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The Kral Tepesi Salvage Excavation

"On June 2004, two nature-lover friends Nathanael May and Benjamin Moritz, both academics at the Eastern Mediterranean University-Famagusta/ Cyprus, were hiking on Kral Tepe (King's Mountain / Vasili) located at Kaleburnu (Galinoporni) village part of the Karpasia peninsula. Suddenly something got their attention on the ground; a stone different than others... They felt the desire to pick it up and that is what exactly they did… Then, they were speechless… Under the stone there was a pithos and inside of it a number of bronze artefacts… By chance, May and Moritz have made one of the most significant discoveries in Cyprus archaeology in the beginning of the 2000s. …"

Within days, The Department of Antiquities and Museum at Famagusta, TRNC and EMU academics had sent a team to the site in order to begin the first rescue (salvage) excavations. The purpose of the excavation was to surface and to protect the objects found in the pithos. As a result of this emergency rescue excavation, 26 bronze relics were brought to light. The world of science had the privilege to meet the new bronze artefact types for the first time belonging to Late Bronze Age between IIIC-IIIA.

Impressed by the great success of the first excavation, Dr. Uwe Muller and Dr. Bülen Kızılduman had teamed up with Dr. Habil Martin Bartelheim and Dr. Christiane Hemker from Germany, to make further inspections and to deepen the search on the archaeological site Kral Tepesi. The site is heavily damaged and vanishing due to its geological structure, topography and erosion. Furthermore, illegal excavations have left a great damage on culture plates of the site. The land on the hillslopes which is located at the King's Mountain was flattened and bulldozed by the land owner, hence leaving culture plates partially destroyed. As a consequence of agricultural activities on the area, Kaleburnu (Galinoporni), Kral Tepesi (King's Mountain) is on the verge vanishing. For these reasons, it is decided that a salvage excavation on the site in question is definitely needed. Doing otherwise would mean sit back and watch this world cultural heritage to perish day by day.

After several discussions; sides were agreed on to initiate an interdisciplinary project between Turkish Cypriot and German academics for the first time in Cyprus history. In the wake of this decision, Eastern Mediterranean University DAKMAR (Eastern Mediterranean Cultural Heritage Research Center) has initiated an international project. The project was led by (former) DAKMAR chair Dr. Uwe Müller, the president of the Ancient Troy Excavation Committee Dr. Ernst Pernicka from the University of Freiberg / Germany, Dr. Martin Bartelheim from the University of Tubingen and Eastern Mediterranean University DAKMAR co-chair Dr. Bülent Kızılduman.

The project have launched under the name of ''Galinoporni / King's Mountain: Cypriot-German Cooperation for the Interdisciplinary Investigation of a New Late Bronze Age Regional Centre in Cyprus'' financed and contributed by EMU, DAKMAR and Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. The first phase of the salvage excavations took place between 2005 and 2009. The second phase of the project started in 2014 under the leadership of EMU DAKMAR new chair and excavation director Dr. Bülent Kızılduman.

Salvage Excavation

Kral Tepesi/Vasili is a hill that looms steeply approx. 100 m from the surrounding fertile plains with large terraces on its eastern and southern slopes. Traces of settlement are visible almost everywhere on its surface. The top plateau, which is about 30 m higher than the highest terraces, shows clear architectural structures and lots of sherds of large storage vessels. Its exposed topographical position, the unusually large storage capacity and above all the exquisite bronze hoard suggest it was an elite residence and/or a sanctuary. We may therefore assume that the settlement was an administrative center. This is underlined by its strong vertical structure.

By contrast with large parts of the island, such centers are unknown on the Karpaz peninsula. This is probably due to a lack of systematic archaeological research. The Kral Tepesi project therefore offers the unique chance to examine an almost unknown Bronze Age cultural landscape. The analysis of this exceptional site is thus being carried out in conjunction with an investigation into its economic and cultural environment.

Apart from their scientific importance, the excavations in summer 2005 and detailed documentation of the architectural structures and finds on the top plateau became necessary because of imminent dangers to the site. Its exposed position and geological composition (limestone) have led to heavy erosion of the hill, and the activities of looters after the discovery of the hoard threatened to cause substantial damage to the site. The excavations of the central part of the settlement are complemented by geophysical surveys of the rest.

