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History of excavation continued

The British Museum excavations of 1897

It is clear, therefore, that the area of Maroni was already well known as a potential source of antiquities when the British Museum began to look for another area to explore after the spectacular success of the excavations at Enkomi in 1896. The rich finds of Mycenaean type found at Enkomi, but also at Kourion the previous year, considerably altered the priorities of the Museum. The Turner Bequest excavations at Amathus (1893–4) and Kourion (1895) had explored predominantly Iron Age and Roman sites. The relatively disappointing results of these periods at both sites – especially at Kourion where it had been hoped to discover treasures as rich as those found by Cesnola in 1874 – led the Museum to change its priorities. Late Bronze Age sites, particularly those with Mycenaean material, were now actively sought until the end of the 1890s when British Museum-sponsored excavations on Cyprus finally ceased.[7]

Another important change influenced by the results from Enkomi was the funding of the next campaign of British Museum-led excavations. By 1896, the original Turner Bequest of £2,000 had been spent. The Museum Trustees had previously been very reluctant to pay for excavations directly, having repeatedly refused the requests of the former Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Charles Newton, to provide money for this purpose on Cyprus. This time, however, the prospect of rich finds similar to those from Enkomi persuaded the Trustees to allow the unspent portion of the Department acquisition budget to be spent on a new season of excavations. This was the solution suggested by Newton several times in the late 1870s, in the absence of additional money from the government to pay for excavations on Cyprus.[8]

A sum of £500 – around £35,000 in modern terms – was allocated to the work at Maroni. This allowed the British Museum supervisor, H.B. Walters, who had earlier overseen the work at Kourion, to employ between 60 and 80 workmen between 3 November and 13 December 1897 who were paid around 1s 6d per day. Percy Christian, who had also worked on the Enkomi excavations the previous year, acted as a local agent for the Museum, in return for £1 per day. He negotiated with landowners for the rights to excavate, paid the workers, arranged the division of finds with the Cyprus Museum and managed other practical matters such as sending the objects to London.

The main record of the work is a series of letters written by Walters to the Principal Librarian (that is, the Director) describing the progress of the work, the sites excavated and the most important finds listed according to tomb. Walters also briefed his superior A.S. Murray, the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, on a number of occasions during the course of the excavations. These letters, along with some correspondence from Percy Christian, provide additional information. Finally, a short report in Walters’ handwriting is also preserved in a notebook, which also contains an account of the work at Hala Sultan Tekke.[9]   Although similar in content to the letters, the details differ (and at times disagree) in a number of important respects. The notebook also provides a highly schematic sketch-map showing the location of the tombs in Site A (Tsaroukkas) which has been taken from another source, possibly Walters’ original notes, which have now disappeared.[10]

Walters’ sketch-map of Maroni-Tsaroukkas in 1898, showing the distribution of tombs. (GR Archives, Excavations in Cyprus (Notes and Tomb-lists) 1895–1897)

The following extract from a letter dated 23 November 1897, discussing the terracotta boats found at the site, serves to illustrate Walters’ attitude to the site, but also the casual acquisition of antiquities from the British Museum agents alongside more organised fieldwork at this time. The mention of the smallpox outbreak also reminds us of the broader social conditions of the time.

Dear Mr Murray,

You will have seen my letter to the Principal Librarian by last week’s mail, and will have gleaned therefrom some idea of how we are progressing. Things go on much the same at present – about the same average of tombs and of contents. We have experimented on one or two neighbouring sites, without results so far. In a few days we hope to send some men over to Mari to make a trial there. Grigori [the BM foreman] went there on Sunday last, opened a tomb, and found some Mycenaean pottery. The net results so far may be estimated as far behind Enkomi, but better than the Mycenaean necropolis at Episkopi, especially in the matter of gold ornaments. But we have not found any one object of surpassing interest like the bull scaraboid, or the Enkomi ivories.

I think Torr [an expert in ancient ships] ought to be as much interested as anybody, as we have found him a new ship and fragments of two others. I will endeavour to have the complete one photographed, and will send him one. It must surely be one of the fleet sent by Kinyras to Agamemnon! It is something like the Amathus boats, but of much coarser ware, unpainted. Of the fragmentary ones, one is similar – the other is of fictile ware, with details in black. Unfortunately we have only part of the prow which is peculiar in shape. Of this also I will endeavour to send a sketch.

I don’t expect much from the scarabs or cylinders, and our porcelain plate is far inferior to those at Enkomi. Today we found parts of two porcelain [faience] coloured vases like the tumbler-shaped one from Curium. The figured vases are all very fragmentary so far – the best is the one with the frieze of human figures.

I was in Larnaka for Sunday, staying with Cobham [the British District Commissioner]. We visited one Karemphylake, who is going to send you a fine haematite cylinder found near Kiti, and a photograph of a ‘chariot-vase’ from Aradippou, which is as good a specimen as ours from Curium, and not so much broken.

