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Choirokoitia is a ruined settlement on the island of Cyprus. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1998. It is an important example of Neolithic society, and because of its location has been relatively well preserved.
The first people settled Choirokoitia more than 9000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Where exactly these first people were from is unknown, but it is likely that they came across the Mediterranean from the Middle East.
Choirokoitia is still being excavated, but a surprising amount has been uncovered already and made accessible to visitors. The village of Choirokoitia itself probably was the home of somewhere around 300 people. We don’t know much about them, but what we do know gives us some fascinating insights into our distant ancestors and the lives they may have led.
The people of Choirokoitia had mastered agriculture by the time they settled the area in 7000 BCE, and kept livestock as well. Their sanitation was less than ideal, and combined with their relative exposure to the elements, this meant that their average lifespan was just around 35 years.
Perhaps the most interesting thing the site at Choirokoitia has so far revealed are the remarkable burial customs of the people. At the site, we can see that they buried their dead beneath the floorboards of houses that appear to have still been in use. It is thought that this burial practice ensured that living relatives could remain close in the physical realm to their loved ones who had passed on.
Choirokoitia is fairly unique among World Heritage Sites in its expression of everyday life during the Neolithic period. It is often the case that Neolithic sites focus instead on large stone placements, or megaliths, which, although beautiful, do not give as direct a line of sight to our far off relatives.
One problem many people experience when visiting Neolithic sites, is the difficulty in visualizing what the site may have looked like during the period. It is not uncommon for a visitor to travel thousands of miles to some eight-thousand year old site, only to find a plain covered in scattered rocks, which the local guidebook assures them was once a towering city.
While there are many cities and towns from the 3rd millennium BCE on which have strong enough walls and structures to have remained largely intact, by the time one goes back another four-thousand years, this is simply not the case. So perhaps the most attractive things about Choirokoitia for the average visitor is the wonderful work they have done in recreating small sections as they may have looked when the settlement was still active.
A cluster of dwellings at Choirokoitia has been lovingly restored, with grinding stones placed in the positions they would have occupied, and a burial site revealed inside one of the dwellings. By visiting this full-scale model first, one is primed to visit the site itself with a very clear image in mind. It is a technique which helps bring the site to stunning life, and makes it all the more impressive as one thinks on these people going about their daily lives some 9000 years ago.
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