The Nature of the Evidence
This consists of the following four broad classes, the last of which will not be dealt with in any detail in this course:
- Locations of cult activity.
- Representations of cult activity in Minoan art on such items as seals, signet rings, mural paintings, sarcophagi (larnakes), and pottery.
- The nature of cult “furniture” (i.e. figurines, “ horns of consecration ”, “baetylic pillars”, “libation” jugs, altars, tripod “tables of offerings”, etc.).
- Garbled memories of Minoan cult practice preserved in later Greek myth and ritual.
Since Linear A is as yet undeciphered, there is effectively no contemporary textual evidence regarding Minoan religion. Even if Linear A were deciphered, it is unlikely that much information regarding Minoan cult practices, much less Minoan religious ideology, would be forthcoming above and beyond the names of the divinities which the Minoans worshipped.
FEATURES OF MINOAN SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The Neo-palatial period is most commonly considered the zenith of Minoan civilization. At this time there were four large palace centers—Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Kato Zakros—as well as large developed towns, such as Gournia, and numerous examples of small isolated farmsteads. Their economic base was a developed agricultural system that utilized wheat, barley, olives, grapes, sheep, goats, and cattle. But just how Minoan complexity fit into this agricultural background is only partially understood.
What we can determine of Minoan social structure derives basically from analysis of the palatial centers. Significant sections of the structure of all the palaces, with the exception of Kato Zakros, were devoted to the storage of large amounts of agricultural supplies. Knossos was by far the largest of the palaces and had the greatest storerooms. Within these rooms were stored massive amounts of olive oil, olives, wheat, and other agricultural items. The presence of these large storerooms gives a glimpse into the probable structure of the Minoan social hierarchy.
The storage and redistribution of agricultural goods are best paralleled in what anthropologists have identified as a social and economic construction in modern societies, the chiefdom. While a direct comparison between these modern social configurations and the ancient Minoans would be misleading, an analysis of just how cultures might use food storage in the development of their social and political structures gives insight into the possible basis for the Minoan political and social order.
Social storage of food often is a measure taken by cultures to moderate the risk of agricultural uncertainty. At times, this storage has been manipulated to afford the armature upon which social and political hierarchy first develops. Such was probably the case with the Minoans. The island is composed of a multitude of microenvironments, rather small isolated areas, that are locked in by topographical features, such as mountains. An important feature of these microenvironments in those times was that each had its own particular reaction to normal interannual fluctuations in rainfall. The result was that Crete often resembled a patchwork of distinct microenvironments with quite different agricultural yields every year throughout the island. Simply put, one microenvironment could have had a bumper crop of wheat while its near neighbors could have been experiencing a serious shortfall in that grain during the same summer.
Social and political hierarchy can develop when a person or a group begins to control agricultural storage within and between these different micro-environments. Often this is seen in the gathering of a certain percentage of the agricultural surplus and ensuring that some of it is redistributed to those people who live in areas with low productivity in a particular year. As one might surmise, therein lies the basis of social indebtedness and the platform for constructing social hierarchy.
The palace of Minos at Knossos best illustrates this economic system. The entire western basement was dedicated to food storage. The rulers of Knossos could either return some food to areas in need or, as can be seen from the plan of the palace, use much of it to support craft specialists, who occupied up to a fourth of the palace, in the production of luxury items for use by the ruling family. This system of centralized redistribution was probably in place throughout the island. Only the palace at Kato Zakros lacks such a distinctive storage capacity.
To Use or Not to Use a Minoan Chisel? Ancient Technology in a New Light
The Minoan chisel is thought to have been used by the metal worker, the stone mason, the sculptor, the carpenter, and the ivory and bone worker. However, barely any work has been conducted to substantiate the different workers and their chisels. For example, the different materials used by the proposed workers indicate that use-wear on the cutting edges probably are of diverse characters depending on the different grade of hardness of the material worked on. To add to this, there have been extremely few experiments conducted with bronze chisels, which could give some indications of use and users. This article aims to disentangle questions regarding the chisels and the working of stone by addressing two issues: The use of chisels on stone during the Minoan period and experimental work with replicas in order to investigate if the bronze chisels were suitable as stone working tools.
Firstly, I will briefly present the Minoan chisel and the archaeological evidence for their use on stone during the Minoan period, while also examining what kinds of stones were used during this period. This presentation is not exhaustive or comprehensive, but points to the different working actions conducted on stone during the Minoan period. The second part of the article will detail the experimental work using chisel replicas on stone.
The Minoan chisel
There are several chisel typologies presented by different scholars. However, the typology presented by D. Evely in his book from 1993, Minoan crafts: Tools and techniques. An introduction, is the only one to concentrate on Minoan chisels. He presents five types of chisels, which are divided into subgroups depending on the different lengths and shapes of the chisels (Evely 1993, 2-11) (See Figures 1.1 and 1.2 below).
