In the heat of the Cypriot summer, Dr. Fryni Hadjichristophi is hard at work uncovering the remains of an ancient building. Carefully, she brushes away the dirt to reveal something incredible hidden beneath. And as the earth slowly gives up its secrets, Hadjichristophi and her team are treated to an incredible glimpse of island life from almost two millennia ago.
On August 9, 2016, members of the press gathered in Akaki, a small town in Cyprus’ Nicosia district sitting 15 miles west of the capital. They had been invited to view the results of an archaeological dig begun more than a year before.
Now although the most recent excavations were started in 2014, the story of this fascinating location stretches back decades. In fact, a farmer first chanced upon a section of flooring at the Piadhia site in Akaki in 1939.
However, other archaeological digs – and World War Two – kept investigators busy for decades. Indeed, it wasn’t until well into the 21st century that they were finally able to take a closer look. And what they found would blow their minds.
For nine weeks in the spring and summer of 2015, Dr. Hadjichristophi, an archaeologist with the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, and her colleague Dr. Vasiliki Lysandrou supervised excavations at the site. What’s more, slowly they began to realize that the small section of floor discovered in 1939 was just a tiny glimpse of a far larger whole.
The excavation in fact revealed the remains of a building hidden just beneath the surface. Indeed, among the interesting features that the team uncovered were an ancient cistern and a series of carved cavities.
The real highlight, however, came when the archaeologists were able to expand on the discovery that had been made all those decades before. Slowly, their work revealed an incredible mosaic thought to date back to the 4th century A.D.
Measuring an incredible 85 feet long by 13 feet across, the mosaic depicts an elaborate Roman scene. Moreover, remarkably, the high level of detail has been preserved more or less intact – leading some to declare it an almost unique find in its field.
The mosaic uses intricate geometric patterns to depict scenes that would have been familiar at the time it was created some 1,700 years ago. Back then, Cyprus was part of the Roman empire that stretched from Jerusalem in the east all the way to the tip of Spain in the west.
But what does the artwork show? Well, it features a chariot race set in a hippodrome – one of the grand racetracks that the Romans built to host sporting events. Four contestants are depicted, each riding a chariot pulled by four horses.
The complete mosaic depicts four separate stages of the race, with each charioteer also accompanied by an inscription. And according to experts, the text is likely to denote the names of the contestants and their horses.
Furthermore, archaeologists working on the dig believe that the four figures depict the four factions – the Reds, Whites, Greens and Blues – that would have been set against one another in the race. Yet it isn’t just ancient games that are depicted in this incredible mosaic.
Observers have also noted a man on horseback featured in another section of the mosaic, not to mention conical shapes topped with egg-like objects. So far, however, the significance of these features has yet to be determined.
Dr. Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou, Director of the Department of Antiquities, also spoke to journalists about the significance of the find. “It is an extremely important finding, because of the technique and because of the theme,” the Cyprus Mail has reported her as saying.
She also noted that the mosaic’s presence in a non-coastal region provided new insight into Roman Cyprus. “It is unique in Cyprus,” she explained, “since the presence of this mosaic floor in a remote inland area provides important new information on that period in Cyprus and adds to our knowledge of the use of mosaic floors on the island.”
But there was more. Not far from the mosaic, archaeologists made another important discovery. In fact, towards one end of the site they uncovered a table decorated with nine female figures.
And although experts have yet to officially identify the building where the mosaic was found, some have nevertheless formed their own theories. The team reportedly believe that the decorative flooring might have once sat in a rich nobleman’s villa.
For Dr. Hadjichristophi, the find lends support to the notion that ancient Cyprus once enjoyed great fortune as a nation exporting resources like timber and copper. “We know that Cyprus was once wealthy,” she told the Daily Mail, “[and] the latest discoveries confirm this.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Transport, Communications and Works, Marios Demetriades, has also praised the discovery. “It is a truly, remarkable finding,” he told CNA. Indeed, he has pledged the government’s support in investigating the site.
Furthermore, the team plan to continue excavations at Piadhia in May 2017, according to Dr. Solomidou-Ieronymidou. They believe that there could be more archaeological finds waiting to be discovered and hope to also one day open the site for members of the public to enjoy.