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Vrysi, North Cyprus in History
A few miles east of Girne in North Cyprus, on the coast, is the Neolithic site of Vrysi. Archaeologists examined a small part of the site and left some of the walls of the house exposed. The sea has undercut the promontory on which the village stood and the whole area will fall into the sea in a short time. Visitors may look at the site and walk around its edges, but they may not enter it, lest they disturb this fragile place. If you have seen the artefacts from the site in the museum at 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, strangers. Please look, but don’t 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 the laughter of children, busy with the sounds we made grinding grain, peeling stone tools, chopping wood. We were a happy people, able to gather or find plenty of food and can store it against in dry years and 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 gave us carobs, figs, lemons and olives. We raised wheat and barley, lentils, even grapes for wine We could keep pet dogs and cats because we always had enough to eat.
“We used stone sickles, axes, knives, spindle weights and chisels, we carved hooks and needles from bone.
“You can see only six of our houses in North Cyprus. We had about twenty houses in my day. They were grouped in groups because there were many big families living in our village. We stayed here all year round, generation after generation. Before the ancestors knew us to cultivate, only small groups of people could stay together year-round. In those old times, people would gather for feasts and arrange marriages, then disperse to harvest what the wild world had to offer. Late winter and spring were always times of famine, when grandfathers died and very often young children died too.
“In those days before agriculture, it was difficult to preserve food for the winter. Our ancestors dug pits in the ground and lined them with skins, but mice and other vermin always found their way into the cache. Of course people knew that some kinds of mud have been hardening in the fire since the first child tried to bake a mud pie. Pottery just didn’t work for our wandering ancestors–too heavy and too apt to break. But we farmed, lived a quiet life, and made 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 draw water is quite far away. Without pots, we would have to carry water slowly in leather bags. Have you ever tasted water from a leather 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 from this fact: the archaeologists who excavated here found sixty-two thousand potsherds and only a thousand other objects of all kinds.
“We made pottery ourselves, each family has its own designs. 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 potter’s wheel, but shaped each piece by hand and baked in small ovens.
“The designs on our pots came with our ancestors when they left Mersina in Turkey to make a brave sea voyage to Northern Cyprus. At first they were afraid, those pioneers. Their houses were half underground, and they built a ditch as defense against the attack on this valuable property, but little by little we learned that we had nothing to fear.
“Our ancestors here in Vrysi lived in flimsy houses when they first arrived. But ours, as you can see, were solidly built. We had paved walkways between our houses so we didn’t get a lot of mud.
“We liked rectangular houses, but sometimes the land forced us into an irregular shape. We rounded the corners so they could be easily kept clean, and we had lovely walls plastered with clay. We covered our floor with woven mats. Wooden pillars supported the tall thatched roofs. us.
“We built stone benches along the walls of our houses and had storage bins made of stone slabs. A large hearth was the center of each house. At night, our one-room houses were cozy by the light of the fire and the glow of the burning oil on stone lamps We made small stone idols which were honored in our homes, but this is a religious matter, which we do not discuss with strangers.
“My people lived here for over a hundred generations, until an earthquake made the place dangerous and we moved away. For five thousand years since then, the sea has undermined our cape. In the not-so-distant future, the sea will swallow it whole the village. Then all that will be left to remember our lives will be the pottery sherds and the bone needles and stone spindles in the museum at Girne, North Cyprus.”
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