Vrysi, Northern Cyprus in history

A few miles east of Girne, in northern Cyprus, on the seashore, lies the Neolithic site of Vrysi. Archaeologists have examined a small part of the site, leaving some of the walls of the house exposed. The sea has undermined the promontory the village stood on, and the entire area will fall into the sea before long. Visitors can look at the site and walk around its edges, but they are not allowed inside, lest they disturb this fragile place. If you’ve seen the artifacts from the site in the museum at Girne Castle, you can imagine them in use, right here where they were found. Your guide is a woman who lived here and raised her family about seven thousand years ago, when the town was already very old.

“Welcome to our village, outsiders. Look, but do not touch. My people have lived here for over a thousand years, and our honored dead are buried under these stones.

“Imagine this place ringing with the laughter of children, occupied with the sounds we made grinding grain, breaking stone tools, chopping wood. We were a happy people, able to raise or find enough food, and able to store it for dry years and crop failures.

“Although we lived by the sea, we did not fish much. We kept our goats, sheep, and pigs, and the men hunted in the great forests. The trees gave us carobs, figs, lemons, and olives. We grew wheat and barley, lentils, even wine grapes. We could keep dogs and cats, because we always had enough to eat.

“We used stone sickles, axes, knives, spindle weights, and chisels. We carved bone hooks and needles.

“You can see only six of our houses in Northern Cyprus. We had about twenty houses in my time. They were clustered together as several extended families lived in our village. We stayed here all year, generation after generation. Before our ancestors learned to farm, only small groups of people could stay together all year. In those ancient times, people would gather for festivals and arrange marriages, then disperse to harvest what the wild world provided. Also mo laugh.

“Back before, before agriculture, it was difficult to preserve food for the winter. Our ancestors dug holes in the ground and lined them with fur, but mice and other vermin always found their way to the hiding place. Of course, people have known that some kinds of mud harden in fire ever since the first child tried to bake a mud pie. Pottery just wasn’t useful to our wandering ancestors: it was too heavy and prone to breaking. But cultivating We went, we lived a sedentary life and we made pots. We could store food safely. We didn’t have time to starve.

“We used to live here by the sea, but the spring where we get our water is quite far away. Without pots, we would need to carry the water bit by bit in leather bags. Have you ever tasted water from a leather bag after a day in the sun? Ah, so you might appreciate a ceramic water jug.

“You can see how important pottery was to us by this fact: the archaeologists who excavated here found 62,000 pottery shards and only 1,000 other artifacts of all kinds.

“We made pottery ourselves, each family had their own designs. You can see the grace and boldness of those designs in the museum. Our pottery was white and we painted it dark red or brown. We didn’t have a potter’s wheel, but we shaped each piece by hand and fired it in small kilns.

“The designs for our pots came with our ancestors when they left Mersin in Turkey to make a brave journey across the sea to Northern Cyprus. At first, those pioneers were afraid. Their houses were half underground and they built a ditch as a defense against attack on this precious property. But gradually, we learned that we had nothing to fear.

“Our ancestors here on Vrysi lived in flimsy houses when they first arrived. But ours, as you can see, were of solid construction. We had paved walkways between our houses so too much mud wouldn’t accumulate.

“We liked rectangular houses, but sometimes the lay of the land forced an irregular shape. We rounded the corners so they were easy to keep clean, and we had beautiful clay-plastered walls. We covered our floors with woven mats. Wooden pillars supported our high thatched roofs.

“We built stone benches along the walls of our houses and had storage containers made of stone slabs. A large hearth was the center of each house. At night, our one-room houses were cozy with firelight and the glow of oil burning in stone lamps. We made little stone figurines that were honored in our homes, but that is a religious matter, one we don’t talk about with strangers.

“My people lived here for more than a hundred generations, until an earthquake made the place unsafe and we moved away. For five thousand years since then, the sea has undermined our promontory. In the not too distant future, the sea will swallow the entire town. Then all that will be left to remember our lives will be the shards of pottery, bone needles and stone spirals in the Girne museum in northern Cyprus.”

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