Archaeological Survey at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

Typhoons, Tornadoes, mosquitoes and monuments!
Archaeological Survey at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

Surveying the mouth of the sixteenth-century Venetian Canal east of Akrotiri’s Salt Lake

In January a small team of archaeologists from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, led by Professor Simon James, conducted an unusual archaeological project: a location and condition survey of all the known archaeological sites and monuments inside a Mediterranean military airbase. The Akrotiri peninsula, forming the southern tip of Cyprus, is home to the Royal Air Force's busiest operational airfield, which paradoxically has protected the local natural and historical environment from commercial development. The UK base authorities have stewardship responsibilities for the archaeology of the area on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus.

Recently they identified a need for accurate and up to date information on the nature and extent of archaeological remains across the entire peninsula, including those around the flamingo-frequented salt lake between the airfield and the rest of Cyprus, to inform their heritage management planning. As the School’s Ancient Akrotiri Project (AAP) is already leading research on the ancient port at Dreamers Bay and wider survey inside the airbase, they turned to us as subject matter experts.

In a short timeframe to do the job, January was the only practicable time for the survey, which was undertaken by professional archaeologists from the School’s contracting unit, ULAS, who also staff AAP expeditions. This meant that, while the survey team were crashing through the 'bondu' (thorny scrub and low woodland) in search of ruined buildings, ancient quarries and tombs, the local snakes were dormant, but unfortunately not the mosquitoes—except when it was blowing a gale or winter storms were raging. Typhoons and Tornadoes were also in the air; not the meteorological kind, but RAF jets passing overhead.

Over two weeks the team, armed with cameras, notebooks and GPS kit, examined and documented more than a hundred monuments, sites and findspots. These ranged from Cyprus's oldest known site, 12,000-year-old Aetokremnos, to churches still in use. However, most belong to the Classical and early Byzantine periods, including several villages and many tombs, largely overlooking the sea. Akrotiri is a unique and fascinating maritime landscape, where--the mosquitoes aside—it is a pleasure to do archaeology, not least due to the hospitality and help of the RAF and the local Cypriot community.

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