The Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia, occupied from the 7th to the 4th millennium B.C., is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Its remains and the finds from the excavations there have thrown much light on the evolution of human society in this key region. Since only part of the site has been excavated, it forms an exceptional archaeological reserve for future study.
In the prehistoric period, Cyprus played a key role in the transmission of culture from the Near East to the European world. Choirokhoitia is an exceptionally well-preserved archaeological site that has provided, and will continue to provide, scientific data of great importance relating to the spread of civilization from Asia to the Mediterranean world. Both the excavated remains and the untouched part of Choirokhoitia demonstrate clearly the origins of proto-urban settlement in the Mediterranean region and beyond.
The Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the eastern Mediterranean. It illustrates one aspect of the expansion of Neolithic culture in the special island environment. The long occupation of the village and the ample documentation of its cultural phases facilitate study of the evolution of this society. Burial customs and the use of figurines provide evidence for ritual and religious practices and beliefs of historical importance as manifested in some aspects of the material culture.
Permanent human occupation began in the Aceramic (pre-pottery) Proto-Neolithic period, starting around 7000 BC, when the Choirokhoitia site was founded, probably by people from Anatolia or the Levant - sedentary farmers, cultivating cereals and herding sheep, goats and pigs, all introduced from Asia Minor. For some reason Choirokhoitia and other sites were abandoned abruptly in the mid-6th millennium BC and were not reoccupied until 1,000 years later, in the Ceramic Neolithic period. There is less monumental evidence of occupation in the form of the remains of buildings from this period at Choirokhoitia, but new forms of plant and animal life, as well as the characteristic pottery, have been identified, suggesting that the new inhabitants were members of a fresh immigrant group, whose way of life was again based on agriculture and the raising of domestic animals. The site was finally abandoned in the early 4th millennium BC.
The settlement is located on the slopes of a hill in a meander of the Maroni River overlooking the fertile Vasilikos valley, about 6 km from the sea. It covers an area of about 1.5 ha. The earliest occupation, consisting of circular houses built from mud-brick and stone with flat roofs, was on the eastern side of the hill. It was protected by a massive wall barring access from the west (the other sides were protected naturally by the curve of the river and by very steep slopes). A second defensive wall was erected to protect a later extension of the village to the west. Both of the enceintes were pierced by gateways, an impressive example of which came to light during excavation. A staircase with three flights of steps was built within the thickness of an external stone bastion in the form of a parallelepiped, and still standing to a height of 2.50 m.
Some 20 houses have been excavated; they were constructed directly on the ground, without foundations, of undressed limestone blocks, mud-brick and rammed clay. The outer surfaces are frequently of stone and the inner of clay or unfired brick. Impressions in the debris have made it possible to deduce that their roofs were flat, made from branches and reeds topped with clay. In some places there is evidence of the internal surfaces of the walls having been painted.
Associated with the houses were the remains of hearths, cereal querns, and other domestic and agricultural equipment. A number of the houses had human burials beneath their rammed earth floors, showing evidence of inhumation rituals having been practised.
The finds from the settlement include many objects in stone and bone and, later, pottery, along with vegetable materials such as burnt grain (early forms of wheat and barley, lentils). Animal bones include domesticated species. The tools are diversified, ranging from bone needles to agricultural implements such as sickles. However, the most noteworthy finds are undoubtedly the anthropomorphic figurines in stone (and one in clay), which point to the existence at this early period of elaborate spiritual beliefs.