In addition, the settlement area in the surroundings of Kral Tepesi which is naturally limited by the sea and mountain ranges is being surveyed archaeologically and geophysically. The acquisition of the data is being supported by GIS which will give information about the internal structure and development of the region. This will make it possible for the first time to get a deeper insight into the very complex archaeological potential of the Karpaz peninsula.

In antiquity, the peninsula had an extremely advantageous geographical position close to one of the busiest shipping routes in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, the Karpaz is the part of Cyprus closest to the most important economic and cultural areas in the northern Levant and in southeastern Anatolia. From the Late Bronze Age on, relations with these areas became particularly intense as the island's immense copper ore resources were important to the complex societies of the Eastern Mediterranean. Under Near Eastern influence, wealthy settlements with urban structures emerged in Cyprus. Kral Tepesi has now become the first of them to be discovered on the Karpaz.

The bronze hoard from Kral Tepesi is the presently largest one known in Late Bronze Age Cyprus. It consists of finished objects and is the only one that also comprises three incense burners. Except for from two fragments, these top-quality toreutical products have their only close parallels outside Cyprus in the Levantine cities of Ugarit, Megiddo, Akko and Beth Shan. Apart from comparable finds in other parts of Cyprus, the geographical distribution of comparable objects clearly suggests connections to the Levant, indicating far-reaching supraregional contacts of the ruling elite on Kral Tepesi.

In order to achieve a detailed and comprehensive survey of the cultural and historical background of the hoard, and to gain knowledge about details of production, the objects are being thoroughly documented and analysed using scientific methods. Research in the literature and museums make it possible to narrow down the likely provenance of the objects and the distribution of typological parallels.

Although the archaeological remains on the terraces are in danger of being destroyed by agricultural work, the danger to the plateau, caused by erosion, seemed even more imminent. Because of this, this years work again concentrated on the southern and northern parts of the summit.

On the higher southern part of the plateau, new trenches were opened to get information about the extension of the Late Bronze Age residence. It could be confirmed that considerable parts of the building to the east and west are already lost to erosion. In the south the building extends but there seem to be relatively few remains left. Within the debris of collapsed walls a small fragment of burnt clay was discovered, bearing a three-line inscription in a writing system called Cypro- Minoan, approx. 3200 years old. Also several other inscriptions have been previously unearthed at Kral Tepesi, this one is the longest written text found up to now. Inscriptions in Cypriote Late Bronze Age sites are not as rare as in other regions (i.e. western Turkey or the Aegean), but mainly consist of single signs or very short texts. The new text fragment from Kaleburnu therefore is an extremely valuable addition to the known corpus of Cypro-Minoan texts. Continued work in the production area of the residence completed our knowledge about the tools and installations used there and allowed new insights in the working processes. Several new fragments of painted wall plaster confirmed the existence of a residential part of the building in the upper floors.

Perhaps the most exiting new result is strong evidence that the Late Bronze Age building was erected on top of much older architectural structures. The remains of at least four large round houses could be identified. The up to now scarce evidence for dating these structures may point to before the Bronze Age of Cyprus period, meaning that the settlement history of Kral Tepesi might be thousands of years older still.

Work on the north plateau concentrated on some rooms near the eastern slope, all in immediate danger of destruction by erosion. At least one of them showed evidence for multi-storey architecture. Others contained finds and installations usually connected to household activities, such as cooking and storing. Others finds, such as a big stone basin, a clay 'larnax' (often interpreted as bathtubs) or huge jars, coated inside with fine plaster are more difficult to interpret, so that the function of this part of the settlement still cannot be determined. Almost all the rooms displayed cracks in the walls, broken floors and other evidence pointing towards an earthquake as the reason for the abandonment of the settlement.

Scientific Survey

Within the scope of the project, in order to record the archaeological texture of the area situated in between Kuruova/ Korovia, Kaleburnu/ Galinoporni and Dipkarpaz/ Rizokarpaso and to officially declare the area as a site, a surface survey was initiated. This extensive survey had revealed a number of necropolis and settlements traced back to Iron Age to Medieval Age. The land survey was carried out in two phases. The first phase of the survey focused on cultural properties dated back to Medieval Age. Directed by Dr. Luca Zavagno, the purpose of the second phase was to conduct surface analysis and to do a further research at the region.

