The Sphakia Survey


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Monday, June 1, 1987 to Monday, August 31, 1992

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The Sphakia Survey is an interdisciplinary archaeological field project focused on the modern eparchy of Sphakia, Crete, some 470 km2 which had never previously been the target of systematic investigations.  The main objective of the survey is to investigate human interaction with the landscape and reconstruct a sequence of use from the time that people arrived (ca 3000 BCE) until the end of the Turkish period (1900 CE).  The survey has a general commitment to the synthesis of all available evidence (environmental, archaeological, and documentary) for data gathered from the three primary temporal phases of investigation (Prehistoric, Graeco-Roman, and Byzantine-Venetian-Turkish).  Individual components of the project’s research methods can be found online at the project’s website:

In order to plan the survey and later organize and analyze data, it was decided that Sphakia should be discussed in smaller units.  For this reason, the research area was split into eight regions which are, from west to east: Trypiti Gorge–Samaria; Madhares; Agios Ioannis-Papadiana–Aradena; Anopoli; Ilingas-Loutro–Livaniana; Khora Sphakion-Sphakiano Gorge–Mouri; Askyphou–Niato; and Frangokastello.  Territory was also divided into eight environmental zones representing coast and coastal plains, lower slopes, basins and mountain plains, gorges and cliffs, middle slopes, upper slopes, mountain desert, and madhares.

Reconnaissance was carried out in 1986, followed by field seasons in 1987, 1988, 1990 and 1992.  Study seasons took place at the Chania Museum in 1989 and from 1993 to 1998, with finds being photographed in 1999.  During field investigations the number of known sites grew from 20 to 315 across all chronological periods, thereby producing a final catalogue that is diachronic and has collected data from the variable contrasting altitudes which exist throughout the Sphakia region.

A major component of the Sphakia Survey was the development of a fabric research and analysis program.  While ceramics from the Graeco-Roman and Byzantine-Venetian-Turkish periods were relatively straightforward to date (due to the presence of various types of fine wares), prehistoric sherds (which are mostly coarse ware) were much more difficult to date.  Fabric analysis was applied to both coarse and fine wares across all periods and has provided an analytical tool for placing survey material in testable chronological sequences.  The initial stages are basically a form of geology wherein under macroscopic examination of the sherd’s condition, shape, size, texture, manufacture, colour, hardness, and inclusions are recorded.  Petrography is used to confirm the identification of inclusions.  Eventually it is possible to group ceramics into small fabric associations within larger fabric families.  Mapping the distribution and noting the stratigraphy of each family helps produce a picture of regional use patterns in various chronological phases.

While a significant number of preliminary publications have been released, detailed below, the final publication of the survey is currently in preparation.  It will be published by the Oxford University Press in two volume with the first consisting of monograph text and the second containing catalogues of sites, finds, fabrics, and plant lists.



Nixon, Lucia. 2012. ‘Building Memory: The Role of Sacred Structures in Sphakia and Crete’. Pgs. 187-214. In Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World. B. Dignas and R. Smith eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rackham, Oliver, Jennifer Moody, Lucia Nixon and Simon Price. 2010. "Some field systems in Crete.” Pg. 269-284. In Cretan Studies in Honour of Peter Warren. O. Krzyszkowska ed. British School at Athens Studies 18. London: British School at Athens.

Nixon, Lucia. 2009. “Investigating Minoan Sacred Landscapes.” Pgs. 269-278. In Archaeologies of Cult: Essays on Ritual and Cult in Crete in Honor of Geraldine C. Gesell. A. L. D'Agata and A. van de Moortel eds. Hesperia Supplement 42. Princeton NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 

Nixon, Lucia, Simon Price, Oliver Rackham and Jennifer Moody. 2009. "Settlement Patterns in Medieval and Post-Medieval Sphakia: Issues from the Archaeological and Historical Evidence." Pgs. 43-54. In Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece: The Corfu Papers. BAR International Series 2023. John Bintliff and Hanna Stoger eds. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Nixon, Lucia, Simon Price, Oliver Rackham and Jennifer Moody. 2009. “Settlement Patterns in Mediaeval and Post-Mediaeval Sphakia: Issues from the Environmental, Archaeological, and Historical Evidence.” Pgs. 43-54. In Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece: The Corfu Papers. John Bintliff and Hanna Stõger eds. BAR International Series 2003. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Price, Simon, Oliver Rackham, Machiel Kiel and Lucia Nixon. 2008. “Sphakia in Ottoman Census Records: A Vakıf and its Agricultural Production.” Pgs. 69-99. In The Eastern Mediterranean under Ottoman Rule: Crete, 1645-1840. Halcyon Days in Crete VI. A Symposium Held in Rethymno, 13-15 January 2006. Antonis Anastasopoulos ed. Rethymno: Crete University Press.

Nixon, Lucia. 2007. “Colour and Brilliance: Obsidian, Chert, and Quartz in Sphakia, Crete.” Pgs. 257-261. In Κρήνοι και Λιμένες: Studies in Honor of Joseph and Maria Shaw. P. P. Betancourt, M. C. Nelson and H. Williams eds. Philadelphia: Institute for Aegean Prehistory Academic Press.

