Not So Peaceful Minoans

The incipit of a piece from LiveScience … I don’t think this was part of the AIA/APA thing:

The civilization made famous by the myth of the Minotaur was as warlike as their bull-headed mascot, new research suggests.

The ancient people of Crete, also known as Minoan, were once thought to be a bunch of peaceniks. That view has become more complex in recent years, but now University of Sheffield archaeologist Barry Molloy says that war wasn’t just a part of Minoan society — it was a defining part.

Logo of the University of Sheffield

Logo of the University of Sheffield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Ideologies of war are shown to have permeated religion, art, industry, politics and trade, and the social practices surrounding martial traditions were demonstrably a structural part of how this society evolved and how they saw themselves,” Molloy said in a statement.

The ancient Minoans

Crete is the largest Greek isle and the site of thousands of years of civilization, including the Minoans, who dominated during the Bronze Age, between about 2700 B.C. and 1420 B.C. They may have met their downfall with a powerful explosion of the Thera volcano, which based on geological evidence seems to have occurred around this time.

The Minoans are perhaps most famous for the myth of the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull that lived in the center of a labyrinth on the island.

Minoan artifacts were first excavated more than a century ago, Molloy said, and archaeologists painted a picture of a peaceful civilization where war played little to no role. Molloy doubted these tales; Crete was home to a complex society that traded with major powers such as Egypt, he said. It seemed unlikely they could reach such heights entirely cooperatively, he added.

“As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places,” Molloy said.

War or peace?

For example, weapons such as daggers and swords show up in Minoan sanctuaries, graves and residences, Molloy reported in November in The Annual of the British School at Athens. Combat sports were popular for men, including boxing, hunting, archery and bull-leaping, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Hunting scenes often featured shields and helmets, Molloy found, garb more suited to a warrior’s identity than to a hunter’s. Preserved seals and stone vessels show daggers, spears and swordsmen. Images of double-headed axes and boar’s tusk helmets are also common in Cretian art, Molloy reported. [...]

We mentioned a couple of years ago how dispelling the “flower children” image of the Minoans seems to be an incipient topic of research (Questioning the Pax Minoica?). In case you miss it, Dr Molloy’s ABSA article is up at Martial Minoans: War as social process, practice and event in Bronze Age Crete

Minoan ‘Mansion’ from Crete

Tantalizingly brief item from Kathimerini:

A Minoan mansion dating to 1600-1400 BC has been discovered during an excavation in the mountainous area of Anatoli, Ierapetra, southeast Crete.

According to archaeologists taking part in the excavating process, the discovery is expected to provide answers with regard to Minoan activity in mountainous areas as well as to the Minoan civilization in the area of Ierapetra in general.

… hopefully we’ll hear more details …

Rethinking Minoan Destruction

While looking for something else, I chanced upon this column in the Seismological Society of America newsletter (July/August 2012) … here’s the first paragraph as a bit of a tease:

Since its discovery in the beginning of the twentieth century by British archaeologist Arthur Evans, the Bronze Age (Minoan) civilization of Crete (Greece, ca. 3000–1200 B.C.) received considerable scholarly, scientific, and popular attention (e.g., Papadopoulos, 2005). Although subject to critique and revision (e.g., Hamilakis, 2002), Evans’s ideas and hypotheses about Minoan society remain remarkably central to modern archaeological research on the island (e.g., Schoep, 2010). The recognition of the disruptive effects of earthquakes on Minoan society represents one of Evans’s enduring legacies. Earthquakes have been considered as responsible for the successive destructions of the palace of Knossos (Evans, 1928) and as convenient time markers for Minoan archaeological periods (e.g., Driessen, 1987). Nowadays, they are often seen by Minoan archaeologists as an unattractive explanatory concept (Cadogan, 2011), at least when divorced from their wider social, political, and economic contexts (e.g., Driessen and Macdonald, 1997). Fear of catastrophism, undesirable use of deus ex machina phenomena, and resistance to Occam’s razor (lex parsimoniae) as a heuristic guide to archaeological explanation partly account for this situation. The ambiguous value of Minoan archaeological remains as indicators of ancient earthquakes may also have played a role: although damage typologies have been put forward in Greek archaeological contexts (Stiros, 1996), their applicability to Minoan earthen and rubble constructions is often limited. As a result, recognition of ancient earthquake damage on Minoan archaeological sites is frequently based on isolated observations (e.g., Sakellarakis and Sapouna-Sakellaraki, 1981; Vallianou, 1996; Monaco and Tortorici, 2004) and limited archaeological/palaeoenvironmental evidence (e.g., Gorokhovich, 2005), thereby perpetuating a catastrophist research tradition initiated by Evans more than a century ago. In the current context of increased scientific and scholarly interest in evaluating the role of archaeological data in seismotectonic studies, we feel that the time is ripe to critically evaluate the nature of Minoan archaeological data and assess their significance as indicators of ancient earthquakes. Getting to grips with the Minoan case may provide us with a new methodological basis for assessing the archaeoseismological potential of comparable archaeological stratigraphical contexts in the Eastern Mediterranean (Bronze Age Greece, Anatolia, Cyprus, and Levant) and in other parts of the world where cultural remains mainly consist of earthen and/or rubble constructions (e.g., Indus valley civilization and American Indian cultures). [...]