KaCP - Study of the Ceramics from the 1913 BSA Excavations

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Saturday, June 1, 2002 to Sunday, August 31, 2003

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The initial research phase began in 2002 with an intensive study of all the pottery stored in the collections of the Herakleion Museum and the Stratigraphical Museum at Knossos with the result that the all the material from early excavations was examined for the first time.  Numerous black and white photographs, colour slides, and profile drawings were also prepared to assist in the overall analysis of the collection.  Macroscopic analysis of fabric show beyond a doubt that the bulk of the material was produced by the same potters who supplied the towns and civic buildings of Phaistos, Kommos, and Aghia Triadha and, therefore, no potters produced specifically for the Kamares Cave or for the Phaistos palace.  Thus, the traditional view that the cave’s high-quality pottery attests to an exclusive arrangement with the palatial elite of Phaistos may be abandoned.  However, this does not refute the idea that the palatial elite may have strongly encouraged cult activities at the cave.

The third phase of the project, undertaken in 2003, concentrated on quantifying the collected pottery, drawing and inking profiles of important pieces, and confirming the results from the initial research.  The study of all of the material confirmed that the Protopalatial period saw the most active use of the cave.  As many as 1,600 vases were deposited during that time.  They include the remains of 42 cups, 78 bowls, and 450 pouring vessels.  The large number of pouring vessels confirms the special natures of the cave assemblage which differs greatly from many Minoan household assemblages which typically have several cups for each vessel.  An estimated 275 jars can be dated to the same period, including some 200 collar-necked jars which had their wide mouths closed by large lids.  These likely contained food-stuffs consumed or sacrificed during rituals whereas the small number of amphora may have transported liquids.

An unexpected finding was the identification of fragments from ~50 pithoi, far more than was suggested by the note of “scanty remains” reported by Dawkins and Laistner.  The presence of large pithoi is noteworthy given the difficulty of transporting them to such a remote site.  Equally unexpected was the identification of the remains of ca 50 Protopalatial tripod cooking pots, a type of pottery specifically noted by Dawkins and Laistner as not being present in the cave.  The extreme paucity of lamp fragments suggests that another source of artificial lighting was used or that most activities took place in the cave’s natural semi-darkness.

The nature of deposition changed in the Neopalatial period when cups and bowls were deposited in roughly equal numbers with pouring vessels.  This proportion is comparable to that seen in the caves of Psychro, Amnisos, and Skoteino, suggesting that all shared a similar set of ritual activities.  After this period, the use of the cave was drastically curtailed and then ceased after the Bronze Age. Several Hellenistic pieces indicate, however, a short revival of religious activity.

The large majority of the Minoan vases from the cave were produced in the region of Phaistos, Aghia Triadha, and Kommos.  However, some 120 vases of various shapes can be identified as originating outside the western Mesara region.  Sources include Eastern Crete, the Pediadha region, and the island of Gavdos.  The research team believes that these non-local pieces were left by worshippers who came to the site, and are representative of the region’s overall import activities.

Still unsure is the extent to which the Kamares Cave cult was controlled by the ruling elite residing in the palace at Phaistos.  That the cave was significant to them is shown by the fact that the Central Court of the palace is oriented towards the cave.  Judging by the large quantity of vases (ca 1,600) deposited during the lifetime of the First Palace at Phaistos, the cult at the Kamares Cave was most active in that period.  In earlier and later times, much smaller quantities of pottery were left behind in the cave, suggesting a link between the fortunes of the Phaistian ruling elite and the cave.