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Late Bronze Age (c. 1650–1050 BC)

The beginning of the LBA witnessed several major changes in the settlement pattern and economy of the region, which are probably related to increasing trading activity through the mouth of the Kouris river and the expansion of the metal industry. None of the older sites in the drainages to the west of the Kouris river have produced evidence for occupation after the end of LC IA (around 1550 BC), despite extensive survey, excavation and, unfortunately, looting of sites in this area in the past 30 years.[22]

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


By contrast, the main Kouris valley exhibits strong continuity or expansion of settlement activity, especially in the Alassa area and at either side of the river mouth The settlement of Episkopi-Bamboula was established sometime in the 16th century BC at the same time that Phaneromeni was abandoned, while the cemetery and settlement cluster around Erimi-Kafkalla and Pitharka on the other side of the river valley also seemed to continue in use. Continuity between the earlier and later Bronze Age occupation of the Alassa area remains uncertain, but recent field work by the Universities of Florence and Chieti have revealed far more Middle Bronze Age activity throughout the valley than was previously known.

The area around the centre of modern Limassol at the mouth of the Garyllis river also continued to be an important focus of human settlement, perhaps having a similar function to those sites in the lower Kouris valley, though the area is documented only through preliminary reports of rescue excavations within the modern city. The presence of rare imports, such as Aegean pottery dating to the 16th and 15th centuries BC, as well as other luxury goods, suggests that there may also have been a harbour settlement in the LBA, though settlement remains have not yet been found.[23]


The earliest evidence for occupation at the settlement of Bamboula in this period dates from the later part of LC IA or early in LC IB (around 1600–1500 BC). Excavations by the University of Pennsylvania, led by John Daniel, in the 1930s and 1940s revealed numerous small houses or workshops on the northern and eastern flanks of the hill, especially in Areas A and E shown on the accompanying map. However, most of the early levels of the settlement were destroyed by later buildings in the LC IIC–IIIA period, when the town was rebuilt on a considerable scale. The buildings of this earlier period are difficult to reconstruct because only the cuttings in the bedrock have survived, but they comprised rectilinear structures of around six or seven rooms leading off a rudimentary system of narrow streets or lanes.

The town expanded in size and spatial complexity over the course of LC II. During this time the settlement acquired some ‘urban’ features, including a street 2.5m wide with kerbed edges running for some 75m, close to which was an impressive stone-built well in Trench 11. An artificially levelled area just below the top of the hill in Area C (Trenches 12–14) was possibly a public space (and was actually called an ‘agora’ by the excavator). A town wall (with several towers), which extended over a distance of almost 100m along the east side of the settlement facing the river, was constructed in the 14th century BC. The full nature and function of this wall is uncertain, but it represents the earliest example of this kind of structure yet discovered on Cyprus. Finally, as noted above, the domestic and artisanal quarters (the latter including at least one metal processing area) of the settlement were comprehensively rebuilt in the 13th and earlier 12th centuries BC, with the settlement reaching a maximum size of around 5 to 6 hectares.[24]The LC II period also saw the first major imports to the settlement from outside the island: masses of Mycenaean pottery from the Aegean, particularly of the pictorial style; hard-stone vessels, semi-precious stone such as carnelian, faience and glass from Egypt; and other glazed vessels and ivory from the Levant. Precious metals such as gold also reached Kourion, possibly from Egypt, used by local artisans to make fine jewellery, influenced by both Aegean and eastern Mediterranean prototypes. As elsewhere on the island, these imports reached a peak in the later 14th and 13th centuries BC (LC IIC), during which time many of the houses and workshops were rebuilt in what was clearly a busy and relatively prosperous period for the town. Evidence for metallurgy is also apparent in the form of a series of hearths in Area E. Extensive traces of writing and seal use, including a range of cylinder and stamp seals, but also impressions from clay vases marking ownership and authority, provide important evidence for the economic and political role of the settlement.[25]

Episkopi-Bamboula Area E, showing several typical houses of the LC IIC–IIIA periods. (Weinberg 1983, fig. 20; © University of Pennsylvania Museum Press)


