Oldest Ancient Temple Unearthed in Cyprus

Excavations at the Bronze Age artisan settlement of Erimi also revealed a mysterious monolith and the remains of a murder victim.

Jul 10, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Aerial view of the Erimi excavation site. Source: Luca Bombardieri, et al.


An Italian research team recently unearthed the ruins of a 4,000-year-old temple in Cyprus. According to a July 8 news release from the University of Siena, the temple was discovered during excavations of an ancient artisan settlement at the Erimi archaeological site. The temple, which contains several significant artifacts, is the oldest sacred building ever found on the island of Cyprus.


Ruins Found at Ancient Artisan Settlement

Italian researchers at the Erimi excavation site in Cyprus. Source: University of Siena.


During the Bronze Age, a community of artisans created the settlement of Erimi atop a large limestone hill on the southern coast of Cyprus. The community was occupied from about 2000 to 1600 B.C.E., after which it was abandoned following a massive fire. At their prime, the workshops at Ermini were widely known for producing distinctive red textiles. The temple ruins, which make up a small rectangular room, were recently discovered on the western side of the settlement.


The Erimi Archaeological Project of the University of Siena has researched the archaeological site for many years. Professor Luca Bombardieri, the project leader, said, “On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the first systematic investigations in the Bronze Age area of Erimi in Cyprus, the positive balance of the research activity carried out is reflected in the new results of a series of particularly fruitful excavation seasons. The recent fieldwork has led to the discovery of the oldest recorded sacred building in Cyprus, whose ritual function and ideological value seem to have particular significance.”


Cyprus Temple Contained a Large Monolith

A digital recreation of the ancient temple, including an amphora, fire pit, and the monolith. Source: University of Siena.


A large monolith was erected inside Cyprus’s oldest ancient temple. It was over seven feet tall, polished, and surrounded by a decorative circle of small cups. Bombardieri said, “The monolith, which originally stood in the center of the room, collapsed onto the floor, destroying a large amphora placed at its feet, in front of a small circular hearth.” The monolith, amphora, and hearth were originally arranged in the center of the room so visitors could walk around them. Bombardieri continued, “The peculiarities of this space, especially in comparison with the surrounding spaces of the production workshop, indicate that it is a small sacred space, the oldest recorded on this island, with an interesting cult function due to its location within the workshop complex. Thus, the activity that economically sustained the community also involved its members ideologically and symbolically.”

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Skeletal Remains Suggest Bronze Age Femicide

Researchers at the Erimi excavation site. Source: Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata.


The research team also discovered a Bronze Age murder victim at the Cyprus temple. The skeletal remains of a young woman had been intentionally sealed off in a nearby small residence. A heavy stone was laid across the victim’s chest, and her skull bore evidence of a deadly head injury. There was no clear doorway or grave marking the remains. Bombardieri hypothesized that the remains “may be connected to other cases [of femicide] recorded in the past in other parts of Cyprus.” The victims in these cases were always young women—possibly pregnant—who were brutally killed and isolated from their communities, even in death.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.