Excavation of Katalymmata ton Plakoton, Cyprus.
Site Status: The land is owned by the British Government. The project was undertaken by students and the Department of Antiquities.
Classification and Date: Early Christian Church 7th Century AD.
Topographical Location: The site is located in an arid area close to the sea.
Current Land Use: The site has a farm close by and has yielded many coins from various periods of time. An archaeological survey was carried out in the 1950’s within the sovereign base area which yielded many sites.
Above: The ancilliary building
The author and seven other postgraduates were funded by G.R.A.M.P.U.S heritage and hosted by the Akrotiri environmental centre. The author attended the excavation which was conducted at Katalymmata ton Plakoton in the Akrotiri peninsula of Cpyrus under the direction of Eleni Procopiou senior archeological officer of the Department of Antiquities. This was the fourth season of excavation of what was an important eccliastical building probably a church. In the previous season the narthex of the church was excavated. In the 2010 season the nave and side aisles of the church were excavated. The narthex which was excavated previously was located to the west of the nave and contained a large central apse there were also two smaller apses located either side of the central apse and one in the north of the narthex and one in the south. The nave and outer aisles were located to the east of the narthex. The area between the narthex and nave contained a raised area. The whole area of the narthex which was excavated previously contained mosaics some symbolizing Jesus Christ and other religious figures such as Solomon’s Knot. It was from this previous known knowledge of the site that the 2010 season began.
Above: The fully excavated ancillary building showing drain and floor.
The excavation was attended by archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities, local workers and post-graduate archaeologists from Britain. The author was part of one of several groups of three. Each group was assigned a trench although some groups worked on several trenches. The area to the east of the narthex what is known as the nave together with its side aisles were divided into grids. The author and two other students in the group were allocated trench U95 which was located in the south east of the site. Using the obvious means of trowel, mattocks and spade the trench was taken down in levels until the whole trench had been excavated. The soil and geology of the trench consisted of large rocks on the topsoil and dark soil and then further down the trench a lighter soil was unearthed. There was also a plaster layer by the wall and between the floor tiles. Levels were taken using the EDM every time that a new level was reached. Finds were placed in a finds tray and the supervisor recorded these on a context sheet. A number of finds were also drawn. The role of the supervisor changed every time a new level was reached. Once each level had been cleaned a photograph was taken. This process was repeated until the trench had been fully excavated.
Above : Carefully cleaning the mosaics with a brush.
Trench U95-The Ancillary Building.
The excavation of U95 revealed several interesting features and finds. Once the topsoil had been removed a large amount of rocks were uncovered. These were first thought to be rubble from the earthquake which had destroyed the site. However once some of the larger ones had been removed two walls were revealed stretching from south east to north east and south west to south east. These were around half a meter in height and each wall was 6m in length. It was clear from previous excavations that the site had been destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. There was a large amount of roof tiles literally hundreds were discovered within the trench. Several large Gypsum slabs were discovered next to both of the walls. These may have fallen from a large niche in the wall. Several pieces of glass were found close to the wall indicating that there was probably a window nearby perhaps on the wall. A small amount of pottery ware was also found mainly consisting of African Siggilata ware which was dated to the early 7th century AD. Next to the south-western wall lay a funeral stele once carefully removed this stele which the Greeks and Romans had used as grave markers had been re-cut into a large bowl. After the large Gypsum slabs had been removed the floor level was revealed. The floor consisted of marble floor slabs surrounded by plaster. Once these had been cleared a convex feature appeared when excavated this appeared to be a drain. This was part of a larger drainage system. Water may have fallen from the roof and into the drain to be collected somewhere else. It was also in the drain where a corroded coin of the Emperor Heraclius (610 to 641) was discovered. This was consistent with the time period of the other coins and pottery ware which were found. The room was probably used as an ancillary building which contained a drainage system for the church.
The Nave and Side Aisles.
To the North of U95 the Nave and outer Aisles were excavated. The Nave revealed mosaics. The mosaics were of a geometrical form. Surrounding these mosaics on either side was a stylobate (a colonnade). The mosaics were cleaned with a small brush and once cleaned the beauty of them was revealed. It now became clear by the sense and scale of the features and finds that the site was very important. It was mostly through sieving however that the majority of coins were discovered. The coins represented the Emperor Heraclius who ruled from 610 to 641. The large amount of coins of Heraclius meant that the site must have been built during or before his reign.
The aims of this year’s excavation were to excavate the area to the south of the narthex and to discover the extent of the church. To this purpose the site was larger than expected and digging will continue for at least a few more years. The area excavated in particular the nave and ancillary buildings have yielded important information through finds and features of the shape of the church. The coins and pottery have given us a period for when the site was present. It must have been present in the early 7th Century. The extent of the mosaics which are mostly well preserved considering the devastation caused by the earthquake are remarkable. It is hoped that in the future the site will be open to the public. But why was the site never rebuilt? The earthquake clearly brought devastation to the island. But for a site of such apparent importance it is strange that it was never rebuilt and that the majority of the architectural remains have survived Why was this?. During the early 7th century the Eastern Roman Empire was at war with Persia. The Persians conquered large tracts of land until the Emperor Heraclius defeated them. Maybe Persian raids along the coast of Cyprus made the clergy fearful for their own safety. The earthquake which followed the Persian wars put an end to its use as an eccliastical centre. It was around this time also that the Arabs conquered large areas of the Middle East and had begun raiding Cyprus. Perhaps the priests fearful of further raids and exhausted by natural disasters and wars fled north to the Troodos Mountains to build their churches. Further excavations will hopefully reveal more answers to these questions of this fascinating site.
Author: Jeremy Hallatt
Thanks go to Grampus and the Akrotiri Environmental Centre for funding and letting me participate in this excavation. As well as Eleni Procopiou senior archaeological officer of the Department of Antiquities and the rest of the students for a great experience.