Sotira-Kaminoudhia: Excavations in Cyprus

For the past two summers I’ve participated on a transitional Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age excavation in the southwestern part of Cyprus, which is now considered to be the “Greek half”.

Map of the divided island

Since 1974, the island has been divided into two due to the Turkish occupation. However, the deep integration of these two cultures, Turkish and Greek, is apparent in the cultural and physical elements of the cities and towns in Cyprus, like Limassol, (not far from Sotira village), and Lefkosia, the capital. In the latter city, one can better sense these portentous circumstances on account of the boundary called the “Green Line”, running right through the center of the capital.  Furthermore, in the old part of town in Lefkosia, the annual archaeological conference of CAARI, (the Cypriot American Archaeological Research Institute) is held in a tall, attractive building, which offers a great view of the city.  Looking down, one can see that the immediate area is filled with Greek flags, whereas in the distance, the immense Turkish flag carved into the hillside overlooks the capital city.

The excavation at Sotira-Kaminoudhia is directed by Stuart Swiny and the assistant director is Laina (Helena), Swiny.  The team mainly consists of Americans from SUNY (or the State University of NY) at Albany, but also includes students from other universities in America as well as from the University of Cyprus. 

Sotira is a village located in the county of Limassol, 4 miles, “as the crow flies”, (Dikaios, 1961:1) NW of the beach and famous site at Curium, and it is also not far from the British base at Episkopi.  It seems it was just as hard to locate the exit for the village now as it was in 1934 when Dikaios, an archaeologist, located this site. Initially Dikaios was seeking and found the Neolithic site, or Neolithic II site of Sotira-Teppes, situated on a hilltop, (also indicated by its name, Teppes, which comes from the Turkish word for hill). It was after extended investigations that he discovered the later Chalcolithic/ Bronze Age cemetery, called Cemetery A and the site of Sotira-Kamanoudhia.

Sotira-Teppes is a conical shaped hill, which on the summit levels into a platform.  It has a combination of irregular shaped houses, and its characteristic pottery type is Combed Ware.   It was once a dwelling area for these Neolithic peoples, both agriculturalists and semi-pastoralists, whose major meat source was cattle but whose diet also included pig, sheep, and goat.  Now, it is a place where tourists go to observe the site as well as where we, the excavators go after a long day of digging to enjoy the panoramic view of rolling hills that meet up with the Mediterranean sea, (as well as enjoying a beer or two!) 

In 1980, Prof. Swiny set out to the site with the information from Dikaios’s excavations and uncovered Cemetery B, not far from A, as well as began more intense excavations of the site, Kamanoudhia.  The combination of data collected by both cemeteries produced a wealth of information on the transitional period.  The material mostly consisted of a widely varied pottery collection that included a mixture of Chalco and EBA shapes.  Other objects unearthed were chipped stone and metal.  Certainly, it is worth mentioning the most important metal artifacts found: two gold earrings, the shape of which was based on copper models, and that happen to be the first gold ever to be excavated in Cyprus.

 Plan of Area ‘A’

Based on the excavated areas of Kamanoudhia, the site is estimated to be about 1 hectare in size that is bordered by the outcrop of bedrock in the east, but which is, to the southwest and northeast, still debatable if the site extends further in these directions.  In 1980, the site was organized into three parts that are as follows: Areas A, B, and C.  Three supervisors are chosen to be responsible for properly excavating each one of these areas.  In each area there are about 5 to 10 students excavating and recording a particular unit within the area where there are also about 2-4 paid laborers from the village helping out as needed.

The excavations of the 1980’s offered much information about the site, to which the projects in the 2000’s have contributed a number of additional architectural and material data, which have increased the understanding of this site and the transitional period. Due to the nature of the remains, including coarsed tumble in both Areas A and B, a thick layer of ashy debris in Area C, and compact uncoarsed tumble in all three areas, it was purposed that this area was destroyed by an earthquake.  Area A consists of mainly houses and corridors, and is thought to be the central habitation located on or close to the limestone bedrock.  In the later excavations the remains of both a complete skeleton on one house floor and fragments of another scattered in three houses were unearthed.  It was suggested that they were probably killed when the earthquake occurred, The excavation area which helps to support this hypothesis.  In Area C, there also seems to be a set of houses that have quite a different in architectural style to the irregular squarish shapes in Area A, as the walls here instead are set at almost perpendicular angles to each other.  Room 2, is a courtyard offered interesting finds, like many ceramic cups and bowl, with a large cattle skeleton, which seemed to have fallen from a shelf or wall. Room 8, is considered as a cooking area, complete with a well preserved basin, mortars, querns, many pounders, mortars and burnt bone. In both of these areas finds include a large quantity of pottery sherds, a fair amount of chipped stone, and other stone tools, some picrolite, gaming stones, and metal; all of which were found in the houses but especially in the corridors of Area A. 

Picrolite, it should be noted, is a green stone easy to carve, and was

made into jewelry of all sorts.  It was taken from the nearby Koros riverbed.  Gaming stones include Senet stones that are punctuated limestone blocks used for playing games, which arrived due to contact with Egypt.


