Minoan Cemetery Reveals Two Early Burials Overflowing with Grave Goods
The Greek Ministry of Culture has announced a major discovery at a cemetery in north-east Crete. It has revealed the unearthing of two graves, with a treasure trove of grave goods that is up to 5000 years old. This is back to the period when the important Minoan civilization was developing. The discovery is exciting experts and it is expected that the graves and the burial goods will help to provide us with more insights into the origin and development of the Minoan culture.
The Minoan Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that flourished on the island of Crete. It was an important maritime and trading power and it developed a sophisticated culture, that produced great artworks. It is widely believed that the civilization was the first in Europe and was critical in the development of Ancient Greece.
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Early Minoan III ivory seals found at the site. (Image: Culture.gr)
However, we know little about the civilization because their writings have not been deciphered . The civilization collapsed possibly as a result of volcanic activity or an invasion from mainland Greece. The Minoans were not forgotten, and their memory was preserved in ancient Greek myth and history. It was only at the start of the twentieth century that the great Minoan centers were unearthed by archaeologists such as Arthur Evans.
Aerial shot of some of the excavated area of Petras cemetery, Crete. (Image: Culture.gr)
Petras Minoan cemetery
The discovery of the graves was made by a team of experts that come from several prestigious Greek Universities and also some from Spain and Madrid, according to the Greek Reporter , they were conducting the investigation ‘under Director Emerita of the Ministry of Culture - Metaxia Tsipopoulou.’ The project was sponsored by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory that was established in 1982 to support excavations in the Aegean region.
The experts were working in Petras, Siteia when they made the discovery. This was a major port in the east of Crete and an important trading center, which had connections with Egypt and the Levant. There was also a palace was built in the area which has been dated to have been built around 2000 BC.
Secondary burial found in funerary building 27. (Image: Culture.gr)
An Elite Cemetery
The burials were uncovered at the cemetery of Petras, the largest burial ground from the Minoan period in Crete. It is believed that it was the graveyard for powerful families that were connected to the palace that dominated the locality in Minoan times. According to Archaeology New Network , experts have unearthed “26 funerary buildings of 45 to 150 sq. m.” Excavators have also discovered five burial pits that are surrounded by low stone enclosures. Some five funerary buildings and two ritual spaces, dating back to 1900 BC were identified early on this year and there are plans to excavate these sites in the near future.
Funerary Building 27 (ΜΜ ΙΑ) under Funerary Building 11 (ΜΜ ΙΙ). (Image: Culture.gr)
The newly found burials
The team in the first pit unearthed a male, possibly a warrior because he was buried with a short bronze sword, according to Tsipopoulou. There was also a secondary burial, a woman who had a great number of finely crafted beads, some made of gold, silver, and semi-precious stones. It appears that the man and the woman may have been a married couple.
Early Minoan II and Middle Minoan IA beads and bands of gold. (Image: Culture.gr)
The second burial to be unearthed was approximately from, ‘ the Proto-Minoan II period (2600-2300 BC)’ according to the Archaeology New Network . This burial contained several dozen gold beads with a unique spiral design and an even greater number of tiny beads (1 millimeter) made from silver and gold, that at one time were sewn on the clothes of the deceased.
The same team has also recently discovered a small and unique burial at the site. It consists of a tomb made out of stone slabs, placed together to make a box-like structure. Here excavators found the remains of two children, believed to be under ten and two finely crafted gold bracelets, demonstrating the skills of Minoan artisans.
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Early Minoan II gold bracelets. (Image: Culture.gr)
Importance of the burials at Petra, Crete
The burials are offering researchers a unique opportunity to understand Minoan culture. Because they come from an early stage in the history of that civilization known as the Proto-Minoan period this means that they can help us to comprehend its early history. The burials will provide information that can help us to understand what a society that is often held as the society that is the precursor to classical civilization.
Top image: Middle Minoan burials – Left; Middle Minoan IA beads, Center; IA primary pit burial of a man, with a bronze dagger (under Funerary Building 2), Right; Early Minoan II and Middle Minoan IA beads and bands of gold. Source: Culture.gr
By Ed Whelan