Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


23 January 2013

Surviving crisis: Insights from new excavations at Karphi, 2008

Saro Wallace (with contributions by Dimitra Mylona) Annual of the British School at Athens 107 (2012): 1-85.


Seventy years after its first investigation, Karphi (Karfi) on Crete was the subject of a new pilot excavation in 2008. The main aim was to provide the first up-to-date detailed contextual records for the site across a representative area, thus filling in interpretative gaps left by the original extensive excavation. This paper presents and analyses these records with the aim of investigating the likely complexity of social systems at one of the largest new communities founded in Crete after the collapse of Bronze Age states c.1200 BC. Recent research has tended to focus on small villages, or on sites which later developed into poleis, meaning that crisis-period remains are poorly preserved. Occupied only between the crisis horizon of c.1200 BC and an important nucleation of Cretan communities at large ‘proto-polis’ settlements occurring in the early tenth century, the large Karphi site offers insight into the special challenges of creating large, potentially diverse new communities in crisis circumstances. It has one of the most dramatic of the new settlement locations, on steep-sided peaks 1100 m above sea level in an area which had never previously been settled. The social and economic adjustments needed here were particularly sharp and urgent, and the paper examines the structures which enabled them, using preliminary analyses of bioarchaeological data from the new project to assist reconstruction of the economy. The site has had other, highly specialised uses in its history, on which the new excavation has thrown light. The results highlight not only the resonance of this landscape in ancient consciousness, but also the ways in which such resonance could be exploited, both in the socially volatile post-collapse period and in the context of enhanced social and economic complexity as polis states started to come into being. Finally, a first set of radiocarbon dates from the new excavation is presented and assessed with regard to the dating of the Cretan Bronze to Iron Age transition and its wider ramifications.


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