As to the future, it is difficult to say anything at present. We shall have spent £300 by the middle of December, and £500 by the middle of January. As far as I myself am concerned, I should be very glad if I could leave the island not later than Jan. 15th and the earlier I can leave, the better it will suit me – but I do not wish my private affairs to stand in the way to any extent, except as regards leaving not later than Jan. 15th. Of course we can go on for any length if we are to cover the whole site of possible tombs – as we cannot say as yet when or where we may strike a rich vein. The only question is, how long is advisable to go on, on the chance. Have you any thoughts of coming out yourself? And if so, when would it be possible for you to come? If we are to go on, it would be better to do so more or less without a break. I will send and then [sic] official report by next mail, which may throw more light on the subject.

The crystal seal and two gold fibulae (purchased from C. Christian [brother of Percy]) which I published in the Hellenic Journal are from this site (Maroni), not Moni. I have this on good authority from Williamson [another agent BM agent]. The smallpox is gradually dying out. There have been about 300 cases & 8 or 9 deaths, nearly all among the Turks of Larnaka. There never was any cause of serious alarm.

With kind regards to Mrs Murray and yourself, in which Percy Christian joins,

Yours very sincerely, H.B. Walters

[PS] We have most comfortable quarters at Psematismenos, about three miles from our site. The weather is very pleasant.

In an addition to discussing arrangements for the continuation of the work at Maroni, Walters then observes:

There is said to be a very promising site at the Tekke, close to the Larnaka Salt Lake, for which Cobham would give us permission if necessary. I don’t know whether you would care to try this supposing Maroni were to continue barren. It is strange how Mycenaean antiquities keep turning up all around Larnaka.[11]

Walters explored extensively in the area between the village and the coast but concentrated on three sites in particular.[12]  Site A corresponds to the harbour settlement of Tsaroukkas, whose remains straddled the main coastal road from Larnaka to Zygi. Site B was 800m to the north-west of Site A, to the east of what is now known as Vournes, the third major area trenched by Walters called Site C. He also discovered some Greek pottery associated with ruins of buildings approximately 800m to the west of Tsaroukkas, which corresponds to the Iron Age site of Maroni-Yialos. Surprisingly, none of the finds from here were retained, perhaps because Classical-era material was no longer being actively sought for the British Museum.

Overall the results were regarded as very disappointing. When Walters left Maroni on 14 December to begin the excavations at Hala Sultan Tekke – once again lured by the promise of Mycenaean discoveries – he declared that the site had ‘turned out a complete frost’.[13]  Modern archaeologists would strongly disagree, since the work at Maroni and other LBA sites undertaken by the British Museum during this time was fundamental to the development of modern Cypriot archaeology. There is no doubt, however, that the site, which had clearly been excavated extensively before Walter’s campaign, had not lived up to the rich promise of Enkomi.

The story of Maroni and the British Museum did not cease entirely, though, because Percy Christian maintained an interest in the area after 1897, if only for financial benefit. In 1898, his former foreman Grigoris Antoniou (usually known as Grigori), discovered a magnificent Mycenaean krater with chariot scenes in a rich tomb in the Maroni area. He immediately contacted Christian, who purchased it after a somewhat dramatic night-time dash from Limassol to Psemmatismenos. This was apparently necessary in order to prevent the vase falling into the hands of dealers from Larnaka, including Giabra Pierides who was a leading local collector of antiquities. 

The whole escapade is described in a hastily written letter Christian sent to A.S. Murray, the Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities. The letter, illustrated here, demonstrates the somewhat ambiguous role of Christian as both a British Museum agent and a private dealer in antiquities in touch with local tomb robbers. 

The vase, one of the finest items in the British Museum Cyprus collection, is currently on long-term loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and on display in the A.G. Leventis Cyprus gallery (See Maroni in the United Kingdom and Ireland).[14]

The British Museum excavations of 1897 were carried out before the development of modern archaeology. Much important information about the burials was not recorded, such as the location of the grave goods within the tomb, and the position and treatment of the human remains. The excavators were also highly selective in what they retained, because of the objects’ perceived lack of aesthetic or intrinsic value. As at Enkomi and Kourion-Bamboula, the team also overlooked completely, or ignored, the contemporary settlement that overlay the burial ground at Tsaroukkas. They made only passing comments on the remains of structures at Vournes, which could still be seen on the surface in 1897. While the finds were very important in putting the Maroni area on the archaeological map of Cyprus, in particular for illustrating the LBA, it was only in more recent times that the full significance of the finds from the British Museum excavations were realised through study and renewed fieldwork.

  • ^ [7] - Steel 2001.
  • ^ [8] - Kiely 2009, 64–5.
  • ^ [9] - These are preserved in the archives of the GR Department or else in British Museum Central Archives.
  • ^ [10] - Johnson 1980 provides a full transcript of these documents; also quoted extensively in Manning et al 1998, 303–7.
  • ^ [11] - GR Archive, 23/24 November 1897.
  • ^ [12] - Cadogan 1992.
  • ^ [13] - GR Archive, Correspondence: Excavations in Cyprus, letter to A.S. Murray 16 December 1897.
  • ^ [14] -