Monumental Minoan Discovery at Crete’s New Airport Site

June 14, 20240

Archaeological Excavation Reveals Monumental Circular Structure in Crete

Monumental Structure Unearthed

Archaeological excavations near the summit of Papoura Hill, northwest of Kastelli in Crete, have revealed a monumental circular structure unlike any other found in Minoan archaeology. The discovery was made during earthworks for the new international airport currently under construction.

Unique Architectural Layout

The structure, measuring approximately 48 meters in diameter and covering an area of about 1800 square meters, is located at the highest point of the hill. It consists of eight superimposed stone rings, each with an average thickness of 1.40 meters and an estimated preserved height of 1.7 meters. These rings are arranged at different elevation levels, creating a complex architectural layout.

The rings form a central circular building (zone A) with a diameter of 15 meters, featuring corbelled masonry. This central building is divided into four quadrants and is surrounded by a second main zone (zone B) with a width of 6.9 meters. Radial walls in zone B intersect the rings of the lower levels, creating smaller spaces.

The excavation has revealed an almost labyrinthine structure, with narrow openings connecting the various spaces. Two potential main entrances to the central zones have been uncovered on the southwest and northwest sides.

Dating and Possible Function

The main period of use for the structure appears to be between 2000 and 1700 BC, suggesting it was likely founded just before or at the beginning of the Old Palace period (MMI-II). The presence of New Palace pottery in the destruction layer indicates that the monument continued to be used during the New Palace period.

The quantity and type of findings, including a large quantity of animal bones, suggest that the structure may not have been used for continuous habitation. Instead, it may have served a periodic function, potentially for ritual activities involving the consumption of food, wine, and offerings.

Implications and Significance

This is the first monument of its kind discovered and excavated in Crete. Its size, architectural complexity, and meticulous construction suggest a significant undertaking, requiring specialized expertise and a strong central administration to organize its construction.

While the exact function remains unclear, it is evident that this was a type of communal building or landmark for the wider Pedias region. Its monumental and prominent nature likely indicates the importance of the location and the size of the population it served.

Balancing Preservation and Development

The discovery has prompted discussions about how to balance the preservation of this unique find with the ongoing construction of the airport. Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni has emphasized the importance of continuing the archaeological investigation to fully understand the monument and ensure its preservation.

Alternative locations for the radar system are being explored to allow the airport project to proceed while safeguarding the archaeological site.

Future Research and Potential

Further excavation is crucial to clarify the monument’s character and its relationship with the residential and religious centers of the same period in the Pedias region. Its unique nature and monumental scale make it a potential landmark of the new Heraklion Airport.

The ongoing archaeological investigations at the new airport site are part of a broader effort to document and preserve Crete’s rich cultural heritage amidst development projects.

Dispelling the Myth of Omfalion Pedion

A Scholarly Perspective

Dr. Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has weighed in on the speculation surrounding the discovery (Patris 13 June 2024 – in Greek), stating that the newly discovered structure is not the mythical “Omfalion Pedion” of Zeus.

The Location of Omfalion Pedion

Dr. Chaniotis cites Callimachus, a 3rd century BC poet, as the sole source mentioning the exact location of Omfalion. According to Callimachus, Omfalion was located west of the Karteros River, near Knossos, and not in the Kastelli area.

The Importance of Accurate Interpretation

Dr. Chaniotis emphasizes the importance of relying on solid knowledge of ancient Greek and written sources for the interpretation of Crete’s topography. He cautions against amateurism, fantasy, and wishful thinking, urging journalists to verify information before disseminating unsubstantiated claims.

The Monumental Minoan Discovery: A Marvel and a Challenge

A Unique Find

The monumental Minoan discovery next to the new airport site is a marvel, generating excitement and wonder. The structure’s unique design, consisting of eight concentric cylindrical constructions and a central cross-shaped pattern, has captivated archaeologists and the public alike.

Potential Astronomical Significance

Professor Xenophon Moussas, renowned for his research on the Antikythera Mechanism, suggests that the structure may have astronomical significance. He proposes that the eight concentric walls could represent the seven celestial bodies, and the direction of the two rays could indicate the day of sowing grain (October 26th).

Balancing Preservation and Progress

The discovery raises the question of how to balance the preservation of such ancient treasures with the construction of large-scale projects like the Heraklion airport. The Greek Ministry of Culture has committed to continuing the archaeological investigation to fully understand the monument and ensure its preservation while exploring alternative locations for the radar system to allow the airport project to proceed.

A Testament to Minoan Civilization

The monumental structure stands as a testament to the ingenuity and sophistication of Minoan civilization, showcasing their architectural prowess and potential astronomical knowledge. As further excavations unfold, the true purpose and significance of this unique find will be revealed, adding another layer to our understanding of Crete’s rich cultural heritage.

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