Simplifying this complex typology, my conclusion is that there are two kinds of Minoan chisels. One has a somewhat square body of different lengths and a cutting edge width of circa 1-2 cm, with or without a flare, while the other has a rectangular body, also found in different lengths, but with a wider cutting edge circa 2.5-6 cm. These can also be found with or without a flared cutting edge.
Several of these “types” have been found on Crete over 60 specimens of the square chisel and approximately 70 of the rectangular chisels. The contexts are diverse they are found in graves, palaces, settlements and shrines (Evely 1993, 2-11).
The archaeological evidence for stone working with chisels: Quarrying and dressing stone
Basically, chisel-work on stone concerns three different working actions: quarrying, dressing and sculpting. Evidence of all these working actions can be detected in the Minoan material. In this section I will consider Minoan quarries and in addition bring forward material from Egypt to further substantiate the use of the bronze chisel in quarries.
It seems as if the Minoans were the first in the Aegean to open quarries, which is probably related to the massive building programs which began in the Old Palace Period, circa 1900 BC (Waelkens 1992, 11). One of the stones quarried was ammoúdha, which is soft sandstone that could be quarried with bronze tools (Shaw 1973, 35-39 Soles 1983, 44-45 Waelkens 1990, 54, Figs. 1 & 3 Waelkens 1992, 8-9 Shaw 2009, 28-36). In the eastern part of Crete, several ammoúdha quarries have been identified which were in use during the New Palace Period (1700-1450 BC), such as one east of the Mallia palace. The stone was used for interior walls and facades in the palace and the surrounding buildings. Of the other quarries, Mochlos served Gournia with ammoúdha, Skaria served Palaikastro and Pelekita and Malamoures provided the palace of Zakros with building material (Shaw 1973, 31-39 Soles 1983, 33-46 Driessen 1984, 143-149 Waelkens 1990, 54, Figs.1-3 Waelkens 1992, 9-10 Papageordakis 1992, 22-23 Shaw 2009, 23, 28-36).
Apart from ammoúdha, limestone was quarried and used as building material during the Minoan period, though mainly in the areas of Knossos and Phaistos (for further reading see: Shaw 2009, 18 1987-1988 Vandeput, 89). It was the softer limestone of the poros or porólithos variety that was in use. The harder one, sidherópetra, does not seem to have been quarried (Vandeput 1987-1988, 90).
Even though we can pinpoint several locations for quarrying, evidence for the use of chisels is meager. However, in order to free blocks at Mochlos, scoring seems to have been executed with a chisel. A five centimeter wide score, which corresponds to a chisel of the wider rectangular type (Evely’s type 3b), has been identified (Soles 1983, 40 Waelkens, De Paepe and Moens 1990, 52 Evely 1993, 8-10).
The evidence for chisel use for quarrying, based on the Minoan material, is not convincing. Turning to Egypt during the Bronze Age, the picture is slightly different. In Egypt finds of copper or bronze chisels increase during the third Dynasty when building programs in stone were introduced (Petrie 1901, 24, 28, Pls. 6, 9a, 38, 41 Arnold 1991, 257). During the Late Bronze Age (from 18 th Dynasty) chisel marks can, for example, be detected in Gebel Silsila (Klemm 1990, 27, Figs. 4 & 5). Arnold notes that there are two chisel types used by stone masons the round bar chisel and the flat mortise chisel (Arnold 1991, 257-258, Figs. 6.10 & 6.11). These two types are plentyful and date from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom (circa 2700-1100 BC). The round bar chisel was used for dressing and leveling a stone surface and the flat mortise chisel was used to cut out, for example, mortises (Petrie 1917, 20, Pls. 11-12 Arnold 1991, 258).
The archaeological evidence for stone working with chisels: ‘Sculpting’
In this section I will point to smaller items produced or ‘sculpted’ in stone during the Minoan era, starting off with stone vases, production of which started in the EM II period, circa 2500 BC. A stone-vase-maker’s tool kit is considered to include: knife-blades, points, chisels, drills, abrasives and polishing equipment, a wheel and lathe, as well as a cutting compass. The chisel was used to define the outer lines of the vase and to scoop out the interior of the vase-to-be (Warren 1969, 157-165 Evely 1992, 19 Evely 1993, 190 Evely 2010, 395). Later on, when making stone vases, drilling out of cores became the most used technique. The evidence for this manufacturing process mainly comes from Egyptian tomb paintings (for examples and further references see: Davies 1943, Pl. LIV Warren 1969, Fig. 7 Evely 1993, 190). Experimental work has been undertaken to make replicas of Minoan vases by drilling out cores and compare these to Minoan vases and cores (Morero, Procopiou, Vargiolu and Zahouani 2008, 479-482). In these experiments the chisel was not used. Hopefully, further experiments will be undertaken and more stone vases studied, in order to better understand the drilling and chiseling of stone vases.
