Palatial remains discovered at Ancient Kydonia
Archaeological work in Hania, Crete, sheds light on destruction of Late Bronge Age city
By John Leonard
The ongoing archaeological investigation of Kastelli Hill in the midst of the city of Hania, directed by Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, director of the 25th Greek Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, has revealed important new information concerning the character and final destruction of Late Bronze Age Kydonia – a major palace center of northwestern Minoan Crete – in the 13th century BC.
The Mycenaeans from mainland Greece had already taken over Crete some two centuries before. Among the most significant discoveries made at Kydonia during the latest round of excavation in late 2009, according to a statement by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism in March 2010, were a plastered courtyard entrance to the Minoan palace, a painted rectangular altar and burned and unburned sacrificial offerings, including the bones of a young woman.
Previous discoveries long ago on Kastelli Hill established the palatial nature of the Minoan site. As early as 1973, a royal archive of 72 fragmentary clay tablets inscribed in Linear A, 104 clay discs and 86 clay stamps – dating from the New Palace period (17th-15th centuries BC) – were uncovered in an area adjacent to the present excavation. The recent work has exposed further examples of Late Bronze Age writing, including a Linear A tablet with a list of products, several fragmentary Linear B tablets and an inscribed disc.
Details of the palace itself are becoming clearer, while intriguing traces apparently left over from ritualistic ceremonies are also coming to light. On the hill’s southwestern edge, an extensive courtyard with a heavily plastered floor (5 centimeters thick) seems to mark the position of the western entrance to the palace complex. Further north, well-carved blocks, numerous burned plinths and an in situ column base belong to an important, still-to-be-identified, adjacent structure. Within the courtyard, Andreadaki-Vlazaki’s team, including archaeologist Eftychia Protopapadaki, anthropologist Tina McGeorge, archaeobotanist Anaya Sarpaki and zooarchaeologist Dimitra Mylona, unearthed a built, painted altar and an array of offerings – burned nuts, many unburned animal bones (goat, sheep, pig, cow) and a collection of similarly treated human bones belonging to a young female, who appears also to have been sacrificed. Beside the altar, found within a burned context, were at least five sets of goat horns and four vases of typical Kydonian manufacture.
Judging from these datable artifacts and the clear signs of devastation to the site, the Kydonia palace complex, according to the excavators, appears to have been destroyed by a large fire in the first half of the 13th century BC. Human sacrifice in Late Bronze Age Crete, attested to indirectly perhaps by the ancient tale of Athenian youths being sent as tribute to Knossos to be fed to the Minotaur, remains a hot topic of debate among archaeological specialists.
Direct evidence of this practice has been inconclusive to date but the latest results from Kydonia are certain to once more fan the flames.