SIA 8 : Mitsero Basin

Mitsero Basin is a 20 sq km catchment located in the northern foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Intensive geomorphological studies in the Mitsero Basin began in the winter of 1996 and continued during the 1997 and 1998 field seasons. One of SCSP’s main goals was to characterise the complex relationship amongst human land-use, landscape evolution and the surface distribution of cultural artefacts. Mitsero Basin was chosen for intensive geomorphological study because three SIAs and 22 POSIs lie within it, and because the modern culture and land use of the Mitsero area has been examined in detail. The main research goals of the work carried out in the Mitsero Basin were to characterise the alluvial stratigraphy and basin geomorphology, and to interpret the relationship between artefact distribution, landscape evolution and land use throughout the time that humans have occupied the area.

This integration of fluvial geomorphology, pedology and geoarchaeology has demonstrated the impact of human land use on the landscape evolution of the Mitsero Basin. Absolute and relative dating methods have determined that the alluvial terraces of the Mitsero Basin are Late Pleistocene to latest Holocene in age, and that the colluvial soils (where present) are predominantly less than 100 years old. The three youngest terraces were formed through a series of intense deposition/incision cycles that began in the early-mid Medieval Period and continued through the Ottoman occupation of the basin.

Soil chrono-sequence and topo-sequence analyses suggest that while the alluvial soils of the two youngest terraces have developed as unique in situ terrace soils, they exhibit characteristics such as increased rubification (reddening of soil when iron within the sand, silt or clay particles is oxidised) and clay accumulation, which are typical of older, more mature soils. This implies that their dominant parent material was soil that was stripped from the surrounding hillslopes through abusive land use practices such as deforestation, pastoralism and abandonment. Coarse sediments in the youngest terrace and modern incision are a result of a modern shift to an emphasis on conservation including reforestation, damming and a prohibition of pastoralism in the basin foothills.

After comparing the archaeological and historical record of the basin to the stratigraphy of the soils and sediments, it would appear that the modern landscape was formed primarily through the exploitation of marginal lands to sustain growing populations and increased taxation demands during the Medieval and Ottoman Periods. From the Iron Age to the Modern period, survey results consistently show high concentrations of pottery at Mitsero Kouloupakhis (SIA 3) and Mitsero Mavrovounos (SIA 4). These locations have prominent, multi-layered slag heaps, evidence of diachronic industrial occupation of the northern region of the basin.

Transects in the southern part of the basin, however, revealed a notable dearth of cultural data. As the oldest terrace has been stable throughout the human occupation of the basin, the survey data do in fact reflect the genuine distribution (or lack) of the artefacts. It is likely that the basin resources principally have supported mineral and forest exploitation and pastoralism since the Iron Age, whilst the principal agricultural produce was extracted from the more fertile plains north of the basin divide. As is the case today, people did not settle in the foothills but rather congregated at the main river confluence and north of the basin divide.