On the other hand, it is important not to exaggerate the status of the town, which lacks several features found in contemporary settlements (such as evidence of large-scale central storage and administration), which are regarded as key features of urbanisation and political importance. The site is also much smaller than contemporary centres, so its urban status should not be overstated, especially given the existence of other settlements in the Kouris valley.[26]


Another major LBA site is the settlement of Alassa, located in a commanding position 10km up the river valley close to the copper sources of the Troodhos foothills.[27]  At the locality known as Paliotaverna, a monumental building complex constructed of huge cut-stone blocks – some almost 5m long – was erected at the highest point of the settlement at the beginning of LC IIC. The structure, known as an ‘Ashlar Building’, was arranged around three sides of a courtyard and extended over 1400m², representing the largest building of this type known on Cyprus in this period.

One wing of the complex contained magazines in which were the remains of huge storage jars (or pithoi), which probably contained valuable foodstuffs such as olive oil or grain, enough originally to feed several hundred people. Impressions of seals found on these jars seem to represent bureaucratic practices, such as marking ownership of their contents, but also emphasising the political power or influence of the élites who controlled the means of production in the area. Other parts of the building were more luxurious in form and function and appear to have been used for ceremonial purposes, while ancillary structures were uncovered nearby, separated from the main complex by a street some 4.3m wide.

Part of the monumental storage and administrative complex at Alassa-Paliotaverna, constructed of large, carefully finished stone blocks


Similar clusters of important buildings of this kind are known from other sites on Cyprus in the LC IIC–IIIA period, such as Maroni-Vournes and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios (Maroni). The complex as a whole seems to have functioned as a centre for economic, bureaucratic and political activities, perhaps serving as the seat of a ruling family or other élite group in the upper Kouris valley. It is possible that the entire area was administered from here in the LC IIC–early IIIA period, particularly the vitally important movement of copper ore and refined metal down the valley to the coast, though whether it would have controlled the entire valley is debated by scholars.

This apparently élite quarter was part of a larger settlement extending over a much wider area. This has been estimated as covering some 50 hectares, according to the excavator, though the overall spread and density of the settled area is uncertain. A small portion of this wider settlement has been excavated at a place called Pano Mandilaris, further downhill from Paliotaverna.[28]  Unlike the Ashlar Building, which appeared in the later 14th or 13th century and was abandoned rather more than a century later, burials from this quarter extend from LC I until LC IIIA, though the adjacent buildings were constructed only in LC IIC.

The layout and construction of the houses are much less elaborate than the structures at Paliotaverna, though they are broadly comparable in size and construction materials to those found at Bamboula. Another similarity is the presence of tombs in the streets and courtyards of the contemporary houses, though the burials contain fewer imported objects than Bamboula: this probably reflects its inland position and its relatively humble status compared to other sites in the region, including the nearby ashlar-built quarter.

It has recently been suggested that Alassa was the centre of administration not just of the Kouris valley but of the entire island. Petrographic analysis of some of the clay tablets bearing letters from the king of Alashiya (as Cyprus was called in the Bronze Age, according to most scholars) to the Egyptian Pharaoh and other rulers during the 14th and 13th centuries has suggested that they were made from clays along the southern foothills of the Troodhos mountains. According to this argument, the letters must have been written at one of the major LBA administrative centres in this part of the island, such as Alassa, Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios or Maroni-Vournes.[29]  There are numerous problems with this argument, not least because scholars cannot agree on what sort of political structure existed in Cyprus during the LC period and whether sites such as Alassa could actually have functioned as an island-wide centre.

However, if Alassa was the source of the letters, then the valley as a whole must have been of pre-eminent importance during this period. In this case, Bamboula may not have been the most important site in the region as previously assumed, at least in LC IIC–IIIA, and may instead have functioned as a harbour settlement or secondary administrative centre, though there is no doubt it was a fairly cosmopolitan community with widespread trading connections.

Burial customs

Funerary practices are broadly the same as those of the preceding EC–MC periods, though the reorganisation of the settlement system during LC IA ensured that most known cemeteries are in new locations. The tombs themselves generally consist of one or more round or square rock-cut chambers entered from above by a pit dromos, though simpler shaft graves are also attested.[30]  Many of the chambers at Bamboula excavated by both the British Museum and University of Pennsylvannia teams had already been looted, but it is clear that, as elsewhere in Cyprus, tombs were used for successive burials over several hundreds of years in some cases.

