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Guide to the collection II:
The Hake-Kitchener excavations of 1882

Most of the remainder of the Kourion collection in the British Museum consists of a large group of items excavated in 1882 by George Hake on behalf of Lt. Herbert Kitchener of the Royal Engineers (later the famous Lord Kitchener of Khartoum).[1]  Around this time, Kitchener was conducting a comprehensive survey of Cyprus for the new British administration, which resulted in the publication of the first fully modern map of the island.[2]  Given the growing interest in Cypriot antiquities during the early years of British rule, Kitchener approached the relatively recently established South Kensington Museum in London – now the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) – asking if they would be interested in obtaining ancient artefacts to expand their collection in return for financial support to cover the cost of excavations.[3]  It was further suggested that other museums in the United Kingdom, especially the Museums of Science and Art in Edinburgh (later the Royal Museum of Scotland, now a part of the National Museum of Scotland) and Dublin (now the National Museum of Ireland), might also receive some of the finds from the proposed expedition.[4]

Three excavations were conducted over the course of 1882, around Salamis, Gastria and Kourion, under the supervision of George Hake (see below for more details). Although primarily intended for the South Kensington Museum, the finds were examined by Charles Newton with a view to acquiring a selection for the British Museum. Newton declined to accept any of the material however, almost certainly because – in line with instructions from the South Kensington Museum – the excavations had been conducted in order to collect objects of aesthetic rather than archaeological interest. As a consequence, tomb groups were not kept together and only minimal records of archaeological contexts were made, so the overall assemblage had very limited historical value.[5]  Newton in fact had earlier hoped that Kitchener would excavate on behalf of the British Museum, as part of his broader attempts to persuade the authorities to put archaeology on Cyprus on a official footing, but the government refused to provide the requisite funds.[6]

Apart from the large quantities of items registered by the South Kensington Museum in 1883, a selection of the finds were sent on loan to Edinburgh, Dublin and other museums in the United Kingdom, where some items can still be identified as coming from Hake’s excavations, though many are no longer traceable. A selection of the finds was also chosen to form a travelling exhibition which would tour the country. It is likely too that some of the Cypriot antiquities donated to regional collections by the South Kensington Museum during the late 19th century also came from the Kitchener-Hake excavations.[7]

Nearly all the material that remained in London was transferred to the British Museum between 1980 and 1982, though some items of pottery and glass remain in the V&A. (I am grateful to Mr Rowan Bain of the Departments of Ceramics and Glass for this information.) Donald Bailey described and analysed the lamps from all three Hake excavations in Cyprus in an important article published in the journal Opuscula Atheniensia in 1965, which also summarised the excavations and provided a transcription of Hake’s handwritten report not preserved in the archives of the V&A, but the large majority of the material has not been published until now.

The collection transferred to the British Museum comprises over 160 items of pottery, stone, glass, bone and other materials ranging in date from the very end of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) down to late Roman times. In addition there are almost 200 lamps of Cypro-Archaic/Cypro-Classical to mid to late Roman date, stated in the registers of the South Kensington Museum to come from either Kourion or Salamis. It is not possible to determine exactly at which site the latter were discovered, as Hake apparently found lamps, especially of Roman date, at both places. For convenience all of the lamps are included in the Kourion chapter of the Ancient Cyprus in the British Museum Online Research Catalogue, but the possibility that they derive from Salamis must also be borne in mind. Hake’s material from Salamis will be included in a subsequent chapter of this Catalogue.

George Gordon Hake

Kitchener delegated the actual work or excavation to George Gordon Hake (1847–1903). He was the son of the Victorian poet-physician Thomas Hake (1809–95) and friend of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82).[8]  Because his role in the archaeology of Cyprus was limited to the excavations of 1882, he is little known even among specialists of Cypriot archaeology. It is, therefore, useful to provide some biographical information about his background and career, if only to illustrate the variety of personalities who engaged, however much in passing, with the antiquities of the island in the 19th century.

Hake attended Jesus College, Oxford but seems to have left without taking a degree in 1870, though the census of the following year lists him as studying medicine.[9]  His father’s memoirs mention him several times during the 1860s and 70s, though he appears not to have pursued a formal career at this time, nor to have been particularly employable, according to William Rossetti, the brother of the painter and poet. Thomas Hake’s connection with the Rossetti circle led to George’s engagement during the mid-1870s as Gabriel Dante Rossetti’s secretary and – during the latter’s increasingly frequent bouts of addiction to alcohol and chloral hydrate – effectively his minder. A decisive break in relations between Rossetti and the younger Hake occurred in 1877 on account of the former’s difficult behaviour, though Gabriel’s brother in his letters also alluded to problems with Hake’s personality as well.[10]

