Digging “Building X”: The Early Years

From my own personal perspective, some of the most memorable and rewarding experiences came working during the 1980s on Alison South’s excavation project at the Late Bronze Age settlement of Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios (K-AD). It is now more than thirty years later, so more than a few details are lost in the blur of time passed by; however, other things are so clear it is as if it happened yesterday.

Most of this article is just a photographic montage chronicling various small episodes, amusing moments and some of the great people that made up the whole experience. But before we get to specific images, let’s just step back a bit and recall a few basic points about how it all started.

View looking South from the Neolithic site of Tenta towards the new road and the northern part of Ayios Dhimitrios and excavations of Building X. (That’s the Cyprus Museum’s former chief draftsman, Mr Chrysillios Polykarpou and wife, at left side of photo.)

The story of excavations at K-AD and the uncovering of the impressive Building X really begins with a series of events that occurred well before the Late Bronze Age site was even discovered or identified:

  1. The 1930s: The excavations of the Aceramic Neolithic site at Khirokitia by Porphyrios Dikaios;
  2. The 1930s: The construction of a railway line in the Vasilikos Valley to transport copper ore materials from the mines to the processing plant next to Zyyi (the current location of the Vasilikos Cement Works), which resulted in the accidental discovery of an Aceramic Neolithic settlement on a hill called “Tenta”. (A foreman on the railway line crew, who as a young man had previously worked at Dikaios’ Khirokitia excavations, recognised a stone that fell out of an escarpment at Tenta as a genuine Neolithic stone bowl. He reported this to his old boss, Dikaios, who was head of the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia at the time. That’s how Tenta was initially identified as a prehistoric archaeological site.)
  3. 1974-1976: The shift in the focus of archaeological research from North to South in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus causes all escavations in the occupied area to cease and numerous new archaeological projects to form and open up sites across the Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos Districts.
  4. 1976: Dr Ian Todd, fresh from co-directing Late Neolithic excavations at Ayios Epiktitos near Kyrenia, forms the multi-disciplinarty Vasilikos Valley Project and begins excavations at Kalavasos Tenta, an Aceramic Neolithic settlement first identified by Dikaios over three decades earlier.
  5. 1979-1981: The start of a new road project to build a motorway between Nicosia and Limassol resulted in test trenches in and next to the road line south of Tenta. These test trenches revealed signs of rectangular architecture and limited test excavations were able to confirm the existence of a Late Bronze Age settlement at Kalavasos Ayios Dhimitrios. Dr Todd dispatches his partner and assistant director, Alison South, to organise a surface survey and rescue excavations within the road line itself (South, Alison 1980, 1982).
  6. 1982-1988: The Vasilikos Valley Project expands its team and resources to conduct excavations at two separate sites simultaneously: Dr Todd continues his work at Neolithic Tenta, whilst Alison South undertakes wide-ranging excavations in various areas of K-AD, including areas to the south of the road line and to the north of the road line where Building X was slowly brought to light.

Against this background we now turn to a series of photographs taken during “the early years” of excavating at Ayios Dhimitrios.

Paul Croft (lower left) shows a group of students how to clear top soil. This resulted in the discovery of one of the first walls of Building X.

View of the early trenches at the north end of Building X.

One of the great traditions that developed during the early years at K-AD was that at the end of each week Area Supervisors would explain their findings to the rest of the excavation team. Some of the people in this photograph were soon to become major players in Cypriot Archaeology.

Who’s Who in the Vasilikos Valley Project: Can you pick out some people in this photograph?

Another tradition was that every Friday, the end of the work week, Dr Todd would drive up in his iconic Land Rover to present our local excavation assistants (“the work boys”) their hard earned wages:

Cash is King on Pay Day: Always a joyous occassion for our team of hard working local local excavation assistants.

Open House: From time to time we had special guests visit our excavations, especially when local shepherd dogs would come by to check our progress and catch a drink of cold water in the process.

Breaking ground on what would later develop into the the impressive entry area of Building X.

We saw strange things: Sometimes digging for long hours in the hot sun can induce abnormal behavioural manifestations.

Not Saturday Night Fever, but: Demetrakis “Jimmy” Papamiltiades from Kalavasos Village shows he’s got the moves.

The art of drawing a section, one of our favourite pastimes.

Neolithic expert Dr Ian Todd lends a hand at Bronze Age Ayios Dhimitrios.




South, Alison

1980     Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios 1979: A Summary Report. Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus: 22-53.

1982    Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios 1980-1981. Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus: 60-68.