Swedish expedition unearths extraordinary tombs in Cyprus

These tombs, considered among the richest ever discovered in the Mediterranean, shed light on the rulers of the ancient city and its prominent role in the copper trade.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Digging of a tomb
Representational image of the digging of a tomb


A team of scholars from the University of Gothenburg discovered tombs near the historical Bronze Age trading center, Hala Sultan Tekke, in Cyprus. These tombs rank among the most opulent ever found in the Mediterranean region, offering valuable insights into the ancient city's rulership and prominence as a copper trading hub between 1500 and 1300 BCE.

Peter Fischer, professor of archaeology and leader of the expedition, explained, "Considering the richness of the grave goods, it is a reasonable assumption that these were royal tombs, even though we do not know much about the form of government practiced in the city at the time. Undoubtedly, those buried here played a significant role in the city's government."

The tombs, located beyond the sprawling 50-hectare Bronze Age city, feature underground chambers accessed via narrow passages from the surface. These chambers vary in size, with the largest measuring up to 4 x 5 meters.

The Swedish Söderberg expedition, which has been excavating in Hala Sultan Tekke near the city of Larnaca since 2010, had previously uncovered chamber tombs with valuable grave goods.

However, what distinguishes the newly discovered tombs from their predecessors is the sheer abundance and exceptional quality of the artifacts. "We unearthed more than 500 complete artifacts from two tombs, many of which are crafted from precious metals, gems, ivory, and high-quality ceramics," Fischer revealed.

How the research was carried out

The team employed magnetometers, instruments capable of imaging objects and structures up to two meters beneath the surface, to locate the tombs. By comparing a magnetometer map of an area where pottery shards had been disturbed by farming, they could identify significant cavities, leading to the discovery of these extraordinary burial sites.

Among the well-preserved skeletons found within the tombs, one discovery involved a woman's remains accompanied by dozens of ceramic vessels, jewelry, and a beautifully polished round bronze mirror. Adjacent to her lay the skeleton of a one-year-old child, accompanied by a ceramic toy.

Fischer noted, "Several individuals, both men and women, were adorned with diadems and necklaces featuring pendants of the highest quality, likely crafted in Egypt during the reigns of prominent pharaohs such as Thutmos III, Amenophis IV (Akhenaten), and his wife Nefertiti."

The diadems featured intricate embossed designs depicting bulls, gazelles, lions, and flowers. Additionally, the expedition uncovered ceramic vessels predominantly originating from Greece and pots from Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.

Bronze weapons, some adorned with ivory inlays, and a gold-framed seal crafted from the hard mineral hematite, featuring inscriptions of gods and rulers, were also discovered among the grave goods.

Fischer emphasized, "The immense wealth of these entombed individuals stemmed from the copper industry. Copper ore extracted from nearby mines in the Troodos Mountains was refined within the city, which then exported substantial quantities of refined metal to neighboring cultures. Copper was a highly prized commodity as it formed the durable alloy bronze when combined with tin, hence giving rise to the Bronze Age."