After a brief period as a teacher, George went to Cyprus early in the new British administration, where he was appointed to the position of Chief Clerk in the Chief Secretary’s office, apparently in relation to Kitchener’s survey. Few details are known of these years on Cyprus, but his government position presumably explains his engagement by Kitchener to supervise the excavations of 1882.[11] The journal of British army officer Benjamin Donisthorpe Doone, whose sister Hake married in 1884, provides a brief but charming account of the two lunching among the finds from the cemeteries of ancient Kourion.[12]  Hake appears to have left the island fairly soon after his excavations – he is recorded in Egypt at the end of 1882, on the point of returning to England[13]  – and did not pursue any further archaeological fieldwork on Cyprus. He did, however, work for the South Kensington Museum for a short time in January 1883, making up collections of items for dispatch to regional museums.[14]

His listing in the 1891 census as a ‘literary man’ suggests he followed his father in the writing profession, though the only publication this author has managed to locate – based on a paper delivered to the Society of Arts in June 1886 – concerns the economic and political condition of Cyprus since the beginning of the British occupation. Historical issues are dealt with briefly, with no mention of his excavations, but Hake’s chief concern was to emphasise the decline in the island’s fortune since the Ottoman conquest and the opportunities offered by the new administrative arrangements. Presumably related to these interests, he also served under Robert Hamilton Lang on the organising committe for the Cypriot section of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in London in the same year. [15]  In 1892, he migrated to East Africa to work for the newly established British South Africa Company and later the Tanganyika Telegraph Service. He died at Port Herald (modern Malawi) in late December 1902.[16]

The excavations at Kourion

Between January and July or August 1882, Hake conducted three excavations on Cyprus: the first at the ancient city of Salamis on the east coast of the island, then near the small village of Gastria at the base of the Karpas Peninsula, and finally in the cemeteries of Kourion. As we have seen in the section above on the History of excavation, the latter area had already been explored by Cesnola and others, a fact that was apparent to Hake as he found that many of the tombs he examined had already been disturbed. Nonetheless, he noted in his report on the site that ‘the country all around is one vast cemetery’,[17]  a fact borne out by the hundreds of artefacts from tombs of many periods he discovered in the course of his short visit to the area.

No scientific account of any of these excavations was ever published and, as noted above, the finds were later dispersed to a number of institutions, many without trace. Information about the original findpots and archaeological contexts of the many finds are therefore limited to what Hake wrote in the brief and rather general reports he prepared for the South Kensington Museum after each excavation was completed, copies of which are preserved in the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum.

The lack of surviving details about the original work was influenced by the stipulation of the museum authorities, in line with their primary function as a museum of art and design, that Kitchener should obtain objects of aesthetic and decorative interest. He was instructed explicitly not to collect burial groups or other associated assemblages in the way advocated by Charles Newton for his excavators and collectors, so there was no incentive to record the finds according to their tomb context.[18]

Hake’s account of his work at Kourion consists simply of a description of the lie of the land, the general location to the two main areas he explored, and brief descriptions of the tomb types and burial customs observed (but no specific details of any one grave group). In this respect his report resembles that of Thomas Sandwith, whose otherwise important paper on the classification of the ancient pottery of Cyprus is similarly vague when it comes to descriptions of specific tombs or tomb groups.[19]  Nonetheless, the account is still useful, particularly as it reveals how early archaeologists approached excavation and interpreted their finds. They also indicate that, despite his lack of training, Hake was nonetheless a shrewd observer of archaeological detail.

Hake tells us that the tombs he uncovered were of two main periods, one predominantly ‘Phoenician’ (that is, earlier Iron Age) in date, the other mainly ‘Ptolemaic’ (Hellenistic and Roman). According to Bailey, the latter burials were mostly located on the long ridge flanking the north side of the main road out of Episkopi village, part of which was later explored by Walters (his Site E). As we have noted above, this was one of the major burial areas of the city of Kourion, especially in the later periods of its existence. Hake opened more than 70 tombs of this date, finding more than 300 glass vessels, many ceramic items (pots and lamps) and small items such as beads. His description is worth quoting at length:

Ptolemaic tombs. The side of the hill and the top are completely tunnelled with these. They offer a great variety of shapes and sizes – sometimes being 30 ft long by 14 by 6 ft high with recesses at the sides and at the end, and sometimes square with recesses at the end and none at the side and vice versa. Generally, however, the length is greater by 1/3 than the breadth. All these have been opened before though no trace of this is visible to the untrained eye until the interior is reached. Yet they well repaid working – I say all have been opened but out of seventy of them I found one intact. It was the last tomb but one that I opened and the spot would I think prove a very lucrative one to work. The door of this tomb was cemented. Facing the entrance was a small rock-cut receptacle which might have been intended for a child. On either side were two larger receptacles, one of which was opened and contained a few fragments of burnt wood and nails, the slabs of one, three in number resting in one corner. The other receptacle was cemented down but on opening it nothing but dust was found. There were two amphorae in this tomb and nothing else, one of which of a black clay was in two pieces. I found a great deal of glass of a superior kind in the tomb adjoining this one. Glass and gold earrings, lamps and a few common jars formed the greater part if the contents, glass especially.