Stone figurines or sculptures are not abundant from the Minoan period, but if one examines the Cycladic islands and the Cycladic Idols, one can get an understanding of early stone sculpting. Research focusing on the manufacture of Cycladic Idols seems to be divided into two groups manufactured with or without bronze chisels. Oustinoff indicates that only stone “tools” (emery, obsidian and pumice) were used to shape and polish the Idols. To substantiate this she has undertaken convincing experiments showing that the Idols are “easily” formed using stone (Oustinoff 1984, 39-42). However, other researchers point out that metal chisels could have been used to manufacture the Cycladic figurines. They could have been used in the process of preparing a rough marble surface, prior to more precise working (Getz-Preziosi 1977, 71 Getz-Preziosi 1987, 20, 35).
The archaeological record from Crete, however, does reveal plenty of small stone ornaments of different kinds personal ornaments such as beads and jewelry and ‘non-personal’ inlays for furniture and additionally, another category of small items – sealstones. As in the case of the Cycladic figurines, the toolkit consisted of stone abrasives, such as emery and obsidian, but also saws, chisels, knives, drills and hammers (Evely 1993, 150-152, 195-205). It is questionable if the chisel was used for the precision work during the manufacture of sealstones and other small ornament. The chisel was probably used to prepare the stone and not for the detailed work. Experiments replicating cylinder seals from Mesopotamia, dating to 3000-2000 BC, revealed that depending on whether they were made of soft or hard stone, chipped flint and copper drills were used for the precision work (Gorelick and Gwinnett 1987, 15-24).
Another category of items that needed to be ‘sculpted’ were stone moulds. These have been found with cavities for various objects and made of different stones. Several moulds made of schist have been found for casting double axes, such as one from Quarter Mu, Mallia (Poursat 1996, 69). From Phaistos, several schist and limestone moulds have also been unearthed the cavities show that they were casting chisels, bars and knives (Pernier and Banti 1951, 369-371, Fig. 235 a-d). In order to carve a mould, I believe that the same tool-kit as for the smaller items would suffice. Perhaps it was the same workmen who conducted both actions.
Although not exhaustive, this account of the possible working of stone with chisels, gives an idea of what kind of experiments need to be accomplished in order to come closer to verifying the different uses of the chisel. The following part of the article will address the experimental work conducted with Minoan chisel replicas.
Experimentswith chisel replicas
In order to, as far as possible, understand the manufacturing process of Minoan chisels, experiments were undertaken to make modern replicas. Five different chisel types were chosen, based on the types presented by Evely in his book Minoan crafts: Tools and techniques. An introduction, from 1993 (nos. 20-21, 52 and 101). Evely’s no. 101 was, in addition, cast in an altered version (here called no. 101 square) in order to investigate if the cast bars reported from Kommos were used to produce chisels or other small tools (Evely 1993, 2-14 Blitzer 1995, 511-517) (See Figure 2).
Altogether twenty-three replicas were cast, at Forsviks Bruk, an industrial heritage community in Sweden. I am in the process of writing a full account of the manufacturing process which included casting and finishing treatments. These experiments are forthcoming in the article “The chaîne opératoire of the Minoan chisel”.
Carving a stone mould
The first experiment was conducted by Mr. Nigel Ratcliffe Springall, a sculptor who has a workshop in the village of Kritsà, Crete. The experiment consisted of cutting out a stone mould for a chisel and a trunnion axe using the chisels cast at Forsviks Bruk (the chisel model is Evely 1993, 8 no. 74 and the trunnion axe model is Evely 1993, 58 no. 2).
The archaeological material includes, as accounted for above, stone moulds made of limestone therefore a piece was attained from a local stone yard. The limestone, used for the experiment, is of the poros sort described above and the hardness is approximately 2.5 on the Mohs’ scale. The other materials for the experiments were “river stones”. We discussed the use of stone as a hammer. Not questioning its usefulness as a hammer, but how it was to work with as a tool the impact of a stroke with a stone could be very painful going back up the wrist and arm. Furthermore, in the case of stone against metal it could be very hard and in a worse case cause severe injuries. However, the conclusion was that depending on the type and shape of the stone the force on the wrist, hand and arm was different. Even though Ratcliffe Springall found a stone that was somewhat comfortable to work with, a wooden mallet was also used. Grinding powder was also obtained in case an abrasive was needed unfortunately not emery, but a mechanically made substitute for it (See Figure 3).
