Photo credit: Christopher Rose
Photo credit: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
- Site name: Choirokoitia (original name was Khirokitia)
- Location: Cyprus [Larnaca District]
- Year of inscription: 1998
- Nomination criteria: (ii) – Cyprus was important in the interchange of human values/culture from the Near East to Europe during the prehistoric period. (iii) – The Choirokoitia site is very well-preserved and has provided a lot of important scientific data pertaining to the spread of civilizations and cultures from Asia to Europe/the Mediterranean region. (iv) – Choirokoitia clearly shows the beginnings of “proto-urban” settlement in the Mediterranean and other nearby regions. In other words, it is a great representation of the Neolithic era.
- Total number of Heritage Sites in Cyprus: 3 (all of which are cultural)
Basic Archaeological Site information:
- Site size: 1.5 ha
- Time Period: 7000-4000 BC.
- Cultural Period: Aceramic (Pre-Pottery) Proto-Neolithic and Ceramic (Pottery) Neolithic periods
- Cultural Group(s): It was most likely founded and inhabited by people from Anatolia (which is the westernmost part of Asia/present-day Turkey) or the Levant (which is the Eastern Mediterranean/present-day Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Cyprus).
Choirokoitia is a Neolithic settlement located on the eastern foothills of the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus and 6 km from the Mediterranean Sea. This site was discovered in 1934 by an archaeologist named Porphyros Dikaios, who was then assigned to excavate the area from 1936 to 1946. Other “smaller” excavations took place in 1972 and 1976, and then, from 1977 to the present, Frenchman Alain Le Brun of the “Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique” took over. Choirokhoitia is arguably the most important and representative Neolithic site in Cyprus. Its discovery has led to many significant findings about the establishment and evolution of an original Neolithic civilization.
The settlement was protected by a large defensive wall (3m in height) on its western border and by a river and the slopes of the mountain range on the other sides. There were gateways and long staircases that provided more security from strangers. The houses were circular with various diameters, ranging from about 2-9m. They were made of limestone, mud, and rammed earth (a mixture also known as pisé). Usually, the outside consisted of stone, while the inside was made of clay, brick, or pisé. The flat roofs were made of tree branches, straw, and reeds, and clay and mud were put on top of them. More importantly, though, the objects found inside these houses provided a great insight to the culture of this Neolithic civilization. Cereal harvesting (and other agricultural) tools were found, along with burnt wheat and lentils, indicating that these people were farmers. Bones of sheep, goats, and pigs were also found, which showed that these people brought animals from Asia Minor to Cyprus and participated in raising livestock. Furthermore, diabase, a subvolcanic rock characteristic of the Aceramic Neolithic era, was found to comprise pots and stone vessels, further providing evidence of the origins of this specific civilization. However, the most important findings were those that provided evidence of elaborate religious practices. First off, the people of Choirokoitia had unique human burials that consisted of burying their dead beneath the floors of their houses. They first dug a pit and placed the body into it, usually facing the right side. Broken pots were then placed into the grave. Next, a large stone was put on the body to prevent the dead from coming back to life. Finally, the pit was filled, thereby recreating the floor of the house. Another reason to believe that these people were spiritual is the discovery of anthropomorphic figurines made of stone and clay, which were possibly used as symbols/idols of their god(s).
The archaeological site of Choirokoitia is important to world heritage in many ways. As stated before, it is one of the most significant Pre-Pottery (Aceramic), Proto-Neolithic sites in the Mediterranean region. Because it is so well-preserved (and because the village was occupied for a very long time), it clearly shows the way in which a group of people came from Asia to a Mediterranean island, settled there, spread its culture to a new area, and evolved as a civilization. Finally, because only a part of the site has been excavated, it provides ample opportunities for more studies to be done in the future.
There are no known threats to this site at this time. The site is excellently preserved, and officials are careful in preventing any alterations resulting from tourism.
World Heritage Site: http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/choirokoitia.html
This is the village of Khirokitia’s website: http://www.khirokitia.org/english/index.shtm Among other interesting facts about the village itself, there is a section entitled “Neolithic Settlement Khirokitias” that specifically talks about the archaeological site and has a few pictures of the types of tools found upon excavation.
This website is that of the Department of Antiquities in Cyprus:
http://www.mcw.gov.cy/mcw/da/da.nsf/All/4EF92D50616EFE49C225719B00314171?OpenDocument It shows aerial views of the site, a Choirokoitia burial, more pictures of tools, and visiting information (days/times it is open and admissions fees).
Additional Information/Fun Facts:
- There have been no reconstructions on the actual Choirokoitia site. However, 5 houses and part of the wall have been created near the site in order to help tourists gain a better understanding of the history and architecture.
- Because there have been no on-site reconstructions of the excavated remains, the site is considered to be “totally/completely authentic”.
- Many excavated pieces of pottery had geometrical designs on them.
- It is said that the life expectancy in Choirokoitia was about 35 years.
See “Links/Media” section, along with http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/848/