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Excavations at Sissi III

Jan Driessen
Charlotte Langohr
Quentin Letesson
et al.

3. The Excavation of Zone 2

The 2011 Campaign

Frank Carpentier

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 2 Assisted in the excavation: P. Gheorghiade (U. of Toronto), G. McGuire (Vrakhasi), Y. Milathianakis (...)

1Located on a large terrace about halfway between the coast and the summit of the Kefali, Zone 2 comprises the remains of at least three LM I structures: Buildings BA, BB and BC. Although these are located close together up to the point of coalescence, the area is otherwise sparsely occupied, especially in comparison to the dense architecture found on the summit. Building BA was partially explored by K. Davaras in the 1960s (Davaras: 1963, 1964) and completely excavated during the previous campaigns in 2007 and 2008 (Sissi I: 96-106). Building BB was tested in 2007 (Sissi I: 106-107) while Building BC was partially excavated between 2009 and 2010 (Sissi II: 69-82). The objectives for the 2011 campaign were the excavation of the area in between Buildings BA and BC (grid squares AR 73-75), finishing the excavation of Spaces 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, 2.9 and 2.12 in Building BC (grid squares AQ-AR 73-76) and the exploration of the area between Buildings BA and BC and the terrace limit to the west, where wall remains had been identified during the 2010 campaign (AR 72, AS-AT 71-72) (fig. 1.1)2.

2. Building BC, spaces 2.6 and 2.7

2While most of the archaeological deposits from within the spaces of Building BC were excavated during previous campaigns, there was still a substantial amount of material left, particularly in Space 2.6. The excavation revealed the remaining parts of the lower courses of walls B21, B22 and B25, indicating a three-course build-up for the former and the existence of a platform, buttress foundation or buttress (11-02-2255-FE001) located midway wall B21. The protruding rectangular feature (fig. 3.1) measures 1.49 m² and is on a level with the exterior wall foundation. The feature has been constructed in a similar fashion to that of the interior walls, with smaller sized amorphous field stones reaching up to three courses.

  • 3 C. Langohr, pers. comm.

3The material consists mostly of a fill which seemed to suggest a sequential build-up, exemplified by sets of horizontally articulated animal bone (such as 11-02-2253-OB003, 11-02-2270-OB003 and 11-02-2271-OB001) and patches of plaster. The pottery found here is comparable to that found during earlier campaigns and mostly consists of LM I coarse ware fragments3. However, unlike previous years, a number of MM III sherds were recognised in the lowest strata of the fill. The sherds were found randomly distributed and had weathered breaks, suggesting they were part of a levelling event or perhaps more likely the earliest deposition phase of a continued dumping process. Apart from large amounts of animal bone and sherds, the fill contained a lot of marine shells, charcoal, mudbrick, pumice, a few obsidian fragments and a piece of stalactite.

4For Space 2.7 (fig. 3.1), the objective was to investigate the transition to Space 2.6, obscured by a tumble of large stones. The tumble covered part of the fill which was taken out and contained more utilitarian LM I sherds, animal bone, shell, charcoal, mudbrick, pumice and a few obsidian pieces. The fill continued up to the bedrock which rises slightly towards Wall B28.


5Stone objects (Tsoraki, this volume, for the lithic material) included vase fragments (11-02-2255-OB001, 11-02-2270-OB002, fig. 3.2o-r), one of which belonging to a bird’s nest bowl type (fig. 3.2n), part of a lamp (fig. 3.2s), lithic tools (fig. 3.2h-k), a gourna fragment (fig. 3.2g) and an architectural fragment (11-02-2243-OB002). A number of (fragmented) terracotta loomweights (11-02-2247-OB002, 11-02-2266-OB003, fig. 3.2a-f) were also found as well as a rounded and pierced terracotta disc (11-02-2245-OB004). Pottery found here consisted of fragments of a tripod cooking pot 11-02-2266-OB001, three conical cups (11-02-2245-OB001, fig. 3.2l-m) and a possibly imported bridge-spouted jar (11-02-2245-OB003).


