Fig. 1. Map of the Mirabello Bay area, East Crete, with ancient sites plotted (Rendered by D.M. Buell).
This season’s iteration of the Khavania Archaeological Project ran as a study season, conducted from June 8th through August 3rd. Located in East Crete, Khavania is situated on the western shores of the Mirabello Bay, along the coastal road leading from Ayios Nikolaos to Elounda (Fig. 1). The seaward side of the road is being rapidly developed today, with numerous hotels, luxury resorts, coffee stands, and peripteros appearing, not to mention lobster-backed tourists zooming along on quads. The coastal road, which follows a natural contour against a slightly elevated plain to the west, was probably always the major north–south course along the western side of the Bay of Mirabello. Khavania is also well-connected to the broader seascape in that it possesses good, natural harbors immediately on either side of the promontory (Fig. 2). Natural land routes, created by seasonal rivers or revmata running from the Dikti massif, provide an ease of communication, leading westward to the interior of the island and the Lasithi plateau. The site is, therefore, well-positioned to take advantage of both land and sea routes, which could connect the settlement to other areas of Crete. Indeed, we believe that in antiquity Khavania was a major node in the local Mirabello interaction network, which was itself linked to the broader Cretan and Aegean one. The site, therefore, provides a good opportunity to study both intra- and inter-island connectivity and exchange.
Curiously, outside of periodic rescue excavations, the western shores of the Mirabello Bay have received little archaeological attention. This is in direct opposition to the eastern and southern shores of the Mirabello, which have been the subject of intensive archaeological research since the turn of the 20th century (Fig. 1). This work has included excavations at sites such as Kavousi Vronda and Kastro, Azoria, Pseira, Vasiliki, Gournia, Priniatikos Pyrgos, and many others, large and small. Three contiguous survey projects (Kavousi, Gournia, and Vrokastro) have also yielded invaluable information concerning local settlement histories, patterns, and systems of land-use. The result of all this archaeological work is that we have a detailed settlement history of the southern and eastern Mirabello region, one which spans the Neolithic to Modern periods. The same, however, cannot be said for the Mirabello’s western shores. As a result, in 2018, operating on the advice of the local ephor, Ms. Sophianou, Drs. D. Matthew Buell (Concordia University) and Rodney D. Fitzsimons (Trent University) established the Khavania Archaeological project
Fig. 2. Orthophoto of Khavania (Created by R. Bieńkowski).
The Khavania Archaeological Project’s overall research goals have been to study the development of the site, especially in terms of its local, East Cretan, and broader, island-wide, socio-political, economic, and ideological relationships. In short, we have endeavored to provide context to an important settlement in a little investigated area of East Crete. To date, we have conducted two seasons of fieldwork at the site, one in 2019 and another 2021. Over the course of these seasons we identified, recorded, and studied some 77 extant architectural features, as well as a quarry (Figs. 2, 3). Indeed, partial outlines of at least three independent buildings have been identified on the Khavania peninsula, with the largest possessing a measurable extant area of about 100m2. All-in-all, the architectural remains identified during these seasons and from test excavations conducted by the Ephoreia in 2016 testify to the presence of several monumental buildings, perhaps official buildings, which advertised the power and authority of prominent members of the community (Figs. 4, 5). Additionally, the dimensions and orientation of some walls suggest that they also served as retaining walls. Their presence may be indicative of substantial efforts to modify the local landscape. In other words, their presence may be taken to be indicative of some degree of civic planning.
Fig. 3. Plot of architectural features documented at Khavania in 2019 and 2021 (Created by D.M. Buell)
One component of both our 2019 and 2021 seasons was the systematic retrieval of artifacts from across the site through a program of intensive survey. We endeavored to study these objects during this season’s program of study. This summer, we were joined by two colleagues, Dr. Jane Francis (Concordia University), who studied the post-Bronze Age pottery, and Dr. R. Angus K. Smith (Brock University), who was concerned with the prehistoric pottery. In addition, Francis and Buell brought five undergraduate students from the Department of Classics, Modern Languages, and Linguistics (CMLL) at Concordia University, while Smith was accompanied by six from the Department of Classics and Archaeology Brock University. Students from both the Concordia and Brock field schools split their time working in the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos on Khavania materials and at the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete on objects recovered from the 2010-2014 excavations of the Minoan town of Gournia, one of the aforementioned sites on the southern shores of the Mirabello Bay (Fig. 6). Both Smith and Buell are senior members of the Gournia Excavation Project, which was established in 2010.
