The Western Cyprus Geoarchaeological Survey

Archaeologists, anthropologists and historians have yet investigated many aspects of former Cypriot life. However, in what environment past activities took place on Cyprus is still rather unknown. Moreover, what impact Cypriot people had on the landscape also has been rarely addressed. Many archaeological surveys have been conducted on Cyprus. However, only little is known of the former landscapes in which these sites were located. Furthermore, the impact of geological processes imposed on the archaeological record is mostly rather underestimated in archaeological surveys. This project focuses on these particular questionnaires in order to contribute to the understanding of Cypriot archaeological sites in the landscape.

Fieldwork consists of studying river terraces and exposed fluvial sediments from the Stavros-tis-Psokas, Ezousas, Xeropotamos, Dhiarizos and Agriokalamos river valleys (Figure 1). Geomorphological mapping, including description of test pits and other exposures, is not an easy task in the heavily bulldozed landscape of western Cyprus. Some 30 fluvial sections have been cut back with sediment samples and chronological data collected from them. About 300 sediment samples were retrieved for laboratory tests to quantify their chemical, magnetic and physical properties, as well the rock types present.

One of the most important goals of this research is to establish a chronology for the fluvial deposits. A preliminary fluvial chronology was achieved through thermoluminescence (TL) screening of 69 sherds (Deckers et al. 2005). In addition, eight sediment samples were dated using the single aliquot regenerative-optically stimulated luminescence (SAR-OSL) method (Deckers 2002; Spencer et al. 2003).

Along all investigated streams an extensive presence of Medieval and more recent fluvial deposits has been discovered (e.g. in Figure 2). Fluvial deposits probably dating to the Byzantine period could be a result of the drier conditions. However, some deposits suggest anthropogenic influence as well. The widespread river deposition on Cyprus during the Frankish Period was probably caused by wetter conditions, which increased the frequency of overbank flooding. Moreover, increased agricultural production and mining, and smelting activities might have triggered erosion and subsequent deposition in the river valleys as indicated at some localities. Fluvial deposition during the Ottoman Period may be correlated with wetter climatic conditions of the ‘Little Ice Age‘. The presence of Medieval and more recent fluvial deposits in the eastern Mediterranean has important implications for archaeological survey and understanding settlement patterns, explaining, for example, why valley floors and terraces are devoid of any sites older than a few centuries (see in more detail in Deckers in press).

One of the future aims of the project consists of studying the earlier Holocene fluvial deposits, which are much scarcer present within the landscape (see e.g. in Deckers 2003). As an example, the exposed lower units of the alluvial fan at Souskiou along the Dhiarizos proved to be early Holocene as dated by OSL dating of sediments (Figure 3). Other possibly earlier Holocene alluviation evidence is present along the Ezousas near Ayia Varvara (section EZA). The scarcity of earlier Holocene fluvial deposits might be real, though it might also reflect the episodic nature of alluvial processes. Recent major cycles of erosion may have destroyed or displaced earlier evidence (cf. also in Lewin and Macklin 2003). Further morphological mapping and dating research may enhance our insight into this problem and will focus on its archaeological implications.


Deckers, K. (2002a) Cypriot Archaeological Sites in the Landscape: An Alluvial Geoarchaeological Approach. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh.

Deckers, K. 2003 The Western Cyprus Geoarchaeological Survey: Some Case Studies. Brysbaert, A.; de Bruijn, N.; Gibson, E.; Michael, A. and Monaghan, M. (eds) SOMA. Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology (British Archaeological Reports 1142) Oxford, 27-34.

Deckers, K. in press. Post-Roman history of river systems in Western Cyprus: Causes and archaeological implications. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology.

Deckers, K. 2003. The Western Cyprus Geoarchaeological Survey: Some Case Studies. In: Brysbaert, A., de Bruijn, N.; Gibson, E.; Michael, A. and Monaghan, M. (eds) SOMA. Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology (British Archaeological Reports 1142) Oxford, 27-34.

Lewin, J. and M.G. Macklin 1995. Mediterranean Quaternary River Environments – Some Future Research Needs. J. Lewin, M.G. Macklin and J. Woodward (eds.), Mediterranean Quaternary River Environments, 183-94. Rotterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Spencer, J.Q.; Sanderson, D.C.W.; Deckers, K. and Sommerville, A. 2003. Assessing Mixed Dose Distribution in Young Sediments identified using Small Aliquots and a Simple Two-Step SAR Procedure: The F-Statistic as a Diagnostic Tool. Radiation Measurements 37: 425-431.