PALACE AND LANDSCAPE AT PALAIKASTRO - 2014
Hearth/Kiln/Oven - Tools/weapons - Plant remains - Stone - Domestic space - Production/extraction site - Road system/waterway
Type of Operation
British School at Athens
Palace and Landscape at Palaikastro. C. Knappett (Toronto/BSA), N. Momigliano (Bristol/BSA) and A. Livarda (Nottingham/BSA) report on the second season of excavation(in the Argyrakis and Mavrokoukoulakis plots) which revealed parts of three buildings (AP1, AM1, and MP1) occupied in Late Minoan I and Late Minoan III. (Fig. 1)
While much of building AP1 lies within the neighbouring plot to the south, its eastern and northern exterior walls (with a threshold) were revealed, plus a number of substantial walls, floors, and other features (including a possible staircase) belonging to different phases in the life of the building (especially within Late Minoan III). These structures produced considerable stone tumble which included (as did certain interior walls) large ashlar blocks in local sandstone, some with their original plaster and one with a mason’s mark in the shape of a double axe. There is as yet insufficient evidence to date the building’s construction: while the size and technique of the walls suggest a Neo-palatial date, many of the various stages of collapse, walls, floors, and other features so far exposed are associated with Late Minoan III pottery. A concentration of roof debris (including much charcoal) was also found. To the north of the northern exterior wall, the stone tumble lay on a pebble and clay surface, one of a number of levelling fills and surfaces revealed around the building. A large dump of Late Minoan III pottery still further to the north represents a one-time clearance of this surface. The east wall of AP1 defines the western limit of a Late Minoan III street surface (or Neo-palatial street fill) which is bounded to the east by a further wall. A shallow fire pit or hearth containing much charcoal was an exterior feature probably contemporary with the levelling fill, although its relationship (and that of the surrounding area) to activities connected with building AP1 remains unclear.
The second building, AM1, is a largely Late Minoan I structure which was reoccupied in Late Minoan III. The area of the Neo-palatial building currently visible (310m2) is greater than that of most freestanding houses excavated at Palaikastro, and comparable with building 1-17. Its façades, although heavily robbed or ploughed away, exhibit a regular profile and careful masonry, usually with good corner blocks and levelling courses (sometimes with blue or purple schist slabs). An entrance to building AM1 was located in its better-preserved west façade. A vestibule (room 1) had a threshold onto the street, and led to a staircase (room 2) to the south (with fine painted plaster preserved by the bottom landing) and to what was probably one of the largest rooms in the house (room 3) to the east. A low bench ran along its north wall. In room 3, the upper layers of the Neo-palatial destruction level were revealed, but not yet the floor level. Along the north wall a stone mortar and cover slab was found wedged in place, while a rough stone ‘cupboard’ was a later, perhaps Post-palatial addition as it partially blocked the opening between room 3 and its linked storage room 4. The rim of a pithos set in the ground is another in situ feature. The rest of building AM1 is as yet less well defined and explored. However, room 6 contained in situ a Neopalatial deposit comprising a large pithos with stone tools, a quern, 10 conical loomweights, two square weights, four restorable strainers, a fire-box, a rectangular plastered ceramic offering table, and two pot stands set in and around it. (Figs. 2, 3)
Tests into earlier strata were made in a number of locations, revealing inter alia the downward continuation of walls and the well-made and well-used floor of room 11, which sloped down towards a drain in the southeast corner. This half of the room had been plastered, while the remaining floor was of beaten earth with occasional paving slabs. Material from the floor itself dates around Late Minoan I. Thereafter, the generally uniform material from strata overlying the floor, accumulated during a phase of abandonment, indicates that the building was not reused until late in the Late Minoan period.
Beyond the north wall of room 11 was a grinding installation. (Fig. 4) A large saddle quern, with a grinding stone upon it, was built into a stone, earth and plaster base, with a vertical slab set into the floor as a foot-rest. A large jar was set below the leading edge of the quern to catch the ground material (perhaps within a sack held inside the vessel since it was deeply built into the floor). A possible foundation deposit associated with the jar consisted of a juglet pierced twice after firing, plus a bronze nail of the size of the piercings. Excavation beneath the installation produced charcoal and sherds of a baking plate, while a heavy, utilitarian bronze double axe found under the partition wall could have been a foundation deposit, although the possibility of a hoard or wider stratum cannot yet be discounted.
