Thera and Iasos

A rather confusing item from Hurriyet:

Archaeologists working on Iasos on Turkey’s Aegean coast have recently discovered that the ancient city was buried under a mountain of ash caused by the explosion of Mt. Thera on Santorini 3,600 years ago.

Excavation works have also revealed a sewage system that was in place in the 4,000-year-old city and tunnels to the city’s theater.

Excavations are being carried out by the world-famous Italian archaeology team of Studi Delle Tuscia University. The head of the excavations, Professor Marcello Spanu, is working with assistant archaeologists Emanuele Borgia and Şevki Bardakçı, Culture and Tourism Ministry official Selvet Karamahmut, 28 other Italian archaeologists, as well as university students who have recently unearthed new historic sites within the ancient city.

Spanu said columns that were found one meter underground provided vital information about the history of the city. “Following the explosion of the volcano Thera, which also caused the destruction of the Minoan civilization on the islands of Crete and Santorini, the ancient city was covered with ash and remained so for a while.

This is why its sewage system and tunnels to the ancient theater did not change. At the end of the excavation and restoration works, for which we spend nearly 100,000 Turkish Liras annually, I am sure that this place will be Turkey’s largest, as well as one of its most important, archeoparks,” Spanu said.

Plans to attract more tourists

But Bardakçı, the deputy head of the excavations and an official from the Mediterranean Civilizations Research Institute, lamented the poor state of the promotion of Iasos, as well as the historic and cultural heritage of the surrounding Kıyıkışlacık village, while noting that they would undertake new endeavors to draw in more visitors.

He said the excavation and restoration works had shed light on historic artifacts across a vast area and succeeded in providing key data about the region’s past.

“As a result of works that will be carried out in the agora, the Artemis and Astias holy area, the Zeus Mefistos area, the mosaic house, the acropolis, the western port castle and the port, which was constructed between 1481 and 1522, the region will become one of the richest ancient cities in terms of cultural heritage. We have prepared the exact location and a digital map of the ancient city with satellite photos. When the project is done, we expect that tourists will rush to the area. As of next year, we will be in negotiations with travel agencies and tour operators to promote Iasos by way of daily boat tours and jeep safaris,” Bardakçı said.

This is why its sewage system and tunnels to the ancient theater did not change. Are they suggesting there was a sewage system and theater at Iasos prior to the eruption of Thera? Or are they trying to suggest the destruction layer of the volcano helps to show that the archaeological remains didn’t ‘change much’?

On Bare Breasts in Ancient Greece

In the wake of the Kate Middleton thing, Slate magazine wonders when bare breastedness became taboo in ‘the west’ (for want of a better term) … here’s a bit:

[…]

A French judge ordered the magazine Closer to turn over topless photos of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, on Tuesday. Attorneys for the magazine argued unsuccessfully that the photographs were not an invasion of privacy because bare breasts are no longer taboo in Europe. When did bare breasts become taboo in Western civilization?

Probably around 3,000 years ago. Women are displayed with exposed breasts in Minoan artwork from 1500 B.C. Some historians believe that these ancient women went topless only during religious rituals—bare-breasted, buxom goddesses have been worshipped since the dawn of civilization—but some of the artworks depict everyday activities, suggesting that bare breasts may have been commonplace. Just across the Mediterranean, ancient Egyptian women sported elaborate dresses that could either cover the breasts or leave them exposed, depending on the whim of the designer. Over the next few centuries, however, breasts become strictly private parts. Ancient Athenian women were wearing flowing, multilayered robes that concealed the shape of the bosom by the middle of the first millennium B.C. Spartan attire was more risqué, exposing the female thigh, but breasts were always covered.

A series of sculptures suggests that even Greek goddesses became more bashful about their breasts during this period. Aphrodite of Cnidus, sculpted by Praxiteles of Athens in the fourth century B.C., depicts the nude goddess covering her genitals but leaving her bosom exposed. In copycat statues sculpted over the next several centuries, however, the goddess uses her other hand to cover a breast as well. The evolution of these Venus pudica sculptures strongly suggests that the ancients had come to feel that modesty required covering the breasts.

