Between 6 and 25 April 2017, further excavations were conducted at and around Dreamers Bay (Nisarouin: Νησαρούιν) on the southern shores of the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus. This was the third field season of a projected five on the remains of an ancient harbour and port complex conducted by the Ancient Akrotiri Project, which is led by the University of Leicester in collaboration with the University of Southampton and other partners. The 2017 work was generously funded by a grant from the Honor Frost Foundation.
The 2017 fieldwork was conducted by professional excavation staff and undergraduate students of the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology & Ancient History, with the approval of the UK Sovereign Base Areas Administration and the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities, with the support and assistance of RAF Akrotiri, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, and Western Sovereign Base Area Archaeological Society. The Leicester team conducted the onshore archaeological work, as part of a wider collaborative effort with the University of Southampton leading on the marine and geomorphological aspects. The overall objective is to build up a fuller picture of the ancient port as part of the ancient settlement landscape of the Akrotiri Peninsula, in the context of the southern coast of Cyprus and eastern Mediterranean seaways.
As in 2015 and 2016, efforts focused on the remains of stone buildings close to the shoreline exposed by winter storms and eroding into the sea, and on a further masonry structure on the hilltop above, all within the confines of the UK’s RAF Akrotiri airbase.
Some years ago these buildings underwent initial investigations by the University of Buffalo, and were believed to comprise elements of a late Roman/early Byzantine port facility, perhaps serving the major Greco-Roman city of Kourion c.13km to the north. Connections between these onshore structures and submerged archaeological remains in the bay to the east, including a masonry breakwater, remain to be investigated. The present programme of work is intended to document and record the endangered shoreline structures, to establish their nature and date, to characterise and date the hilltop site, and later to document the submerged remains in the adjacent ancient harbour.
Walls of buildings are visible on the surface close to the water’s edge at various points along the entire c.0.5km of low shoreline at Dreamers Bay, on the southern coast of the peninsula which otherwise entirely comprises very steep slopes or vertical cliffs up to 40m high. In 2016 the visible remains and their surroundings had been cleaned for examination and selective excavation initiated. The structures were found to be more extensive and more complex than the simple rectangular ‘warehouses’ they were hitherto presumed to be. Several are now seen to have internal subdivisions, and/or to possess adjacent walled courtyards containing evidence of activity in the form of pits with burned deposits, perhaps indicating industrial processes.
Excavations continued in a building in Area 2 midway along the scatter of structures, where in 2016 complete vessels buried under collapsed walls suggested possible destruction by earthquake. Opening a larger area confirmed this picture, revealing a stone-founded building probably with mud-brick superstructure but no evidence of roofing materials. A number of complete amphorae and cooking vessels were recovered, some virtually intact. The working hypothesis is that this building may have been destroyed in the mid-fourth-century AD earthquake which also destroyed Kourion, and was thereafter abandoned undisturbed.
Excavations continued in part of another building in Area 4, at the eastern end of the low ground facing into the bay, where complex stratigraphy had been initially explored in 2015 and 2016. This comprised a complex pattern of walls, occupation levels and burnt deposits. In contrast to the Area 2 building, Area 4 is now seen to comprise probably three phases of activity, beginning with a rock-cut ditch, succeeded by a stone-founded building attested by a robber trench containing 250kg of freshly broken pottery, largely amphorae. This material is yet to be studied, but it may be that it represents destruction by the earthquake thought responsible for the collapse of the Area 2 building. However, in this area the site was cleared for rebuilding on different lines, the earlier foundations robbed for construction stone, and the shattered building contents used to pack the robber trench. The pattern of wall foundations now seen would therefore represent a late, post-earthquake phase. In this area, the entire sequence still appears to belong to the later Roman to early Byzantine periods.
Other finds from the buildings this year included more copper alloy objects, comprising nails thought to come from boats, a small square weight and a large (sailmaker’s?) needle.
Work in Area 7 on the hill crest c.650m north of the shoreline buildings, at a point offering panoramic views of the coast almost from Cape Gata to the east round to Kourion in the north west, saw extensions of the excavated area to locate and characterise the west and north limits of the masonry building complex initially investigated in 2015 and 2016. The site appears to be defined by substantial, but not defensive walls. The northern extension revealed an area on terracotta flooring, and part of what may be a half-octagonal apse. The nature, sequence and dating of the complex remain under investigation, but it is clearly late Antique.
During the season, colleagues from the University of Southampton continued work to assess the nature of the marine environment at Dreamers Bay and around the coasts of the former Akrotiri island, especially seeking indications of ancient sea level and potential former anchorage locations. The maritime orientated survey was conducted over a six-day period during the field season and focused on the shorelines that were more accessible for survey from the land. Indicators of former sea-levels were identified in the form of beachrock formation, coastal erosion, palaeo sea-level indicators, and rock cuttings. Extensive areas of ceramic scatters were located on the south-western extent of the former island probably associated with the Early Byzantine site of Katalimata ton Plakaton (Procopiou 2015), and on the eastern shores in the region of Arkosykia Bay. In addition, areas of quarrying and rock cut features were also identified in various locations around the shore. A number of possible harbour locations were identified and will be targeted for further investigation in subsequent seasons.
Overall the results of the season were highly satisfactory, and have laid the basis for the next stages of the field programme, onshore and especially underwater, in 2018.
Simon James, Vicki Score, Lucy Blue and Ferreol Salamon