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Excavations at Sissi III

Jan Driessen
Charlotte Langohr
Quentin Letesson
et al.

1. Excavations at Sissi, 2011


Jan Driessen

Texte intégral

1A fifth excavation campaign by the Belgian School at Athens on the Bouffo or Ayos Antonios Hill at Sissi took place from June 20th to July 29th, 2011. This concludes our first five-year programme of excavations. As before, the excavations were a collaboration between the Université Catholique de Louvain and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and, as before, we sincerely thank the previous head, Ms. Villy Apostolakou, the present head Ms. Chryssa Sophianou and Ms. Vasso Zografaki of the 24th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Ayios Nikolaos for aid and advice. Financial support this year came from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (IDO), the Fonds National de Recherche Scientifique, the Ministère de la region wallonne (Mr. J.-M. Nollet, Mr. R. Martin), the Communauté française de la Belgique (Mr. A. Antoine) and the Loterie Nationale, and a series of private sponsors, amongst whom we especially thank the T.F. Cunningham family, the H. and B. Davis family and Mr. M. Conreur. Couderé Geoservices (esp. Ms. M. Couderé, M. F. Rahier, M. M. Hennau) are thanked for putting a Trimble S3 as well as a Trimble Scanner at our disposition. Dr. A. Sarris (IMS-Rethymnon) lent us a Leica Total Station and Dr. D. Mulliez, previous director of the French School at Athens, again graciously put the dighouse at Malia at our disposition. Dr. T. Brogan, director, and C. Papanikoloupoulos, photographer, of INSTAPEC provided valuable advice and services, Dr. D. Evely, Knossos curator lent us two site sieves. Ms L. Manousogiannaki again represented the 24th Ephorate on site. Environmental studies, under general direction of Dr. V. Isaakidou, were carried out by D. Decarle, I. Papadopoulou and S. Donta (flotation, sorting). Dr. A. Livarda (archaeobotany) and Dr. R. Veropoulidou (shells) came out for a week to study samples. Dr. C. Tsoraki studied ground and other stone tools and vases. F. Carpentier took a series of micromorphological samples whereas S. Jusseret supervised fytolith sampling. Photography was the work of L. Manousogiannaki, G. McGuire, the area supervisors and Chr. Papanikolopoulos (INSTAPEC), for the objects. As before, C. Gaston provided us with a superb series of kite photographs of the site and specific details at the end of the campaign. Site conservation during excavation was carried out by N. Nikakis while A. Nikakis was responsible for object restoration. J. Milathianakis installed a route through the site for visitors. Topographical work under direction of P. Hacigüzeller was executed in the field by M. Pietrovito and P. Baulain, trained by N. Kress, who participated the first week. A team of architects directed by A. Chalkidi, with V. Gouliopoulou and M. Nasi, made a new stone-by-stone plan of the final state of the site, which accompanies this report. M. Hennau (Couderé) scanned the top of the hill for a planned 3D reconstruction to be made available through our website. Workers this year were G. Metaxarakis, J. Milidakis, M. Vrachnakis, M. Papadaki, M. Tzannakis, J. Milathianakis, K. Jacobson and M. Vrachnakis. Apothiki work was directed by Dr. C. Langohr (first two weeks) and Fl. Liard, assisted by I. Kritikopoulos, E. Steingart, V. Vanderlinden and A. Stienon. H. Joris, assisted by D. Riccardi-Cunningham, acted as draughtsperson whereas R. McGuire was site artist. As before we received plenty of visitors, local and foreign. Especially appreciated were comments and advice from V. Apostolakou, V. Zografaki, C. Sophianou, His Excellency the Belgian Ambassador M. M. Van de Reeck, consul O. Maebe, J.-P. Olivier, J. Wright, T. Brogan and the INSTAPEC crew, I. Papadatos, E. Nodarou, G. Cadogan, C. Knappett, T. Whitelaw, J. Bennet, E. Hatzaki, C. F. Macdonald, D. Haggis, B. Molloy, K. Palyvou, D. Nodaro, A. Farnoux, D. Small, S. Hemingway, D. Evely, I. Caloi, L. Girella and I. Jacobs.

