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Rescue excavation at threatened Cypriot archaeological site

Foundations of one of a number of late Roman or early Byzantine harbour buildings exposed by winter storm wave action at Dreamer’s Bay, Akrotiri. (Photo: Prof Simon James, University of Leicester)

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester are in a race against time to uncover the heritage of a threatened 1,500-year-old site on a Cyprus shoreline, they said on Wednesday.

Between September 9 and 23 an expert team, from the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, will conduct a small-scale archaeological excavation at Dreamer’s Bay, inside the UK’s Cyprus airbase, RAF Akrotiri.

“This site, a late Roman/early Byzantine harbour complex, is a significant part of the heritage of the Akrotiri Peninsula, and has been known about for some decades but not adequately explored and documented,” an announcement from the University said.
The archaeological project is being led by the University of Leicester School of Archaeology & Ancient History in close collaboration with a range of other partners, stakeholders and authorities, it added.

Simon James, Professor of Archaeology at Leicester, said: “We aim to conduct a rescue excavation on wave-threatened heritage remains along the shoreline, in the form of a series of simple masonry buildings, probably warehouses, which appear to belong to the port which existed here in late Roman/early Byzantine times, probably between AD 300 and 600. “These structures are being rapidly eroded by the sea during winter storms,” he added.

James said the exploration and recording had been identified as a priority by the environment team of the UK’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation which is responsible for looking after the land on which RAF Akrotiri stands. The work is also being conducted with the agreement of the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities, he said.

The September exercise is to act as a pilot for a proposed larger scale and longer term research programme on the archaeology of the peninsula: the Ancient Akrotiri Project. It will be led by the University of Leicester School of Archaeology & Ancient History, in close collaboration with a range of other partners, stakeholders and authorities. These already including British Forces Cyprus, plus the Department of Antiquities and the Western Sovereign Base Area Archaeological Society.

“Our excavation will also provide an opportunity for further reconnaissance of the archaeology of the peninsula and for discussions regarding future fieldwork plans, at Dreamer’s Bay and we hope other sites, on a larger scale,” said James.
He added that the aim of the initiative was for it to be more than an academic research project.

“Our wider mission as an educational institution includes heritage preservation and communication, outreach, widening participation and public engagement in archaeology,” he added.

“I am already in contact with local schools, and we hope to conduct a questionnaire survey of public attitudes to the heritage among the base community at RAF Akrotiri during our stay.”

The September work is being funded by a small research development grant from the University of Leicester. The University team will comprise six staff, including several professional field archaeologists from its in-house commercial unit, University of Leicester Archaeological Services.
Philip Abramson, from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, said: “Dreamer’s Bay is one of the most impressive archaeological sites on RAF Akrotiri and as an Archaeology Advisor for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation I am all too aware that it is being eroded by the wind, the rain and the sea”

 

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