The Cyprus Expedition

Originally Published in 1932

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A MOST successful season has been concluded at the site near Lapithos, on the island of Cyprus, where a Museum expedition, under the direction of Dr. B. H. Hill, has been excavating a number of tombs cut in the soft limestone rock [Plate IV]. The tombs date from the Prehistoric and the Geometric periods; Dr. Hill’s first report, recently received, deals only with the Prehistoric tombs of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages: that is, from 2000 to 1000 B. C., roughly speaking.

View of excavations with tent in the midground
Plate IV — General View of Excavations at Lapithos, Cyprus, Showing the Entrances to the Rock-Cut Tombs
Excavated tomb entrance with a large rock in front of it
Plate V — Dromos, or Entrance Passage of a Rock-Cut Tomb at Lapithos, Cyprus, Showing Stones Blocking the Entrances to Burial Chambers

Each tomb consisted of from one to four oval, subterranean chambers, approached by a dromos-a passage, or here more usually a vestibule, tunnelling into the rock but open to the sky above. The chambers were entered from their dromos through very small doorways closed with large stone slabs chinked with small stones [Plate V]. The floor of the chambers, which varied in size from about three by five feet to fifteen by seventeen feet, was always considerably below that of the dromos, and the descent through the doorway was fairly steep. The dromoi were oblong in shape and varied in length from about six up to thirteen feet. In many of the dromoi are small tombs cut in the wall, usually at some distance above the floor-level; these were frequently used for infant burials. The dromos of one tomb had the unprecedented number of eighteen of these ‘cup-boards,’ twelve of them with their doors in place.

The principal chamber was always found opposite the curved end of the dromos, while the auxiliary chambers were probably constructed as the occasion arose. The principal chamber of one tomb contained the remains of a woman with her personal ornaments. A pair of gold earrings found at her head is of a type rare if not unique in Cyprus. Nearby was a pair of silver pins with flat disc heads which may have been used to hold in place a silver diadem; the diadem is also of unique design and apparently had been cut from one sheet of heavy silver. A quantity of paste beads and some three hundred small beads may have been strung together to form a pectoral. Conspicuous in the center of the tomb was a circular arrangement of eight hemispherical bowls set out as if for a banquet [Plate VI]. The bowl in the central position had a second bowl inverted over it; inside the bowl were remnants of food; this was probably the portion allotted to the guest of honor-the departed-and was being kept warm for her. Bones of two oxen were scattered over the floor; these may have been intended as food or as a sacrificial or propitiatory offering.

A jumble of objects and bones in a burial
Plate VI — A Bronze Age Burial at Lapithos, Cyprus, Showing Bowls Set Out as for a Feast and, in Foreground, a Dagger Bent for Ritualistic Purposes

The number of burials in a chamber varied from one to seven. In some cases the body was placed on a fragment of a large pithos, or jar. Various types of pottery were found: red-polished, white-painted, black-slipped, and plain white wares. The considerably disarranged and broken state of the pottery in the tombs may be accounted for by the fact that the waters, rushing down from the nearby mountain, penetrated underground into the rather low-lying tombs, floating the large pots and knocking them together with sufficient force to break them.

More than two hundred and twenty-five fine bronze objects were found, most of them in excellent condition. Small bronze knives of thin metal had wide tangs and were generally associated with tombs of earlier date. The more developed shapes with many rivets were found in the later tombs. On some of the knives were found traces of wooden handles. The swords and daggers were particularly impressive. Several instances were found of daggers having been rendered useless by bending either the tang or the blade [Plate VI]; in either case doubtless for ceremonial or symbolical purposes. Other notable bronze objects are axe-heads, rings, pins, needles and tweezers. A lesser number of gold and silver objects and some stone implements were also found.

Cite This Article

"The Cyprus Expedition." Museum Bulletin III, no. 5 (March, 1932): 118-121. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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