Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Rare Cypriot Sculptures Volume 50 Number 3, May/June 1997
by Demos Christou

[image]Sculptures of sphinx and lion, dating to the sixth century B.C., were found during maintenance and restoration work on a royal tomb at Tamassos, Cyprus. (Cyprus Department of Antiquities) [LARGER IMAGE]

Six limestone sculptures--four lions and two sphinxes--were discovered during maintenance and restoration work on one of two sixth-century B.C. royal tombs at Tamassos, 12 miles south of Nicosia, Cyprus. Found intact, the sphinxes are depicted sitting with their wings unfolded. The lions, also sitting, are shown with their teeth bared and tongues protruding. Two of the lions are life-size and complete; two are more than life-size, but one is missing an ear and the other was found in three pieces.

The sphinxes are identical in shape and style to contemporary Egyptian ones, but their facial details are similar to those of Greek Archaic period (sixth century B.C.) statues. They were probably carved on Cyprus by local sculptors in the mid-sixth century B.C.; the island was under Egyptian control from 565 to 545 B.C. The sculptures will be displayed at the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia after traces of original red and blue paint on the sphinxes are treated to preserve them.

Tamassos was the capital of one of 11 ancient kingdoms on Cyprus that were abolished at the end of the fourth century B.C. and replaced by a unified administrative system. The first excavations at the site were conducted between 1889 and 1894 by the German archaeologist Max Ohnefalsch Richter and resulted in the discovery of the two limestone-block royal tombs (built in the form of gabled wooden houses), sanctuaries dedicated to Apollo and the Mother of the Gods, and nearly 50 rock-cut tombs that yielded a great quantity of pottery, jewelry, and other finds. In the 1970s the German Archaeological Institute and the University of Giessen, under the direction of Hans-Günter Buchholz, excavated the remains of a temple of Aphrodite, houses, and copper workshops. Tamassos was well known in antiquity as a major center of copper production.

The Cyprus Department of Antiquities has begun excavations at the royal burials to determine the relationship between the sculptures and the tombs.

Demos Christou is director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America