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Possible evidence of human sacrifice at Minoan Chania

The soil beneath the modern city of Chania, Crete, the ancient city of Kydonia, hides many secrets, including human sacrifices it seems.

Possible evidence of human sacrifice at Minoan Chania
Excavations at the Minoan palatial centre of Kydonia in the in Kastelli-quarter in Chania, Crete 
[Credit: Moonik.WikiCommons]
This is, at least, what is indicated by the skull of a young girl dating from around 1280 BC, which was found in pieces, alongside skulls of animals, during an excavation at the Kastelli Hill, in the Old City of Chania. Primary finds from the dig on the site were brought to light back in 2007, while news on the subject first appeared in press in 2010. However, a general ‘image’ of the site begins to emerge only now.

“We believe that we have found evidence if a ritual which included the sacrifice of animals and a woman, whose broken bones were found under a deposit of rubble. We have yet to reach a final conclusion, since the bones need to be studied further, especially as the latest finds, which include the girl’s skull, were found only recently. We are studying the results, aiming to be ready by October, the month of our contribution to a conference on Human Sacrifices which is to take place in Milan. At this conference, the Chania find will feature as the keynote lecture”, states Maria Andreadaki Vlazaki, the site’s chief excavator and the Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage for the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport.

With finds representing all the chronological phases of the Minoan civilization, the most important palatial centre of Western Crete comes to light bit by bit at Kastelli and at its neighbourning site of Splantzia.

“Chania is a modern city built upon a Minoan palatial centre equally important with those at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros. This centre cannot be examined like the other palaces which were found in areas free of modern occupation. Still, it has its charm,” adds Dr Vlazaki who sees Chania as one of the earliest cities in Europe, with urban elements dating already from the 4th century BC. “The antiquities of Chania are known to us Cretans but not to the general public. They started to come to light during its last decades of the 20th century, as the Antiquities Service began closely observing soil removal procedures in the framework of state building activity. It was during such construction works that a group of Linear B tablets bearing references to Zeus and Dionysus were found, confirming the cult of Dionysus in Minoan Greece for the first time.”

Details of these discoveries, as well as other wonders hidden beneath Chania, were described by Dr. Vlazaki in a lecture titled “Chania during Minoan Times”given at a meeting of the Greek Archaeological Society. As stated there, finding the bones, both human and animal, within a layer associated with an outer court lying in close proximity to the Kydonian palatial complex of the Mycenaean period (1375-1200 BC) was one of the highlights of the excavation conducted by the 25th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities (EPCA) in collaboration with the Swedish Archaeological Institute and the Institute of Denmark.

The most important finds came to light during the 2012 season, when excavations were conducted in a hitherto unexplored area. “Bit by bit, as we started to remove two large areas of rubble, the first bones appeared, densely packed in the earth, indicating thet we were at the heart of the deposit. Initially, many bones of ibexes, young pigs, sheep/goats and cattle came to light in the (deposit’s) western part. On the eastern side, beneath the stones, we discovered the young girl’s skull, in pieces, among animal skulls. It was broken just the way all skulls were: opened through its sutures by a heavy blow, its pieces scattered all around.”, notes Dr Vlazaki.

She claims that the find should not be considered strange. “Greek mythology records many examples of purification sacrifices of virgins during periods when society was trying to deal with great disasters such as plague, famine, or before major wars. Indeed, according to local legends, the same date befell Eulimene, the daughter of Kydon, the city’ s founder, who was sacrificed as a virgin to honour the country’s heroes”.

As for the find’s first “reading”, the excavator attempts to give an explanation, knowing, as she says, that she can be refuted, as this happens often in archaeology. “The extended destructions observed in many Cretan sites during this exact same period is connected to a massive earthquake. In this particular case, traces of the earthquake that destroyed and burned the palatial centre, preserving its ruins at the same time, seem to be related to rituals honouring chthonic deities in order to placate them, in a bid to prevent the unfortunate events about which they had warnings, but finally failed to avoid”, she concludes.

Source: ANA-MPA via Archaiologia [January 27, 2014]

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