Platt Fellow Uncovers 19th Century Excavation in Bronze Age Site

Carrie excavating in the trench North of Building 1 at Maroni-Tsaroukkas. Photo: Sturt Manning.

By: Carrie Fulton, 2012 Platt Fellow

In 1897, an expedition by the British Museum to Cyprus opened a number of pits in search of tombs in the lower Maroni Valley at Tsaroukkas, removing many objects of interest and backfilling the pits they had created.  Fast-forward about 115 years later and thanks to the generous funding from the Platt Fellowship through ASOR I was able to join the Kalavasos and Maroni Built Environments (KAMBE) Project for a month of excavation.  The project, led by Dr. Sturt Manning (Cornell University) and Dr. Kevin Fisher (University of Arkansas), has focused on using geophysical survey to elucidate patterns in the Late Bronze Age occupation for this region of Cyprus, and this season they added excavation to ground truth their findings.  I would like to take you through one of the trenches I worked on as I learned about stratigraphy and site formation processes.

The Late Bronze Age site of Maroni-Tsaroukkas sits about twelve meters above sea level along a coastline that is quickly eroding into the sea.  In the early 1990s as part of the Maroni Valley Archaeological Survey Project under the direction of Dr. Sturt Manning, two buildings had been excavated at Tsaroukkas and this field season, we opened several trenches outside of what had been previously excavated.  In one trench just outside of Building 1, we came across a wall.  As we continued to excavate, we noticed the soil to the north of the wall was different from what was inside the wall. This distinguished change in soil indicated what was most definitely a pit from the British Museum’s expedition in 1897.  The first step was to excavate the pit to see how far down the British Museum diggers extended their pit, especially whether it came down on one of the tombs in the area.  While excavating we came across a lot of pottery and stone tools that had been discarded by the British Museum diggers and thrown into the pit as backfill.  There were different types of stone grinders, pounders, and rubbers in addition to many potsherds from several large pithoi, coarse wares, base ring ware, white-slip vases and other types of Late Bronze Age pottery.  We even came across a small quartz object that had been cut in the shape of a “Y” perhaps as some sort of a guide for thread.

The pit had been backfilled in different stages with different types of soil, so there were several times that I thought we had reached the bottom.  One morning, I jumped into the pit, thinking that I was almost to the bottom.  I was now over a meter and a half down, excavating well below the building’s wall.  Since the pit was so deep, the cooling sea breeze didn’t reach me as I was hunched over, vigorously troweling away.  Luckily it was still early in the morning so the sun wasn’t too strong and the walls of the pit created some shade for me.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted movement in the wall to my left.  I turned my head to see two little eyes and a black nose poke its head out of a hole in the wall.  I was face to face with a natural, post-depositional process in action – otherwise identified as a long-eared hedgehog!  It had climbed into the hole during the night, did some of its own excavating, and was poking its head out to investigate the commotion.  This trench was an excellent example of the different processes that must be considered when interpreting a site: from its initial formation and use in the Late Bronze Age to early disturbances, modern excavations, and most recent contemporary disturbances.  It continually amazes me what can be extracted from noting changes in soil color and soil inclusions.  In one trench outside Building 2, we could even see the remnants of a series of past rainstorms due to wash deposits that accumulated in thin lenses in the soil!

My involvement in the KAMBE project this summer has been invaluable in all aspects as I participated in excavation, artifact photography, and artifact cataloguing among other tasks.  On our days when we weren’t working, I had a chance to travel and experience the other sites and areas of Cyprus.  I have enjoyed every minute of my time here in Cyprus, and I owe this amazing opportunity to the assistance from the Platt Fellowship through ASOR.  I would also like to thank Drs. Sturt Manning and Kevin Fisher for their instruction and allowing me to participate in the project.  It was a fantastic learning experience.


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