Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


18 September 2013

The Minoan settlement of Zakros during the Late Minoan II and Late Minoan III periods

Mihalis Zoitopoulos

The extensive destruction horizon documented in the Minoan Palace and the surrounding settlement of Kato Zakros is dated to the end of LM IB period, namely the mid-15th century B.C., a period called Zakros V according to the system of relative chronology proposed by Lefteris Platon (Platon 2010: 513; Platon 2011) for Zakros. The following period, Zakros VI, constitutes the subject of this short contribution. From the very first excavation seasons at Zakros it became clear that some of the houses on Aghios Antonios hill (SW of the Palace) were at least partly reoccupied. Nikolaos Platon dated this reoccupation in the mature LM IIIA2 period (Platon 1961: 217; Platon 1962: 151), but the current re-examination of the stratigraphic evidence along with the pottery study showed that this period extends further in space and time than originally thought. In what follows, it will be argued that on the basis of the pottery evidence this period can be further subdivided in two sub-phases (Zakros VIa and VIb) dated to LM II/IIIA1 and LM IIIA2 respectively, following, thus, the pattern seen in other east Cretan sites.

Fig. 1: Plan of the Zakros palace and the buildings mentioned in the text (after N. Platon 1971, with additions by the author)

Reoccupation was evidenced in six buildings, namely Houses A (Alpha), Δ (Delta), B (Beta), and E (Epsilon) on Aghios Antonios Hill (SW of the Palace), House N on the low hill NW of the Palace, and the “Building of the Shrine Deposits” on the terraces just N of the Palace (Figure 1). Scattered deposits of LM IIIA pottery not associated with architecture derive from various loci on the NW hill and also from the so-called Zakros “Pits” (excavated by D.G. Hogarth in the early 20th century). The presence of these pottery assemblages along with the new evidence from the ongoing study indicate that the reoccupation of the 14th century B.C may not be confined just to the six aforementioned houses and that future study may provide further evidence.

Fig. 2: Reused ashlar masonry in the outer wall of room A, House A, Aghios Antonios hill (photograph by the author)

Although the study of the LM III stratigraphy has been impeded by natural factors such as heavy erosion and disturbance from modern agriculture, some interesting observations were made about the nature and the architecture of the settlement after the end of LM IB period. The LM III settlement differs from the earlier Neopalatial town in several respects: a) it occupies a smaller area and is less densely populated, b) there does not seem to be any house construction during the LM III period and, therefore, the town planning remains more or less unaltered, c) all the houses were one-storied buildings, which constitutes a common feature of the LM III settlements (Hayden 1990; Hallager 1997: 184-185; Soles 2008: 8), d) reoccupation is limited to some parts of the Neopalatial building complexes and it is possible that two LM III houses occupy the space of one earlier house, e) the LM III builders re-used at many instances pre-existing walls, mainly house facades or the outer courses of older (and thus stronger) walls, f) there is a pattern of reuse of the Neopalatial buildings: the basement rooms were thoroughly cleaned and a new entrance was opened on the division wall forming a two room structure, and g) there is extensive reuse of ashlar masonry deriving from the ruins of the Palace (Figure 2).

The re-consideration of the reoccupation period in Zakros is important also in chronological terms for the larger picture of the settlement history in the area. During the last decades the excavators of other important east Cretan sites like Palaikastro and Mochlos defined an early reoccupation period which in terms of relative chronology correlates with LM II and/or LM IIIA1. The distinctive feature of this sub-phase is the limited presence of LM II pottery (imported from Knossos) along with some local pottery types (Brogan et al. 2002: 103-104; MacGillivray 1997: 195). Now this period of early reoccupation is attested also in the assemblages of Zakros.

Fig. 3: Pottery from the early reoccupation period at Zakros (photograph by the author)

A “closed” stratum of the early reoccupation (Zakros VIa) is found in the western part of House Δ (rooms N, O, E, H) on a floor raised at 0.50 m., on top of a distinctive layer of burnt soil 0.20-0.30m thick overlying the LM IB floor (Platon 1963: 163). From this deposit (room Ν) derives a Knossian ephyraean goblet in a buff clay (Figure 3a) with exact parallels from the Knossos Unexplored Mansion (Popham 1984: pl. 57b) and the “Gypsum” House unertheaned during the excavation for the extension of the Knossos Stratigraphical Museum (Warren 1982-83: 65, fig. 10). Additionally, fragments of, at least, two solidly black-slipped deep cups (Figure 3c) find parallels in the LM II deep cups from the Unexplored Mansion (Popham 1984: pls. 79a, 81 upper row), and Mochlos (Smith 2010: fig. 5 IIB 131, dated in LM ΙΙΙΑ1). There is also a ledge-rim cup with double axe motif (Figure 3d) and the upper part of a bridge-spouted jug (Figure 3e), both dated to LM IIIA1 (for the shape of the cup: Popham 1997: 381, fig. 3. For the bridge-spouted jug: Smith 2010: 71, fig. 35 IIB.613). Finally, from the same level comes an unusual pulled-rim bowl with horizontal handles (Figure 3b), for which an LM II date would be more appropriate (Popham 1984: pls. 52, 53).

Fig. 4: LM IIIA2 pulled-rim bowl from the “Building of the Shrine Deposits” (photograph by the author)

A second “closed” destruction layer designates the late reoccupation period (Zakros VIb): it was uncovered in a two-room structure, reoccupying two, previously, basement rooms of the “Building of the Shrine Deposits”. The pottery assemblage includes typical LM IIIA2 shapes (Figure 4) along with some vases dating in the transition to the LM IIIB1 period, namely two monochrome deep bowls (Figure 5a-b) which according to some scholars belong to the beginning of the LM IIIB period (Kanta 1980: 285; Smith 2010: 52-53, fig. 16 IIB 466). The Zakros specimens have not yet fully developed the shape of the characteristic LM IIIB type (FS 284), with the raised or ring-shaped base. There are, also, an amphoroid krater with octopus decoration (Figure 5c), placed usually in the beginning of the LM IIIB period (Kanta 1980: 275), and the upper part of a large hemispherical cup or bowl (Figure 5d), with comparanda for shape and decoration both in the LM IIIA2 and LM IIIB1 periods (Hatzaki 2007: 235-236, fig. 6.26 no. 2).

Fig. 5: Pottery of the late reoccupation period at Zakros (photograph by the author)

To summarize, the reoccupation of the late 15th and 14th c. B.C. in Zakros can be divided in two sub-phases an early and a late, (Zakros VIa and VIb), corresponding to the LM II/IIIA1 and LM IIIA2 periods respectively, according to the Evans-Mackenzie chronological system. The short break in occupation after the destruction at the end of the Neopalatial period may have not lasted more than 30-40 years, as argued for Mochlos (Soles 2008: 5). What becomes evident, though, is that the reoccupation following the destruction is not a short and hasty re-use of space but rather, an organized activity placing Zakros in the network of the Postpalatial settlements of East Crete.


I would like to thank my professor and Director of the Project for the Study, Conservation and Publication of Zakros Excavations, Dr Lefteris Platon. I would, also, like to thank Dr Tom Brogan, Director of INSTAP-SCEC, and the staff of the Study Center for facilitating my stay and my research in Pacheia Ammos, for all previous years, in every possible way.

The present article was first published in the newsletter of INSTAP Study Center for East Crete, Kentro, Volume 15, Fall 2012 (pages 6-9). Some more photographs have been added for this electronic version.


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