First discovered in 1982, excavations at the mountainside Zominthos Palace site began in 1983.
“I have never participated in a more difficult excavation,” said site manager Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki in a recent interview with Kathimerini’s “K” magazine.
Despite unfavorable conditions and ongoing restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the veteran archaeologist completed another season at the Bronze Age site over the summer, uncovering more secrets from the “first and unique Minoan palace on a mountain “.
With a little more fieldwork to do, excavations at the famous Crete site are now drawing to a close after nearly 40 years.
First discovered in 1982, excavations at Zominthos began in 1983 under the direction of Yannis Sakellarakis, who led the research until his death in 2010. His wife and longtime colleague Efi took over the project, applying a range of modern techniques including laser scanning and 3D capture methodologies in site survey and recording.
Zominthos has been described as a unique Minoan palace center, located at an altitude of 1,200 meters near the Ideon Andron cave, the mythical birthplace of Zeus, nestled on the side of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). The area already housed a large complex of buildings from the protopalatial era (Old Palace period), from c. 1900 BC, and had access to abundant supplies of fresh water.
During the following neopalatial period (New Palace period), from c. 1700 BC, a monumental 1,600 square meter building was built on the northwest wing of the Old Palace, one of the largest Minoan buildings ever found. Some of the remaining walls of this well-preserved multi-story building are three meters high.
It was speculated that Zominthos was not occupied all year round, but rather served as a seasonal residence for a central ruling authority when flocks of sheep were taken to higher, and therefore cooler, land to graze in the summer.
Dr Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki and his team worked on the large building complex around the main courtyard, covering an area of ââ1800 square meters. During their excavations, 71 pieces were unearthed on the ground floor alone, including pottery workshops, storerooms and rooms decorated with frescoes.
Last summer’s excavations focused on part of the courtyard paved with irregular slabs, following the slope of the hill. It appears that the elaborate palace from the Neopalatial era was built after an earthquake destroyed the earlier site.
The central courtyard is said to have played an important role in priestly rituals and religious ceremonies, and is similar in layout and design to the courtyards found at the contemporary sites of Knossos, Archanes, and Phaistos.
The excavations also confirmed that the old palace complex was much larger than its successor, covering an area of ââ3,000 square meters, in addition to a cemetery.
A significant number of portable artefacts have been found under the courtyard, including conical shaped cups of various types (called “egg cups”), flint tools, bowls, and pieces of processed rock crystal.
Sapouna-Sakellaraki concludes that the site was an important and prosperous religious center that served as a mountainside shrine near the summit of Mount Ida. The locals have amassed the wealth of natural resources from the surrounding countryside (Psiloritis), including herbs and aromatic plants.
The site was again abandoned after a large earthquake around 1600 BC, but appears to have been reoccupied after the Bronze Age and again in Roman times.
This article first appeared in Greece-Is.com, an English publishing initiative of Kathimerini.