Minoan Religious Sanctuary and Idols Found in Palace Complex, Crete
A Minoan religious sanctuary and many “ idols” have recently been discovered in a Minoan palace complex in Greece. The Minoan civilization of Crete is regarded as the first European civilization. The recent excavations at a unique mountain-top palace complex on Crete has unearthed numerous important discoveries, including a new complex that may have been a religious sanctuary and a figurine of a divine figure. However, the Minoan religious sanctuary is of particular interest because of the incredible evidence the researchers found there.
The spectacular finds were made by an interdisciplinary team, led by the archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki, excavating at the Zominthos complex, in central Crete. This Minoan palace complex was discovered in the 1980s on Mount Psiloritis. The Minoans were a powerful Bronze Age civilization and a major maritime power that flourished from 3000 BC to 1500 BC, before collapsing suddenly because of a volcanic eruption or a foreign invasion.
Map of the complex currently under excavation at Zominthos ( AIA)
Zominthos: An Important Minoan Palace Site For Many Reasons
The Zominthos palace is located at 4000 feet (1200 meters) above sea level. The complex was important because it was located near the super-powerful Knossos Minoan palace, and Ideon Andron , a religious cave sanctuary believed to be the birthplace of Zeus.
Based on Linear B script records, the Zominthos site was associated with the rearing of sheep and may only have been occupied in the summer. The Zominthos site has changed expert’s views of the Minoans and proved that “they were also highlanders,” reports The Archaeological Institute of America . The archaeological record shows that the Zominthos palace was destroyed by an earthquake that started a devastating fire. However, despite the fire, the site was later re-occupied.
Sheep herding is still common today on the island of Crete but it was an important Minoan industry during the time the Zominthos palace complex was in operation.(Kaelkael / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Two New Zominthos Room Complexes: Amazing Discovery!
The Zominthos palace was probably built during the 17th century BC. The site was dominated by a mysterious structure known as the “Central Building” to archaeologists, which was apparently both a workshop and a temple. The mountain palace was once an extensive and important Minoan center that provided woolen textiles and olives which were “commonly exported from Minoan Crete to Egypt and the Middle East,” reports the AIA .
Area 68, which lies in the north entrance of the Central building where a complex of walls have been uncovered. ( AIA)
During recent excavations, the team found two new separate complexes of rooms near “the north entrance of the central building,” reports the AIA. Both complexes date to 1700 BC, the era known as the Minoan Old Palace period. A Greek Ministry of Culture statement asserted that “Once again, it is shown that the Zominthos palace had a political, economic and religious character throughout its existence,” according to the National Herald .
The Minoan palace of Knossos which has survived the ages in unbelievable condition when compared with the mostly stone remains at the Zominthos complex nearby. But at one time, the walls of Zominthos would have been this colorful and impressive. (G Da / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
An Amazing Bronze Age Religious Sanctuary
Evidence in one of the room complexes indicated that it was used as a Minoan religious sanctuary, again dating to about 1700 BC. Last year, the AIA reported that archaeologists had found an altar along “with many vases among them rhyta.” Rhyta are horn-shaped vessels that were often used in sacred ceremonies (the singular is rhyton).
An example of an ancient rhyton ceremonial vessel used on Crete during Minoan times. The muzzle is where the liquid is poured from and the horns where held like handles during the pouring. (Zde / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Archaeology reports that “This year, they found a burnt wooden object surrounded by gold flakes that may have been a statuette covered in gold leaf” in the Minoan religious sanctuary. This is probably the remains of a burnt idol that was worshipped in the sanctuary. A pestle, which was presumably used in ceremonies, and a seal engraved with an unknown animal were also uncovered.
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The Mysterious “Lady of Zominthos” Figure
Intriguingly, experts also found traces of an even earlier religious sanctuary dating from about 1900 BC. Here they discovered fragments of human and animal figures, which have been called idols. Among the fragments was a nearly complete well-formed female figurine that probably represented a goddess. This enigmatic figure has been “dubbed the Lady of Zominthos,” reports Archaeology.
The ‘Lady of Zominthos’ has been found in Room 65, among other idols. ( AIA)
The second complex of rooms was quite different from the first complex in the details. It had flagstone floors, and an elaborate drainage system. Additionally, ancient intact sewage pipes were found in the complex. “Both the drainage system and the sewage system prove the advanced technical expertise that existed on Zominthos,” reports The National Herald . This is stunning proof that shows how incredibly advanced the Minoans were: they had drains and a sewage system in the Bronze Age!
Newly discovered Rooms 66, 67,69 ,70, separated by a narrow corridor is located still northern from Room 65. These rooms are luxurious as their floors shows. ( AIA)
During the excavations of the newly discovered Zominthos room complexes, a number of unusual ceramic artifacts were also found. Some of these predate the construction of the palace and could help archaeologists to understand the early history of Zominthos better. Additionally, The National Herald reports that “the room contained a flower-shaped seal dated to the period of the early palaces.”
The latest discoveries are part of the Zominthos Project, an interdisciplinary project that seeks to understand the relationship between the Minoan civilization and the environment. More digs are planned at the palace site, which will certainly provide new insights into Mediterranean Bronze Age culture and more . . .
Top image: One of the new room complexes found at Zominthos where the Minoan religious sanctuary was also found recently. Source: Ministry of Culture
By Ed Whelan