2008 in order to discuss the campaign of 1897 in the context of new discoveries. We would like to thank them for their support, advice and expertise and for kindly providing maps and images for inclusion in this chapter. We would also like to thank Alison South, the excavator of Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios, for providing similar assistance.