The land survey was complemented by an Underwater Survey directed by Dr. Matthew Harpster from Eastern Mediterranean University in 2009. The underwater surveys were financed by the National Geographic. The priority of the underwater survey was to record the underwater texture and to identify underwater cultural properties on the coast line situated in between Kuruova/ Korovia and Dipkarpaz/ Rizokarpaso villages. The underwater survey shaded a light on the overseas contacts and relations of Kaleburnu/ Galinoporni region. The area was topographed and some stone anchors were documented thanks to the underwater survey which was conducted on the area between Cape Nora and Cape Kassa. During the survey, a number of amphora pieces, ashlar blocks and stone anchors and opus sectile pieces were discovered.

Both part of the project were very successful; very much unknown archaeological sites were found and recorded for the first time at the region.

Paleogeography Studies

Geographer from the universities of Ankara, Prof. Dr. Hakan Yiğitbaşıoğlu and from Eastern of Mediterean University Asst. Prof. Dr. Ahmet Süha Kocakuşak are surveying the land to reconstruct the ancient landscapes and coastlines.

Related Researches of the Project

In addition to excavation and survey Dr. Wilbert Norman started work on a visual ethnography of the research project. A film produced as one of the results of this will be distributed to schools in the TRNC to raise awareness for cultural heritage and its protection.

DAKMAR managed to establish several international collaborations for the Kaleburnu Kral Tepesi/ Galinoporni Vasili project. Dr. Jaroslav Peska (Director, Archeological Centre Olomouc, Czech Republic and Dr. Miroslav Kralik (Department of Anthropology, Masaryk University Brno, Czech Republic) developed new techniques for microscopic analysis of archaeological finds and applied them for the first time on ancient artifacts from Cyprus. Besides finding evidence for the presence of organic material inside the storage jar, which contained the bronze treasure, during the analysis another rather long Cypro-Minoan inscription was identified on one of the bowls.

Dr. Lisa Kealhofer (University of Santa Clara, USA) and Dr. Peter Grave (University of New England, Australia) from the Anatolian Iron Age Project took samples of clay from 40 different sources to establish comparative data for the identification of Cypriot pottery abroad.

A variety of natural scientific methods such as Neutron-Activation analysis, Lead-Isotope analysis, Gas-Chromatography and others of pottery and metal fragments, as well as Radio-Carbon dating were conducted by the Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum-Archäologie Mannheim/ Germany. Amongst other results, these methods are expected to clarify the provenance of objects and thus to give insight into the trade connections of Kaleburnu Kral Tepesi/ Galinoporni Vasili. Since 2009 Dr. Hans-Peter Stika from the University of Hohenheim has been analyzing the floral remains of the site.

Legal State

An emergency survey was therefore started with the aim of recovering and preserving the objects found in the pithoi (1). As a result of this survey, twenty-six bronze artefacts were brought to light all dated to the Late Bronze Period. Further investigations followed up in order to assess the extension of the archaeological site. It resulted from these that the Vasili/Kral Tepesi hill was in immediate danger as part of it was literally crumbling down due to its peculiar geology, and as result of weathering and erosion. Furthermore, tomb-robbers and clandestine digs have been plundering large parts of the site. Moreover, agricultural activities on the area were also preying upon vast portions of the site. For these reasons, it was decided that an emergency survey was the only way to preserve and document what was indubitably an essential part of the Cypriot cultural heritage before it was lost for good (2).

(1) On the legal issues involved with the rescue excavation see infra and Bulent Kizilduman, "Kıbrıs'ta Arkeolojik Çalışmaların Yasal Boyutu ve Kaleburnu Kral Tepesi Kurtarma Kazısı Projesi/Legal Situation of the Archaeological Research in Cyprus and Kaleburnu Kral Tepesi Salvage Excavation Project" , in Armağan Erkanal, Sevinç Günel, Ulaș Deniz, Symposium of New Investigation on Western Anatolia and Eastern Mediterranean in Late Bronze Age, 24-25 April 2007, Ankara , Ankara 2008.

(2) Indeed, although it is not our intent to discuss the political status quo on the island and its de facto political partition, one cannot help but noticing that «the current interpretation of international law and the stubborn stance of political parties involved actually harm cultural heritage […] instead of protecting it, which is the intent of [conventions like} the Hague Convention» (Muge Şevketoğlu, Riza Tuncel, Vasif Şahoğlu, "Protecting the Cultural Heritage of Cyprus: International Laws and Concerns" , Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology, 2015, Iss. 3/2, p. 141.