Freshmen Study Archaeology and Geology on Cyprus

A group of freshmen traveled to Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean for a week-long study of the island’s geology and archaeology. The trip gave them the opportunity to conduct geophysical and archaeological surveys in the town of Polis Chrysochous on the northwest coast. The freshman seminar, “Earth’s Environments and Ancient Civilizations,” was co-taught by Professors Adam Maloof and Frederik Simons of the Department of Geosciences and Joanna S. Smith, codirector, with Professor Emeritus William Childs, of the excavations at Polis and an associate professional specialist and lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology.

The students first traveled to the Troodos Mountain range, a destination for geologists from all over the world who seek to study sections of the ancient sea floor. Two days of walking up the mountain took students back through 100 million years of geological history. Then, based in the town of Polis Chrysochous, the group divided into teams, some traveling outside the town to study the early geological history of the island, and some exploring the archaeology and history of the ancient cities buried beneath Polis: Marion, founded by the 8th century BCE and destroyed by the 3rd century BCE, and Arsinoe, which was founded ca. 270 BCE and was still thriving in the 1500s CE.

The students’ archaeological survey recorded the landscape and traces of human activity, such as ceramics, building materials, and mosaic pieces visible above ground. The geophysical techniques—magnetometry, electrical resistivity tomography, and ground-penetrating radar—allowed them to document architectural remains that are preserved below ground. In all cases the students contributed to the long-term aims of the archaeological project in Polis to document the extent and complexity of the ancient cities of Marion and Arsinoe. In particular, they mapped the area around an Iron Age sanctuary at Polis-Peristeries, from ancient Marion, and provided information about the settlement area between two excavated Late Antique churches, from the city of Arsinoe. Students also had the opportunity to examine first-hand the ancient sculpture, pottery, and other objects found in the excavations and now kept in the Local Museum of Marion and Arsinoe.

The group also traveled to several other archaeological sites, including the Tombs of the Kings in Nea Paphos, which date back to the 4th century BCE. The monumental tombs are cut into fossilized sand dunes, which made for a visit that had both archaeological and geological interest. After examining the form of the tombs and discussing their political and social contexts, students turned to a study of the stratigraphy of the layers of sand to determine ancient wind patterns. The group also visited ancient copper mining areas in the foothills of the Troodos, the Archaic period rock-cut tombs at Tamassos, the mosaics in the House of Dionysus in the Roman settlement of Nea Paphos, the Bronze Age and later Roman sanctuary of Aphrodite, as well as the archaeological museum at Kouklia, the spectacularly sited Roman theater at Kourion, and the Neolithic settlement of Chirokitia.

This freshman seminar was funded by the Dean of the College’s 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, the Richard L. Smith ’70 Freshman Seminars, and the Department of Geosciences.

Students using GPS equipment at Polis, Cyprus