The remains of several burials in varying stages of disarticulation, flanked by their grave offerings, are clearly shown in the accompanying illustration of Tomb 3. Walters did not record the plan of any of the tombs he found at Bamboula, but the examples from the later campaign provide a context for understanding the grave goods from the 1895 excavations, especially where Daniel managed to re-identify some of the British Museum chambers (see Guide to the Collection I).

Another good example of a typical LBA burial context is Tomb 17–17A of the University of Pennsylvania excavations. This was first excavated in a somewhat haphazard manner by the British Museum in 1895 and later with much greater care by John Daniel in 1937 (see Guide to Collection I, Tomb 53/102 for further information). This is a double-chambered tomb, which, although very disturbed when first examined in 1895, showed signs of use from the 15th to the 12th centuries BC. It contained hundred of fragments of typical LC finewares, as well as luxury goods such as gold jewellery, glass and a stone seal depicting a lion.

Tomb 19, located in the street between two blocks in Area E, housed over 50 burials (including children) spanning the same period as Tomb 17–17A. The upper levels of the tomb, dating to the LC IIC and IIIA periods, appear to witness an increased pace in the number of burials, perhaps reflecting the rapid social and economic changes of this period. The practice of pushing the remains of older burials to one side to make room for new interments is also clearly visible here. The dromos of Tomb 32 featured three small niches cut in the side walls, perhaps for offerings or child burials; the surviving grave material suggested the tomb was in use from LC IB down to the 12th century.

Simple earth and cist tombs are also found at Bamboula, some with linings of stone or brick. These examples were badly damaged when excavated and are difficult to interpret, but probably reflect the diversification of tomb types found at other LC sites, reflecting different social and economic groups, but also the changes in burial practices visible from the 13th century BC onwards at many sites, especially Enkomi.

Placing the dead

While the tombs of this period are generally similar in shape to those at Kaminoudhia or Phaneromeni mentioned above, at Bamboula – and elsewhere on the island during the LC period, such as at Enkomi – they are often located adjacent to the settled areas [see plan above]. Tombs are found in a variety of locations relative to contemporary houses and workshops. Some were placed in the street separating blocks of houses in Area E; others were cut into the low cliff on which the houses in this area of the town were constructed; a third group was clustered in small burial plots separating certain quarters of the settlement, especially between Areas E and A.[31]  Tombs were also found on the top of the hill by the British Museum team, but their relationship to the contemporary settlement is unclear, while a handful of burials found to the south of the summit of Bamboula in 1895 appear to have been located well away from the contemporary settlement, similar to older EC–MC burial grounds.

The ‘Street of the Tombs’ in Episkopi-Bamboula Area E. The rubble walls of the adjoining buildings are visible on each side of the street, which was pitted with contemporary tombs


The exact reason for this change in the placing of the dead is uncertain, though it is probably connected with changes in social and religious attitudes at the beginning of the LBA. Funeral rituals were a central part of social life throughout the Bronze Age, being used by various social groups as a means of establishing and expressing power, status and family or kin relationships, especially when conducted around the tombs themselves (both at the funeral of specific individuals and afterwards during ceremonies in honour of the dead).[32]

The rapid changes in many aspects of island life during the LBA mentioned above may have altered the balance of power between older groups by creating new élites or economic foci (perhaps based on trade rather than agriculture, such as at coastal sites such as Bamboula). This often required new ceremonies and rituals, including burial customs, to ensure social stability or to help consolidate – or indeed create – the power, influence and prestige of important groups within society during this period of transition.