2This introduction attempts to present a brief chronological overview of occupation on the Kefali based on the 2007-2011 excavation campaigns. This is, evidently, a preliminary assessment that will certainly need to be amended once full study is completed.



1. Preliminary Observations on the Diachronic Occupation of the Kefali

3Late Neolithic occupation has been identified in the immediate hinterland of Sissi (Müller 1998: 549), on the south slope of the Arkovouno hill, and closer to the hill some sherds may suggest a Final Neolithic/EM I occupation covered by alluvium (S. Jusseret, pers. com.). By EM I, a settlement existed in Kharkoma bay (Sissi I: 24), seen by M. S. F. Hood, P. M. Warren and G. Cadogan in 1963 but now entirely destroyed. It is possible that the rising sea level in the Early Bronze Age forced people up the Kefali hill since from EM IIA onwards, the site may have been continuously occupied. Since some EM I sherds were found in the cemetery, although without clear architectural association, it is possible that the cemetery dates back this early. In this case, it cannot be excluded that it first served the Kharkoma settlement and only somewhat later that located on the Kefali itself. Or that initially the cemetery served two separate hamlets, one at Kharkoma, the other on the Kefali. It remains unclear, however, when the Kharkoma settlement was abandoned.

4In any case, the first main period of use of the cemetery seems to be the beginning of EM II when a series of house-tombs were built against the foot of the north slope of the hill (cf. fig. 2.1a & b). These tombs were used for primary burials but there are many signs for interference with the bones of the deceased: some were pushed aside, others removed and in a nearby ossuary, some of the selected skulls and long bones were redeposited (Schoep, Schmitt, Crevecoeur and Déderix, this volume). In the tombs and ossuaries there is evidence for the burial of men, women and children of all ages so that, even if we cannot be sure that all people had the right to formal burial, at least all people from a particular group seem to have had equal access. Surprisingly perhaps in view of the evidence elsewhere, apart from the occasional cup, there are almost no objects accompanying the deceased and most pottery seems either to have been placed (or used) outside the tombs or deposited when bone interference took place. It may be noted, however, that foetuses and neonates were often deposited within ceramic containers. There is very little occupational evidence from the settlement which dates back to this phase apart from some sherds. An early wall which follows an entirely different orientation found in zone 5 (room 5.2) may date to EM II (Sissi II: 145) and a series of stray finds such as fragmentary axes, stone vases and pendants may originally have been part of Prepalatial contexts (Sissi I: 28, 126; Sissi II: 28; Devolder, this volume for a bird pendant).

5From the late Prepalatial period (EM III/MM IA) onwards, there is increasing evidence for the use of the cemetery and the top of the hill. Most of the house tombs in the east part of the cemetery seem to date to this phase. Although none is completely preserved or excavated, it is very likely that each of these funerary buildings had a rectangular shape and was formed by a series of small spaces and cells used for primary deposition. Some of the buildings may have been quite large. Again very few objects are associated and most finds come from outside the tombs. Some of the contexts seem to suggest rituals taking place close to the tombs. To the same EM III/MM IA phase date the remains of what originally may have been a larger building found to the north of zone 5 and cut through by the construction of later building CD (Zones 3-4 wall (Devolder, this volume, cf. fig. 5.2, 5.9 & 5.10)). A small floor deposit (with vase 11-5-3809-OB004) is all that remains but immediately to the north of it, within the later building, a floor was bedded on a massive fill which comprised many typical white-on-dark sherds in the East Cretan tradition of very good quality (Letesson, this volume) (fig. 1.3). It is interesting to note that the pottery encountered in the settlement seems of better quality than that in the cemetery, which makes one wonder whether special ceramics were produced to be consumed in funerary contexts.