6Although the existence of a buttress or platform and its proximal location respective to the main doorway of Building BC adds significantly to the space’s configuration, it does little to upset previously made interpretations as it could equally have featured in a room or courtyard. Especially if the space was roofed, adding a buttress (or foundation thereof) could be understood as relieving the inward and downward forces of the long and otherwise unsupported wall B21. One possibility for such an intervention could have been the insufficient counterforce provided by perpendicular wall B22 due to the location of a doorway where walls B21 and B22 meet. While the use of buttresses is an option, it is uncertain whether this interpretation holds as none of the essential perishable wall components of Building BC have been preserved. In terms of size, the feature seems exceedingly large if present for structural reasons only covering the southeast wall of 2.6 for nearly half of its length. Therefore it may be more correct to envision a platform here, a feature previously recorded for adjacent space 2.8 (infra) and neighbouring Building BA (Sissi I: 103). This would be perfectly located to receive materials brought in through the nearby entrance. While its surface is far from level, wood or wicker may have provided such. Lastly, it should be noted that the southwest limit of the feature seems to be aligned with wall B28, suggesting it formed part of the initial construction.

3. Building BC, spaces 2.8 and 2.9

7Additional cleaning operations were undertaken in spaces 2.7, 2.8 and 2.9 in order to complete their respective excavation. The material found repeats that discovered during previous campaigns (Sissi II: 72-75).

8In Space 2.8 (fig. 3.1), further clearing around the pumice-covered platform in its northeast corner (Sissi II: 73) revealed bedrock. Apart from some LM I sherds and a considerable number of pumice fragments (probably also forming part of the platform), the fill contained charcoal, ash, animal bone, shell and small amounts of mudbrick. There were larger fragments of some cups (11-02-2252-OB003, 11-02-2262-OB001, 11-02-2252-OB001, 11-02-2252-OB 004-6, fig. 3.3b), of a vase (11-02-2252-OB002), a bridge-spouted jug (11-02-2262-OB002), an oval-mouthed amphora (fig. 3.3a) and of a brick or tile (11-02-2242-OB003).

  • 4 C. Langohr, pers. comm.

9Space 2.9 next to it (fig. 3.1) needed some additional cleaning which yielded finds up to a depth that slightly undercut the mortar located here (Sissi II: 74). Apart from some MM III material, the pottery is mostly LM I and of the utilitarian type4. Other finds include animal bone, mudbrick, shell and charcoal. Objects were few in number, consisting of fragments of a tripod cooking pot (11-02-2294-OB003), three cups (11-02-2292-OB003, 11-02-2292-OB001-2) and two lithic tools (figs. 3.3c-d).


10Further investigation of Space 2.9 in particular was interesting as the depth of the fill here was considerably lower than that in adjacent Space 2.8. In both cases, the fill descends to a hard but unconsolidated layer of decayed bedrock that overlies the solid bedrock and the difference in depth is a result of a difference in bedrock levels (Sissi II: 69, n. 3). The presence of MM III material in the earlier strata of 2.6 (supra), similar to Space 2.9, may indicate that the stratigraphy of both rooms may have undergone partially parallel deposition sequences.

4. Building BC, space 2.12

  • 5 Ibid.

11Partially excavated in 2010, Space 2.12 (fig. 3.1) was destroyed by fire, as exemplified by the rubified soil, burnt mudbrick, a vitrified cup, a burnt beam and earth (Sissi II: 78). It contained a range of ceramics that was somewhat unusual within Building BC in the sense that decorated and finer wares occurred, contrasting to the utilitarian wares found elsewhere5. Upon reaching the floor level in Space 2.12, a buried vat (10-2241-OB001) was noted. This vat had been placed alongside wall B33, close to the corner with wall B34 and with the rim more or less at the floor level as indicated by a burnt fallen beam (11-02-2237-FE001), a column base and a patch of pebble floor (Sissi II: 78). The vat, with rope decoration under the rim and two vertical handles, has a diameter of 0.43 m and a height of 0.35 m. It is reasonably well preserved but surprisingly there is a large hole (diameter: 0.18 m) in its base, covered by a flat, roughly fitting stone (11-02-3201-OB001), measuring 0.18 x 0.17 x 0.06 m. The primary evidence for fire destruction, the overall preservation of the vessel as well as the position, shape and dimensions of the stone suggest that the stone is in situ and formed part of an installation (fig. 3.5). Whatever the intended use of the vat, it had either been buried into the soil while already broken or the breaks occurred later on and the sherds were removed. The latter seems unlikely though because the hole is fairly central and regular, leaving a more or less equidistant rim radius and no further cracks seemed to be present. Unless the stone held an impermeable material such as leather in place, the vessel would have been inappropriate for containing liquids and better or easier alternatives may exist related to, rinsing, filtration or drainage. While further analysis is planned, the function of the installation is yet to be satisfactorily explained. For the rest, the finds were similar to those of the previous season: large amounts of (burnt) mudbrick, burnt earth, abundant charcoal. Further finds consisted of shell, bone, pumice, obsidian fragments and LM I sherds. There were also a burnt stone (11-02-2265-OB001), a burnt terracotta tile (11-02-2265-OB002), both with heat-induced cracks, part of a vase (11-02-2263-OB001), a tile fragment (11-02-2265-OB003), two terracotta loomweights (11-02-2265-OB004, fig. 3.4a), a stone tool (fig. 3.4b) and a fragment of a drilled stone, perhaps of a lamp (fig. 3.4c).