Nixon, Lucia. 2006. Making a Landscape Sacred: Outlying Churches and Icon Stands in Sphakia, Crete, A.D. 1000-2000. Oxford: Oxbow.

Francis, Jane. 2006. “Beehives and Beekeeping in Graeco-Roman Sphakia.” Pgs. 379-390. In Πεπραγμένα Θ᾽Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνδεδρίου, Ελούντα, 1-6 October 2001. Vol. A5. Herakleion: Εταιρεία Ιστορικών Σπουδών.

Robinson, H. Lewis. 2006. “Potters' Use of Natural resources for Tripod Cooking Pottery: Examples from the Sphakia Survey.” Pg. 47-62. In Πεπραγμένα Θ᾽ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνδεδρίου, Ελούντα. Vol. A1. Herakleion: Εταιρεία Ιστορικών Σπουδών.

Nixon, Lucia. 2005. “Paper, video, website: New technologies and The Sphakia Survey.” Pgs. 81-95. In Ancient Greece at the Turn of the Millennium: Recent Work and Future Perspectives. N. M. Kennell and J. E. Tomlinson eds. Athens: Canadian Archaeological Institute at Athens.

Price, Simon and Lucia Nixon. 2005. “Ancient Greek Agricultural Terraces: Evidence from Texts and Archaeological Survey.” American Journal of Archaeology 109: 665-694.

Moody, Jennifer. 2004. “Western Crete in the Bronze Age. A Survey of the Evidence.” Pgs. 247-264. In Crete Beyond the Palaces: Proceedings of the Crete 2000 Conference. L. P. Day. M. S. Mook and J. D. Muhly eds. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press.

Nixon, Lucia and Simon Price. 2004. “Paper, video, internet: New technologies for research and teaching in archaeology: The Sphakia Survey.” In Designing and Developing for the Disciplines (Special Issue), Journal of Interactive Media in Education 11. S. Lee ed.

Moody, Jennifer, H. Lewis Robinson, Jane Francis and Lucia Nixon. 2003. “Ceramic fabric analysis and survey archaeology: The Sphakia Survey.” Annual of the BSA 98: 37-105.

Price, Simon, Tom Higham, Lucia Nixon and Jennifer Moody. 2002. "Relative sea-level changes in Crete: Reassessment of radiocarbon dates from Sphakia and west Crete.” Annual of the BSA 97: 171-200.

Nixon, Lucia and Simon Price. 2001. “The diachronic analysis of pastoralism through comparative variables.” Annual of the BSA 96: 395-424.

Nixon, Lucia. 2001. “Seeing voices and changing relationships: Film, archaeological reporting, and the landscape of people in Sphakia.” American Journal of Archaeology 105: 77-97.

Francis, Jane, Simon Price, Jennifer Moody and Lucia Nixon. 2000. “Agiasmatsi: a Greek cave sanctuary in Sphakia, SW Crete.” Annual of the BSA 95: 427-471.

Moody, Jennifer and H. Lewis Robinson. 2000. "The Fabrics of Life in Sphakia.” Pgs. 349-357. In Πεπραγμένα του Η᾽ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνεδρίου, Ηράκλειο, 9-14 Σεπτεμβρίου 1996. Vol. A2. Herakleion: Εταιρεία Ιστορικών Σπουδών. 

Nixon, Lucia, Simon Price and Jennifer Moody. 1999. “Settlement Patterns in Mediaeval & Post-Mediaeval Sphakia: Issues from the Environmental, Archaeological, & Historical Evidence.” In Proceedings of the Mediaeval & Post-Mediaeval Greece Conference, Corfu, May 1998

Moody, Jennifer, Lucia Nixon, Simon Price and Oliver Rackham. 1998. “Surveying poleis and larger sites in Sphakia.” Pgs. 87-95. In Post-Minoan Crete. W.G. Cavanagh, M. Curtis et al. eds. British School at Athens Studies 2. London: British School at Athens.

Nixon, Lucia, Simon Price, Wilfred Morris and Jennifer Moody. 1995. “Computers and Mapmaking.” Archeologia e Calcolatori 6: 159-172.

Nixon, Lucia, Jennifer Moody, Simon Price and Oliver Rackham. 1994. “Rural Settlement in Sphakia, Crete.” Pgs. 255-264. In Structures rurales et sociétés antiques, Actes du colloque de Corfou 14-16 mai 1992, Annales littéraires de l'Université de Besançon. P. Doukellis and L. Mendoni eds. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Nixon, Lucia, Jennifer Moody, and Oliver Rackham and V. Niniou-Kindeli. 1990. “Archaeological Survey in Sphakia, Crete.” Échos du monde classique = Classical Views 34.9: 213-220.

Nixon, Lucia, Jennifer Moody and Oliver Rackham. 1989. "Archaeological Survey in Sphakia, Crete." Échos du monde classique = Classical Views 33.8: 201-215.

Nixon, Lucia, Jennifer Moody and Oliver Rackham. 1988. “Archaeological Survey in Sphakia, Crete.” Échos du monde classique = Classical Views 32.7: 157-73.

Nixon, Lucia, Jennifer Moody and Oliver Rackham. 1988. “The Sphakia Survey.” Bulletin of the Canadian Mediterranean Institute 8.2: 12.

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