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Vrysi, North Cyprus in History
A few miles east of Girne in Northern Cyprus, on the coast, is the Neolithic site of Vrysi. Archaeologists have examined a small part of the site, leaving some of the house walls exposed. The sea has undercut the promontory on which the village was situated, and the whole area will soon fall into the sea. Visitors can look at the site and walk around its edges, but must not enter it so as not to disturb this fragile place. If you have seen the objects from the site at the museum in Girne Castle, you can imagine them in use here, where they were found. Your guide is a woman who lived here and raised her family about seven thousand years ago, when the village was already very old.
“Welcome to our village, stranger. Please look, but do not touch. My people have lived here for over a thousand years, and our honored dead are buried beneath these stones.
“Imagine this place ringing with children’s laughter, busy with the sounds we made grinding grain, flaking stone tools, chopping wood. We were a happy people, able to raise or find plenty of food and able to store it against the dry year and the bad crops.
“Although we lived by the sea, we did not fish much. We had our goats and sheep and pigs, and the men hunted in the great forests. The trees provided us with locust beans, figs, lemons and olives. We grew wheat and barley, lentils, even grapes for wine. We could keep dogs and cats, because we always had enough to eat.
“We used stone sickles, axes, knives, spindle weights and chisels. We cut fish hooks and needles from bones.
“You can see only six of our North Cyprus houses. We had about twenty houses in my time. They were grouped in clusters as several extended families lived in our village. We stayed here all year round, generation after generation. Before our ancestors learned to farm, only small groups of people could stay together throughout the year. In the old days, the people came together for festivals and to arrange marriages, then spread out to harvest what the wild world provided. Late winter and spring were always starving times when grandparents died and all too often the young children died too.
“In the days before agriculture, it was difficult to preserve food for the winter. Our ancestors dug pits in the ground and covered them with hides, but mice and other vermin always found their way into the caches. 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 was simply of no use to our nomadic ancestors – too heavy and too prone to breaking. But we farmed, we lived settled lives, and we made pots. We could store food safely.We had no famine.
“We lived here by the sea, but the spring from which we draw water is some distance away. Without pots, we would need to carry water little by little in skin bags. Have you ever tasted water from a skin bag after a day in the hot sun ?Ah, then you can appreciate a ceramic water jug.
“You can see how important pottery was to us by this fact: the archaeologists who excavated here found sixty-two thousand pottery shards and only a thousand other artifacts of all kinds.
“We made our own pottery, each family had its own design. You can see the grace and boldness of these designs in the museum. Our pottery was white and we painted it dark red or brown. We didn’t have a pottery wheel, but shaped each piece by hand and fired it in small ovens.
“The designs on 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 they were scared, the pioneers. Their houses were half underground and they built a ditch as a defense against attacks on this precious property, but little by little 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, was robustly built. We had paved walkways between our homes so we didn’t have too much mud tracked in.
“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 lovely walls plastered with clay. We covered our floors with woven mats. Wooden columns 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 home was cozy with the fire and with the oil burner burning in stone lamps. We made small stone figures which were honored in our home, but it is a religious matter that we do not discuss with strangers.
“My people lived here for over 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 village. Then there will only be left to remember our lives, the pottery shards and the bone needles and stone spindle whorls in the museum in Girne, Northern Cyprus.”
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