12Space 2.12 also featured a small recess in wall B33, close its west corner. Large, articulated sherds were found here, one on top of another and it is assumed that a closet was located here.


5. Building BC, space 2.13

  • 6 These spoil heaps were attested outside the four walls that defined room 2.5 (‘Davaras Building’, S (...)

13Space 2.13 (fig. 3.1) was covered by one of the spoil heaps that resulted from excavations in the 19606. It is formed by a relatively small (9.96 m²) space with a plan in the shape of an inverted “F”, located between Space 2.5 of Building BA and Space 2.12 of Building BC. Its northeast wall is shared with Space 2.12 (B33; Sissi II: 78) but only partially which makes Space 2.13 set further west compared to adjacent Space 2.12 and thus leaving a recess of 2.91 m². The southwest wall is formed by Space 2.13, the easternmost part of the north wall of space 2.5 (B16, Sissi I: 97), be it located higher than the other walls of 2.13 (and Building BC, for that matter). To the east, wall B34 (FE 11-02-2291-FE001) was constructed in a double-skin fashion with small and medium-sized field stones. Parallel to B33, it is located 1.07 m further west, forming the west wall of the recess (supra) between spaces 25, 2.12 and 2.5. The west limit of 2.13 is formed by wall B37 (11-02-3204-FE002) which runs perpendicularly from the western end of B33 up to where it is intersected by wall B36 (infra) which causes it to shift 0.81 m southward before linking up with B16. Space 2.13 is subdivided by wall B35 (11-02-3204-FE001) which runs parallel to B33. Stopping at 0.75 m from wall B34, it leaves an opening through which the two subdivisions are interlinked.

14Beneath the spoil heaps from Davaras’ excavations, the original topsoil was identified which signalled the start of a similar stratigraphy as was recorded in Building BC during previous years. Still, the very dense scatter of stones with dimensions akin to those used in smaller walls was remarkable and cumulated in the square stone concentration in the west part of the space. The rest of the fill contained sherds of utilitarian LM I type ceramics, bone, shell, mudbrick, charcoal and small amounts of pumice and obsidian. Objects from this room were few, but with a significant concentration of large lithic (grinding) tools (11-02-2298-OB001-002, fig. 3.6a-c), an architectural fragment (11-02-2291-OB003), a stone vase fragment (11-02-2295-OB002), a large vat fragment (11-02-2285-OB002), a basin fragment (11-02-2291-OB001), vase fragments (11-02-2291-OB002, 11-02-2285-OB001), two cups (11-02-2288-OB001, 11-02-2297-OB001) and a conical cup with pierced base (11-02-2295-OB002).


  • 7 C. Tsoraki, pers. comm.
  • 8 A comparable observation has been made for Maison Zα at Malia (Deshayes & Dessenne 1959: 10-11), an (...)

15Although the space adjoins both Buildings BA and BC, it seems to have been part of the latter because of the bonding of walls B34 and B33. Moreover, the corresponding wall and floor heights of Space 2.13 with the rest of Building BC contrast with the difference of 0.80 m which exists with the walls and floors of Building BA. Wall B16 is partly undercut by the smaller stones that delineate Space 2.13. In addition, the orientation of the walls, as is the case for the rest of BC, is slightly angled in comparison to BA. The size and configuration of 2.13 restrict functional possibilities. The smaller of the two is a narrow, rectangular space, the size (1.89 m²) of which would have restricted any sort of activity. It could have served as a storage space on the condition that items were either only occupying part of it, or they were stacked in a preferential order as items at the back would not have been readily accessible otherwise. The amount of stone tools (all barely worn grinding equipment7) attested here may support this theory. Alternatively, the narrow part served as a stairwell. This hypothesis is supported by the large amount of stone rubble and the dense stone packing that is located in the west part of 2.13, which, if indeed massive, would have easily afforded a turn and continuation of the stairs. Unlike the flight of stairs that remained in Space 2.2 (Sissi I: 103-104, 108), no such stones could substantiate this idea for 2.13 and it seems unlikely that the large amount of flattened grinding stones could have fulfilled such a role. Rather, the construction of stairs out of wood should be considered with the remainder of the space used for passage and storage8.