A wooden mallet was an important tool for the sculptor (and stone mason), however, to my knowledge there are no such tools found on Crete. Nevertheless, examples have been found and also represented in tomb paintings, in Egypt, dating to the Bronze Age. The examples found in Egypt are made of two pieces of wood: an elongated to bell shaped head and a round handle (Freed 1981, Fig. 26 Arnold 1991, 264-265, Figs. 6.18-6.19). A groove on the mallet has been interpreted as a location point for a metal band in order to prevent the mallet from breaking or splitting. Though, Arnold also mentions that the groove could come from the chisel when hammering on it (Arnold 1991, 264).
To start off, the piece of limestone was secured in a wooden box with sand around it, to stop the stone from moving when cut. The stone needed to be dressed in order to cut out the cavities. The no. 101 chisel was chosen because of its’ broad cutting edge, which meant that larger parts of the uneven stone surface were removed in one stroke. To begin with, the stone-hammer was used. After seven minutes the face of the stone-hammer was worn. The chisel’s cutting edge showed use-wear which consisted of several small dents in a row and were somewhat concentrated at the centreof the cutting edge. The butt end of the chisel started to show mushroom edges due to the impact of the stone-hammer.
Although the cutting edge measured below 1 mm it had to be resharpened in order to cut the limestone. The leveling of the stone continued, but with the wooden mallet as a hammer and from this point on, this was the only hammer used. The wooden mallet’s hitting area is larger than the stone’s and also has a handle which meant that more kinetic energy was delivered with one stroke with the mallet (and one does not have to look out for ones fingers!). In practice this meant that the amount of stone cut out using the wooden mallet was far more than with the stone-hammer. The mallet after only five minutes began to show a ‘waist line’ comparable to the wooden mallets found in Egypt (de Morgan 1903, 105, Fig. 153). The chisel became blunt faster this time, due to the effectiveness of the wooden mallet. Another interesting result was when comparing the marks created by the stone-hammer and the mallet. The stone hammer created ridge-like marks in the stone, which were built up almost as small individual sections in the stone. The marks created by the wooden mallet were like small smooth wavy lines in the stone (See Figure 4). This directly reflects the different strikes on the chisel, which affects the kinetic energy and the movement of the chisel in the stone.
The cutting edge, after five minutes using the wooden mallet, showed small dents in a row as previously but the dents were softer than before. In addition, a small mushroom edge had built up in the center of the cutting edge (below 1 mm in width). Although the center of the cutting edge was most worn, the overall appearance was that the cutting edge was more evenly worn now. The butt end of the chisel was not affected by the wooden mallet.
When the stone’s surface was leveled, models of a chisel and trunnion axe were drawn on the stone with a pencil. In Minoan times, they probably would have used charcoal for this (at least for the poros limestone which is creamy-white in colour). Continuing the mould cavities, Ratcliffe Springall changed chisels and from now on used no. 52, since no. 101’s cutting edge was too wide.
Ratcliffe Springall started off with the cavity for the trunnion axe. After twelve minutes the cutting edge had become blunt, but only a few tiny dents were visible. However, one side of the cutting edge seemed more effected than the other, which was probably due to the working angle. The butt was hardly affected the only way of telling that it was hit was as the rough surface left from casting slowly wore off. The chisel was resharpened in order to continue.
After another fifteen minutes the chisel needed to be resharpened again. The cutting edge was now more affected and tiny dents were visible on the whole cutting edge, even a slight mushroom edge had started to build up (width below 1mm).
Two-three deeper individual dents and a small mushroom edge had appeared (below 1 mm) after six more minutes of work. The cutting edge wore down fast when work was conducted on the ‘ears’ of the trunnion axe. This required working with the cutting edge at a different angle and shorter and more precise strikes on the chisel. The trickiest part of cutting out the trunnion axe was, according to Ratcliffe Springall, the “ears”, which are important for the hafting procedure and therefore of great significance to the axe.
The chisel was resharpened and used for 14 more minutes (a total of 47 minutes). The cutting edge now showed small individual dents along the whole cutting edge. Three larger dents were also identified which had built up a mushroom edge, bending towards the face of the chisel. The butt had now begun to show a mushroom edge. The chisel was again resharpened.
The chisel was checked again after a total of 73 and 93 minutes and the overall appearance were the same. The cutting edge by now was rounded and blunt and the individual dents had been worn down both by use and resharpening. When studied in profile the chisel’s cutting edge had started to flare out.
The chisel was once more resharpened and used for sixteen more minutes (a total of 109 minutes) to complete the mould (See Figure 5). The cutting edge’s outer most parts were flared and had a somewhat convex appearance, but the cutting edge was almost straight. Two-three smaller dents could be identified on the cutting edge but the overall appearance was rounded and worn. The butt end had built up a slightly larger mushroom edge.
After one hour and 49 minutes the limestone mould was finished and had cavities for a trunnion axe and a chisel (See Figure 6). The chisels had performed better than was thought from the beginning and I believe that Ratcliffe Springall was positively surprised by what the bronze chisels could achieve, although constant resharpening was required, unlike the steel chisels he normally uses.
