Preserving memory in Minoan Crete. Filled-in bench and platform deposits from the First Palace of Phaistos
Ilaria Caloi Journal of Greek Archaeology 2 (2017): 33-52
Recent studies in Aegean prehistory have started to deal more intensively with the practice of accumulated artefacts in structured depositions and to see these as mnemonic records, reflecting people’s desire to preserve the memory of some specific events.
In their seminal paper on Neolithic Wessex (Britain), Richards and Thomas were the first to define structured depositions as a type of patterning of the archaeological material, whereby the artefacts are deliberately and intentionally deposited in a specific ‘structured’ manner, which can be interpreted as indicative of complex social practices and, especially, as evidence for ritual practices. Only recently some scholars have challenged the concept of structured deposition, calling into question the use of this term that has been applied to a broad range of contexts, without considering whether the depositions were intentionally produced as a mundane process, or as the result of ritual action. But in his 2012 response paper Julian Thomas reaffirms both the ritual and commemorative character of structured depositions, defining them as ‘a means of consigning the activities that had taken place in the monument to memory as much it was as a part of those activities’.
In the Aegean the best-known examples of structured deposits are the foundation deposits, which abound in Minoan Crete. These usually consist of objects that were intentionally deposited in a ‘structured’ manner on the ground or in a shallow pit beneath a new wall/floor in order to inaugurate the new feature. Besides these, the Bronze Age site of Phaistos, overlooking the Mesara plain in south-central Crete, provides a fair number of a new type of structured deposit that occurs especially in the so-called First Palace, dating from the 19th to 17th centuries BC, i.e. the Protopalatial period. The architecture of this palace excavated by Italian archaeologists Luigi Pernier (1900-1909), Doro Levi (1950-1966) and Vincenzo La Rosa (2000-2004), is remarkably wellpreserved in comparison with other Minoan palaces and yielded plentiful deposits.
This paper focuses on some unusual and not well-known structured deposits from this building, that largely consist of complete or fragmentary vases as well as occasionally other objects that are placed in a ‘structured’ way, with which I mean that they have either been positioned vertically and/ or horizontally, and sometimes comprise stacked cups, before being sealed. They are here called ‘filled-in bench and platform deposits’. They differ from other cases identified at Minoan sites, such as Knossos, Malia, Thronos/Kephala and Nopeigia-Drapanias, but also from practices attested in Bronze and Iron Age sites in Northern and Eastern Europe (e.g. Britain and Bulgaria).