6To a slightly later phase, MM IIA, probably dates the construction of a large house tomb 9, in the west part of the cemetery (cf. fig. 2.1 a & b; Schoep, Schmitt, Crevecoeur and Déderix, this volume). Again this structure probably comprises several spaces but only two have been completely excavated. These housed the remains of almost 30 people. Apart from a few cups and plates that may have accompanied the dead, a gold earring was found on a skull and the same tomb also yielded an amethyst bead, a tiny gold stud and a soft seal stone of the petschaft type. One of the deceased had been placed within a larnax, others within pithoi. The latter may date to MM IIB, the mature Protopalatial period since during this phase, all deceased within the Sissi cemetery seem almost exclusively to have been buried in pithoi usually within earlier existing graves. Moreover, the number of MM II deposits in the cemetery suggests a busy ritual use of the area. In the settlement, very little MM IB-IIA evidence has been found but MM IIB material, either residual, redeposited or in situ is abundant and in several areas on top of the hill good architecture is associated (already Sissi II: 106, 108, 131, 139-140; Devolder this volume). In zone 5, for example, there are remains of several Middle Minoan rooms which preserve red and blue paint against their walls and plastered floors and to the north of zone 3 & 4, alongside room 4.9, a test yielded extensive Middle Bronze Age architectural remains with associated pottery deposits. These, taken together with the MM II deposits found in rooms 4.5 and 4.14, may suggest the presence of one or more larger buildings on top of the hill. Middle Minoan was also identified to the southeast of the top, in zone 6, and all this gives the impression that at least the summit of the hill was densely occupied at the moment of Malia’s glory and destruction in MM IIB. The Malia survey has found traces elsewhere in the Sissi valley for MM II (Müller 1998: 549, 551) and there was probably a rural sanctuary close to the sea, west of the Kefali, on the Kremasma promontory where plenty of human and animal figurines were found by earlier explorers (Sissi I: 23-24). Although most of the surviving surface material on Kremasma appears Neopalatial, some of it goes back to MM II. The location of a seaside shrine on a promontory close to a settlement now finds a parallel at Papadiokampos (C. Sofianou, pers. comm.). There are no signs, at the moment, for more elaborate pottery, architecture or other elite elements such as writing during this phase in the settlement. Moreover, traces of a MM IIB fire destruction exist but are rather rare, this in comparison with Malia. Still, there seems, in any case, a clear break between this phase and the next.

7At the beginning of the Neopalatial period (MM III), the site may have briefly been fortified since at the southwestern foot of the hill, a tower-like megalithic construction was built, without doubt to protect the easiest access to the hill. By this time, the cemetery seems to be abandoned and we do not know where the dead of Sissi were deposited during this or the later Neopalatial periods.

8The Neopalatial period seems in any case to have been the moment of the Kefali’s settlement’s largest extension with occupation on the lower terraces and the top of the hill. During this phase, the hill may have received a building of which the nature is not yet entirely clear. In zone 6 (cf. fig. 6.5), the southeast summit of the hill, earlier Protopalatial ruins of unknown character but with parallel walls and an orientation that is identical to its Neopalatial successor, were overbuilt with more prestigious architecture (Jusseret, this volume). A 20 m long euthynteria or levelling course formed by fine limestone slabs forms a north-south façade which originally carried an ashlar wall. This wall faces a court of at least 9.50 by 20 m, strewn with blue pebbles in a clay and lime matrix. Against this façade and next to what seems to have been a doorway entering the building was a built platform of which the top slab carries a series of shallow depressions along the outside and deeper depressions in the centre. Such pierres à cupules or kernoi are usually interpreted as ritual installations. This possibility is made more convincing since to the north of the façade and on a right angle with the latter, we came across a double wall of which the south side also carries a dozen shallow artificial depressions, between one and three per stone. West of this wall we uncovered an ashlar wall which runs parallel to the euthynteria to the east. A massive, plastered ashlar block, located during the survey, sits not very far from here and may come from the same building (Sissi I: 41) (fig. 1.4) and in the area other large walls with similar orientations abound.


