Copper made Bronze Age city rich


Chests full of Bronze Age copper slag bear witness to brisk copper mining in Hala Sultan Tekke. © T. Bürge

The Bronze Age town of Hala Sultan Tekke on Cyprus was a thriving center of trans-regional trade, as evidenced by archaeological finds of imported goods and luxuries from all parts of the Bronze Age world. Hala Sultan Tekke owed its rise to a prosperous trading town to its copper mining: Large quantities of copper ores were smelted in the town and processed into copper ingots for export. Evidence of this is given, among other things, by large amounts of copper slag and metal workshops.

The Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke is located near present-day Larnaca Airport in Cyprus. British archaeologists discovered the first traces of a Bronze Age culture there as early as 1897. Extensive excavation campaigns involving Swedish researchers have been taking place there since 1971. They reveal that from 1600 to 1150 BC this city was surprisingly large and prosperous: it spanned 25 to 50 hectares and included a regular grid of streets, as well as residential quarters and workshops.

imported goods
Examples of imported ceramics and jewelry from Hala Sultan Tekke. © T. Bürge

Good location and far-reaching trade relations

"By the standards of the time, Hala Sultan Tekke was a big city, because most of the settlements at that time were only a few hectares in area," explains Peter Fischer of the University of Gothenburg. This begs the question of why this city has been so prosperous and prosperous for almost 500 years. One of the reasons is its favorable location: "The city was on a bay that was cut deep into the country in the Bronze Age and thus offered an excellent, well-protected port," explains Fischer. "This certainly contributed to the city being able to establish supra-regional contacts and trade relations early on."

Numerous finds of Bronze Age imported goods in Hala Sultan Tekke testify to these far-reaching trade relations: "We found enormous amounts of imported ceramics, but also luxury goods made of gold, silver, ivory and semi-precious stones," reports the archaeologist. As part of his study, he examined the origins of more than 300 ceramic vessels and various pieces of jewelry from the Bronze Age city. Analysis revealed that the city imported goods from a vast catchment area in the late Bronze Age. The range extends from Sardinia in the west to Mesopotamia in the east and from the Baltic Sea to Nubia. Some semi-precious stones and jewelry even came from Afghanistan and India. "The city was then clearly part of a global economic system that had its peak in the period from the 15th to the 13th century BC," says Fischer.

Copper processing as the basis of prosperity

But where did Hala Sultan Tekke get the wealth to finance so many luxurious imports? A basis for the prosperity and growth of the city was most likely the copper export: "In the city you can find numerous remains of copper mining, including furnaces for melting the ore, casting molds and slags," reports Fischer. "The ore from which the copper was extracted came from mines in the nearby Troodos Mountains." In the metallurgical workshops north of downtown Hala Sultan Tekke, this ore was processed and shipped in the form of copper ingots. As a raw material for bronze, which was important at the time, this metal was coveted in all Bronze Age cultures.

According to archaeologists, this was one of the prerequisites for the rise of Hala Sultan Tekke to become a supra-regional center of trade and commerce. "The inner-city copper production and one of the best-protected harbors on the island attracted craftsmen and traders at the time," explains Fischer. Another, albeit less essential, source of income for the local population was the manufacture of purple-dyed textiles, as suggested by large dyeing tanks and piles of purple snail shells. The large number of these relics indicates that this commodity was also primarily intended for export. Both goods together - copper and purple - laid the foundation for the prosperity of Hala Sultan Tekke and his rise to the league of supra-regional trading centers.

It was only around 1200 BC that Hala Sultan Tekke - like many other advanced Bronze Age cultures in the eastern Mediterranean - experienced a decline. The amount of imported goods decreased and so did the scope of trade relations, as evidenced by archaeological finds. However, the causes that led to the decline of so many previously successful cultures and cities in the Late Bronze Age have not yet been clearly clarified.

Source: University of Gothenburg; Specialist article: Journal of Archaeological Science, doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103722

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