Artist’s rendering of the palace of Knossos.

Knossos Thrived Well into the Iron Age and Was Much Larger than Once Believed

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Current research on the ancient Greek city of Knossos in Crete suggests that it not only recovered from the Bronze Age collapse that brought down many of the Aegean palaces, but actually flourished into the Early Iron Age.

The Greek Reporter writes that Knossos was “a cosmopolitan hub of the Aegean and Mediterranean regions” and “rich in imports and was nearly three times larger than what was believed from earlier excavations.”

These were some of the results of fieldwork by Prof. Antonis Kotsonas, of the Univ. of Cincinnati. Kotsonas recently presented his research at the 117th annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies (which was primarily focused on terracotta figurines).

Kotsonas serves as a consultant on the Knossos Urban Landscape Project , and it was his studies with them that brought him to the fields covering ruins of housing and cemeteries in Knossos. The excavation has been thorough and revealed some important details of Iron Age Knossos, including the fact that the site was three times larger than previously believed. According to Kotsonas:

Distinguishing between domestic and burial contexts is essential for determining the size of the settlement and understanding the demographic, socio-political and economic development of the local community. Even at this early stage in detailed analysis, it appears that this was a nucleated, rather densely occupied settlement.

Artist’s representation of the Palace at Knossos.

Artist’s representation of the Palace at Knossos. ( Mmoyaq/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Knossos is reported as Europe’s oldest city and scholars have been studying life in Knossos during the Bronze Age remains for centuries. It is only recently, however, that attention has turned to the city’s development in the Iron Age - around the 11th century BC.  It is also a site that is steeped in myth - one of the most famous of which being that of the famed labyrinth created by King Minos to contain the legendary Minotaur.

The researchers studying Knossos have found that the real site is as exciting as the stories of legend. Many new artifacts - bronze and other metals, jewelry, pottery, ornaments, and all sorts of status symbols have been unearthed. Most of these materials were recovered from burial sites. These artifacts have provided evidence for the researchers’ belief that Knossos was a wealthy community during this period.

“Larger concentrations of better preserved material from the fringes of early Iron Age Knossos typically suggest a fairly recently disturbed burial context.”

“Larger concentrations of better preserved material from the fringes of early Iron Age Knossos typically suggest a fairly recently disturbed burial context.” ( Todd Whitelaw )

The last decade of the Knossos Urban Landscape Project has really enhanced researchers’ collection of Iron Age artifacts. They have excavated a large section of the settlement from that period and found that with time there was an increase in the quantity and quality of its imports originating from mainland Greece, Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt, Italy, Sardinia, and the western Mediterranean. "No other site in the Aegean period has such a range of imports," Kotsonas stated in a press release .

Pithoi (large storage containers) at Knossos, Crete.

Pithoi (large storage containers) at Knossos, Crete. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

More news will certainly arrive in the future as the Knossos Urban Landscape Project aims to document and analyze the development of the site from 7000 BC to the 20th century. Kotsonas adds that the popularity of the site could also work against archaeologists in the future. He has said that although the “Knossos Urban Landscape Project works to inform the community about the importance of preserving the area that has history yet to be uncovered, history that could be lost if future development destroyed unexplored parts of the site.”

Featured Image: Artist’s rendering of the palace of Knossos. Source: Ancient Images/CC BY NC SA 2.0

By Alicia McDermott


Morgain's picture

Oh Oh Oh wonderful illustrations – where do you get them?

I visited Knossos as part of the trip of a lifetime, in 1985 I had loved Knossos ever since I read about it as a schoolgirl in the 60s. In a harsh time for me, 1985, my mother asked me to go on a trip with her and where would my dream take me? KNOSSOS.

No traveler, this was epic for me. I wandered Knossos barefoot, flooded with images of priestesses, and bees and bulls. Every step was sacred. I shall never forget.

Sitting in a taverna in the evening the faces of the Cretans have not changed from the walls of the palace temple. The beaches were a quiet delight. The snake priestess in Heraklion museum was as exotically fierce and lovely as I knew her to be. Plus the food was wonderful, and the jewellery exquisite.

If you go, go early, in Spring, in April, before the major tourist season opens, and before summer heat bakes the island. It’s cheaper then as well.

I shall never forget.


Shan Morgain


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