Egyptian Jewelry, Mesopotamian Seal Found in Cyprus Offer Clues to Bronze Age Trade Networks

Artifacts found in a pair of tombs on the Mediterranean island speak to the interconnected nature of the ancient world

Some of the jewelry found in the tombs resembles designs worn by Queen Nefertiti. Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

Archaeologists excavating a pair of Bronze Age tombs on the island of Cyprus have discovered a trove of treasures from across the ancient world, including gold jewelry similar to specimens worn by Queen Nefertiti of Egypt and a carved seal from a kingdom in what is now Iraq, reports Stacy Liberatore for the the Daily Mail. The 500 or so artifacts found at the site date to between roughly 1500 and 1350 B.C.E.

The two tombs contained 155 skeletons, one of which belonged to a child bedecked in gold jewelry. Laid on top of each other in a series of underground chambers, the bodies likely represent several generations of local elites. Recovery of the remains took several years because salty conditions had made the bones too fragile to extract.

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city,” says Peter Fischer, leader of the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition, in a statement. “For example, we found the skeleton of a 5-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family.”

Gold necklace
Gold necklace found at the site Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

Fischer and his team began excavating the ruins of Hala Sultan Tekke in 2010 but only discovered the tombs in 2018. According to the archaeologist’s website, objects found during this year’s dig include an ivory comb, scarab amulets, a bovine-shaped vessel and various ceramics.

“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,” says Fischer.

A highlight of the cache was a gold pendant featuring a lotus flower inlaid with gemstones. As Daily Sabah notes, the design is comparable to accessories worn by Nefertiti, who ruled Egypt alongside her husband, Akhenaten, around the time when the tombs were in use.

Another notable find was a cylinder-shaped seal made of hematite and inscribed in cuneiform, the written language of ancient Mesopotamia, reports Egypt Independent.

“The text consists of three lines and mentions three names,” says Fischer. “One is Amurru, a god worshipped 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, [that is] the 18th century B.C.E.”

A large ceramic pot featuring Grecian war chariots Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge

The archaeologist adds, “We are currently trying to determine why the seal ended up in Cyprus more than [600 miles] from where it was made.”

In addition to the jewelry and seal, the researchers discovered a wide range of gemstones, including a red carnelian from India, a blue lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and amber from the Baltic Sea. They also found the remains of a fish imported from the Nile River.

The variety of Middle Eastern items present at the site underscores Cyprus’ importance as an ancient trading port.

“What fascinates me most is the wide-ranging network of contacts they had 3,400 years ago,” says Fischer in the statement.

Next, the researchers plan to conduct DNA analysis of the skeletal remains.

“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,” Fischer says.

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