Khirokitia


Khirokitia is a Neolithic site in Cyprus. It is found between Limmasol and Lefkosia and is on a main road and well sign-posted.

Around 7000 B.C. (according to Carbon-14 dating) village communities appeared throughout Cyprus. It is suggested that these communities were the result of an influx on immigrants around that time. This is further supported by the introduction of new animals to Cyprus at about that time as well. Around 20 or so Neolithic settlements have been uncovered on Cyprus and Khirokitia is one of them.

The site of Khirokitia was first discovered in 1934 by P. Dikaios. He made six expeditions to the site between 1936 and 1946. The exploration of the site again was approved by the Department of Antiquities in 1972 and two brief operations were performed. Further study at the site was prevented by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. However, when things started setting down again, a further exploration was made in 1976 to determine the overall area of the site (quite extensive) and to prepare for further explorations. In 1977 a French team sponsored by the CNRS (the National Scientific Centre) and the General Department of Cultural, Scientific and Technical Relations of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The village itself is built on the side of a hill and contains a large number of circular dwellings built in stone. These vary in size from 2.3 to 9.2 metres in diameter (external). A pathway or road runs down through the village and an extensive stone wall has also been unearthed. A number of artifacts have been recovered from the site as well. It is well worth a visit.

Looking across the village area from the side of the hill, there are the foundation areas of many buildings present. Narrow areas between the buildings and the buildings built apparently where it was easiest to lay the foundations. A street runs through the centre of the village. Within the area photographed, there are a number of the buildings describe below. Units numbered XIX and XX were built during the same time period. Number XIX occupied the site of an earlier building which had been erected directly on virgin soil. Unit XX is possibly associated with two small neighbouring buildings and is similar to Unit IX in that it is equipped with two piers, which as in other cases must have supported a platform.

The oldest habitation phases of the village extend further back behind the wall. Amongst the excavated units there (numbers XXVII, XXVIII and XXIX) form a common group even though they are hardly visible. Each one of these had a distinct function; one was a habitation unit, the second was possibly used as a cooking area since a fireplace occupied the central space, the third was used for industrial activities such as the grinding of corn indicated by the presence of a grinder installed on a platform at the base of which a container was found, possibly for the collection of flour.

Agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting provided the necessary food resources. There is evidence for the cultivation of wheat and barley as well as legumous plants such as lentils and peas while sheep, goats and pigs were raised and fallow dear were hunted.

In the upward slope of the hill are the remains of Unit XLV with a wall 2.10 metres thick of three concentric circles of stone.

The curvature towards the interior of the upper part of the wall of the neighbouring unit no. XLVII, a distortion caused by the pressure of the earth in the steep parts of the hill, was regarded as an indication for the presence of a domed roof. In fact, roofs were flat and not domed, constructed of twigs and mud, as proven by the reconstruction of a number of collapsed remains of the roof, found over the floor in a unit destroyed by fire. The roof fragments are now exhibited in the Larnaka Museum.

In both units XVII and XVIII three of the richest tombs of the area were discovered. In accordance with burial customs of the period, the body was placed in a pit dug in the interior of the habitation unit which, however, was not abandoned. One, sometimes more broken stone vessels were deposited inside each of these graves. In two of the burials a pendant of shell and stone beads were found round the neck of the deceased. In the majority of cases, grave gifts were not provided and the body of the dead was covered with a heavy stone, as seen in the reconstruction of such a grave in the Larnaka Museum.

The first inhabitants arrived at Khirokitia (Choirokoitia) 9,000 years ago and settled on this hill that overlooks a tributary of the river Maroni. Initially the settlement occupied only a part of the hill and was protected naturally by the escarpment and artificially by the construction of a defensive wall. The settlement later spread beyond these boundaries to the western part of the hill.

The basic architectural unit is a circular structure with a flat roof. The materials used are stone blocks of light coloured limestone collected from the surrounding area and dark coloured stones from the river bed, pisè and sun dried mudbricks. A habitation unit or house may be defined as a compound of several of these units around an unroofed space.

One of the most remarkable constructions which dates to the period of expansion of the village to the west is unit IA. Its external diameter is more than 8 metres and two massive stone pillars supported a platform. Daily activities were taking place in the interior or in the smaller unit XIIA – a later addition – as well as in a courtyard to the north which was furnished with domestic installations.

The wall remained in use until the village spread beyond its boundaries to the west, on to land which was until then unoccupied. The new area was also enclosed by an impressive wall, traced for a length more than 60 metres.

The entrance to the village was a complex architectural system designed to overcome the difference in height of approximately 2 metres between the level on which the village was built and the lower ground outside. This structure, unique in both Cyprus and the Near East consists of a number of features that ensure control of the passage or entry into the village. It comprises a stairway integrated in a quadrangular structure of stones with carefully plastered surfaces resting against the exterior surface of the enclosure wall. The stairway consists of three flights of steps at right angles to each other. Access is obstructed by a second feature, still under investigation.

On passing the first control point, a visitor wishing to gain access to the village had to climb up the first flight of steps, then turn left left to climb the second and turn once more to the right to climb the third flight of steps. Once at the top he had to turn right again and walk for a few metres before he could finally enter the village, possibly by descending a few steps which were not, however, preserved.

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