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School of History, Classics & Archaeology
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Ais Yorkis

Excavation at Early Neolithic Ais Yiorkis, Paphos, Cyprus

Archaeology, University of Edinburgh

Field School 25th June 13th July 2014
(in conjunction with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas)


Ais Yiorkis, in the upland margins of western Cyprus (Paphos District), seems likely to be a seasonally visited hunting and resource procurement station rather than a perennially occupied settlement.  It is one of a handful of sites that have only quite recently been recognized as belonging to a very early stage in the human occupation of the island often referred to as the Cypro-Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (Cypro-PPNB).  This lengthy period, dating between the later 9th and the end of the 8th millennium Cal.BC., began with the colonization of the island of Cyprus, possibly uninhabited at that time, by agro-pastoralists from the coastlands of mainland western Asia.   The colonists brought with them the early domestic animals and plants that were necessary for their newly-developed way of life, and established the first village settlements on the island.  The animals were imported to Cyprus at a time scarcely later than the earliest evidence presently available for the beginnings of the process of domestication in the mainland Near East.  What has so far been discovered about the material culture and way of life in this phase of Cypriot prehistory is sufficient to characterize it as a regional variant of the PPNB culture that was widespread in western Asia.
The site of Ais Yiorkis lies in a region of fields and vineyards, and material eroding out of the site led to its discovery during an archaeological survey some 30 years ago.  Lack of pottery amongst this surface material immediately suggested that the site might date to an early stage of the Neolithic period, as it was then understood. However, only with trial trenching in 1997 followed by several sessions of excavation on the site beginning in 2002, did the very early date of the site, and the richness of its lithic, faunal and botanical assemblages in particular, begin to become clear.  More than twenty radiocarbon dates have so far been obtained on animal bones and plant material from the site, and these suggest that the site was occupied for several centuries around the middle of the 8th millennium Cal.B.C., coinciding with Middle to Late Cypro-PPNB.  Several dates also hint at later occupation during the 7th millennium Cal.B.C., but material culture of the late aceramic Khirokitia Culture, known from this time throughout much of the lowland zone of the island, has not been identified at Ais Yiorkis. A huge sample of animal bones has been recovered, and almost 15,000 so far identified include mainly fallow deer (53%) pig (28%) and sheep and goats (17%).  Cattle were also present (2%) with even smaller amounts of bone of dog, cat, fox, fish and birds.  A similarly huge chipped stone assemblage, as is characteristic for the Cypro-PPNB, shows similarities with mainland PPNB industries. Excavations so far have revealed in situ features, including pits and circular platforms several meters in diameter (“dancing platforms”), but no buildings.  From the continuing exploration of Ais Yiorkis it is becoming increasingly clear that far more in situ archaeology exists on the site than was previously imagined.  (For more details of Ais Yiorkis and its significance see A.H.Simmons (2012) Ais Giorkis: an unusual early Neolithic settlement in Cyprus. Journal of Field Archaeology 37(2), 86-103).


The excavation at Ais Yiorkis is directed by Prof. Alan Simmons of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), a prehistorian of very wide ranging experience in Cyprus and the Near East, with particular expertise in chipped stone and pigmy hippopotami.  Dr. Paul Croft of the University of Edinburgh’s Lemba Archaeological Research Centre is an excavator and zooarchaeologist, and is responsible for the analysis of the Ais Yiorkis bone assemblage.  Excavations in summer 2014 will continue the collaborative venture between UNLV and LARC, under the overall direction of Prof. Simmons.  Applications are invited from students and others to participate as members of the LARC contingent of ten or so people, under the supervision of Dr. Croft.  Participants are expected to stay for the full three weeks.  Details of cost are given on the applications page.


Prospective applicants are advised that days will be long and hot, and the work physically arduous.  Working days will start early, since the site is a long drive (over half an hour) away from Lemba.  Participants will be expected to undertake not only on-site excavation work, but also finds processing as required.  It is envisaged that each week will consist of five working days and two non-work days involving some combination of trips to sites, museums and other places of interest, and of free time.


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