Study reveals more details about the Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke

The site of Hala Sultan Tekke, named after a nearby mosque, flourished for around 500 years as a lively trading hub.

The latest research at the Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke, situated on the south coast of Cyprus near Larnaca, has provided new evidence confirming its importance as an international maritime trading hub between c.1700 and 1150 BC.

Since 2010, excavations led by Peter M Fischer, emeritus professor at the University of Gothenburg, have uncovered evidence of large-scale textile and copper production, along with a diverse array of artefacts imported from neighbouring regions and further afield.

Copper slag from one of the city’s workshops. Photo: T. Bürge

During the Bronze Age, Cyprus was the largest copper producer around the Mediterranean. The site of Hala Sultan Tekke, named after a nearby mosque, flourished for around 500 years as a lively trading hub.

Previous excavations in the city have uncovered evidence for extensive copper production in the form of smelting furnaces, cast moulds, and slag.

The latest study, published last month in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has shed further light on the layout and size of Hala Sultan Tekke.

‘Our investigations and excavations show that Hala Sultan Tekke was larger than was previously thought, covering an area of some 25 to 50 hectares, which is a big city by that period’s standards. Usually, settlements at this time and in this area covered only a few hectares,’ said Peter Fischer.

Geophysical surveys have also indicated the presence of a roughly 1km-long structure enclosing an area of 14ha in the centre of the city. Subsequent test trenching indicates that this may have been a city wall and moat.

Huge quantities of imported pottery, jewellery, and other luxury goods made of gold, silver, and ivory have been uncovered since fieldwork began.

Imported goods found at Hala Sultan Tekke: a bowl from Sardinia (1), a violin bow fibula from Italy (2), a painted vase from Crete (3), a Mycenaean pot (4), Red Lustrous Wheel-made ware from Türkiye (5). Photos: T. Bürge
Lentoid flask from the Levant (6), a scarab signet from Egypt (7), a cylinder from Iraq (8), necklace with beads and a scarab featuring the seal of Ramesses II from Egypt (9). Photos: T. Bürge

Lead isotope analysis of bronze tools produced results consistent with lead ores and copper ingots from Sardinia. Other finds include a signet from Mesopotamia, a lapis lazuli gemstone from Afghanistan, faience vessels and ivory objects from Egypt, as well as scarabs featuring seals of Pharaohs including Thutmose II, Akhenaten, and Ramesses I.

Visual examination of pottery has been used to distinguish between locally produced and imported ceramic wares. The assemblage includes luxurious painted tableware from the Mycenaean and Minoan cultures, as well as amphora from the Levant.

The collapse of Hala Sultan Tekke just after 1200 BC has often been attributed to the ‘Sea Peoples’, who invaded the eastern Mediterranean around this time and brought about the demise of other Bronze Age civilisations.

However, as Mr Fischer explains: ‘Our research in recent years has given more nuance to this explanation. For example, there are now new interpretations of written sources from this period in Anatolia (modern-day Türkiye), Syria, and Egypt, which tell of epidemics, famine, revolutions and acts of war by invading peoples. In addition, our investigations indicate that a deterioration in the climate was a contributing factor.’

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