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Gold jewelry from 1350 BCE found in Cyprus Bronze Age tombs

Archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg have concluded an excavation of two tombs in the Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus.

The finds include 155 human skeletons and close to 500 objects, including gold jewelry, gemstones, and ceramics from around 1350 BCE.

Egyptian lotus jewelry with inlaid stones (ca. 1350 BCE). Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

Since 2010, the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition (The Söderberg Expedition) has made several excavations in Cyprus. In 2018, archaeologists discovered two tombs in the form of underground chambers, with a large number of human skeletons. Managing the finds required very delicate work over four years because the bones were extremely fragile after more than 3,000 years in the salty soil.

The skeletons and ritual funeral objects were in layers on top of each other, showing that the tombs were used for several generations.

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city. For example, we found the skeleton of a five-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings, and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family,” said Professor Peter Fischer, the leader of the excavations.

The finds include jewelry and other objects made of gold, silver, bronze, ivory, gemstones, and richly decorated vessels from many cultures.

“We also found a ceramic bull. The body of this hollow bull has two openings: one on the back to fill it with a liquid, likely wine, and one at the nose to drink from. Apparently, they had feasts in the chamber to honor their dead,” said Fischer.

Large vessel with war chariots from Greece (ca. 1350 BCE). The ceramic vessels, particularly those imported from Greece and Crete, are decorated with painted scenes of horse-drawn chariots, individuals carrying swords, animals, and flowers.
Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

A message that is thousands of years old

One particularly important find is a cylinder-shaped hematite seal with a cuneiform inscription from Mesopotamia, which the archaeologists were able to decipher.

“The text consists of three lines and mentions three names. One is Amurru, a god worshiped in Mesopotamia. The other two are historical kings — father and son — who we recently succeeded in tracking down in other texts on clay tablets from the same period, i.e., the 18th century BC. We are currently trying to determine why the seal ended up in Cyprus more than 1,000 kilometers from where it was made,” said Fischer.

In the tombs, the archaeologists found figurines of goddesses with bird faces. This is likely a goddess with a bird’s head holding a child that is half bird and half human. Photo courtesy of Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

Among the finds are the red gemstone carnelian from India, the blue gemstone lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and amber from around the Baltic Sea, which shows that the city had a central role in trade during the Bronze Age. The gold jewelry, along with scarabs and the remains of fish imported from the Nile Valley, tells the story of intensive trade with Egypt.

Wide-ranging ancient trading network

By comparing with similar finds from Egypt, the archaeologists were also able to date the jewelry.

“The comparisons show that most of the objects are from the time of Nefertiti and her husband Echnaton around 1350 BCE. Like a gold pendant, we found: a lotus flower with inlaid gemstones. Nefertiti wore similar jewelry,” he said.

The ceramic finds are also important.

“The way that the ceramics changed in appearance and material over time allows us to date them and study the connections these people had with the surrounding world. What fascinates me most is the wide-ranging network of contacts they had 3,400 years ago,” he said.

The next step will be DNA analysis of the skeletons.

“This will reveal how the different individuals are related with each other and if there are immigrants from other cultures, which isn’t unlikely considering the vast trade networks,” said Fischer.

The objects from the excavation are stored in museums in Nicosia and Larnaca, Cyprus, and some of the most important finds already are on display.

Hala Sultan Tekke is currently on UNESCO’s list to be named a World Heritage Site. The most recent report from the University of Gothenburg about the excavations was from December 2020.

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