On the 21st of July, 365, after initial tremors discernible only to animals, a major seismic pulse struck Kourion just after dawn, when most people were still abed. Walls began to shake and some roofs collapsed. Glassware and pottery on tables and shelves teetered and fell. People jarred awake during this four-second episode had only time to reach “It’s nice to see the city live again,” said Cypriot digger Elpenike Andonion, holding bits of a human skeleton she discovered. The team includes Americans, Britons, Portuguese, French, and Italians. Jokes the author, “No one speaks the other’s language well enough to get on one another’s nerves.”
Had this been the only wave to strike Kourion, the loss of life would not have been so high. But a second wave of much greater intensity followed immediately. It struck with deadly force. The modified Mercalli scale, which seismologists use to gauge earthquake severity by observing displacement of objects and terrain, assigns the figure XII to the highest level of devastation. On the Mercalli, the blast that now hit Kourion was estimated by the team at IX or X.
The violently shaking ground disoriented residents, and coordinated movement became impossible. Some walls collapsed while other walls seemed to explode. Objects caromed around the rooms, ricocheting off walls and felling individuals.
In the Daniel house a block from the ceiling struck our 19-year-old mother, snapping her neck like a twig. A doorway collapsed on the laborer, while the mule in the stable flailed about, trapping Camelia. Other victims curled in the fetal position, only to be crushed or suffocated by thousands of pounds of rock and roof tile.
Reuben Bullard described the ground as “a mass of quivering Jell-O.” Terry Wallace likened the experience to “being underwater in the dark with no frame of reference.”
The violence of the second wave that doomed the city lasted perhaps ten seconds, a very long time to be imprisoned in rooms that shake violently while objects bombard you and walls and ceilings are caving in.
Then a third wave struck, lasting about five seconds. But by now most of the people in the Daniel house and in the rest of the city were dying or already dead under tons of rubble.
We estimate that at least 500 people died in the Kourion area, but the toll in all of southwest Cyprus was perhaps in the thousands. The quake probably affected much of the coast from Kourion to Paphos, some 30 miles west.
One must also take account of the enormous tsunami that spread from the offshore epicenter and traveled hundreds of miles to strike coastal areas such as Alexandria and the southern Peloponnesus of Greece. The sea wave would have engulfed the harbor of Kourion about 200 seconds after the primary ground wave damaged the house.
For the doomed family of the Daniel house the situation had been aggravated by a massive building towering above it on a small hill. When this building crumpled, it showered huge blocks of limestone onto the north end of the house, precisely where the family of three were huddling. They had no chance.
What was this building? In 1934 Daniel had uncovered three massive, elaborately worked cornice blocks appropriate for a community structure of obvious significance. As we excavated, more and more garishly painted blocks appeared: cornice pieces, cluster columns, broken pediments, arched moldings.
Traces of a two-story facade emerged, opening onto a large open space that yielded abundant animal bones, some of which showed indications of butchering. There were the bones of cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, fish, and birds as well as of sheep or goats — virtually impossible to distinguish. We also found the bones of rabbits and hares, including one variety that may have weighed 40 pounds.
Smallish rooms gave the impression of live-in shops, especially on the lower southeast side where two almost identical rooms faced the courtyard. I visualized an ornate market building with open-air stalls in front.
We counted some 32,000 fragments of wall fresco, some brightly painted. As we brushed and cataloged the pieces, it became evident that the market patrons had done what people still do everywhere—they scratched graffiti.
In this first significant cache of graffiti discovered on Cyprus, one artist awkwardly sketched a lady with a flower. Another drew an amateurish portrait. But most seemed to delight in scrawling Greek phrases, which became the special study of Holt Parker of the University of Arizona. Are you already a student? Learn how to simplify your finances via consolidation. Check out how can you consolidate federal student loans.
On one white fresco a believer scratched: “0 Jesus . . .” with the message broken off until it ended, “of Chr[ist].” A less skilled scrawler, possibly a child, practiced the Greek alphabet with shaky hand. Demetria, Eutyches, Sozomenos, and other citizens wrote their names.