Researchers explore ‘crossroads of the sea’ in Mediterranean

New archaeological research led by the University of Leicester is revealing secrets of ancient Mediterranean coastal life and long-distance trade, through exploring a ‘crossroads of the sea’.

Professor Simon James led a team of archaeologists examining the cliff-bound headland of Akrotiri on the southern tip of Cyprus, home to ancient port facilities at Dreamer’s Bay and the modern-day RAF Akrotiri air base.

Since 2015, with permission from UK Ministry of Defence and Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities, Leicester archaeologists and students have been collaborating with Cypriot and other colleagues on the Ancient Akrotiri Project to explore the sprawling ancient complex on land and underwater.

Their work has unearthed evidence of a landscape connected by seaways not just with the ancient coastal cities of Cyprus, but with Egypt and Palestine, Syria and the wider Greco-Roman world.

Professor James said:

“What started off as a small study of some isolated buildings and pottery scatters has revealed a story of how ancient coastal communities lived off the land and the nearby sea, and how they stood at one of the most important junctions of the seaways spanning the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.”

‘Dreamer’s Bay’ on the Akrotiri Peninsula is now understood to have featured an artificially-enhanced harbour as well as shoreline installations to facilitate trade in staples such as wine and oil. The team also discovered evidence of further commercial resources, with a complex of stone quarries above the bay. 

Ancient port workers, quarry labourers and boat crews did not live directly next to these facilities, as previously supposed – rather they ‘commuted’ from known village sites across the middle of the Akrotiri Peninsula.

The team also discovered evidence of further commercial resources, with Dreamer’s Bay serving as an important landfall, watering and victualling place, and point of departure for long-haul shipping between the Aegean Sea, Egypt and further east into the Levant.

Professor James added:

“Dreamer’s Bay was hardly a distinct ‘site’ or ‘place’, but rather a commercial zone forming part of an integrated landscape of settlement and activity spanning the entire peninsula, which itself constituted a major maritime crossroads in the eastern Mediterranean.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a pause to the project, it is intended that work will resume soon, to place Dreamer’s Bay in its proper context of a busy village landscape which depended on the sea for its livelihood.

Professor Simon James and Dr Anna Walas will hold a public lecture on the project’s findings so far on the evening of Thursday 25th February between 6.00pm and 7.30pm GMT, via Microsoft Teams.