6. The Area in between Buildings BA and BC

  • 9 Ammouda is a sandstone variety (Shaw 2007: 23) which was frequently used in local architecture, bot (...)

16The area bordered by walls B16, B24, B30, B34 and the east limit of grid square AR 74 (fig. 3.1) was tested as a rectangular, ammouda9 bench (11-02-2284-FE001) with a 0.29 m² surface and a 0.15 m height, had been attested positioned parallel to wall B16 at 1.12 m distance. In the area, a group of four stones, arguably parallel to B34 and in the axis of B30 was found abutting Building BA. These could have formed a small wall in support of a light roof, covering the recess in between Room 2.5 and Spaces 2.12 and 2.1,3 thus providing a small sheltered space of 2.91 m².

17Excavations yielded very few finds for such an extensive area, with low counts of pottery, mudbrick, shell and bone. Objects were mostly fragmentary and included fragments of vases (11-02-2259-OB001-2; 11-02-2284-OB001-4), a small terracotta spiral fragment (fig. 3.7), lithic tools (11-02-2280-OB001, 11-02-2282-OB001), and an architectural fragment (11-02-2282-OB002).


18The small number of finds and lack of structural supports suggest this was an open space, perhaps with a small, roofed, semi-open space located near its west wall. Such a space would have been reasonably well-protected from the elements and could have functioned as a covered storage or animal shelter (perhaps with the bases of broken vases, some perhaps in situ position near wall B16, recycled as troughs). The space featured an ammouda bench which could have provided a multifunctional work surface. The only ground-floor doorway accessing this area directly would have been the presumed doorway towards Space 2.8 (Sissi II: 72). A large basin with drainage hole buried near the doorway (Sissi II: 73) would then have provided an ideal collection facility for (household) production or processing activities taking place on the courtyard.

7. The Area west of Buildings BA and BC

19During the 2010 campaign, the area between the edge of the terrace and the west limit of Building BA and BC, represented by wall B15 (Sissi I: 97) was cleared of vegetation and a series of isolated, fragmentary walls appeared. These mostly consist of large uncut field stones similar to the boulders used in the exterior walls of the two other structures as well as Building BC (especially wall B23) (Sissi II: 71) (fig. 3.1). The existence of a large wall, B36 (11-02-2257-FE002), running from 2.13 towards the terrace wall, and the identification of an entrance connecting to the area west of Building BA and BC warranted renewed exploration. Despite being the only wall with a structural connection with the buildings, it cannot be ascribed to a delineated space. It abuts wall B37 (supra) through means of a perpendicular, northwest shift of the latter, indicating that wall B36 and Space 2.13 were contemporaneous. Where B36 meets B37, an entrance (11-02-2257-FE002) of 1.09 m wide and consisting of small stones with smooth surfaces, could be identified. Parallel to Building BC’s exterior northwest wall B15 (Sissi I: 97), at ca. 2 m distance, five boulders form fragmentary wall B38 (11-02-2257-FE001). A similar configuration is found further west, where another two boulders are located, forming a parallel fragmentary wall B39 (11-02-2257-FE003). A fourth wall, B40 (11-02-2257-FE004) perpendicular to B38 and B39, and consisting of two separated parts, is located towards the end of the terrace. No remains of a connection to wall B15 could be traced. Lastly, wall B41 (11-02-2257-FE004) is located further south and runs parallel to B40. Compared to most walls in the area, this last wall is relatively well preserved, running uninterrupted for 6.08 m.

20Across the area, bedrock was found to be present immediately beneath the topsoil and very few finds (mostly eroded sherds) were encountered. The walls follow orientations that parallel those of Building BC and the location of the entrance in wall B36 seems to accommodate fragmentary wall B38. They could be the relics of an older building that was (at least partly) contemporaneous to or even part of Building BC. If one were to reconstitute the wall remains along their respective trajectories, a structure very similar to Space 2.5 in Building BA is possible (fig. 3.8). The current state of the walls could then be explained through the re-use of stones for the construction of Building BA yet does not account for the seemingly haphazard removal of large stones. The (remaining) wall parts could equally well have been (re)used as the structural supports for light outbuildings (e.g. for storage or stables). As for the westernmost parts of Building BC, the progressive erosion of a hypothetical once present terrace wall (Rackham & Moody 1992) has severely impacted the area. It is unclear whether this wall once formed a part of the fragmentary remains between B41 and B36, although their identical orientation does suggest they were constructed at around the same time.