9Although very little has been excavated, it is not unlikely that we have a court-centred building here. Two further observations may reinforce this hypothesis: the general orientation of the court, which is about 16.5 ° east of north and points to the top of the Selena Mountains, hence corresponding with general practices at other important Minoan sites, and the discovery of a few ‘postminoan’ figurines in the surface layers of the room close to the ashlar wall suggestive of a later respect towards an earlier place of importance (fig. 6.17). The largest pottery deposit thus far encountered within one of the spaces of the east rooms dates to the end of MM IIIB or early LM IA and consists of cups and rhytons. The building was, however, largely reused during LM IIIB, so that very few original contexts are preserved. If we are right in seeing a Neopalatial court-centred building in the remains, the presence of such a building at only 4 km from Malia may parallel situations encountered elsewhere, e.g. between Phaistos and Agia Triada, Knossos and Archanes. Future excavations may confirm this hypothesis. If correct, it would mean that we have revealed much of the East Wing. Ground cover is, however, much better to the north and west which allows optimism for preservation conditions.

10During LM I, the top of the hill (zones 3-4) and the middle terrace (zone 2) to the northwest were occupied by a series of buildings and there is a clear difference in the quality of construction and ceramics between these two zones. The middle terrace (figs. 1.1 & 3.1) carried several more or less rectangular buildings (BA, BB and BC) which seem to have combined domestic and semi-industrial functions; textile production may have formed an important feature here. From the floor deposit of Building BC come two limestone figurines in a pseudo-Cycladic style, paralleled in certain Neopalatial houses at Malia, and within two different rooms of the same building were found the burials of two children, placed in a large pyxis (Sissi II: 76-77). The top of the hill (zones 3-4) (figs. 1.1 & 4.1-5) seems to have witnessed the construction of a more monumental type of construction with a façade made of large, roughly trimmed blocks facing east and a paved road perhaps coming from the more public building in zone 6. A fragment of a large, plastered horns of consecration found against its northwest angle may underline its importance (fig. 4.35; Letesson, this volume). Many of the walls seem to have been reused in LM III but for details more study is needed. Within some rooms, such as 3.5, there is good evidence for substantial LM I occupation (ceramics, sealstone, stone vases; Gaignerot, this volume) and against the east façade, in room 4.19, a thick fire destruction deposit was encountered with one vase still containing plenty of carbonised lentils (Sissi II: 104, fig. 5.23). Elsewhere Neopalatial occupation was only encountered sporadically but in several spaces, walls go down beneath the floors of the LM III phase. Reoccupation pottery is almost absent apart from the surface layers from the entire zone east of room 3.1 and this entire area seems to form part of a large Neopalatial structure, still largely buried. There is, on the other hand, very limited evidence for Neopalatial occupation in the open area to the south of the main buildings in zones 3-4 where bedrock surfaces, apart from an extensive cup deposit found in isolation close to its western edge (Sissi II: 159). The deposit comprised at least 90 complete conical cups, some still stacked, and many dozens of broken examples as well as a few other types of cups and other vases. This seems to suggest that this area was already open and may have been used for certain ritual practices involving consumption during the Neopalatial period.

11Especially on the middle terrace (Zone 2) there are signs that the buildings suffered minor damages in the course of the LM I period and a LM IB fire destruction, certainly not generalised, was also identified in both zones.

12The Late Minoan II and IIIA1 phases are for the moment only represented by sherd material, again in the open area 5.10 south of zones 3 & 4 and again especially by open shapes which could suggest that even if there was no habitation, the site or its Minoan ruins may have been used for certain ritual practices (Sissi II: 194).

13From LM IIIA2 and till the advanced LM IIIB phase, the remains on top of the hill were patched up and incorporated into a new, large, monumental complex with two wings, located to the north and south of the open area 5.10. The northwest and north facades of this complex closely follow the contour lines of the top of the hill and present a long, closed face without any entrance. The use of roughly trimmed conglomerate boulders–perhaps quarried opposite the hill to the west–and the position of the building further enhance the apotropaic aspect of the construction. This contrasts with the southeast side which seems to have been open and more permeable. The entire complex as originally constructed late in LM IIIA comprised two wings north and south of the open area. The south wing seems to have been destroyed first, late in LM IIIA2 or early in LM IIIB, perhaps by fire and earthquake and several deposits were found in place, including metal objects such as bronze chisels and a large lead vessel (Sissi II: 189-191 for a discussion of the pottery; Langohr, this volume). It has been suggested that the hill about 500 m south of the Kefali was used for a chamber tomb cemetery during this period (Müller 1998).

  • 1 I would like to thank J.-P. Olivier for help with this object (for similar signs, see Vandenabeele (...)