Late Minoan III re-occupation, while poorly preserved and disturbed by modern cultivation, is attested in most areas, including the external spaces around the Neo-palatial building. In what became room 13, a layer of kitchen refuse perhaps collapsed from a roof or upper story included two concentrations of Hexaplex trunculus (probably used shells in perishable containers). Also in the upper layers was a terminal piece (or spout) of a terracotta drain. Both shell deposits were in ephemeral Late Minoan III contexts which made use of a ruined building. Indeed, only the discovery of a hearth enabled the identification of a ‘surface’ plausibly in use during the reoccupation phase. The Late Minoan III walls may have been poorly constructed, reusing older collapsed walls as foundations: but whether or not room 13 was a fully roofed space, it represents a simple reuse of a ruined structure without complete clearance or even levelling of the earlier collapse (room 12, by contrast, was clearly an internal room with a beaten earth floor). At the south end of room 13 was a low platform on which a Late Minoan I stone offering table was found, in situ but inverted, amidst a denser concentration of pebbles. Since the find context relates to the Late Minoan III reoccupation, the vessel must have been preserved or scavenged. Kitchen refuse similar to that inside room 13 was also found outside the building..
Of the third building, MP1, only one corner has so far been revealed, with complete and semi-complete pots inside it. A street ran outside it with a curving line of stones which may have been a drain or have demarcated a ‘porch’. The upper levels of building MP1 are Neo-palatial and probably Late Minoan IA (with some Middle Minoan III pottery also present). The lack of evidence for Late Minoan III occupation is noteworthy. Fragmentary architectural materials - schist fragments, plaster (some painted), charcoal, and mud-brick - appeared throughout. Finds in the interior space so far revealed may tentatively be connected with craft production.
Plant material (other than charcoal) consisted mostly of seeds and nut or fruit-shell fragments in particularly low quantities. The few food plants included poorly preserved cereals. Legumes were also poorly preserved, but grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) and broad bean (Vicia faba) were identified. Olives, grapes, figs and almonds complement the food plant repertoire of the site. The paucity of highly fragmented and again poorly preserved charred plant remains (seeds and charcoal) reflects the site’s alkaline environment. Taphonomic study will enable understanding of the formation processes of the site in relation to plant remains, forming the basis for interpretation of the archaeobotanical material.
Among the molluscan remains, the finds of crushed Hexaplex trunculus shells are of particular interest as one the few large-scale domestic deposits of waste from purple dye production in the Aegean. As part of the University of Nottingham’s ‘purple project’, an experiment in the production of purple dye was conducted using fresh purple shells collected from Palaikastro and Siteia which were crushed to extract the molluscs using stone tools which were then kept for micro-wear analysis. Linen, wool and silk were used in the experiment, and two dye recipes were devised (the liquid produced during the procedure will be subjected to chemical analysis). It is anticipated that observations made during the experiment, when combined with the counting and recording of all shell fragments and diagnostic features in the archaeological contexts, will offer insights into the methods and scale of purple dye production on site.
Seventeen palaeoenvironmental cores of various depths were taken in the areas of Chiona and Kouremenos to elucidate the formation of the landscape within the territory of the Minoan settlement, and obtain a catena of sedimentologically correlated cores that will be used for multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental study after the construction of a time-depth model of each area. As described in the Fitch Laboratory report below, a diachronic study of pottery production from Middle Minoan IIA through to Late Minoan III A2 was begun in order to characterize the range of fine and coarse wares used, investigate possible local sources of raw materials, and identify imports. Finally, education specialist Kostas Kasvikis gave classes to introduce pupils from the local primary school to archaeology, and conducted on-site activities with project staff to teach pupils how different stages of the excavation work.
A diachronic study of pottery production and supply at Bronze Age Palaikastro by John Gait (Fitch Laboratory), in collaboration with Evangelia Kiriatzi, Noemi Mueller, and Carl Knappett, aims to characterize the range of fine and coarse wares used from Middle Minoan IIA to Late Minoan III A2 (ca. 1800-1330 BC), explore possible local sources for the raw materials, and identify imports and their potential sources. It will examine transformations in manufacturing techniques and the transmission of technological knowledge over time, and how potters may have moved within and used the landscape. A total of 288 pottery samples and 39 samples of clays and sands collected in a geoarchaeological survey of potential raw material sources in the site hinterland are currently being subjected to petrographic analysis, with chemical analysis to follow. (Fig 5) A number of substantial deposits of red-coloured clays have been investigated between Kastri and Bondalaki bay, as well as extensive buff- and grey-coloured Neogene marl deposits near Skaria. Initial results from petrographic analysis of experimental clay briquettes and archaeological materials suggest that these coarser local red clays may have been used in preference to the fine Neogene clays, although additional phyllite temper from an as yet unidentified source may have been intentionally added.
Unpublished field report, British School at Athens.
Date of creation