Cyprus Embassy Co-Sponsors Lecture with National Geographic Society

By Curtiss, Richard | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 2000 | Go to article overview

Cyprus Embassy Co-Sponsors Lecture with National Geographic Society


Curtiss, Richard, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


CYPRUS EMBASSY CO-SPONSORS LECTURE WITH NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY

Vassos Karageorghis, "dean" of Cypriot archeology and former director of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, was the featured speaker Oct. 20 at a program in the National Geographic Society's lecture series "Exploring the Past." The program, entitled "Cyprus: Crossroads of the Ancient Mediterranean," attracted unprecedented interest, with every seat in the Society's Washington, DC auditorium sold almost as soon as the lecture was announced.

National Geographic Society president Terry Adamson introduced Cypriot Ambassador Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, co-sponsor of the program, who reminded the audience that Cyprus's origins date back to Neolithic times. "It is said that the culture of Cyprus was never broken," Ambassador Kozakou-Marcoullis said. "There are few places where so many inheritances of the past remain."

In introducing Dr. Karageorghis she noted that he "started as a child collecting shards of ancient pottery from the olive groves" and after World War II traveled to the University of London to study archeology. Later he founded and directed the archeological research department at the University of Cyprus, and now he lectures at Harvard University and is an adviser to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was founded originally to house a vast collection of antiquities brought from Cyprus to the United States by a former U.S. consul general there.

In a humor-laced talk illustrated with slides of many of the ancient sites and objects he was describing, Dr. Karageorghis, author of 68 books and more than 3,000 articles and papers, noted that Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, has always been a "bone of contention among all those who wished political dominance in the Mediterranean.

"The island's first inhabitants crossed the narrow straits that separate the coasts of Cyprus from those of Asia Minor and Syria-Palestine in small boats as early as the 10th millennium BC," Karageorghis said. "Though it is not possible to speak of real trade in the third millennium BC, it is then that the first foreign goods make their appearance on the island, namely beads of faience and vases of alabaster...No doubt by the end of the third millennium BC and the beginning of the second millennium, there must have been large ships sailing in the Mediterranean and these made possible the transport of heavy and large commodities such as oxen and horses and heavy loads of copper ingots. The ox and the horse make their first appearance on the island by the end of the third millennium and they must have revolutionized the life of the Cypriots, especially agriculture and transport."

A shipwreck excavated in recent years at Ulu Burun off the southwest coast of Turkey and dating to the end of the 14th century BC, has been identified as a Cypriot ship. It was sailing from east to west when it sank and its cargo attests to the key role that Cypriot copper mines played in the economy of the island. "It contained some 10 tons of copper, a quantity which was well beyond the possibilities of an individual merchant to assemble, considering the labor and the amount of timber necessary for the smelting," Dr. Karageorghis said.

As further testimony to extensive trade throughout the Mediterranean until the end of the Late Bronze Age, he said, "two more shipwrecks, both associated with Cyprus, have already been excavated. One was near Cape Gelidonya, near the southwestern coast of Asia Minor, also loaded with copper ingots of Cypriot type, dating to circa 1200 BC. The latest to be discovered was excavated in the Gulf of the Argolid, near Cape Ida. …

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