DISCOVERIES at the ancient site of Pyrgos Mavroraki, near Limassol, are revolutionising knowledge of the Bronze Age and have been described as ‘incredible’ by the archaeologist carrying out the work.
Maria Rosaria Belgiorno says that Pyrgos is probably the most important ancient site yet found in Cyprus and has produced evidence for the first time that olive oil was used as a fuel in copper production.
Belgiorno told a meeting in Nicosia that four different architectural units had been uncovered during five seasons of excavations at Pyrgos/Mavroraki, a site that spans the period from around 2350BC to 1850BC.
The site, Belgiorno said, was an industrial complex producing luxury items such as perfumes and textiles dyed with purple and blue indigo.
The excavations were carried out by a team of scientists from the National Council for Research under Belgiorno’s direction.
"Around 2,000 copper slag and bronze objects, stone tools and moulds have been found," she said, noting that many had been chemically analysed and that copper, tin, lead, zinc, arsenic, silver, nickel, iron, sulphur, and silicon had been found.
The analysis confirmed archaeologists’ beliefs that the primary and secondary processing of raw copper were undertaken at Pyrgos.
"Of particular interest, it is evident from the room distribution of the building, that the copper workshops were arranged around a large olive pressroom," she said.
The scarce presence of carbons in a number of small furnaces and forges point to the fact that olive oil and the waste remains from its processing had been used as fuel in copper production.
Bechi analyses of burned oil from an oven in unit B (excavated at Pyrgos during 2005), treated with chemicals, also revealed the presence and the use of olive oil as fuel.
This evidence, Belgiorno says, means that a rethink must take place regarding Cypriot copper technology.
"Of special interest are also the stone swage anvils to shape daggers and the clay moulds for axes found still in the ovens. Both of them testify to the creative talent of the Cypriot coppersmiths in casting and forging bronzes. But it is the evidence of the olive oil as fuel that opens a new window on the ancient history of metallurgy," she said.
According to Belgiorno, later evidence of a possible connection between olive oil and metallurgy comes from Greek mythology, with the myth of Eryctonios, son of Athena and Ephaestos.
"Overall, the evidence underlines the significance of Pyrgos/Mavroraki as the most important archeological site discovered in Cyprus, not merely for the Bronze Age itself but for a better understanding of the role-played by the production and the use of olive oil in Early Middle Bronze Age Cyprus," said Belgiorno.
"We are still working on the site. It is incredible what we are finding here. It is a very large court, we find malls, and jars etc. and an Italian expert confirmed the use of olive oil as fuel for melting copper.
"We will continue with the excavations probably for another year because what we are finding is incredible stuff, revolutionising archaeology and the ancient history of metallurgy.
"It had so far been believed that Cyprus in ancient times was wanted by foreigners for its forests to make carbon. But if this were the case, by the Roman period, Cyprus would have been a desert.
"The evidence we found at Pyrgos, showing olive oil being used for copper metallurgy explains it. Italian experts who were here have confirmed this evidence.
"It was really olive oil, which meant less work and not having to go to the forests and cut the trees," Belgiorno told The Cyprus Weekly.
Earlier this year, Belgiorno and her team of scientists found evidence at Pyrgos of a whole industrial complex, with its own perfume industry, producing perfumes earlier than Egypt, medicine and cloth production with coloured cloths for export. There was also evidence of silk production and an olive press.
"It’s amazing. The metallurgy objects are all arranged in a room near the olive press room with a door connecting them," said Belgiorno.
Excavations carried out, also this year, under Belgiorno’s guidance at Erimi, showed that Cypriot wine was the most ancient in the entire eastern Mediterranean, produced 3,000 years before Greece.
At Vounos, in occupied Kyrenia, archaeological excavations showed Cypriots were the first in Europe to use a horn as a wine glass- a trend still prevailing across Europe with crystal horns being produced and popular to this day in a number of northern European countries.