14The following period, mature LM IIIB, sees occupation reduced to the northwest part of the summit (figs. 1.1 & 4.1-5). The remains of the Neopalatial east façade were reused as a terrace wall to establish a large open court of about 100 m². From here, the main entrance of the complex into Hall 3.1 could be accessed: this is formed by a massive sideropetra threshold. A large rectangular boulder in front but off centre of this entrance may suggest that a porch protected this access. The main room, Hall 3.1, carries two large column bases in its central axis (Sissi II: 93). Between these were some traces of burnt clay and two large domed shaped terracotta objects which may be interpreted as opaia, chimney pots (cf. Lamaze 2011). They are specially made and decorated so their function may have been regarded as important. In the east part of the hall was found a pottery deposit, including a pithos and a deep bowl and an industrial installation, perhaps a press. Hall 3.1 measures about 6.5 by 8 m and was meant to receive a larger number of people, perhaps more than those living in the complex itself. Around the hall are a series of service rooms: one was certainly a kitchen, the other some kind of pantry in which a series of drinking and pouring vessels were found but the access to both was blocked before the final destruction. Moreover, to the west and south were other halls with double pillar bases and a hearth in between. The one to the west, in room 4.7, dates to an earlier phase (Letesson, this volume) whereas that to the south, in room 4.11, may have existed at the same time as Hall 3.1. It certainly served for preparing food since three tripod cooking pots were found with their contents at about a metre in a half circle around the hearth. Between both halls, but only accessible from the room 4.11, is a small shrine (3.8) in which the ritual equipment was found in situ (Sissi II: 89-92). It included two snake tubes, a large triton shell, a series of kalathoi and some other pottery. Along the south side of the complex, facing the open area 5.10, are a series of rooms which communicate with the inside of the building, apart from the most western room, 4.15, which is only accessible from the open area. Within this latter room were found several vases, some pithoi (one half buried containing a variety of shells), a cooking installation, a fine imported stirrup jar and a hut model (Letesson, this volume). If the objects found in this room relate to activities taking place in the open area, we may perhaps think of a continuation of practices here since Late Minoan I. This is also suggested by the material found in some pits in this open area which all suggest ritual consumption practices and perhaps intentional breakage. Along the west side of the complex are a series of other rooms which seem to have been used for storage and production. Several rooms may have been used for production of stone objects and activities involving pumice which was found in great quantities (Gaignerot & Driessen 2012). From a LM IIIB level in one of the rooms (3.6) come two large deposits of terracotta spools of a type usually connected with the Sea Peoples or LM IIIC sites (Gaignerot, this volume). They suggest the production of textiles within the complex. From the destruction layer against the façade comes a clay fragment (11-04-1783-OB001) with some incised signs, perhaps Linear B (Letesson, this volume) and hence suggestive of some form of administrative control taking place. We can tentatively read:]ri 10 INGOT [or] RI 10 INGOT [(fig. 1.5), with the possibility that the ingot sign was accompanied by another sign such as we or pe1. It may have been some kind of label, originally pressed against a basket or perishable container explaining the striations on the back. If it is really Linear B, it may be called SI 1. It adds to the already known corpus of stirrup jars inscribed with Linear B found at nearby Malia (Farnoux & Driessen 1991). In this case, however, it suggests active administration going on rather than receiving inscribed vases from elsewhere. Interestingly, the sequence] ri and INGOT [also occurs in the Knossos tablets. That the label may have accompanied some kind of bronze military material is a hypothesis that cannot be further explored for the moment. As a preliminary date, early LM IIIB may be retained. This may also have been the period when zone 6 was abandoned.


15Before the final destruction in the advanced LM IIIB period, as suggested by some of the pottery, several rooms had already been abandoned and most of the doorways leading into Hall 3.1 were found blocked. How the complex was eventually destroyed remains something of an enigma. The end came suddenly and the rooms were left with most of their objects in place but metals were taken along so perhaps the inhabitants had some time before leaving. If we are correct in our preliminary dating, the Kefali at Sissi has evidence for three different phases in LM IIIB: a first, LM IIIA2/B destruction in Zone 5 or Building E, a second, mature LM IIIB phase in which Building CD (and F) may have been damaged and partly given up, and a third and last advanced LM IIIB phase during which only a few spaces (3.1; 3.3; 3.8; 4.11) were still occupied (Langohr, this volume). In any case, the Kefali carries one of the latest settlements located in the plain in this area.

