Friday, April 10, 2015

The Minoans: The Pre-Temple Period

As Neolithic people across the Middle East began to utilize copper tools, then bronze tools, slowly Crete was changing too. During the 4th millennium BCE metalworking became popular across the Aegean, and people began to use gold, silver, and copper for jewelry. A larger and more pronounced class of nobles emerged in the Aegean during this millennium, with their status cemented by the ownership of symbols of prestige, such as: gold strips, schematic figurines, silver earrings, copper pins, and obsidian spearheads. These items were only owned by nobles, and must have been traded between nobles. For the general population, pottery floods the record such as at Lera and Gerani caves.

A reconstruction of Aegean noble warriors from the 3rd millennium BCE, by Giuseppe Rava

Around 3,300-3,100 BCE international trade emerged between the city states of Afghanistan and the nomes of Egypt (at least at Naqada). First this was with a land route across the land locked city states of Persia, and later (by 3,000 BCE) with a sea route directly to coastal Sumer. Crete was increasingly living in a more globalized world. Earlier settlers had brought dogs, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, but during this millennium donkeys and rabbits were imported from outside of Crete. New styles of pottery proliferate across the island, pointing to an explosion of localism within the craft and an island wide population boom. In the latter half of the millennium (3,500-3,000 BCE) a concurrent population drop-off in the nearby Cyclades and Dodecanese islands points to migrations or large population changes in the areas around Crete as they experienced this population boom.

Map of bronze age sites in Iran, showing the possible stopping points across a land route from the Badakhshan mountains to Egypt, which opened between 3,500-3,000 BCE

Map of the Indus River Valley civilization between 3,300-2,600 BCE, by 3,000 BCE some amount of Afghani lapis lazuli traveled south to the mouth of the Indus river, or to Gujarat. From there it was transported to Magan (Oman), then Dilmun (Bahrain), then to Sumer

A reconstruction of the citadel at Dholavira, Gujarat. part of the Indus River Valley civilization

As the turn of the millennium neared, by 3,200 BCE, the first and foremost neolithic village of Knossos had become a sizable village. The boom of the latter 4th millennium BCE had created many new settlements, called neolithic ridge towns as many are in defensible positions. These new settlements continued the general trend towards urbanity, and probably added new cultures and ideas. These final neolithic ridge towns and ancestral neolithic villages all play a role in the island's fluid transition into the bronze age.

The urban development of the village of Myrtos near Fournou Koriphi between 3,000-2,200 BCE

A clay model of a ship from Mochlos cave, Crete, made between 3,000-2,700 BCE

A drawing of a clay model of a ship from Palaikastro Crete, made around 3,000 BCE

Much was changing around the wider Aegean world at the turn of the 3rd millennium BCE. In Egypt the Pharaoh Narmer united its city states into its first Kingdom around 3,100 BCE, and in Mesopotamia the city of Uruk held some cultural dominance over a collection of city states. In Crete, pottery which is considered distinctively Minoan is expressed throughout the island. This period is called the Pre-Temple period, and begins more or less around the advent of Pyrgos ware around 2,800 BCE.

Standard Pyrgos ware chalice, made around 2,800 BCE

Cycladic style Cretan pyxis, made between 3,000-2,300 BCE

Cycladic style Cretan pyxis, made between 3,000-2,300 BCE

Bird shaped clay vessel from Koumasa, 2,600–2,300 BCE

A Red-on-White (RoW) beak spouted jug from southern Crete, 2,600-2,300 BCE

A stone vase in the shape of a teapot from Mochlos, Crete, EM period

Once a general pottery fashion had taken hold on the island, it only spurred further innovation. Within 200 years (2,600 BCE) both Agios Onoufrios and Vasiliki ware were being produced on Crete. During the 3rd millennium BCE Cretan culture began to express itself in a multitude of variations, then shipped those variations off to other places for money. It was in this millennium that trading contacts began with Syria, and by 2,000 BCE certainly Cretan traders were fully integrated into the culture of their neighbors' coastal cities. This wider Aegean world changed significantly during this time. The Old Kingdom of Egypt rose and fell, leaving pyramids for humans to marvel at thousands of years later. The Sumerian culture flourished during this millennium finally dispersing after the Amorite invasion around 2,000 BCE. At the beginning of the millennium Mesopotamia had never been united, yet by 2,000 BCE Sargon the Great of the Akkadian empire (which had fallen by that time) had set the premier example of Kingship. He created a mythical national hero and perfect king, copied by all his successors to the greater kingship of Asia until Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE.

