Home Page / Antiquities / Antiquities
Print this page


The research of the Italian Archaeological Expedition of "Pyrgos" in the island of Cyprus has led to the discovery of a laboratory / workshop for the production of copper.  Dated back to the third-to-second millennium BC, it is one of the most ancient testimonies of metallurgical activities in the entire Mediterranean basin. 

Pyrgos is located about 15 km east of the city of Limassol, in a valley crossed by small torrents.  One of them was utilised (as early as the second half of the third millennium BC) by a metallurgy workshop for the processing of copper, appearing to be the most ancient testimony of its kind known -so far -in the world.

Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, because of its geographical position and its mineral deposits, has always been a crossroad of contact amongst the people that appeared around this sea and of transport of goods between them.  During the Antiquity its name was identified with the production of copper, thanks to the quantity and quality of the metal that was extracted from its mines.  From the Greek name of the island "Kypros" (Cyprus) comes the roman term "cyprum", which passed through to all the modern languages of the world and signifies the concept of "copper".  Although the first signs of metallurgy come from chalcolithic (copper-stone) referrals, corresponding to the first half of the third millennium BC, indications referring to the processing of copper prior to the latter Bronze age (13th -- 12th century BC) were -until now -characteristically inadequate in Cyprus.  On this basis, the discoveries that we refer to have thus allowed the shedding of light on a period that was barely known, yet the historical significance of which appears to be quite remarkable. 

In that way, the high development of Cypriot metallurgy in the early Bronze Age (second half of 3rd millennium BC) acquires exceptional significance that is entirely unique, prominently arising as the most fundamental element of the island's economy, already appearing -in this archaic horizons - in the avant-garde of high-tech development related to the production of metals.  The archaeological testimonies of prehistoric centres of smelting are characteristically rare, not only in Europe but also in the Middle East.  Besides, such evidences do not present the level of complexity and connection of the facilities encountered in Pyrgos, which, for this reason, are a world-wide specialty in the panorama of the third millennium BC. 

The island's geological features and deposits have -indeed -allowed for the exploitation of the extensive copper reserves up to an era quite close to ours.  In Pyrgos, in the "Mavrorachi" venue, the excavations indeed brought to the light the findings of a metallurgy workshop, fully equipped, coming from the beginning of the Bronze Age, 3rd millennium BC.  Besides, the area is only a few hundreds of metres from the rocky formations of copper sediments (malachite), while in just two kilometres, where ruins of ancient mining galleries have been traced, there are sediments of copper-bearing, sulphurous salts.  Today, these galleries are partially flooded, something that makes their exploration difficult.  The remains of the copper-processing workshop date back to the 3rd millennium BC.  A surface of 400 sq. metres has been excavated so far. 

"Experienced and respectable" artisans. 

A necropolis of the same era was identified in the area of the facility, in it being remains belonging to the ancient metallurgists.  The study of the findings in these ancient tombs, belonging to the aforementioned persons, has made their role and social status inside this community obvious.  The material that came to light is a testimony of a long period of activity.  Th workshop seems to occupy an area already inhabited since the end of the chalcolithic era (middle of 3rd millennium BC).  The Cypriot metallurgists stand out for their technological skills, managing to extract greater quantities of copper from the ore, thanks to the reprocessing they were able to perform, and taking even the last traces of metal from the ore.  In a few words, they possessed some kind of advanced technology in smelting.  

The sources of the environment. 

The Troodos mountain range, one of volcanic origins, is predominant in the island's west part, its foothill almost reaching to the sea.  Rich deposits of copper ore are situated here.  The minerals are quite close to the surface and thus easily accessible for mining / exploitation, even through the use of primitive means, which were used by the Neolithic, native populations.  A thick forest covered the mountains, characteristically larger in size than today's.  The reputation of the island's forests, regarding their size, reached even the most distant countries during Antiquity -thanks to the island's special microclimate.  Their timber was a first class fuel for the metallurgical processes in extracting copper from the ore.  The smelting processes needed -indeed -huge quantities of coal in the kilns for the melting of metal.  The metal, mixed with charcoal, reached a temperature over 1200º C. (copper melts at 1083º C.), so that it would undergo the process of separating the pure metal from the rest of the ore.  Furthermore, the findings indicate that the technicians & artisans in Pyrgos were aware of the art of shaping metal, something that enables the better processing and hardening of the metal. 

Although research is still at an early stage, the re-composition of the pages of a history has started in Pyrgos, regarding the technology of metallurgy and of basic interest for the development of civilization in the western world, thanks to the use of various methodologies and technicians.  This discovery is not just of significant archaeological interest, it is also of very important historical interest.  The certainty that the island was fully capable of processing the very rich copper deposits, indeed, forces us to redesign the transport and distribution of metal in the supply of the Eastern Mediterranean's countries. 

Making copper a truly strategic material, the new discoveries will -necessarily -affect the evaluation of the socioeconomic status of Cyprus and the countries of the Near East, for which the copper of Cyprus is a key element for their cultural take-off.