Carving a relief plaque in limestone
I was fortunate to be guided around Athens Acropolis by Petros Georgopoulos, a marble sculptor, and member of The Acropolis Restoration Service and more specifically, a member of the Propylaia Restoration Group. The purpose of my visit was to follow a stone mason in his daily work and also to study the working actions needed to cut stone and what specific marks were created by the different chisels. Furthermore, I took six different bronze chisels to the Acropolis to have Georgopoulos’ opinion of them. An experiment with the bronze chisel replicas was conducted with four of the six chisels (Evely’s nos. 101, 52, 20 and 101 square) (See Figure 7).
The relief was carved on a piece of limestone from Malta, which according to Georgopoulos, corresponds to ones found on Crete. Petros started out with leveling the stone with the flat rectangular chisel (no. 101). After leveling the uneven surface Petros sketched a female face and started to carve it out in relief with the bronze chisels (See Figure 8). For the larger areas which needed some depth, he used nos. 101 and 101 square. For the details and lines around the nose, eyes and mouth he used the smaller chisels, nos. 52 and 20. Georgopoulos commented that the smaller chisels were too short, though if a handle was secured on these they could be effectively used as they were. The relief quickly took form in the stone. He worked very fast swapping the chisels so fast that I could not keep track of the times they were separately used. He also resharpened them from time to time. The one most affected by the work was no. 101 which became circa 2 mm shorter during the work (See Figure 9). No. 52 was also severely worn during the process and became circa 1.5 mm shorter.
After two hours the relief plaque was finished (See Figure 10) and Georgopoulos concluded the difference between his normal iron chisels and the bronze chisels were that the iron ones are more effective on limestone. So the real advantage of the iron tools would be in saving time (he stated that the iron chisel took out one third more per blow than the bronze ones did). However, the bronze chisels were very stable and easily controllable. He even thought that no. 52 was better for carving details than his chisel with a synthetic diamond cutting edge mounted on a steel handle. The reason for this was that the synthetic diamond chisel cuts too deep with one blow of the hammer and therefore is less controllable. The bronze chisel, on the other hand, did not cut so deep into the stone, which meant that the same line/s had to be cut two or three times instead. This meant that any mistakes could without difficulty be corrected therefore the bronze chisel was easier to control and the work conducted with more precision (See Figure 11). He also thought that carving the details was much easier than he had ever thought with a bronze chisel. He had, so far, underestimated bronze as a material for tools! There was no difference in the feeling when carving with bronze versus iron chisels on a soft material as limestone. It felt like using his ordinary iron tools.
Conclusionsand future research
These experiments show that the bronze chisels, without any problem, can be used to work soft stone. During the experiments the chisels were used to level limestone in order to cut out a mould with cavities for a chisel and a trunnion axe and carve a relief. However, this does not mean that the Minoans chose to actually use the tools in this manner. To really come to terms with who used the chisels and for what purpose, more experiments must be conducted on bone, metal, wood and also on a harder stone such as marble. One interesting result was that the straight cutting edge of no. 52 started to flare after some use is this result worth considering when studying the typologies and their subgroups?
To further substantiate the results from the experiments it is most important that the cutting edges of the replicas are compared to the Minoan ones. This further research is under progress and I have studied chisels at the Archaeological Museum at Chania, however these few examples are not enough to draw any further conclusions of work on stone. My hope is that further investigations can be conducted in the near future so as to be able to substantiate the use and users of the Minoan chisel.
4§1 Summing up, the funeral performance would have been a communicative act involving the presence of performers entitled to enter the tomb complex and the rest of the mourners. The annex compartment functioned as a stage for group gatherings outside the tomb and also as the epicenter for formalized commemorative rituals, as revealed by the specialized patterns of the individual rooms. The best-documented stage of the sequence of mortuary rites is the post-liminal one, as inferred from the large number of drinking vessels stored in Room D. These reflect successive episodes of drinking by a selected group of people, who could enter the tomb for the secondary burials. Commemoration was probably supported by objects which through their display indexed the persons to be remembered, like the abstract stone idol. Naturally, we cannot entirely decode the narratives and memories underlying some objects employed in it and possibly referencing the relationship of the living to the deceased, like the stone vessels.
