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The Reward of Persistence: Gisela Walberg’s Discovery

Ask an average person to list the personal characteristics required for success in classics, and you’ll get a variety of answers: intelligence, curiosity, thirst for knowledge, and creativity.

Date: 12/6/2005
By: Billie Dziech
Phone: 556-1707
Ask an average person to list the personal characteristics required for success in classics, and you’ll get a variety of answers: intelligence, curiosity, thirst for knowledge, and creativity. An equally important trait is perseverance, and Gisela Walberg is one classicist who will attest to its importance.

Her story began when she enthusiastically “accepted an invitation from the Cyprus Department of Antiquities to conduct excavations at Episkopi Bamboula, which lies on a plateau overlooking the Kouris River, located not far from the Mediterranean Sea. Previous excavations had demonstrated that this area that is near the ancient coastal city of Kourion was an important trading center and cultural melting pot of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, and since Walberg specializes in the prehistory of Greece and Cyprus, she was eager to begin work.

Walking down the low hill of Bamboula one summer day in 2001, she “didn’t expect to find much” until she came upon a massive stone block formation covered by a thicket of wild carob trees and dense shrubs. Cultivated fields lay on both sides of the blocks, and even the presence of a thick black snake could not extinguish her curiosity as she examined them.

Later she would recall, “I thought that what I had found was a defensive wall. There were only three walls of this style known in Cyprus, and I suspected I had made an important archeological find.”

But her hunch would not be confirmed until four long years had passed. That summer excavation on the other side of the hill preoccupied her and her team; and in 2002, they continued to concentrate on the other area, where a large Bronze Age tomb they had found was in danger of being looted.

During the years in Cyprus her excavations had already yielded a variety of treasures: cups, jugs, bowls, coins, jewelry, a potter’s wheel, hippopotamus tusks, a shepherd’s crook (possibly a royal or religious symbol), tombs, and human remains. Most unanticipated were a charred cooking pot holding the leftovers of mutton stew if the sheep bone stuck in the bottom was an indication of its contents and the skeletons of 36 dogs that apparently died of natural causes in some canine epidemic.

In 2003, when Walberg was finally able to return to the site of the mysterious blocks, she and her team removed dense vegetation and discovered that they rested on a ridge of bedrock which followed a straight line on both sides. Like the ridge, the blocks ended at the steep slope of the hill.

Although she saw progress that year, she was destined to be disappointed the following summer when she saw that farmers cultivating the hill area had removed and smashed one of the huge blocks. Realizing they “might be running out of time,” she and the team began excavating a nearby trench and unearthed several walls of Roman origin but saw nothing to indicate the date and nature of the wall of blocks that so intrigued them.

Before returning in 2005, she notified the Department of Antiquities and the mayor of Episkopi of the destruction, so no further damage occurred. And this time perseverance paid off.

Further excavations revealed a cavity in the bedrock where a Late Bronze Age mill-stone was tightly wedged to provide an even surface for the blocks of the wall to rest on. Beneath them, the team uncovered a thick filling of small pebbles that must have come from the river or beach. That discovery proved the foundation had been carefully laid by human builders for the huge blocks of a fortification wall.

Successive settlement layers were found inside the wall. At the very bottom of the trench, just above the bedrock, there was a layer with ceramics datable to the first phase of the Iron Age Then the wall of a house from the same phase appeared. Its builders seemed to have taken advantage of the protection offered by the earlier fortification wall. The building technique of the fortification structure dated it, without doubt, to the end of the Bronze Age before the house was built.

What years of anticipation and persistence had produced was indeed an “important archaeological find.” The stone formation that Gisela Walberg uncovered was determined to be a large Bronze Age fortification, one of only four that can be found on Cyprus. Previous scholars who studied Bronze Age fortifications in Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean once believed that, unlike the two other large urban sites of Enkomi and Kition, Episkopi-Bamboula, had no major fortification walls.

“Now,” says Walberg, “we know that they were wrong and that the inhabitants of Episkopi-Bamboula clearly needed the same kind of defense as these other cities. The find of the wall throws important new light on state formation in Late Bronze Age Cyprus.

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