Fig. 4. Plot of walls identified on the northern side of the peninsula. Wall 17 is a particularly impressive, monumental construction, complete with a projecting plinth (Created by D.M. Buell)
In working on materials from both sites, our field school students were provided with the opportunity to actively process and study different classes of objects, including pottery, stone tools, and architecture (Fig. 7). Students were taught to identify material remains, sort and classify them, document/record them (photography, drawing, detailed notes/cataloguing), and, most importantly, help to seek some understanding as to what these artifacts can tell us about the society which produced them. In addition, they received a series of workshops and one-on-one sessions, including ones on the study of floral and faunal remains, human osteology, petrographic analysis, and conservation, from several scholars at the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete. In short, students were introduced to the various, up-to-date methods that archaeologists employ to study the materials that they collect, from the smallest stone tools to the largest, most impressive buildings, and they were presented with the opportunity to work with a multinational team of scholars from diverse academic fields. To supplement and contextualize our studies, the Concordia and Brock field schools also visited a few archaeological sites, both local and across the island (Fig. 8). And, finally, each of the Concordia students was assigned an object from either the Khavania or Gournia research projects, which they will present on at an October 2022 conference at Concordia University, entitled Minoan to Roman Seafarers and Traders: Concordia University’s Archaeological Explorations in the Mirabello Bay Region, East Crete, Summer 2022. We hope to publish the proceedings from this event.
Fig. 5. Photograph of Wall 17 from the northwest (Photo by R.D. Fitzsimons).
Our immediate project goals for the 2022 study season were to wash, clean, process, and study all objects that were collected at Khavania during the 2019 and 2021 field seasons. We undertook these tasks to 1) create a refined site history; 2) establish a ceramic profile for the site during various phases of occupation, one which is based on general morphology and fabric composition; 3) provide a ceramic template for future studies in this part of Crete, especially; 4) understand how local resources were used; 5) example possible activities conducted at the site over time; and 6) develop an understanding of both inter- and extra-island contact and exchange. All objects were cleaned and studied in the comforts of the Agios Nikolaos Museum. The air-conditioned study area was especially appreciated, since it was a hot, hot, hot summer. As a side note, the Museum will open soon after a period of renovation. This is a must-visit destination when on Crete!
Prior to studying the materials, all objects collected during the 2019 and 2021 seasons were washed and cleaned. Various classes of objects were taken out of larger collection bags and placed within their own bags. For the terracotta objects, each bag was laid and separated first into prehistoric and historic (i.e., post-Bronze Age) phases for study by Smith and Francis (Fig. 9). The usual issues concerned with survey pottery were present. Despite washing, for example, many fragments remained encrusted with dirt and lichens. Moreover, the state of preservation was overall poor for the pottery since surfaces were frequently broken away or worn. Preserved decoration was limited. In addition, diagnostic pieces were few and it was sometimes difficult to assign even broad dates. Finally, study was also hindered by abundant post-deposition burning on objects. Indeed, it seems as though the site suffered extensive fire damage in the past. Nevertheless, we endeavored to persevere!
Fig. 6. Concordia field school students at the Minoan site of Gournia. From left to right: Sophia Graham, Paige Foley, Aiko Byrne, Luna Nikolic, and Raphaëlle Berberyan (Photo by D.M. Buell).
All pottery was sorted according to identifiable parts and general size (coarse and large, such as pithoi and tile, or small and fine, such as table ware). Team members wrote descriptions of all fragments in notebooks, including general observations on fabric, color, hardness, shape, and decoration. During this process, individual sherds considered to be diagnostic for either shape or fabric were set aside for cataloguing and given a unique identifying number. Sherds were then catalogued using paper forms developed in part for the Sphakia Survey Project in west Crete and following the recording system described in Moody et al. 2003. This approach combines the recording of the general morphological characteristics of each sherd (e.g., part, shape, dimensions, color, condition, surface/interior treatment, hardness) with macroscopic analysis that identifies inclusions with a 40X magnification handheld lens and describes their composition within the matrix of the fabric. Study photographs were taken of each catalogued fragment for shape, while photographs of the fabric were also taken with a Dino-Lite microscope. Finally, these forms were then entered into the project database for further research.
In all more than 2,000 pottery sherds were examined, and 231 were selected for cataloguing. Prehistoric pottery ranges in date from the Prepalatial (Early Minoan III-Middle Minoan IA) to the Postpalatial period (Late Minoan IIIA2-Late Minoan IIIB). The Neopalatial period (especially Late Minoan IA) and Postpalatial periods are especially well-represented, suggesting that the site was particularly active during these periods. A wide range of wares (fine, coarse, and cooking) and vessel shapes (cups, bowls, jugs/juglets, pithoi, and cookpots) were identified. Fabric analysis revealed a coarse ware fabric, tentatively called “Khavania Ware,” which was, perhaps, locally produced. Phyllitic and granodioritic fabrics also appeared, though in low quantities, especially the latter. Since these fabrics are common in ceramic assemblages from sites on the southern and eastern shores of the Mirabello, they stand as evidence for interaction between Khavania and these other sites.
Fig. 7. Brock students, Sukhmeet Dhur (working hard) and Kaylee Janzen (smiling for the camera), catalogue pottery in the Archaeological Museum of Agios Nikolaos (Photo by R.A.K. Smith).
