A four-week project under the supervision of the French Archaeological Mission at the ancient dockyard of Kition (Larnaka-Pampoula) in Cyprus has unearthed a wealth of artifacts and architectural features, some dating from as far back as the 12th century BC, as well as several layers of settlement. The Kition archaeological team, led by Dr Sabinne Fourrier of MEAE-CNRS-Lyon2 University, began its work in October 2021 and the results were recently announced by Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities, according to Philenews.
The boatshed at the Kition harbor in Cyprus, Greece, dating back to the Archaic era (800 BC-480 BC). On the left: the pillar base belonging to the eastern row of the 7th boat ramp. (A. Rabot / Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus )
The Kition, Cyprus Archaeological Mission’s Objectives
The first was to complete the excavation of the dockyard that previous excavations in 1984-99 had unearthed. Its exploration had been stalled for so many years owing to the presence of modern tennis courts on part of the site. The shifting of the modern tennis courts finally made the investigation possible.
The archaeologists further hoped to dig one of the trenches (Trench 11) right down to the Geometric and Archaic levels of Cyprus’s history. The Geometric period lasted from 1050 to 750 BC when Cyprus was a Greek island with ten city-kingdoms. The cult of the Goddess Aphrodite flourished at her birthplace Cyprus in this period. When Phoenicians from Tyre in the Levant settled in Kition in the ninth century BC Aphrodite became Astarte.
The Archaic and Classical period in Cyprus lasted roughly between 750 BC to 310 BC during which time it was occupied by a series of conquerors from Assyria, Egypt and Persia. King Evagoras of Salamis (who ruled from 411-374 BC) unified Cyprus. Around 333 BC Cyprus became a part of Alexander the Great’s kingdom.
Lastly the team looked to go even deeper down to 12th and 11th century BC ‘”transitional” levels, the period of transition from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, which also marked the end of the Mycenaean period . For this Trench 10 was utilized.
The Ancient Famous Closed Harbor of Kition
The natural harbor in Kition was well-known and even Greek geographer Strabo described it. He called it a “closed harbor.” The archaeologists sought to determine its size and shape as well as how far east it extended.
Two trenches in the northern and eastern parts of the site—where the tennis courts had been located—uncovered boatsheds confirming that the dockyard had extended over the whole area. It was a closed harbor because it was a naturally protected basin that had access only from the north and not the east. Further north it was linked to Kathari Bay. When coming from the north, the majestic triremes, as the ships of the time were known, could be handled more easily than previously believed, by being hauled stern first up the ramps of the boatsheds where they were housed.
Excavations further east of the boatsheds unearthed a pillar base indicating the presence of at least another ramp. This base is constructed of a huge limestone block resting on a ridge-like rock. An eastward stretching sandstone wall, which connects with another base-like structure, probably functioned as part of a closing wall.
Pillar base framing the 7th ramp of the ancient Kition boatsheds to the east, viewed from the north. ( Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus )
Excavations at the site thus suggest that the building that once existed there consisted of seven parallel rows of ramps, open on the harbor basin to the north and enclosed by terraced walls on the western and southern sides and by a wall made of a succession of bases and supporting pillars on its eastern side.
The remains of Kition’s Phoenician harbor for warships built in the 5th century BC. (Rjdeadly / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Phoenician Scribal Materials Also Found
In Trench 11, where the archaeologists were exploring the Iron Age stratigraphy, they reached the Classical level, i.e., the years between 510 and 323 BC. While little remains of the architecture of this period, a pit that was excavated revealed a host of Phoenician scribal material .
A limestone plaque with Phoenician writing was uncovered in archaeological digs this past year that took place, in part, under a former tennis court in Kition, Cyprus. ( Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus )
The profusion of inscribed administrative documents suggests the presence of a scribal office connected to the royal administration in the area. The array of inscribed materials ranges from limestone and gypsum tablets to pottery sherds and even pebbles.
The foundations of open-air sanctuary Temple 1, surrounded by a large wall of well-cut stones that measured 35 x 22 meters (115 X 72 feet) at Kition, Cyprus. This temple was probably dedicated to a mother goddess. (Hermann Junghans / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE )
What The Diggers Found At Kition’s Oldest Level
A settlement from as far back as the 12th-11th century BC was dug up in Trench 10 in the northern part of the site. Part of a well-preserved house consisting of several limestone floors resting on a layer of small pebbles, a hearth, and a what was possibly an area for craft production were also unearthed.
Thanks to the shifting of modern tennis courts from the ancient site of Kition-Larnaka, which allowed exhaustive archaeological exploration of the area, a rich slice of Cypriot history, ranging from the Phoenicians to the early Greeks, has been revealed.
Top image: A limestone plaque with Phoenician writing was uncovered in archaeological digs at Kition, Cyprus, Greece this past year that took place, in part, under a former tennis court. Source: Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus
By Sahir Pandey