4§2 The specialized patterns in the use of the annex rooms show that these were rather an integral part in the conduct of rites of a private character and not a secondary feature, as has been argued so far. The paved area provided a common focus for the attention of the assembled group that participated in the collective feasting events. It is impossible to deduce whether these took place during the primary burial depositions and/or in the framework of the post-interment rituals. In any case, the social dimension of the collective rituals taking place around the paved area should be emphasized in order to avoid a religious or secular dichotomy. While this interpretation reminds us of the Durkheimian approach to ritual as primarily serving for the reassertion of the social cohesion, recent studies have argued that the religious and profane were not so neatly separated in the Bronze Age Aegean (Darque and Van de Moortel 2009, 32). At Apesokari, commensality and reciprocity played a significant role in re-establishing the bonds and common values of the living community that was affected by death. Ultimately, the end of the commemorative practices may have been caused by a disruption in the continuous chain of communicating descendants, as supported by the successive destruction horizons evidenced by the Vigla hill habitational deposits from the end of the Protopalatial period onwards.
My new favorite show is Scott Wolter’s American Unearthed. His show takes a scientific approach to controversial topics.
Today, I’m commenting on the Michigan copper episode, where Scott investigates the idea that Minoans mined copper and tin in Michigan 5000 years ago.
I’m not an expert in the techniques used by either the mainstream academics or alternative theorists, but I attempt to use my science and math training to evaluate both sides.
This episode of Unearthed begins with the uncovering of the Newberry Tablet.
Newberry Tablet unearthed in the 1890’s prior to discovery of the Minoan culture. Yet the inscription is in Minoan.
The argument that the Minoans did not have the ships to navigate the rough Atlantic: Professor Cemal Pulak from Texas A & M Nautical Archeology says that the Minoan ships were not seaworthy for the Atlantic. From the start, he is an expert and I’m not—but I must point out that Vikings roamed the North Atlantic in boats about the same size and that skimmed the water like a leaf. Some claim they only drafted six inches. Furthermore, ancient sailors could hug the coast of Europe hopping from port to port. They could hop across the North Atlantic from island to island. Thus a one way trip could take two or more warm seasons. It the cargo were valuable enough, certainly they might tolerate wintering over once or twice along the way.
Lastly, I researched Richard the Lionhearted for my third book, Seekers of the Scroll. Of particular interest was the moving of troops across the Mediterranean during the crusades. The Mediterranean is far from a benign sea, and in crusader days, ports were closed for winter season from about October through April. The fact that Crete gets snow on its mountains is an indicator of this. So if Minoan ships could negotiate the Mediterranean, could they not also negotiate the Atlantic, particularly if a coast hugging, port hopping route were taken?
I don’t discount the idea that Minoans came to Michigan, but neither do I believe it has been solidly proven with the limited information given on the show. However, if a good estimate of the volume of copper mined in ancient times plus a more thorough qualitative comparison of the copper and impurities would solidify the theory for me. Also a discovery of Minoan ports along the Atlantic coast of Europe would go a long way toward proving the point.
A wild card alternative would be that the copper was mined by the Atlantians. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. There recently was a scientific search for Atlantis and a likely site was found on the coast of Spain. It is believed plausible that the Minoan culture was the fabled Atlantis, and that Santorini was its capital. What if the Spanish site were an outpost of the Minoan culture and indeed Atlantians and Minoans were the same people?
Link to one more essay on this subject
Project History Teacher
I began this blog when I started teaching social studies over ten years ago. I enjoy writing articles about the subjects I teach. I hope they are helpful to you! Thanks for stopping by!
- 5 Themes of Geography
- Stone Ages
- Indus Valley
- Spanish Conquest
Among the Minoan ruins excavated on Crete were the remains of pottery, frescoes, and other works of art.
The earliest Minoan pottery had images carved into the clay. These images were often simple lines filled with simple colors.
Gradually, the Minoans began to paint and/or glaze their pottery. The designs on them went from one or two color to many colors, and the images in the designs became more and more complex. Lines in the early pottery became spirals later, and that progressed to depictions of things in the Minoan's environment, particularly the sea. You can see this progression in the images below. (Top row- Jug circa 2500 BC, Jug circa 1800 BC - Bottom row - Vase circa 1500 BC)
Interestingly, humans were not portrayed on Minoan pottery. That was reserved for the amazing Minoan fresco paintings.
A fresco is a painting done on wet plaster. Ancient Minoan frescoes, in addition to showing plant and animal life, also showed humans. Usually, the humans depicted in Minoan frescoes are engaged in religious activites, including sporting events. Other frescoes give us a glimpse into daily life of the Ancient Minoans.
One of the most famous Minoan fresco paintings, found in the ruins of the palace at Knossos, shows an event called "bull leaping." In this sport, an acrobat faces a charging bull, grabs it by the horns, and does a somersault over the bull's back. Since bulls are referenced frequently in Minoan and Greek mythology as sacred, it's not a terrible leap to say that bull leaping was probably a sacred event.
This fresco shows what was probably a very common occupation on ancient Crete, a fisherman.
This Minoan fresco depicts two game birds. Notice that the placement of the birds gives a sense of depth to the painting.
The Ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri is depicted in this fresco. Akrotiri was on the volcanic island of Thera (Santorini today). When Thera erupted, Akrotiri was destroyed. The eruption probably also had a devastating effect on Crete and may have contributed to the ultimate decline of the Ancient Minoans.
SCULPTURE AND JEWELRY
Minoans were also accomplished sculptors and jewelry makers. Like their frescos and pottery, the Minoans honored nature and showed their daily rituals and lives in their sculpture and jewelry.
Many more images of Minoan art, including some larger images of the ones shown in this article, are available for viewing here and here.
Found: A Rare Carved Stone That Could Rewrite Art History
In spring 2016, a team of archeologists from the University of Cincinnati was digging at a Mycenaean site in the Pylos region of Greece when they made a surprising discovery: the intact tomb of a Bronze Age warrior dating to about 1500 B.C. The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports declared the find the “most important to have been discovered in 65 years.”
Now, almost two years later, the tomb has revealed its most valuable secret, and intricately carved sealstone that researchers are calling “one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.” It didn’t look so at first, but once a thick crust of limestone was cleared off it revealed a detailed scene of a victorious warrior, one defeated opponent beneath his feet and another falling at the tip of his sword. And all this was carved in meticulous detail on a piece of stone just over 1.4 inches long.
A representation of the stone’s carving shows meticulous levels of detail. Drawing by T. Ross courtesy of Department of Classic, University of Cincinnati.
The dig’s coleaders, married team Shari Stocker and Jack Davis of the University of Cincinnati, were surprised by the detailed engravings, including intricate weaponry ornamentation and jewelry decoration. Such work has never been seen before in art from the Aegean Bronze Age. “What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later,” Davis explained in a release. “It’s a spectacular find.”
The sealstone before the limestone encrusting it was removed. Sharon R. Stocker and Jack L. Davis, 2017. “The Combat Agate from the Grave of the Griffin Warrior at Pylos,” Hesperia 86:583-605.
Indeed many of the details in the “Pylos Combat Agate,” as it has been dubbed for the type of rock it is carved on, become clear only when viewed with photomicroscopy, which has left the researchers wondering about the technique behind it. “Some of the details on this are only a half-millimeter big,” said Davis. “They’re incomprehensibly small.”
Researchers were particularly surprised by the artist’s depiction of musculature (coloration added). Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
The “Griffin Warrior,” who was buried in the tomb and gets his name from an adorned ivory plaque buried with him, probably died around the time when the militaristic and austere Mycenaean culture, based in mainland Greece, conquered the culturally sophisticated Minoans, based on the large island of Crete, just south of Pylos. But much of what was found in the tomb appears to be of Minoan fabrication, which suggests greater and more complex cultural interchange between the civilizations than was previously known.
Archaeologist Shari Stocker in the tomb of the “Griffin Warrior.” Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
Stocker and Davis will present their findings in a paper to be published later this month in the journal Hesperia. According to Stocker, “This seal should be included in all forthcoming art history texts, and will change the way that prehistoric art is viewed.”
Minoan Stone Vases
A descriptive inventory, with numerous drawings and photographs, of more than 3,500 stone vases from the Minoan civilisation of ancient Crete. With few exceptions, Dr Warren has studied the vases in corpora. He arranges them into types, discusses the various stones used and their sources, methods of manufacture, the probable usage and purpose of the vases, and their relation to metal and clay vessels. A special study is made of the famous vases carrying scenes in relief. The final section summarises the history and stylistic development of the vases, and discusses the types, dating and distribution of those that were exported. Dr Warren also records Egyptian and Syro-Palestinian vases imported into Crete, since these are part of the corpus of stone vase material in the island and provide valuable indications of the foreign trade of the Minoans.
Unearthing a masterpiece
Additional Contact: Michael Miller, 513-556-6757
In the more than two years since University of Cincinnati researchers unearthed the 3,500-year-old tomb of a Bronze Age warrior in southwest Greece, an incredible trove of riches has emerged, including four gold signet rings that have challenged accepted wisdom among archaeologists about the origins of Greek civilization.
But that wasn’t the only secret hidden there beneath the hard-baked clay. It would take another year before the so-called “Griffin Warrior” revealed his most stunning historical offering yet: an intricately carved gem, or sealstone, that UC researchers say is one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.
The “Pylos Combat Agate,” as the seal has come to be known for the fierce hand-to-hand battle it portrays, promises not only to rewrite the history of ancient Greek art, but to help shed light on myth and legend in an era of Western civilization still steeped in mystery.
The seal is the latest and most significant treasure to emerge from the treasure-laden tomb of the Griffin Warrior, which was hailed as the most spectacular archaeological discovery in Greece in more than half a century when it was uncovered in an olive grove near the ancient city of Pylos in 2015.