White-on-Black (WoB) spouted beaker, Vasiliki ware, 2,300-2,000 BCE

A Cycladic Kernos (vase for multiple offerings), 2,300-2,200 BCE

A long beak spouted cup, from Crete made between 2,200-2,000 BCE

Minoan early Kamares ware jug with dolphin, made around 2,100 bce

A clay hedgehog bowl from Syros island in the Aegean, made between 2,700-2,200 BCE

A similar sea changed had occurred in Crete by the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. Around 2,100 BCE early pictographs had transformed into a style of writing called Cretan hieroglyphs. These common symbols were stamped on seals or carved onto clay documents. The answer to why a common written language emerged on the island is found in the objects onto which the symbols were stamped and carved. Seals represented the individual's person-hood, and when put onto a legal contract impresses into that document the weight of that individual's fidelity. On such clay documents merchants inscribed items bought or sold, allowing Cretans from vastly separated villages to trade and profit together and from one another. With the spread of pictograms you see the spread of population, trade, and a unitary Minoan culture.

Seals with Cretan hieroglyphs

A green jasper seal with Cretan hieroglyphs, made around 1,800 BCE

Many things were held to be sacred by Cretans of the 3rd millennium BCE. By the end of the millennium specifically mountain tops had held high importance. The earliest peak sanctuaries were built in this period, heralding the rise of a novel complex mythology which calcified over the flourishing of the Minoan religion through the next thousand years. This proto-form of the classical Minoan religion dominated Crete during this millennium. Their belief structure did not end with the Minoans themselves, it was shared and passed down to the Mycenaeans and eventually (with heavy change) to classical Greece. The rise of this belief structure in the 4th millennium effected the culture of its local region for thousands of years afterward. Only with the dominance of Christianity over Hellenism in the 4th century CE were the last elements of this bronze age believe system truly dispersed.

Image of a peak sanctuary on a rhyton from Zakros, 1550-1500 BCE

A strange clay figurine/pot called the Goddess of Myrtos, found on Crete and dated to around 2,000 BCE (right at the end of the Pre-Temple period)

One of the earliest underwater shipwrecks in the Mediterranean is from the Pre-Temple era, from around 2,200 BCE. It was a trading vessel bearing pottery from the Argolid peninsula in the Peloponnese, and had sunk 60 miles east of Sparta by the island of Dokos. While its primary mission at the time of its sinking was bringing Argolid pottery to the island, due to the high variety of styles on the ship it was probably trading much further afield. The ship contained a multitude of potted items as well as lead ingots. An analysis of the items carried goes a long way to explaining what the wealthy were importing during this period. It traded mainly bulk storage amphorae and pithoi, but also cups, bowls, urns, sauceboats, braziers, washing basins, baking trays, and common utensils. By 2,200 BCE pottery was much more than just jars, and trade was much more than simply bulk produce. The ship also carried multiple millstones, which were most likely used as ballast. This fact also points to the interconnection of the agricultural economy and the shipping economy.

The stone anchor from the Dokos shipwreck, from around 2,200 BCE

The sauceboats the ship was carrying had a similar design to Early Helladic pottery in Attica and the Cyclades. While the Minoan thalassocracy would come to dominate much later in the Aegean, there was already a dense interwoven economic fabric by the early Minoan period. Each coastal locality was inextricably linked to its neighbors, creating not only a shared culture but a shared economic fate. This process wove the region together, at least those who could afford foreign pottery. Along with foreign objects came foreign languages, ideas, and transplants: truly these trade links spread knowledge and information. Crete sat directly in the center of all these links, both connecting the disparate eastern Mediterranean together, as well as stitching itself inextricably into the mainland world.


Aegean Neolithic Transition, What-When-How
The FN to EBA Transition in Crete, Nowicki
The Minoans, by Rodney Castleden
The Dokos Shipwreck, on Wikipedia
Ancient Egyptian trade, on Wikipedia
History of Lapis Lazuli, on Wikipedia

Sacred Neolithic Cretan Caves, Peter Tomkins


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