Area B, on the other hand, was noted in the 1980’s to be, “frustratingly inconclusive”, (Swiny, 1985: 119), and well, still is.  This is the area where I excavated for the past two years, supervising it in the latter of these two years. Due to the nature of the area, on a steep slant, under 2 meters or so of topsoil, as well as undergoing a fair amount of erosion, it is very difficult to fully follow the sequence of events here.  Another reason it is so enigmatic, is the existence of unusual architecture and small amount of finds, which are comprise of essentially the same type of artifacts found in the other areas only much less).  Initially, it was thought to be one big chamber but after some removing some more soil, it proved to be divided into four smaller rooms by low walls (see figure 5). The tumble was extensive and covered most of the area.  The biggest unit 12 most likely corresponded to a courtyard in which, to the southwest, a doorway is situated that offers the only access to this structure.  Room 56 is thought to be a food preparation room due to two large querns, stone tools and a huge mortar/trough found in it.  Room 57 had a huge bench that ran along the north and west walls, and contained two large pits, one of which contained some unfinished stone tools.  Some other major finds in the same room include what is probably the earliest excavated slag in Cyprus. Even though this structure does not show any definite sign for

The find processing

religious association, it does not have the characteristics of a purely domestic dwelling. It is thus proposed that this area had been used for a special purpose that may have both religious and domestic components.

The modern village is not so much different from that of the Neolithic, Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age ones.  It contains only about 20 houses or so, with a central square and a small café that sells treats, water, beer and coffee, and is located across the street from the house of the lively Moukta.  They still primarily herd goats, and from their milk they make Haloumi, which is a salty, moderately strong cheese.   Incidentally, the Haloumi that is made in this village is marketed and is well known throughout the island of Cyprus.  Throughout the village one notices many carob, fig, lemon, and olive trees that have grown here since the Neolithic and are now also harvested by some to make an extra profit. The villagers are warm and hospitable always offering “Cypriot coffee”, (which is the same as Turkish coffee), or a cold, frothy coffee with milk they call a frappe, as well as, of course, Haloumi.  They are also much fun to be around, inviting us for party nights at the beach or in their own courtyards where we all listen to music, eat and drink.

Excavating with the Swinys’ is another story.  They are excellent to work with and as they have had much experience, one certainly learns a great deal on how to excavate.  They also have many other good qualities like patience, open mindedness, and energy that make the dig run smoothly!  To give a short history of their endeavours, they previously worked together in Afghanistan, where Stuart was director of Antiquities. There, they survived the invasion of the Soviets in 1980, when they were forced to flee from their home and work.  They continued onto Cyprus and becoming founders of CAARI, for which Prof. Stuart was the director.  Then one day, while working on an excavation in North Cyprus with a team of young Americans, Turkish troops arrived in August 1974 and again they had to leave quickly.  They were able to courageously lead their American team to safety to the British base and onwards home to America.  Since this event they both continue working in America, Prof. Stuart Swiny at SUNY-Albany and Prof. Laina Swiny for the Museum at Harvard while continuing excavations during the summers in Cyprus.

Each day we dig from about 5:30AM to 1:30PM, then go to lunch and after a break, continue on in the afternoon from 3: 30 to 5:30-6:00 PM fixing our notebooks and washing pottery (see Fig. 7). At about 7:30 we meet for dinner.  I should mention that we eat at one of the villager’s house, which Prof. Swiny arranges before the dig begins.  After dinner we either relax or “hang-out” (ie., go to Teppes), or work on our notebooks some more, while some others work on their individual studies.  (I myself am doing a study on the chipped stone for the site.) Sometimes we have a chance to make a quick run to the beach in the afternoon or in the evenings after dinner and usually make it there on the weekends.  Though weekends aren’t just about relaxing, the Swinys’ organize visiting sites ranging all periods, as well as museums, and cities.  In addition to all this, the Swinys’ previous long stay on the island allowed them to create many friendships, so we have been invited to weddings, (including ones from our village), involved in making a slide show and party in the village square with all the villagers, and well, saving the village itself from a fire….

Prof. Swiny had been my professor for three years in SUNY-Albany and since he was such an interesting professor, I decided to join his excavation in Sotira.  I really have learned a great deal from him and enjoyed my time at this excavation, and will one day be director of a similar excavation…inþala!

 I am presently a Master’s Student at Bilkent University, in my second year.  I was born in Mahopac, New York in America. Having always been interested in history, science and other cultures, I decided to join an excavation school in western Ireland before I went to University.  There, I became sure that I wanted to continue on with archaeology, where I then attended the State University of Albany, in New York’s capital city to graduate with a major in Mediterranean Archaeology and minors in both French and Spanish.  While I was an undergraduate, I participated on digs in France, Germany, and Cyprus.  I would like to continue on to obtain my PHD, preferably in Europe, and eventually become a research professor.


              Genevieve Holdridge



References and Bibliography

Dikaios, P. 1961 Sotira. The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philidelphia.

Karageorghis, V. 1982 Cyprus from the Stone Age to the Romans.

Karageorghis, V. 1991 Les anciens chyptiote: entre orient et occident. Arnold Colin.

Karouzis, G. 2000 Touring Guide of Cyprus. Selas: Nicosia.

Swiny, S. 1981 “Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in SW Cyprus.” Levant XVIII: 51-87.

Swiny, S. 1985 “Sotira- Kamanoudhia and the Chalco-EBA Transition in Cyprua. Pp.
115-125 in Archaeology in Cyprus 1960-1985. Ed. V. Karagheorgis, A.G. Levantis Foundation.






Newsletter No. 2 - 2003, Pg. 45

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