2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete

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Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, Director of Systematic Excavations of Minoan Kydonia and Honorary Director General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, discusses the latest developments, the findings and their importance in the excavations that continue at the archaeological site at 1 Katre Street, Kastelli Hill, in Chania. Ms. Vlazaki, in a detailed article, analyses what the findings revealed to the researchers:

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
View of part of the Mycenaean courtyard with the floor of strong mortar (13th century BC)
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

“The new data that came to light in the summer of 2020, during the systematic excavation on the plot of land at 1 Katre Street, at 1 Kastelli Hill in the Old Town of Chania, document and shed light on unknown aspects of the history of this very important ancient site, despite the small number of personnel, the limited research area and the increased protection measures due to COVID-19. The excavation of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania is conducted under the direction of Dr. Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki and with the participation of the archaeologist Mrs. Eftichia Protopapadaki.




At the site of the palatial centre of Kydonia, where the magnificent sacrifice of many animals and a young girl was found during the Mycenaean years in Crete (13th century BC), part of the deepest point of the seismic fault produced by the earthquake responsible for the destruction of the settlement, and the motive for the sacrifice, was uncovered this year. Within it, sections of the strong floor of mortar have collapsed, which extended beyond this fault and continued at least as far as the wall of the classical city. In the southern part of the floor, near the wall, special structures have been built, the architecture and use of which will only become clear and comprehensible with the continuation of the excavation at this point. 

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Old Town of Chania. Hill Kastelli. The successive phases of occupation at this site are indicated
 in different colours and the strong mortar floor of the complex, which was destroyed
in the 13th century BC, is shown in pink [Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

At present, the large area with the floor of limestone plaster, which was partially covered, occupies an area of 170 sqm., without its excavation having been completed yet.

This year, during the maintenance work on the floor with the help of the Directorate for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, during the removal in some places of the hard layer of sediment that has formed on its surface, it became apparent that this extensive floor is covered with painted plaster over at least some of its surface. Both orange and dark cyan painted surfaces were detected, as the chemical analyses of Professor Dr. Noni Maravelaki of the Technical University of Crete confirmed.

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
The deepest part of the seismic fault which caused parts of the mortar floor and
 a stone structure to collapse [Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

This fact, combined with the luxurious rooms with frescoed decoration found at the northern edge of the excavation, brings us even closer to the Mycenaean palaces of mainland Greece and is a strong argument for the identification, at this point on the hill, of the southern part of the Mycenaean palace of Kydonia. The fact that the floor of this site, disturbed and fragmented by the great earthquake, was chosen to receive the sacrificial victims, also supports this.




To date it has been established that the complex was destroyed by a major earthquake of 6.5-7.5 on the Richter scale shortly before the middle of the 13th century BC. This year’s research has shed light on when the palace complex was erected, which puts it before the mid-14th century.  That is, the Mycenaean palace, which was founded over the fire-damaged Minoan palace, appears to have had a lifespan of 100-150 years. This fact is decisive for the archaeology of Western Crete and the whole island, as it is linked, by most scholars, to the destruction of the palace of Knossos during these years. Kydonia, for the coming years, seems to be at the forefront of what is happening on the island, as the numerous findings of all the excavations on the hill suggest.

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Detail of the floor with orange coloured plaster
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Detail of the mural on the northern boundary of excavation Katre 1
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Deposit of leftover meal from sheep and goats, cooked over an open fire or on charcoal
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

The discovery of the remains of a meal during the foundation works of the complex is also very interesting. The deposit consisted mainly of sheep and goats (a few pig and bovine bones were also identified). Parts of at least four butchered animals were identified. Some bones show signs of incision marks made by a heavy cutting tool (e.g. an axe). According to the excavation associate, zooarchaeologist Dr Demetra Mylonas, this osteological assemblage represents an episode of consumption of a large quantity of meat from sheep and goats. The process involved cooking over an open fire, probably over charcoal, and indicates abundance, judging by the way the bones were cooked and the low degree of fragmentation. The meal was sealed by a layer of clay.

The imagery is strong: the construction of the part of the palace complex that comes to light at 1 Katre Street / No. 1 is accompanied by a feast and a large consumption of meat. On the contrary, the destruction of the same complex is sealed by the great sacrifice of at least 43 goats and goats, 2 oxen, 4 small pigs and the young girl. This sacrifice was offered entirely to the chthonic forces. 

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Monotone bowls of the 7th and early 6th century BC
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Part of an imported Corinthian vase depicting a panther and a goat (early 6th century BC)
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
Monotone cup with a foot from the early 14th century BC
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

The research in the plot “Katre 1” brings to light part of the palimpsest of ancient Kydonia through rich stratigraphy. Settlement remains of various phases of antiquity, of the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman times are identified. The dense and thin successive layers are the reason for the difficulty of research, which is further exacerbated by the passage of the fault. Of all the phases, the early Archaic period of the second half of the 7th and early 6th centuries BC is worthy of note. The excavations between 2016-2020 brought to light the eastern end of a building of the second half of the 7th century BC, an extensive deposit with numerous monotone painted cups of the early 6th century BC and a large number of textile weights that probably indicate the development of an archaic sanctuary to the west of the excavation.




An important finding of this year’s excavation is the discovery of a major seismotectonic event that shook Chania in the early 6th century BC, through the image presented by the foundation of the eastern longitudinal wall of the aforementioned building, which has been revealed to a length of 6 metres. The image is striking because of the strong horizontal component of the fault: the wall was destroyed from the ground up; even its foundation collapsed into the reactivated fault, curved in place with an eastward shift but then remained on its southward course outside the fault boundary. Historical sources make no mention of this earthquake.

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
The precipitated and displaced foundation of the archaic wall (early 6th century BC), which
was displaced by the new activation of the seismic fault, curving towards the east
[Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

2020 excavation results at the Mycenaean palace on Kastelli Hill, Crete
In this stratigraphic view, the collapsed foundation of the Archaic wall, which also carried
away the strata beneath it, stands out [Credit: Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki]

Because of the active fault at the site of the “Katre 1” excavation,, other earthquakes that have struck Kydonia over time have left strong traces on the ruins of this site. Traces that were not easy to read in other excavated parts of the hill and clearly distinguishable from different types of destruction to ancient buildings. The traces of at least three major seismic events of the same fault zone that runs through the excavationin a general NE-SW direction  have been identified to date in the excavation area. This zone is probably related to the large-scale faults to the south of the city of Chania, which delimit the Quaternary basin in the area. The effects of the activation of the zone are evident in cracked walls and floors caused by earthquakes in 365 AD, in the early 6th century BC and before the middle of the 13th century BC.

The history of Kastelli Hill is slowly but surely being revealed under the successive layers of habitation at this strategic and key point of the city of Chania. The excavations on the hill are among the most difficult of their kind, as the successive excavation layers are numerous, among modern dwellings and other structures with static issues. However, the survey at this particular point on Katre Street multiplies the difficulty, as this year layers with a very steep slope of 40 to 80% (!) in the heart of the fissure had to be handled and excavated with extreme care. Only the amazing experience and skill of the excavation team managed to carry out the survey with great success.”

Source: ZarpaNews [trsl. TANN; April 13, 2021]

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