In this instance, it is possible that closer proximity to the dead and new kinds of rituals and beliefs regarding forebears were among the means by which emerging groups within the new settlement at Bamboula distinguished themselves from older groups buried in other locations. This is also seen at contemporary Enkomi, where the LC I settlers used traditional chamber tomb forms within a new spatial context.[33]  At the same time, it should be noted that extra-mural burial continued to be practised by some communities or groups, and that discrete burial plots away from built-up areas were used within some settlements (including Bamboula), so that no single type of location for burial predominated during the LBA.[34]

Transition from Bronze to Iron Age (c. 1200–1050 BC)

There were major changes in the archaeological record in the Kourion area between around 1200 and 1050 BC (LC III), which echo broader trends embracing the entire island at this time.[35]  Imports from surrounding regions dramatically reduce in number (and those from the Aegean cease altogether). All of the known LC settlements appear to have been abandoned by the end of the 11th century, with a marked shift in the location of the major centre in the lower Kouris valley from Bamboula to the site of Kaloriziki, closer to the Classical acropolis.[36]

Contemporary historical records from Egypt, the Levant and the Hittite empire have been interpreted to suggest that this was a period of grave political and economic crisis and even military invasion by hostile forces such as the Sea Peoples.[37]  There is no doubt that many aspects of the existing LC economy and political structure were put under severe pressure by external events, though whether these phenomena affected every region of the eastern Mediterranean with equal impact is debated and, indeed, probably unlikely.

At the same time, the first part of this period, LC IIIA, appears to have been relatively prosperous at Bamboula, with evidence for successive phases of rebuilding in the settlement.[38]  The presence of prestige goods in several burials of the 12th century, including several iron knives with bronze and ivory fittings (which also mark the appearance of new metal technology[39]), also suggests that there was both continuity and some degree of prosperity. During this same period, many of the familiar pottery and metal forms of the LBA were transformed by new shapes and techniques, which formed the basis of the Iron Age material ceramic culture of the island. The older hand-made pottery traditions, such as Base Ring and White Slip wares, were displaced by wheel-made varieties under the influence of Aegean and Levantine imports, including White Painted Wheel-made III during the later 13th and 12th centuries and then Proto-White Painted ware over the course of the earlier 11th century. Wheel-made versions of Bucchero, itself influenced by Base Ring wares, also appear, later developing into finer Black Slip fabrics under the influence of metal vessels.[40]

As noted above, iron technology developed rapidly. Iron became a working metal employed for utilitarian purposes for the first time, but it was also placed in graves in both Bamboula and the new cemetery of Kaloriziki.[41]  Despite the shift in location of settlement focus, including the abandonment of the sites of Alassa-Paliotaverna and Bamboula, the material culture of the area appears to have developed seamlessly during this time in line with other parts of the island. The use of object types, such as the model of a bathtub shown here and other soft-stone items, continued through the period of transition. More significantly perhaps, this signals the continuation of certain kinds of élite symbolism from the final phase of the LBA, as bathtubs were found in high status contexts (including graves) from the later 13th century onwards.[42]


  • ^ [22] - Swiny 1981; Swiny & Herscher 1992.
  • ^ [23] - Kiely 2005.
  • ^ [24] - Weinberg 1983; Benson 1969; 1970.
  • ^ [25] - Daniel 1938, 26ff; ibid. 1942, Appendix 1; Benson and Masson 1960; Benson 1956b; Smith forthcoming.
  • ^ [26] - Iacovou 2007; cf. Knapp 2008.
  • ^ [27] - Hadjisavvas 1996; 2003.
  • ^ [28] - Hadjisavvas 1989; 1991.
  • ^ [29] - Goren et al. 2003; Knapp 2008, 335–41.
  • ^ [30] - See Benson 1972, 6–35 for details of these tombs.
  • ^ [31] - Kiely 2005, chapter III.
  • ^ [32] - Keswani 2004.
  • ^ [33] - Keswani 1989; cf. Crewe 2008 on the development of new forms of wheel-made pottery for a similar purpose of group definition.
  • ^ [34] - Keswani 2004.
  • ^ [35] - Karageorghis 2002, chapters iv–v; Steel 2004, chapter 7; Knapp 2008, chapter 5.
  • ^ [36] - Steel 1996.
  • ^ [37] - See Ward and Joukowsky 1992 and Oren 2000 for a survey of regional developments, including Cyprus, and interpretations of the textual evidence; also Steel 2004, chapter 7.
  • ^ [38] - Benson 1972; Weinberg 1983.
  • ^ [39] - Sherratt 1994, 87, 89.
  • ^ [40] - Sherratt 1991; Iacovou 1991.
  • ^ [41] - Sherratt 1994 passim; Pickles and Peltenburg 1998; Waldbaum 1999.
  • ^ [42] - Karageorghis in Oren 2000.