As noted above in the section on the History, culture and burial customs the tomb architecture described here is typical of the larger and more complex funeral vaults that were recorded by Walters in 1895 and by later excavators at the site. The surviving material, termed ‘Ptolemaic’ by Hake, actually spans a much longer period, from the beginning of the Hellenistic period, through much of Roman imperial times and down into the 6th or 7th  century AD.

We know from Walters’ campaign that at least some of the burials in this area were of earlier date, called ‘Phoenician’ by Hake or ‘Graeco-Phoenician’ by the British Museum team. This refers primarily to tombs with locally produced pottery of the standard Iron Age types but lacking imported Greek ceramics. Their location was less precisely defined, but they are said to have been found mostly in the plain on the south side of the road closer to the acropolis than the ‘Ptolemaic’ tombs. This almost certainly corresponds to the earlier tombs of Ayios Ermoyenis cemetery (Walters’ Site B) but also part of Kaloriziki (Walters’ Site A) because of the presence of Cypro-Geometric material, including Proto White Painted and early White Painted pottery, several imported Phoenician vessels and a soft-stone model bathtub of transitional LBA/Iron Age date. The number of tombs from this earlier period is not stated, but the large quantities of material of this date (mainly pottery in this case) suggest a similar degree of industry on his behalf. He also noted that, had he spent more time in this area, he would probably have found a much richer trove of artefacts, particularly glass and gold ornaments, of the type which both his predecessor Cesnola and his successors Williamson, Ohnefalsch-Richter, De Castillon and Walters found in some quantity. Hake described them in his report as follows:

Phoenician tombs. These I call by this name as indicating their greater antiquity, the rock cut tombs being all Ptolemaic. They are as a rule confined to the plain although I found them in a few instances side by side with the rock cut tombs on the slope of the hill though not higher up. They vary very much in their depth below the surface being sometimes within four or five feet at other times as deep as twenty. They are oven shaped and small and almost invariably the earth has fallen in. The pottery found in these resembled the Cypriote pottery found by me in the old Cypriote tombs at Gastrica [i.e. Gastria] though not so fine perhaps in design; the scheme of ornamentation however was the same. The red clay with vertical and horizontal lines, and of which plates, oenochoe, vases and bowls had been fashioned and the whitish clay with broad black bands and the white clay with more delicate black and sometimes red lined ornamentation are always found in the older tombs and with them spearheads, ornaments for the hair, gold earrings, metal objects and rude representations of animals – . But generally the contents consist of pottery only, ranging from the coarsest common unornamented clay to the red and black ornamentation in lines and figures of men and animals.

As for the objects themselves, several lists accompanying the report number 320 pieces of glass, over 200 pieces of pottery, numerous ‘objects in metal – chiefly of the toilette’ (presumably mirrors, spatula and other personal items), and 20 gold rings or earrings and other gold items (including a chain and three fillets ‘with design’). Apart from a single fragment, lamps are nowhere mentioned in these lists, however, though Bailey suggested that they may have been included among the pottery items. It is clear from the corpus of material transferred to the British Museum described below, including a very small proportion of the glass items, that only a part of this collection was kept by the South Kensington Museum.

  • ^ [1] - See Bailey 1965,5–13 for a summary of this work and the background to the campaign based on the surviving archival material.
  • ^ [2] - Kitchener 1885; Shirley 2001.
  • ^ [3] - V&A Archives, Kitchener file. On Kitchener’s interest in Cypriot archaeology, see Stanley Price 2001.
  • ^ [4] - Bailey 1965, 12.
  • ^ [5] - Bailey 1965, 11.
  • ^ [6] - GR Archives, Reports 1879–81, 9 March; Tatton-Brown 2001, 183 includes some important documents from the British Museum archives illustrating Newton’s earlier lobbying to influence archaeological policy. See also Kiely forthcoming.
  • ^ [7] - Bailey 1965, 12–13; Goring 1988, 20–1; Souyoudzoglou-Haywood 2004, 1–3.
  • ^ [8] - Shade 2010 for census information on Thomas and George Hake and their family; Hake 1892 mentions him in passing; Fredeman 2002–2009 vol. 7 passim; British Library, Manuscript Department, Letters from Thomas Hake to his son George (Add. 49466 passim).
  • ^ [9] - I am grateful to Mr Christopher Jeens, Archivist, Jesus College, Oxford for this information.
  • ^ [10] - Fredeman 2002–2009, vol. 7, 77.5 note 1.
  • ^ [11] - Cyprus Gazette No. 26 (May 1879).
  • ^ [12] - Harfield 1986, 103, July 1882.
  • ^ [13] - Harfield 1986, 110, November 1882.
  • ^ [14] - Bailey 1965, 11–2.
  • ^ [15] - Hake 1886.
  • ^ [16] - Fredeman 2002–2008, vol.7, 77.5 note 1. Archival sources for his period in East Africa are preserved in the library of the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London (
  • ^ [17] - G. Hake, V&A archive/ GR archive, Report on excavations at Curium, 2.
  • ^ [18] - Mentioned in Bailey 1965, 5 quoting from the Kitchener file in the V&A archive.
  • ^ [19] - Sandwith 1877; Merrillees 2001.