History of Excavation at Idalion

History of Excavation

During the 19th century Europeans became interested in archaeology in Mediterranean countries, particularly Greece and Italy. In this treasure-hunting atmosphere, a larger-than-life general from the American Civil War, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, became the consul of the United States to the Ottoman Empire. At that time he was headquartered in Larnaca, a coastal town to the southeast of the island. In his memoir he recounts how residents of Dhali brought ancient pots and limestone statuettes they found in their fields to sell to the Europeans in Larnaca. He immediately went to Dhali where he spearheaded “excavations” that were little more than massive tomb-robbing expeditions. He claims to have “cleared” some 3,000 tombs. Given that he loaded three ships with antiquities, he may not have exaggerated. Unfortunately, one of the three went down in storms in the Mediterranean. The other two made it to New York, where their cargo helped to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where Cesnola became director.

In 1868 the British Consul to the Ottoman Empire in Cyprus, R. Hamilton Lang, hired local workers to find antiquities in the region of Dhali. His workers found an open-air sanctuary, named by him the "Temple of Apollo" containing 142 limestone sculptures now in the British Museum, including the colossal figure shown here.

Later, at the turn of the 20th century, a remarkable, self-taught scholar, Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, came to Idalion and did the first scholarly investigation of the site. This resulted in the publication of Kypros, the Bible, and Homer, which is still important for scholars and historians. Most significant is the work of the Swedish Cyprus Expedition under the direction of Einar Gjerstad who dug between 1927 and 1931. This comprehensive expedition resulted in the publication of eight massive volumes of scholarly publication of the highest quality.

More recently, the Joint American Expedition to Idalion, under the directorship of Lawrence Stager and Anita Walker, dug from 1971-1980. Their work is published in two volumes. The current expedition under the directorship of Pamela Gaber has been in the field off and on since 1987. To date, publication of the current project has consisted of an extensive series of articles, but a major volume publishing excavations to date in the Sanctuary of Adonis (Lang's "Temple of Apollo") went to press in the Spring of 2010 as an Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research.