It’s not entirely clear why bare breasts became verboten in ancient Greece, but some historians think it had to do with the changing roles of women. As the centuries progressed, ancient Athens became an increasingly patriarchal society. Women retreated into the home, rarely emerging in public, and lived under the dominion of their fathers or husbands. Because the breast had long been a symbol of feminine fertility, it had to be kept from view. […]

This (Minoan bare-breastedness) is one of those things which, I think, has been blown out of proportion  over the past couple of generations especially for various reasons. Near as I can tell, the Minoans were an anomaly, fashion-wise,  if their art portrays daily reality and to read into the general milieu of the ‘west’ the fashion sense of the Minoans seems a bit extreme. One will note, e.g., that in Minoan frescoes, men are topless too. Now if we flash forward (pun intended) a few hundred years to mainland Greece, sure, we’ll see plenty of naked statuary of males and females, but that doesn’t mean folks — male or female — were wandering about the Agora that way and I highly doubt they did so on the mainland while the Minoans were frescoing about on Crete and environs …

Questioning the Pax Minoica?

A team of archaeologists have discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia, a discovery which rebukes the popular myth that the Minoans were a peaceful society with no need for defensive structures.

The team’s efforts were led by Professor Vance Watrous and Matt Buell of the University at Buffalo. Located on the north coast, Gournia was in use during the neo-palatial period (ca. 1700-1450 BC), when Minoan civilization was at its height. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage, and it is here that the fortification system was discovered.

The team weren’t able to excavate the area, and so relied on photography, drawing and surveying to identify the fortifications. The eastern-most promontory had a heavy wall that was about 27 meters long. Beside it the team found a semi-circular platform of stone, almost nine meters in diameter, which they believe is the remains of a tower or bastion. The other fortified promontory had a two meter thick wall, running east-west, “as if to close off access from the sea,” said Buell.

The other two promontories slope gently down to the shore, and would have provided easy access to the town. “It was on these two promontories”, said Professor Watrous, “that the Minoans built structures.”

The town consists of around 60 tightly-packed houses, a ship shed, and a small palace in the centre, and archaeologists have discovered evidence of wine making, bronze-working and stone-working at the site. “Gournia gives you, the visitor, a real feeling of what an Aegean town was actually like. Walking up the streets, past the houses, you feel like you’ve been transported into the past,” said Buell.

In addition to the beach fortifications, it also appears that the Minoans built a second line of defence further inland. Heading back from the beach, there were two walls, together running about 180 meters east to west. Backed by a tower, or bastion, the walls would have posed a formidable challenge to any invader trying to march into the town.

Defenders manning this system of fortification would have rained projectiles down on attackers, by using bows and slings. The walls had stone foundations and were made of mud brick, making them sturdy enough to stand on.

It’s an open question as to whether the people guarding the fortifications were part of a militia or something more organized. There was “definitely a body of men who would have had that duty but we don’t know exactly what they were like,” said Professor Watrous.

Tombs uncovered by Hawes and other excavators have shown people buried with swords. Watrous said that there was one particular tomb that produced an entire collection of daggers, swords and other items.

However, Gournia’s fortifications did not prevent the town’s demise. The town fell around 1450 BC, along with other Minoan settlements. A new group called the Mycenaean appeared on Crete at this time, taking over the island.

Watrous said that Mycenaeans probably avoided attacking the town by sea. “Many other settlements were destroyed at the same time. My guess is that they just came along the land; they didn’t have to come up from the sea”.

He cannot say for sure if the town defences were ever actually put to their intended use. Any evidence of a battle near these fortifications, such as weapons or bodies, would be underground, and excavation would have to be carried out to see if they exist.

One thing that excavators can say is that the people of Gournia had something worth fighting for. Many of the goods they made – such as the wine and the bronze implements – were for export, suggesting that the people had some level of wealth.

via Crete fortifications debunk myth of peaceful Minoan society | The Independent (Owen Jarus).

Can’t tell from the article whether the ‘debunking the peaceful Minoan’ thing is something Watrous and Buell are bringing up or whether it is the journalist. FWIW, this seems to be flying in the face of some unfortified evidence from the same basic period which we mentioned a couple of years ago. While more folks seem to be questioning the ‘hippy flower children’ view of the Minoans, the question of how ‘peace-loving’ they actually were still seems to be an incipient topic of research