Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum

Edited by Thomas Kiely

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The tombs

The 1896 excavation was carried out under the direction of three different individuals. Mr A.S. Murray, then Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, directed from the 28 March until early May. A Cypriot resident, Mr Percy Christian, continued from early May until July. Mr A.H. Smith, an assistant in the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, continued from July until September.

Image: site plan of the British Museum excavations at Enkomi, 1896 (Excavations in Cyprus, p. 30)


The original British Museum excavation notebook is written in two different hands, and the quality of recording for the latter entries is far more comprehensive than the former, although still far from complete. The accounts of Tombs 1-37 were written by Murray and Tombs 38-100 by Christian. As Christian has written up the majority, it would appear that he took responsibility for writing up the final report after Murray left. The 1897 register entries were also written by Murray. The notebooks have been published (Tatton-Brown 2003) but the individual tomb entries published in this catalogue contain some additional information and where the accounts differ the information contained here should be considered to supersede this publication.

The Ottoman antiquity regulations still in force at the time of the 1896 excavation stated that two thirds of the objects could be exported and one third would remain in Cyprus (Stanley-Price 2001; Wright 2001). It was further agreed upon not to break up the tomb groups, in order to facilitate future study by researchers and to enable the presentation of whole tomb groups in the British Museum or Cyprus Museum (CM). The majority of the material is consistent with this policy but a few items held in each museum are from tombs allocated to the other institution. It would seem that negotiations were undertaken to disperse some unusual objects or duplicates that either the British Museum or CM tombs may not have contained examples of.

Additional information on the tombs published here comes from Excavations in Cyprus (Murray et al,1900) and from archives of the Department of Greece and Rome, including the original field notebook (Tatton-Brown 2001; 2003). Further information on the tombs assigned to the CM is from A Catalogue of the Cyprus Museum (Myres and Ohnefalsch-Richter 1899) and certain of the Mycenaean pottery was included in Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Cyprus Museum (hereafter CVA CM) (Karageorghis 1963). The Swedish Cyprus Expedition Volume IV, Part 1C and ID The Late Cypriote Bronze Age (Äström 1972) includes specific ware types for some of the local pottery (hereafter SCE IV1C) and approximate relative dates for the tombs in the CM.

It should be stressed that the tombs in the CM have never been studied in their entirety and it is not certain which items mentioned in the notebooks were retained. Frequently, the information in the notebooks does not correspond to the registered objects. Certain of the notebook entries are particularly brief, especially Tombs 1-37 recorded by A.S. Murray, and it can only be conjectured that some objects were considered too ordinary to mention. Despite the fact that the excavation was undertaken before the development of ware names for the Cypriot pottery, it is often possible to interpret the descriptions or the sketches to obtain an idea of the original contents of the tombs. Where possible this is noted in the additional information below.

Tomb status is divided into three categories: intact, looted and disturbed. Disturbed implies that the tomb may be either looted or emptied deliberately. As the notebooks rarely state the condition beyond saying whether the door sealing stones were in place, tombs with an incomplete or fragmentary array of grave goods may have been looted (either in recent times or during Bronze Age occupation), disturbed by roof collapse or flooding, or deliberately disinterred by the occupants of the site during the rebuilding episodes of the overlying settlement layers.

Tomb locations

Image: location of tombs excavated by the British Museum. Those in pink are tombs on the low 'cliff' on the south-east edge of the site whose location is accurate to within 15 metres. The location of the tombs in green is more approximate but likely to be accurate to within 25 metres. The numbers in red are those of some important tombs from the French excavations at Enkomi (Tholos tombs PT1336 and PT1432; chamber tombs PT1851 and PT1907) (Image by M. Dalton, after Schaeffer et al. 1971, pl. IV; see Dalton 2007 for details)


The map of the site published by Murray in Excavations in Cyprus (1900) includes the locations of most of the tombs excavated in 1896 as well as some major topographic features such as the low cliff bordering the settlement on the east, the main roads crossing the area and what appears to be a fragment of the northern and southern section of the Late Bronze Age town wall. Although the plan was based on official cadastral maps showing field boundaries, and can be reconciled in general terms with the modern excavation map published by the French expedition in 1971 (Schaeffer, 1971), the exact location of the tombs themselves is more difficult to plot precisely in terms of the LCIIC-IIIA urban layout.

However, Mat Dalton has published a series of maps in the Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus for 2007 showing the location of all the tombs excavated by the four major campaigns at Enkomi (Dalton 2007). He has kindly made these images available for use in this catalogue here (Maps), as well as the composite map included here. Employing a variety of approaches to the published sources, he has managed to plot as closely as possible the approximate findspot of all the British Museum excavated tombs which were marked on the original plan of 1900 in relation to the LCIIC-IIIA settlement grid. Although some details remain impressionistic, these maps must be regarded as the most definitive presentation of this data to date in the absence of more precise information from the original excavators.

A guide to all of the tombs discovered at Enkomi