Dreamer’s Bay lies on the southern coast of the Akrotiri peninsula (akrotiri meaning ‘promontory’). The peninsula is a unique and, by comparison with much of the rest of coastal Cyprus, exceptionally well-preserved block of coastal land, famed for its wildlife. It also contains extensive and important archaeological remains, most famously the Aetokremnos site with pygmy hippo bones and the earliest evidence of human activity on Cyprus (c.12,000 cal. BP: Simmons 2001, 2013).
The peninsula comprises a rocky former island, 9.6km long from Cape Zevgari in the west to Cape Gata in the east, and about 3.5km north-south. The land rises gently from north to south, reaching 60m above sea level, and terminating on its southern edge in cliffs, except for a stretch of low shoreline at Dreamer’s Bay. Akrotiri is now connected to Cyprus proper on the west side by a massive tombolo beach of large pebbles, and on the east side by a broad sand beach which runs into the outskirts of Limassol.
The southern coast of the peninsula consists of high cliffs or very steep eroding slopes except for one area in the west about 600m long, where a stretch of lower-lying land projects somewhat into the sea. Here, around Dreamer’s Bay, the shoreline stands nowhere more than about 5m above sea level, with eroding rocky ledges and inlets, some of which have accumulated tiny sandy beaches. In this area human communications between sea and land are practicable, especially as the bay to the east formed a practicable natural anchorage, its use confirmed by the submerged ancient artificial breakwater, anchors and other archaeological remains known on the sea floor. This part of the southern coast has been largely protected from human interference by its location within the UK RAF base security perimeter, but in an area away from the main airfield complex and residential zone. With the exception of vehicle tracks and some surface features, it is largely undisturbed. However, its location on the coast and the soft bedrock has resulted in erosion and many of the walls are visible in wave-scoured surfaces and cliff edges eroding into the sea.
Remains of masonry buildings along the shoreline at Dreamer’s bay were reportedly first exposed during heavy rains c.1973-4 (Heywood 1982, p.167). The remains visible on the surface at the start of the project in 2015 comprised masonry wall foundations and scatters of pottery and other material at various points along the east-west shoreline. In the 1980s, in the cliff-lined bay east of the known shoreline buildings, a submerged artificial breakwater, built on an existing area of reef, was spotted from the air, and subsequently captured by aerial photography. It was subject to preliminary survey work by local avocational archaeology workers which identified ancient anchors and ceramic concentrations thought to attest wrecks (Leonard and Demesticha 2004). The breakwater remains undated, but it has been suggested it is Hellenistic (Leonard et al. 2007).
Since 2000, survey work conducted by John Leonard and Stella Demesticha (Leonard and Demesticha 2004) led to a wider US/Canadian project at Dreamer’s Bay. This was unfortunately cut short due to funding problems and the tragic early death of Danielle Parks (Leonard et al. 2006; Leonard et al. 2007; Ault 2010; Ault and Leonard forthcoming). Work at the site was largely confined to cleaning and recording of some of the remains, some experimental geophysical survey work, and a start on survey of the submerged archaeology. Examination of the onshore evidence indicated that the buildings appeared to be associated with extensive quantities of overwhelmingly late Roman/early Byzantine ceramics, although some Hellenistic and earlier Roman material was also noted. The structures were identified as probably warehouses (horrea) rather than residential.
Archaeological remains inside RAF Akrotiri and the wider UK Sovereign Base Areas belong to the Republic of Cyprus, although they are in the stewardship of the Sovereign Base Areas Administration, and are monitored by DIO’s archaeology team, specifically Philip Abramson. His inspection of the exposed shoreline remains confirmed they were under immediate threat, due to intense rainfall runoff and waves during winter storms eroding them into the sea.
The School of Archaeology & Ancient History has broad expertise in Mediterranean archaeology, although not previously in Cyprus. The School entered discussions with DIO regarding undertaking the urgent archaeological rescue work at Dreamer’s Bay as the potential first stage of a wider university research fieldwork scheme on the peninsula (the Ancient Akrotiri Project). Even as plans were developed to investigate the remains at Dreamer’s Bay, it was soon apparent these could only be understood in relation to the rest of the archaeology of the peninsula, in the setting of the wider region of south central Cyprus, especially the contemporaneous city-states of Kourion and Amathous; hence the choice of project name. The project has also been a collaboration from the outset. While led by the University of Leicester, the planned comprehensive study of the ancient port required underwater research, and so the UK’s leading centre of maritime archaeological expertise, the University of Southampton, was invited to participate. Led by Dr Lucy Blue, Southampton’s contribution also included geomorphological aspects, now undertaken by Miltiadis Polidorou of the University of Athens (this is also being supported by the Foundation and more details can be found here, as well as a recent study by Dr Salomon on the geoarchaeology of the peninsula which can be found here).
As of 2018, we are delighted to report that Prof Stella Demesticha of the University of Cyprus is also participating. Just as important as the academic partnerships are the close collaborations with UK MOD and the Republic of Cyprus Dept of Antiquities, the Akrotiri Environmental Education Centre and the WSBA Archaeological Society, which make the project possible.
The research questions at Dreamer’s Bay include:
- What is the nature and extent of the occupation? It clearly involved harbour works and apparently had peripheral cemeteries, but how large was the built-up area, and what can we discover about its layout and nature?
- When was it established, and how and why did it develop? Was it indeed a Hellenistic foundation as has been posited? Was its flourishing related to the silting up of the channel which turned Akrotiri from island to peninsula, creating a need or opportunity for a harbour at the site? Did the earthquake which devastated Kourion and its region around the AD360s play any role?
- What trading functions did the site have, and with which Mediterranean trade routes did it engage?
- How did it meet its end?
- What might be done to preserve the archaeological remains, and to present the evidence to public audiences?
Excavation and survey of the ancient port landscape at Akrotiri-Dreamers Bay, Spring 2018 – Prof Simon James
Between 30 March and 16 April 2018, the Ancient Akrotiri Project conducted a fourth season of archaeological fieldwork and public outreach activities at Akrotiri, Cyprus, generously funded by the Honor Frost Foundation, at and around Dreamers Bay (Nissarouin) on the southern shores of the peninsula, within the confines of the UK’s RAF airbase. As […]
Excavations of Roman/early Byzantine port structures at Dreamers Bay, Akrotiri – Prof Simon James – 2017
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 […]