One of the things that surprised me about Cyprus was how ancient and multi-layered its history was. The island was occupied not just by the Romans, but by the Greeks and the Egyptians as well, to say nothing of the waves of invaders who followed them. And I was certainly not expecting to find a neolithic village 9,000 years old, complete with stone huts and city walls. This is Choirokitia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 35 km west of Larnaca.
An Advanced Neolithic Society
Choirokitia was occupied from the 7th to 5th millennia BC. By way of comparison, Stonehenge in England was built around 3000 BC and the Pyramids came around 2600 BC. Yet, despite its antiquity, the village was advanced for its time, with individual dwelling huts, and surrounded by a strong stone wall.
Archaeologists have pieced together a picture of how people lived in Choirokitia. The population was around 300-400, and tools, vessels and animal remains have been found. There is also evidence of funerary rituals and religious beliefs. The walls (there were at least three walls at different times) are intriguing. Despite the considerable effort needed to build them, it isn’t thought that the walls were built to defend the community from enemies or wild animals. The purpose seems to have been social, perhaps a way of identifying the village and creating a sense of belonging.
The village is built on a tall hill. In fact, there were a number of successive villages on different parts of the hill, because the first site was on a steep slope subject to erosion. Visitors can walk up the slope and see where the walls and huts were built at different times, and look at the excavated remains of huts. For many visitors the highlight of the site is the reconstructed wall and huts near the entrance. You can see the size and shape of the dwelling huts, and imagine what it might have been like to climb the stone stairway and enter the enclosed village.
Choirokitia was only discovered in the mid-20th century, meaning that only a small part has been excavated. One of the reasons for the UNESCO inscription is that there are untouched parts of the site which will be available to future generations of archaeologists. It seems as if there is a lot more to learn about Choirokitia!