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DNA Analysis Can Answer Questions about the Downfall of Bronze Age Town


Excavations at the large Bronze Age town of Hala Sultan Tekke near Larnaca, Cyprus, have yielded new results. ‘The finds reflect a cosmopolitan society with wide-ranging contacts,’ says Peter M. Fischer, the archaeologist in charge.

The archaeological expedition has found rich tombs and sacrificial pits containing gold jewellery and ceramic vessels that can be dated to 1500–1400 BCE. In addition, for the first time ever, the archaeologists have found parts of a town that were contemporary with the graves.

The expedition is led by Professor Peter M. Fischer, archaeologist from the University of Gothenburg. He has in various constellations explored Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus, since 2010. This year’s expedition involved 32 participants, both experts and students, and took place in May and June.

‘The purpose of the expedition is to explore Hala Sultan Tekke, one of the biggest Bronze Age towns in the eastern Mediterranean. We are looking closer at intercultural relations, chronology and the downfall of the Bronze Age civilisation around 1200 BCE and are performing DNA and strontium isotope analysis of skeletal remains.’

The Sea Peoples Phenomenon

The archaeological findings are of crucial importance for Fischer’s project, titled The Collapse of Bronze Age Societies in the Eastern Mediterranean: Sea Peoples in Cyprus? and funded by the Swedish Research Council.

‘The project aims to explain the decline and final demise of the Bronze Age civilisation and the controversial so-called Sea Peoples phenomenon that occurred 1225–1130 BCE. One thing we have found is that the import of goods from Italy, Crete, Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Egypt was drastically reduced around 1200 BCE. The town was destroyed and abandoned, and the reason for this is currently being investigated.’

Somewhat simplified, the Sea Peoples phenomenon is the term used to describe the supposed south-eastern migration of people from Italy during the Late Bronze Age. This development created a domino effect that led to further migration, which did not end until some groups reached Egypt and southern Levant, or today’s Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

‘This led to the downfall of several cultures, including the Mycenaean in Greece and the Hittite in Anatolia. Also Cyprus was affected and several towns were destroyed due to an invasion by other people, possibly including Hala Sultan Tekke. By using DNA analysis, we hope to be able to group the individuals buried in the graves. The most interesting thing would be to be able to show that some people came from Italy, which would support the hypothesis.’

A Rich Undisturbed Grave

The results will be published on the project website this summer. The finds include a rich undisturbed tomb containing jewellery of gold and other materials, as well as imported pottery from around 1500–1400 BCE.

‘Among the most important finds are nine haematite weights of varying size, which will give information about the weight system used.’

In another tomb from about 1200 BCE, the archaeologists found the skeleton of a woman with two children in her arms and an infant between her legs. One sacrificial pit contained tools for textile manufacturing, and a decorated ivory lid was found in another.

‘The Late Bronze Age, meaning the period from 1600 to 1100 BCE, was the first international period in human history. People around the Mediterranean Sea, especially in Cyprus, which was a hub for international trade, had contacts all over Europe. This year’s finds clearly support this claim.’

The expedition will continue in May–June 2018.
Read more:

Peter M. Fischer, Tel: +46 (0)707 53 43 17, Email:

Weights: Tomb LL, nine weights of haematite of 28.3 to 1.0 g and a whetstone from the hand of a male skeleton (c. 1500 BCE)
Minoan: Tomb LL, imported vessel from Crete (Late Minoan II/IIIA, c. 1400 BCE)
Bull: Painted bull of fired clay from an offering pit (Base-ring II, c. 1300 BCE)