Selected Article from the BHAS Bi-Annual magazine "Flint"
A Tale of Two Islands
In late April David Rudling led a group tour of Cyprus, based in
Limassol and Paphos, and in May Jane Russell led a trip to Jersey.
Cyprus and Jersey: two completely different islands - on the surface
at least - one bathed in the warm seas and sunshine of the
Mediterranean; the other in the rather less friendly waters and
weather of the Channel. But it's possible, in fact, to draw several
parallels between them. Both have a popular image as holiday
destinations where there will be a better chance of good weather than
on the UK mainland; both lie much closer to a foreign shore than to
the 'mother country', although both have been heavily influenced by
the culture of that nearer mainland; and both have rich, complex
histories, reaching far back into prehistory, which are little known
to the general public.
The civil strife that developed in Cyprus in the 1970s is well
with-in living memory. The movement for enosis, union with Greece,
which grew amongst the dominant Greek-speaking population led to the
split of the island between the Greek and Turkish pop-ulations and
the continuing hostile relations between the govern-ments of Greece
and Turkey. This was, however, far from being the first time that
different nations fought for control of the island which is littered
with examples of the fortifications that were built in the course of
those struggles, notably the Turkish and earlier mediaeval castles
from the era of the Crusades. We visited Li-massol Castle, built in
the 14th century on earlier Byzantine forti-fications and now a
museum of mediaeval Cyprus with some fascinating carved gravestones,
Larnaca Castle, built in 1625 under the Turks, and Kolossi Castle,
built by the Knights of St John in 1210 and rebuilt by them in the
Jersey has also had its share of recent hostilities: the Channel
Islands were the only part of Great Britain to fall under German rule
during WW 1 and concrete (literally) evidence of this can be seen all
round the island's coast. Most notable are the War Tunnels, built by
the Germans as an underground hospital but now a museum of life under
German rule. The island also has its share of mediaeval castles,
built to withstand the threat of invasion from France, with additions
from the Tudor and Na-poleonic periods. Our coach driver was
surprised that we wanted to visit Grosnez Castle because "there
is nothing there" but it was well worth the visit for the
glorious views if not the few re-maining 14th century walls. Mont
Orgueil, built in the 13th century when England lost control of
Normandy and needed to protect the islands, also has a magnificent
site and remains largely intact. When it, in its turn, became
outdated and unsuitable as a defence against newer artillery,
Elizabeth Castle was built in St Aubin's Bay. We all enjoyed our
journey out to the castle in the amphibious ferry!
On Cyprus we visited the site of a Neolithic village at Khirokitia.
Dating from 7-6,000BC this was particularly impressive, with the
footings of small round houses stretching up the hillside. If there
were earlier inhabitants on Cyprus there is no evidence of them. The
earliest known settlers, dating to about 8800 BC, probably came from
the Levant: their role in the extinction of the indigenous pygmy
species of hippo and elephant is disputed!
Dwellings from the Chalcolithic era at Lemba looked remarkably
similar in outline to Khirokitia. Replicas of the excavated houses
were built nearby and left untouched to see how they decay and
collapse and so create archaeological sites! Other sites that we
visited date to the Bronze Age, the Mycenean settlement of
Palaeokastra, and 4th-3rd BC settlements founded by later Greek
immigrants. Larnaca itself, originally Kition, was settled in the
13th century BC and became an important port for the export of copper
- from which the island derived its name.
On Jersey we were fortunate enough to be accompanied for 3 days by Dr
Matt Pope who has led excavations of Neanderthal sites on the island
for the last 6 years, notably at La Cotte, a site that once
overlooked a valley, when the Channel was a river basin, but is now
perilously located on the edge of an unstable cliff, with an approach
that is under water at high tide. A number of BHAS members risked
life and limb in the scramble round the rocky point to view the site.
We also visited La Hougue Bie, a Neolithic passage and chamber tomb,
surmounted by a mediaeval chapel, and of course we ritually crawled
through the passage!
Both Cyprus and Jersey have excellent museums. Matt Pope led us round
the prehistory section of the Societe Jersiaise museum and gave us a
clear overview of the artefacts recovered from the prehistoric sites.
The Limassol Archaeology Museum has a wealth of prehistoric ceramic
and stone artefacts as well as later bronze and iron items. Many of
the ceramic pieces were quite extraordinary, some having no obvious
practical use and suggesting flights of fancy, made by master craftsmen.
La Hougue Bie
Ceramics from Limassol Museum
Both islands proved to be fascinating locations for the
archae-ologist and historian and a visit is highly recommended - as
is the Jersey black butter ice-cream!