Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Cretan Shrine Discovered Volume 53 Number 5, September/October 2000
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

[image] Terra-cotta hand from a Minoan goddess statue (Courtesy Metaxia Tsipopoulou) [LARGER IMAGE]

A joint Greek-American excavation of Halasmenos, a Late Minoan complex in eastern Crete dating to the end of the twelfth century B.C., has revealed four megara (great halls), one a shrine containing clay statuettes of goddesses and other ritual items. Discovery of the megara revealed a clear social distinction in architecture that had not been observed previously at the 27,000-square-foot site, located on the northern part of the Ierapetra Isthmus.

Excavations directed by Metaxia Tsipopoulou of the Greek Ministry of Culture and William D.E. Coulson, former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, showed that the four buildings had been erected on the rectangular "megaron" plan typical of the Greek mainland. This indicates, if not the presence of Mycenaeans at the site, at least an awareness of fashionable building trends of the period.

The megaron that housed the public shrine contained the standard paraphernalia used in the practice of religious ritual in the final phase of the Cretan Bronze Age: clay statues of "goddesses" with up-raised arms (up to 27 inches tall), "snake-tubes" (ceramic vessels that held incense), and wall plaques with attached "horns of consecration" (architectural decorations in the form of bull horns). This assemblage is known from at least six other sites in central and eastern Crete. Many of these objects were found in positions suggesting they had been placed on benches that, as at other Late Minoan shrines, ran along the walls. Various types of vases for offering and storage were also excavated.

Tsipopoulou and Coulson say their team has cataloged more than 2,000 fragments requiring conservation. The project is supported by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America