The Principles Go Abroad Fund allowed me to travel to Cyprus for six weeks to partake in the Prastio Mesorotsos Archaeological Field School. The site of Prastio is located 25 kilometres inland from the coastal resort of Paphos. A multi period site with a near continual habitation from the Neolithic to the middle of the 20th century, working at Prastio offered the opportunity to learn about a wide span of historic and prehistoric Cypriot archaeology.
Kouklia – Excavation HQ
The excavation headquarters were based in the modern day village of Kouklia near the south-western coast of the island. Kouklia itself is historically significant; the village is built in the area of “Palaepaphos”, mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. Old Paphos became the centre for her worship in the ancient world, and at Kouklia archaeologists have uncovered the remains of the earliest monumental temple to the cult of Aphrodite. Although considerably smaller than the coastal resort of Paphos, the village may be considered in its own right a bustling tourist hub, with many people coming from far afield to visit the famous temple.
As on most archaeological excavations, we were living dorm style. The students’ accommodation was located in a villa above one of the most prominent taverns in Kouklia town square. Being located in the main square definitely contributed to the festive atmosphere in the evening, as traditional Cypriot musicians and dancers would often parade the square.
Experimental Archaeology and Neolithic Feasting
The highlight of the field school was an experimental project which the field director had planned in addition to the excavation. As this was my first experience of experimental archaeology, I was unsure as to what it would involve. However, I was excited upon my arrival to find out that we would be recreating a large pit oven which had been excavated at the site the previous year and which was interpreted as having been used for large scale ceremonial feasting during the Neolithic. The project was to be an ethnographic study with an aim to better understanding the methodological processes used by prehistoric peoples in its construction.
The experimental project was physically demanding and involved the digging of a large hole and lining it with rounded igneous rocks taken from a nearby river. Into this pit was put a goat and a pig which would be cooked using only the same resources and methods available to Neolithic peoples. The culmination of this process was a feast to which over 200 individuals from the Cypriot archaeological community where invited. Fortunately, the techniques which were used to recreate the cooking process were effective and the feast was a success.
All in, I feel very privileged to be given the opportunity to be involved in the expedition. It allowed me to gain valuable experience in a variety of the practical excavation skills that are required to work effectively onsite in this field. Moreover, the experimental project generated a public interest in archaeology in the area we were working and helped to create a sense of communitas among the Cypriot archaeological community.