What’s Choirokoitia?

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Choirokoitia, a Neolithic settlement on Cyprus, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The settlement was home to around 300 people who practiced agriculture and buried their dead under the floorboards of their homes. The site has been well-preserved and offers a unique insight into daily life during the Neolithic period. A group of dwellings has been restored to give visitors a clear image of what the settlement may have looked like.

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 a Neolithic society and, due to its location, has been relatively well preserved.
The first peoples settled in Choirokoitia more than 9,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Where exactly these early people came from is not known, but it is likely that they crossed the Mediterranean from the Middle East.

Choirokoitia is still being excavated, but a surprising amount has already been discovered and made accessible to visitors. Choirokoitia village itself was probably the home of around 300 people. We don’t know much about them, but what we do do provide us with some fascinating insights into our distant ancestors and the lives they may have led.

The people of Choirokoitia had mastered agriculture when they settled the area in 7000 BC and also raised cattle. Their hygiene was less than ideal, and combined with their relative exposure to the elements, this meant their average life span was around 35 years.

Perhaps the most interesting thing the Choirokoitia site has revealed so far are the extraordinary funeral customs of the people. At the site, we can see that they buried their dead under the floorboards of houses that appear to still be in use. This burial practice is thought to ensure that living relatives could remain close in the physical realm to their deceased loved ones.

Choirokoitia is quite unique among World Heritage Sites in its expression of daily life during the Neolithic period. It is often the case that Neolithic sites focus instead on large stone placements, or megaliths, which, while beautiful, don’t give such a direct line of sight to our distant relatives.

One problem that many people experience when visiting Neolithic sites is the difficulty in visualizing what the site might have looked like during the period. It is not uncommon for a visitor to travel thousands of miles to an eight thousand year old site, only to find a plain covered in scattered rock, which the local guide assures them was once an imposing city.
While there are many 3rd millennium BC cities and towns that have walls and structures strong enough to have remained largely intact, when you go back another four thousand years, that is simply not the case. So perhaps what is most appealing about Choirokoitia to the average visitor is the wonderful job they have done in recreating small sections as they may have looked when the settlement was still active.

A group of dwellings at Choirokoitia has been lovingly restored, with millstones placed in the positions they would have occupied and a burial site revealed within one of the dwellings. By visiting this full-scale model first, you are ready to visit the site itself with a very clear image in mind. It’s a technique that helps bring the site to extraordinary life and makes it even more impressive when you think about these people going about their daily lives some 9,000 years ago.

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