16By LM IIIC, higher locations would be looked for, such as the nearby Anavlochos. The Kefali site was by then abandoned. If the small deposit of figurines, including horses, found in the western part of Zone 6 (Jusseret, this volume, fig. 6.17) dates indeed to the Geometric period, a limited religious re-use of (part of the) hill may have accompanied a more discrete repopulation of the Malia plain. A small Geometric cemetery was installed on Christ’s Island (l’îlot du Christ), west of Malia, but the settlement has not yet been identified (van Effenterre 1963: 112). On Kremasma, the flat hill west of the Kefali, some remains and vases also suggest a small settlement or sanctuary (Sissi I: 24).


2. Conservation, Site embellishment and Study

17During excavation, limited interventions were done on the site, to consolidate excavated standing remains (cf. N. Nikakis in Sissi II). At the end of the excavation, all ancient floor levels were covered with resistant geotextile and A3 gravel. An initial scheme for site embellishment and visit has been drawn up by the director, L. Manousogiannaki and A. Chalkidi, with some input by A. Chrysanthi. A full study for site preservation is being prepared. The eventual aim is to present the site to the public. An initial attempt was undertaken to trace simple paths throughout the site which stay clear of the remains at the same time offering a good view of the remains (fig. 1.6). This path is lined with field stones and can be removed and repaired easily.

18Finally, proposals have been made to the local municipality to transform the old school of Vrachasi, to which Sissi belongs, into a study centre. More information on this can be found on the website of the project (


3. References

▪ Farnoux & Driessen 1991 = A. Farnoux & J. Driessen, Inscriptions peintes en linéaire B à Malia, BCH 115 (1991), 71-97

▪ Gaignerot & Driessen 2012 = F. Gaignerot-Driessen & J. Driessen, The Presence of Pumice in Late Minoan IIIB Levels at Sissi, in PHILISTOR: Studies in Honor of Costis Davaras, edited by Eleni Mantzourani & Philip P. Betancourt, INSTAP Press, Philadelphia (2012), 35-42.

▪ Lamaze 2011 = J. Lamaze, Cheminées et systèmes d’évacuation des fumées dans les édifices a caractère cultuel de la fin de l’Age du bronze au début de l’Age du fer en Egée, Ktema 36 (2011), 237-268.

▪ Müller 1998 = S. Müller, Malia. Prospection archéologique de la plaine, BCH 122 (1998), 548-552.

Sissi I = J. Driessen, I. Schoep, F. Carpentier, I. Crevecoeur, M. Devolder, F. Gaignerot-Driessen, H. Fiasse, P. Hacigüzeller, S. Jusseret, C. Langohr, Q. Letesson & A. Schmitt, Excavations at Sissi. Preliminary Report on the 2007-2008 Campaigns (Aegis 1), Presses Universitaires de Louvain (2009).

Sissi II = J. Driessen, I. Schoep, F. Carpentier, I. Crevecoeur, M. Devolder, F. Gaignerot-Driessen, P. Hacigüzeller, V. Isaakidou, S. Jusseret, C. Langohr, Q. Letesson & A. Schmitt, Excavations at Sissi, II. Preliminary Report on the 2009-2010 Campaigns (Aegis 4), Presses Universitaires de Louvain (2011).

▪ Vandenabeele & Olivier 1979 = F. Vandenabeele & J.-P. Olivier, Les idéogrammes archéologiques du Linéaire B (Etudes crétoises, 24), Paris (1979).

▪ Van Effenterre 1963 = H. & M. van Effenterre, Fouilles ecécutées à Mallia. Etude du site. Exploration des nécropoles II (Etudes crétoises, 13), Paris (1963).


1 I would like to thank J.-P. Olivier for help with this object (for similar signs, see Vandenabeele & Olivier 1979, plates LXXXIX-XCII).

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