The remarkably undisturbed and intact grave revealed not only the well-preserved remains of what is believed to have been a powerful Mycenaean warrior or priest buried around 1500 B.C., but also an incredible trove of burial riches that serve as a time capsule into the origins of Greek civilization.
The limestone-encrusted sealstone was discovered lying face-down near the right arm of the Griffin Warrior. Courtesy of The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
Due to the seal's small size and veining on the stone, many of the miniature details are only clearly visible via photomicroscopy. Courtesy of The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
But the tomb didn’t readily reveal its secrets. It took conservation experts more than a year to clean the limestone-encrusted seal, say dig leaders Shari Stocker, a senior research associate in UC's Department of Classics, and Jack Davis, the university's Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology and department head.
As the intricate details of the seal’s design emerged, the researchers were shocked to discover they had unearthed no less than a masterpiece.
“Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience, and it still is,” said Stocker. “It’s brought some people to tears.”
A miniature masterpiece
Davis and Stocker say the Pylos Combat Agate’s craftsmanship and exquisite detail make it the finest discovered work of glyptic art produced in the Aegean Bronze Age.
“What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later,” explained Davis. “It’s a spectacular find.”
Even more extraordinary, the husband-and-wife team point out, is that the meticulously carved combat scene was painstakingly etched on a piece of hard stone measuring just 3.6 centimeters, or just over 1.4 inches, in length. Indeed, many of the seal’s details, such as the intricate weaponry ornamentation and jewelry decoration, become clear only when viewed with a powerful camera lens and photomicroscopy.
“Some of the details on this are only a half-millimeter big,” said Davis. “They’re incomprehensibly small.”
The seal artist's attention to detail and use of stylized faces make the Pylos Combat Agate one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered. Courtesy of The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
Many of the seal’s details, such as the intricate weaponry ornamentation, become clear only when viewed via photomicroscopy. Courtesy of The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati
The miniature masterpiece portrays a victorious warrior who, having already vanquished one unfortunate opponent sprawled at his feet, now turns his attention to another much more formidable foe, plunging his sword into the shielded man’s exposed neck in what is sure to be a final and fatal blow.
It’s a scene that conjures the sweeping and epic battles, larger-than-life heroes and grand adventures of Homer’s “The Iliad,” the epic Greek poem that immortalized a mythological decade-long war between the Trojan and Mycenaean kingdoms. While the researchers can’t say that the image was intended to reflect a Homeric epic, the scene undoubtedly reflects a legend that was well known to Minoans and Mycenaeans, says Stocker.
Iliad, Book VIII, lines 245–53, Greek manuscript, late 5th, early 6th centuries AD.
“It would have been a valuable and prized possession, which certainly is representative of the Griffin Warrior’s role in Mycenaean society,” she explained. “I think he would have certainly identified himself with the hero depicted on the seal.”
“It seems that the Minoans were producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of producing. It's a spectacular find."
Though the seal and other burial riches found within the tomb suggest the Griffin Warrior held an esteemed position in Mycenaean society, that so many of the artifacts are Minoan-made raises intriguing questions about his culture.
Scholarly consensus has long theorized that mainlander Mycenaeans simply imported or robbed such riches from the affluent Minoan civilization on the large island of Crete, southeast of Pylos. Although the Minoans were culturally dominant to the Greek mainlanders, the civilization fell to the Mycenaeans around 1500-1400 B.C. — roughly the same time period in which the Griffin Warrior died.
A UC team works to excavate the tomb of the Griffin Warrior. From left are Denitsa Nenova, Shari Stocker and Alison Fields. Jonida Martini stands in the trench.
Shari Stocker stands in the grave of the Griffin Warrior discovered near the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, Greece.
In a series of presentations and a paper published last year, Davis and Stocker revealed that the discovery of four gold signet rings bearing highly detailed Minoan iconography, along with other Minoan-made riches found within the tomb, indicates a far greater and complex cultural interchange took place between the Mycenaeans and Minoans.
But the skill and sophistication of the Pylos Combat Agate is unparalleled by anything uncovered before from the Minoan-Mycenaean world, say the researchers. And that raises a bigger question: How does this change our understanding of Greek art in the Bronze Age?
“It seems that the Minoans were producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of producing,” explained Davis. “It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy, is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylized features, that itself is just extraordinary.”
The revelation, he and Stocker say, prompts a reconsideration of the evolution and development of Greek art.
“This seal should be included in all forthcoming art history texts, and will change the way that prehistoric art is viewed,” said Stocker.
Stocker and Davis will present findings from the Pylos Combat Agate in a paper to be published later this month in the journal Hesperia.
Meanwhile, work continues in unlocking the full mysteries of the Griffin Warrior’s tomb. Davis and Stocker, along with other UC staff specialists and students, have altogether catalogued more than 3,000 burial objects discovered in the grave, some of which are still in the process of being cleaned and preserved.