THE ALWAYS PRESENT BRONZE AGE LANDSCAPE

For the purposes of this article, the Bronze Age sites of Crete can be divided into three broad types: habitation and industrial sites (settlements, isolated farmsteads, workshops, etc.), cemeteries, and cult places normally in remarkable natural sites. The last category refers mainly to caves and the idiosyncratic ‘peak sanctuaries’ typical from Bronze Age Crete. Peak sanctuaries are cult areas found in certain mountain tops of the island. Their cultic use is defined by a heavy deposition of material, mainly ceramics and terracotta figurines that on some occasions are accompanied by standing architecture (Nowicki 1994). Each of these sites was probably related to a settlement, and they may have helped to communicate settlement identities at a regional scale (Haggis 1999). The most famous of these sites, the one at the top of Mount Juktas, near the settlement of Knossos, included large buildings (Figure 14.2), built terraces, altars and a rich collection of figurines amongst other items (Karetsou 1981). The discovery of vases and the heads of several animal votives dated to

View of the Bronze Age remains at the site of Juktas. Photograph by Borja Legarra Herrero

Figure 14.2. View of the Bronze Age remains at the site of Juktas. Photograph by Borja Legarra Herrero.

the Late Geometric period indicates that the site continued to be used for cult activities during the Iron Age (Karetsou 1976). The mountain top is well documented to have been considered by certain Classical traditions the place where Zeus was buried (Prent 2005, 319) and therefore it maintained its religious significance in Historic times. A Roman altar with an inscription dedicated to Zeus, currently reused in a local church, may have come from the site (Karetsou 1981) which would mark the last phases of cultic use for the site.

Cretan caves have been used since Neolithic times, first for habitation and during the Early Bronze Age they slowly became burial grounds; in the Middle Bronze Age they converted to cult places, a role that they kept in successive periods until Classical times. Every well-preserved cave on Crete produces evidence of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Classical use. The best recorded examples are the caves of Psychro in the area of Lasithi (Rutkowski and Nowicki 1996; Watrous 1996) and the Idaean cave in the spectacular landscape of the Nidha Plateau. This last one is probably one of the most important Iron Age sites in the Aegean (Sakellarakis and Sapouna-Sakellaraki 2013), as it was widely regarded as the place in which Zeus was brought up guarded by the Korybantes, making it a sanctuary with significance well beyond Crete. The fact that the cave has produced some of the finest Iron Age objects found in the south Aegean, including rare imported objects, proves the importance of this cult place until the sixth century bc. Such relevance diminished in the next few centuries to acquire more importance again during the Roman period, when a large altar carved outside the entrance and significant amounts of material indicate a new ritual interest for the cave (Sakellarakis and Sapouna Sakellaraki 2013). Again, as in peak sanctuaries, the natural characteristics of caves made them prone to continued cult use from the Bronze Age to the Roman period and beyond, although one should be careful not to assume that the predecessors of later Classical cults are necessarily found in the Bronze Age, as it is discussed below. Remarkable points of a landscape may attract attention in several periods, but a link between the uses of the site in the different moments of the history of the site must be proved rather than assumed.

The case of the reuse of settlements is much more complex to follow. Most significant Bronze Age settlements tend to be continuously in use until Roman times, and several of them, such as Chania, to the present day. This makes a possible study of the historical reuse of Bronze Age remains difficult to undertake. The case of Knossos is a good example of these difficulties. It was continuously occupied from the Neolithic to Late Antiquity, and the early excavation of the site recorded only lightly the evidence of the Classical use of the palace, the most prominent feature of the Bronze Age site in terms of its commanding location and monumental architecture. The Classical city does not seem to have expanded to cover the palace but it is unclear whether the area was kept as a place of cult (Prent 2003; D’Agata 2010). Classical sources speak about a temple of Rhea near the site, but Arthur Evans’s identification of an area in the palace as such a temple remains elusive (Coldstream 2000, 284-6). A securely identified temple of Demeter was discovered south of the palace (Coldstream 1973) but it is not known whether its position relates to the Bronze Age remains.

 
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