Researchers Investigate Archaic Greek City-State in Crete

Archaeologists resume excavations at ancient site in eastern Crete to reconstruct development of early Greek city-state.

An ancient site in eastern Crete may now be providing some answers to the questions of how and why the earliest Archaic city-states on this important Greek island of the Aegean developed and emerged more than 2,500 years ago.

Led by Project Director and archaeologist Donald Haggis of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Field Director Margaret Mook of Iowa State University, a research and excavation team will return to the location of Azoria, an archaeological site situated on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello in northeastern Crete. Initially explored by the American archaeologist Harriet Boyd-Hawes in 1900, the site has since yielded evidence of human occupation from Final Neolithic times until shortly after 200 B.C.E. The most prolific remains recovered, however, span the periods corresponding to a long, continuous occupation from the Early Iron Age or Greek Dark Age (1200-700 B.C.E.) into the Early Archaic (700-600 B.C.E.). 

Haggis and his team first began full-scale excavations at the site in 2002, and continued work at the site through 2006, uncovering, among many other finds, significant structural remains of Archaic civic buildings and houses. Their aim was to explore the early history of the site and develop a stratigraphy and chronology of changes in the settlement during the transition from the Early Iron Age to the Archaic, with a special focus on understanding the development of the 6th-century B.C.E. urban center, the early Greek city-state. 

Previous excavations have already uncovered an Archaic multi-room structure called the Communal Dining Building, interpreted as a possible dining hall used for corporate syssitia, (a communal meal of male citizens organized as hetairiai, or clubs); the Monumental Civic Building, a large hall with a stepped bench built into the walls of its interior; and an adjoining two-room shrine. This building complex included nearby buildings or facilities thought to have provided support services, containing multiple store rooms (consisting of food stored in pithoi) and kitchens with stone-lined hearths. Also discovered with the service complex was a well-preserved olive press facility—considered the earliest known beam press of the post-Bronze Age Aegean. Evidence pointed to a fiery destruction at Azoria in the 5th century B.C.E.



Interior view of the Monumental Civic Building. Wikimedia Commons 



Interior view of the northwest service building storeroom. Wikimedia Commons 



 Service building kitchens. Wikimedia Commons



Service building kitchen destruction deposit. Wikimedia Commons 




Terracotta votive figurines from the altar in the Archaic shrine at Azoria. Wikimedia Commons


But the excavation goals go far beyond developing an understanding of one site.

Reports Haggis and Mook: “The excavation constitutes the first case study of the political economy of Archaic Crete, while augmenting our knowledge of the agropastoral resource base of Aegean communities in early stages of urbanization.” Researchers hope that knowledge gained from the excavations will inform further exploration of the beginnings of urbanization and the formation of  early Greek city-states in Crete.*

For the coming season of work, set to begin at the end of May, 2014, Haggis and Mook intend to field a team of professional staff, students and volunteers to take up the task of gathering additional archaeological data to help fill in more gaps in the total picture of urban beginnings. 

“Our plan of work for 2013-2017 is to excavate an early Greek temple (ca. 1000-700 B.C.E.) and several Archaic-period houses (6th and early 5th c. B.C.E.), and to conduct a number of stratigraphic soundings in the area of the civic buildings in order to refine our understanding of the chronology and history of the site.”**

See the project website for more information about the excavations, field school, and how one can participate as a student or volunteer.

The Azoria excavations are conducted under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.





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