8. Conclusion

21The addition of Space 2.13 to Building BC completes our understanding of how BC was structured, as the possibility of a staircase there would have provided access to a roof terrace, an upper storey or a small attic space. Remains of stairs were found in situ in neighbouring Building BA, befitting the architectural similarities that exist between the two structures. Small scattered wall remains in the area west of Building BA may imply the existence of a precursor to BA which, like its successor, was integrated within Building BC. Although evidence is scant and it remains unclear whether these were once complete walls, small structural elements for light outbuildings or both. Buildings BA and BC may have had similar occupation histories, as exemplified by the neatly abutting architecture and the gradual filling up of BC, perhaps while BA was occupied. During the time they coexisted, the space between the buildings and lined by them on three sides, provided a large, open (court) yard with reasonable protection from sun and wind. The 2011 campaign confirmed that part of the buildings was lost to erosion.

22Both buildings contain objects and features that are typical for a domestic context, but some elements may indicate that some specialised activities were also carried out: the doweled, double-troughed gourna (Sissi I: 100-101, 108-110), the bronze tool kit (Sissi I: 98-99, 110-111) and accompanying loomweights (Sissi I: 110) in Building BA; the mortar (Sissi II: 74), large vat, pumice platform (Sissi II: 72-73) and vat-stone installation (supra) in Building BC. The results of 2011 can therefore be seen as supportive to the interpretation of the buildings as modest versions of the house-workshops of neighbouring Malia (Poursat 1996). The occurrence of MM III sherds towards the earliest strata (supra) provides a terminus ante quem for the origins of Building BC. This earliest deposition was likely a levelling layer with material brought in from elsewhere or residual material dating to the early occupation phase while the massive body of LM IA material represents refuse. Hence, it is hypothesized here that the Building BC was constructed and saw its first occupation phase some time during the early LM IA period, which is the period to which most of the pottery can be ascribed to (Sissi II: 179), and that it was abandoned during or towards the end of this same period, after which it served as a dumping area, perhaps from clearing nearby buildings. In nearby Malia, similar contexts are being related to clearance dumps after an earthquake that occurred at the end of the LM IA period (M. Pomadere, pers. comm.).


9. References

▪ Davaras 1963 = K. Davaras, in Κρητηκα Χρονικα 17 (1963), 405.

▪ Davaras 1964 = K. Davaras, in Αρχαιολογικων Δελτιων 19, II (1964), 442.

▪ Deshayes & Dessenne 1959 = J. Deshayes & A. Dessenne, Mallia. Maisons (II), (Études crétoises 11), Paris, 1959.

▪ Poursat 1996 = J.-C. Poursat, Artisans Minoens: les Maisons-Ateliers du Quartier Mu, (Études crétoises 32), Paris, 1996.

▪ Preziosi 1983 = D. Preziosi, Minoan Architectural Design. Formation and Signification, Berlin, 1983.

▪ Rackham & Moody 1992 = O. Rackham & J. Moody, Terraces, in B. Wells (ed.), Agriculture in Ancient Greece, Stockholm, 1992, 123-130.

▪ Shaw 2009 = J. W. Shaw, Minoan Architecture: Materials and Techniques, (Studi di archeologia cretese VII), Padova, 2009.

Sissi I = J. Driessen et al., Preliminary Report on the 2007-2008 Excavations (Aegis 1), Louvain-la-Neuve, 2009.

Sissi II = J. Driessen et al., Preliminary Report on the 2009-2010 Excavations (Aegis 4), Louvain-la-Neuve, 2011.


2 Assisted in the excavation: P. Gheorghiade (U. of Toronto), G. McGuire (Vrakhasi), Y. Milathianakis (Vrakhasi), C. Murphy (U. of Kent), A. Pateraki (U. of Athens) and L. Verhulst (KULeuven).

3 C. Langohr, pers. comm.

4 C. Langohr, pers. comm.

5 Ibid.

6 These spoil heaps were attested outside the four walls that defined room 2.5 (‘Davaras Building’, Sissi I: 96); all but one of them were found deposited on top of adjoining smaller spaces (respectively 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4 and 2.13).

7 C. Tsoraki, pers. comm.

8 A comparable observation has been made for Maison Zα at Malia (Deshayes & Dessenne 1959: 10-11), and has been suggested for other sites (Preziosi 1983: 7, 43, 135).

9 Ammouda is a sandstone variety (Shaw 2007: 23) which was frequently used in local architecture, both worked and unworked.

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