A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A newly discovered Minoan palace has yielded the oldest well-dated fresco fragment ever found in Crete. Excavating 20 miles south of Heraklion, George Rethemiotakis of the Heraklion Museum found the fragment of a wall painting depicting a rocky landscape and a wood construction, possibly a shrine. It dates to the seventeenth century B.C. The central court of the palace measures 52 by 105 feet, the fourth largest in Crete after those at the famous palaces of Knossos, Mallia, and Phaistos. The 53,000-square-foot palace was built between 1700 and 1650 B.C., destroyed by fire, reconstructed ca. 1600, and destroyed again, perhaps by an earthquake, in 1500.
Reports of looting led Rethemiotakis and a salvage team to the site in the winter of 1991-92, when he discovered the central court and "realized it was something big." When he returned to conduct systematic excavations in 1995, he uncovered two halls in the palace's east wing that may have served political or religious functions. The larger of the two halls, measuring 21 by 21 feet, contained a large, square hearth between four pillars, a unique feature in Minoan palaces. Rethemiotakis believes the smaller hall, including a central column surrounded by benches, was used as a dining area. The other half of the east wing included storerooms which, in typical Minoan fashion, housed pithoi (storage jars), and a large kitchen containing abundant kitchen ware. The palace's west wing had been destroyed by plowing, but the discovery of tools and stone implements indicates that it may have been used for craft production. Rethemiotakis has so far only uncovered the walls of the north wing and a residential area with an impressive view of the court's facade.
The fresco fragment, which bears an image of a rocky landscape, was found in debris of the palace's first phase, dating to the seventeenth century B.C. Fine ceramics transported from Knossos are evidence of a substantial reoccupation of the western part of the site by elite classes after 1500. The Greek state is expropriating the site from a farmer and it will eventually be developed as an archaeological park; the dig has received financial support from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory.
Meanwhile, the Cretan city of Chania, known for its picturesque Venetian fortifications, is also becoming notable for its Minoan ruins. Excavations last spring on Daskaloyanni Street revealed a substantial Minoan settlement dating to the Neopalatial period (1700-1450 B.C.). It was covered with ash from an extensive fire ca. 1450; similar conflagrations are known to have damaged other Minoan settlements throughout Crete at this time. Maria Vlazaki, Chania's director of prehistoric and classical antiquities, says only the Minoan town's western boundary, measuring some 7,000 square feet, has thus far been excavated. Rescue excavations next to Daskaloyanni Street conducted by Vlazaki in 1989 revealed a lustral basin for ritual purification. The settlement will be temporarily covered pending further excavation and the creation of an archaeological park.