Fabrika Hill, Pafos, Republic of Cyprus (Part 1)
Archaeology isn’t much of a spectator sport.
“So what are you doing?”, a pair of old English ladies ask me, as I trowel down, knee deep in loose soil and fragments of pottery. The dust – the soil is sandy, and barely holds together under a careless breath – clouds my sunglasses as I lean against the theoretically Hellenistic Period wall and look up at them, framed by the sun to be no more than silhouettes.
“Well,” I say, “long story short, we’re digging a hole.”
I elaborate: the dig at Fabrika Hill (“Hill of the makers”) has spent five years uncovering a series of what were probably houses, built into the back wall of an earier quarry, I tell them, that now face onto a busy road fifty metres away. The ancient sites of Pafos are all slap bang in the middle of town, five minutes from the harbour, competing for space with the clubs, tourist tat and English bars that make the modern city the Cypriot answer to Ibiza. The last king of an independent Pafos moved his capital to this site just before the Ptolemaic invasion of the island (the Ptolemies, styling themselves as Egyptian pharaohs, were of the Diadochi, the Greek generals who carved up Alexander the Great’s empire on his death) and since then it has endured Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Crusaders, the Ottomans and the British.
The point of the hole we’re digging is simple, I eventually explain: we want dates. Whilst we’ve pulled out enough shards of pottery to fill the hole back up again, none of it is organised. Ideally when one digs down one is going backwards in time, with the deeper material being earlier and in situ. What we’ve got however is one big confused pile of everything from the Hellenistic, two and a half thousand years back, to the Medieval. This was just below the summit of the hill before we cut it off, so it’s easy to suppose it’s just been tipped in there at a later date (one of my lecturers once told me that people always throw rubbish downhill).
We need to hit an undisturbed surface, or more ideally the original floor, as we follow the remaining walls down, but after a metre and a half we’re still no closer. An attempt from a previous field season mocks us, its bottom filled with boulders and wall blocks forbidding any deeper investigation. Steph and I begin to fear we’ll find a Balrog before a floor. The guys working at the bottom end of the site, some two metres down, have just found a plastic bag in the foundations of what they were hoping was an original wall. Results so far are inconclusive, a point I try to downplay.
Waving around at the abundant history we can see from our vantage point, I tell them that a nice solid date is important because pre-Roman remains are thin on the ground. Whilst there are some spectacular mosaics throughout the city, and a beautiful complex of middle-class burials at the Tombs of the Kings, actual living quarters from the Ptolemies and before are non-existent. It’ll also be easier to protect the site if we can brand the site as the oldest houses in Pafos.
Whilst the site is French, run by the University of Avignon, I and my three English-speaking compatriots managed to wangle our way in through the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci project, which aims to get Europeans working together in academia. We earn our free board and our surprisingly generous food allowance through the digging and speaking to the primarily English-speaking tourists like our pair, who have long since moved on over the hill to the mosaics up the top.
The heat is monstrous. Scotsmen burn like napalm. Despite the lack of any breakthroughs in our trench, nestled into the corner of the wall of what we think is the fourth of the series of buildings, the depth gives us some protection from the early morning sun. It’s a motivation to dig deeper still: eventually we’ll hit something, although I have no idea what it might be.