By far, most of the pottery for the historic era can be dated to the Roman period. Other probable historic periods that may be represented include the Archaic and Classical eras, while Hellenistic and Byzantine are represented. Oddly, very few fine ware vessels were identified for Roman period. Plain, coarse, and cooking wares are more common. Vessel types represented included jugs, jars, bowls/basins, table and transport amphoras, lamps, bins/dolia, pithoi, tiles, and beehives. The latter was an especially welcome finding, given one of our team member’s obsession with apiary. Importantly, several Roman transport amphoras, which stand as evidence for interaction with a number of other sites on the island, were identified. Fabric analysis of the historic era pottery revealed fairly homogenous fabric data, similar to that identified in the Prehistoric assemblage.
All stone tools were registered and provided with a unique identifying number. Standardized forms, with fields for dimensions, material, weight, shape, color, type, subtype, use/activity type, and other specialized fields, pertaining to the particular class of object (i.e., groundstone or chipped stone), were completed. Twelve groundstone objects were identified, equally divided into querns and hammerstones. All seem to have been constructed from local materials. Interestingly, the querns were rather small in size (average length = 13.05cm), suggesting that these objects were not utilized for large-scale domestic tasks, such as grinding grain. Rather, it seems they were used to grind small quantities of materials, perhaps, herbs, spices, nuts, or seeds. In other words, they may have served as supplementary kitchen implements. It is also, of course, possible that these small querns were used for non-food production related tasks, such as mixing pigments or medicines. Fourteen chipped stone objects were identified, consisting of nine pieces of debitage and five tools (all prismatic blades). All the chipped stone objects, with the exception of one flake of local chert, were of Melian obsidian.
Fig. 8. Matt giving the Brock students a tour of Khavania. From left to right: Matt Buell, Jessica Kroeze, Desiree Southern, Kaylee Janzen, Sukhmeet Dhur, Samuel Kelly, and Alexandra Farrow (Photo by R.A.K. Smith).
Finally, a green jasper sealstone which was recovered during the 2019 survey, was studied. This seal is a biconvex amygdaloid of green jasper of the talismanic variety. The seal was studied at both the macroscopic level, using a 40x hand-lens, and at the microscopic level using a Dino-Lite. A proper catalogue form, which recorded all relevant data was created, filled out, and entered into the project database. Both an impression and plaster cast of the seal were taken for purposes of documentation and future study. The well-preserved talismanic sealstone, which is pierced along its central axis, bears decoration consisting of three rows of alternating lunettes (numbering three, three, and two) above a circular depression. This is a motif that is usually identified as a stylized octopus, with the lunettes representing tentacles and the depression, the body. Similar motifs appear on seven different green jasper seals dated to the Late Minoan IA period. Given the similarity in material and motif, it may be possible that green jasper “stylized octopi” seals, were products of a single workshop. Unfortunately, however, the location of the hypothetical workshop is unknown, since only two, now three with Khavania, have a known provenience.
In terms of future plans, team members will continue to work with and interpret the data that they collected during the 2022 study season. Selected catalogued objects will be drawn and photographed over the winter months. In addition, a selection of catalogued pottery will be sampled for petrographic analysis. Here, it is hoped that the results from both the macroscopic and microscopic investigations will establish a template for the site’s ceramic fabrics but will also allow comparative analysis with samples in the INSTAP petrography database that will enrich knowledge about production centers, clay sources, chronologies, and inter-island contact and exchange. And, finally, it is our hope to return to Khavania next summer to conduct further investigations of this fascinating site.
Fig. 9. Pottery laid out and ready to be sorted by Jane (Photo by Raphaëlle Berberyan).
We would like to conclude this blog post with a note of gratitude to the various individuals who have helped us along the way. These include:
Chryssa Sophianou and Klio Zervaki (ΚΔ’ Ephorate of East Crete), Jacques Perrault, Brendan Burke, and Jonathan Tomlinson (The Canadian Institute in Greece), Tom Brogan, Kathy Hall, Eleanor Huffman, Eleni Nodarou (INSTAP, Study Center for East Crete), Raphaëlle Berberyan, Aiko Byrne, Sukhmeet Dhur, Alexandra Farrow, Paige Foley, Sophia Graham, Kaylee Janzen, Samuel Kelly, Jessica Kroeze, Luna Nikolic, and Desiree Southern (our absolutely fantastic field school students from Concordia and Brock), Rafał Bieńkowski, Lily Bonga, Miriam Clinton, Alice Crowe, Sophiana Drakaki, Carly Henkel, Sarah Hilker, Kapua Iao, Konstantina Kokolaki, Tina McGeorge, Dimitra Mylona, and Charles Sturge.
Generous financial support has been provided by the Bagnani Trust, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
D. Matthew Buell, Rodney D. Fitzsimons, Jane Francis, and R. Angus K. Smith