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Encyclopedia > Pseira
Minoan Crete: Pseira lies off the coast northwest of Gournia.
Minoan Crete: Pseira lies off the coast northwest of Gournia.

The minute, barren cliff-bound coastal island of Pseira (modern Gk. Psira) in the Gulf of Mirabella in northeastern Crete is a Minoan site that was explored in 1906–07 by Richard Seager and partially documented by Halvor Bagge in ink and watercolors based on photographs (University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1910), and more minutely examined in 1984–92 by Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras, for Temple University. Archaeological materials in this seaport, sited above its harbor, to which it was connected by cliffside stairs, span the period from the end of the Neolithic in the 4th millennium to the Late Bronze Age, with the cultural high point being Early Minoan to Late Minoan 1B. At that time the prosperous town of some 60 buildings was ranged round its open square (plateia), with a single large building that occupied one side. Like many contemporary Late Minoan 1B sites, it was violently destroyed, ca 1550–1450 BCE (Manning). A remnant of its population cleared spaces in the rubble and for a time continued to dwell in the ruined town (Betancourt). c. ... c. ... Gournia is the site of a Minoan palace complex on the island of Crete, Greece, excavated in the early 20th century by the American archaeologist, Harriet Boyd-Hawes. ... Greece and Crete Crete, sometimes spelled Krete (Greek Κρήτη / Kriti; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. ... Map of Minoan Crete The Minoans were a pre-Hellenic Bronze Age civilization in Crete in the Aegean Sea, prior to Helladic or Mycenaean culture (i. ... Temple University is a university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ... The Neolithic, (Greek neos = new, lithos = stone, or New Stone Age) was a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. ...


A Minoan sealstone from the site representing a ship is a reminder that the harbor was essential. The Minoan community supported itself by fishing and subsistence agriculture. They deeply tilled and terraced agricultural sites where they manured the thin limy soil with human waste from the settlement (Bull et al.). They did not enclose their planting sites, as the island's much later Byzantine practice was, a sign that goats did not roam free in Minoan Pseira; neither were pigs kept. Dams collected seasonal run-off, for water was scarce on the island, though the Aegean was somewhat less dry in the second millennium BCE than now.


Consistent with the long period of occupation, burials in the necropolis west of the town are of five kinds: Neolithic rock shelter burials; cist graves built of vertical slabs with Cycladic parallels; small rock-built tombs; jar burials; and tombs imitating houses. Artifacts from the necropolis included clay vases, stone vessels, obsidian, bronze tools and jewelry. Burials broke off in Middle Minoan, before the town underwent its Late Minoan expansion. The Late Minoan I building that occupies the northern side of the plateia, cautiously identified as a "civic shrine", featured painted stucco bas-reliefs in its upper floor and retains a fresco fragment of two women in Minoan dress of complicated woven design who face one another. A necropolis (plural: necropolises or necropoleis) is a cemetery or burying-place, literally a city of the dead. Apart from the occasional application of the word to modern cemeteries outside large towns, the term is chiefly used of burial grounds near the sites of the centers of ancient civilizations. ... The Cyclades, from the Greek Κυκλάδες, (circular, modern Greek Kykládes; see also List of traditional Greek place names) form an island group south-east of the mainland of Greece. ... Bas relief is a method of sculpting which entails carving or etching away the surface of a flat piece of stone or metal. ...


Excavation at the House of the Rhyta disclosed evidence for some Minoan cult practice that add to our understanding of some Minoan rites, though the core meaning they evoked escapes us (Betancourt). In three different structures cult activity involved the use of rhyta, drinking vessels in several forms, all with a hole at the base, a bull-shaped vessel, triton shells, and chalices, and a large number of cups. "Cult practices involving large numbers of rhyta continued into successive periods in the Late Bronze Age, as is demonstrated by an interesting religious structure at Ras Shamra with 15 rhyta, including Mycenaean and Minoan examples," Betancourt observes. Chemical traces in a rhyton suggest barley, beer, and wine. All of these ritual vessels were stored in between their periodic seasonal use, when large groups would gather in upper-floor rooms that had lime-washed and painted stucco reliefs on the walls and a floor that was ritually whitewashed (in the building fronting the plateia) or paved with stone slabs (House of the Rhyta). In the House of the Rhyta, there was a kitchen space below, too substantial for the occupants of the building alone; it had a corner hearth, a mortar built into bedrock in the opposite corner, and grinding rocks. The drinking rites that were observed in the upper room were apparently accompanied by feasting. In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings (scriptures), its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. ... A Rhyton (Greek ῥυτόν rutón) is a ceremonial drinking cup shaped like an animal head or horn. ... The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar in the episode of the idol of the Golden Calf made by Aaron and worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus). ... Ugarit (modern site Ras Shamra 35°35´ N; 35°45´E) was an ancient cosmopolitan port city, sited on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria a few kilometers north of the modern city of Latakia. ...


A hoard found by Seager near the lower harbor included a rhyton in the shape of a basket decorated with double axes, pear-shaped rhyta decorated with dolphins, a bull-shaped vessel, and a jar decorated with ivy—which in a Greek context would indicate the presence of Dionysus— among other goods Minoan symbolic labrys of gold, 2nd millennium BC: many have been found in the sacred cave of Arkalochori on Crete) Labrys is the term for a doubleheaded axe, known to the Classical Greeks as pelekus πέλεκυς or sagaris (the term for a single-bladed axe being hÄ“mipelekus half-pelekus, e. ... Bacchus by Caravaggio Dionysus or Dionysos (Ancient Greek: Διώνυσος or Διόνυσος; also known as Bacchus in both Greek and Roman mythology and associated with the Italic Liber), the Thracian god of wine, represents not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficent influences. ...


The meticulous modern excavations by Betancourt and Davaras resulted in several highly specialized publications, all from INSTAP Academic Press:

  • Pseira: A Bronze Age Seaport in Minoan Crete Philip P. Betancourt
  • Pseira I: The Minoan Buildings on the West Side of Area A, Philip P. Betancourt, ed.
  • Pseira II: Building AC (the “Shrine”) and Other Buildings in Area A, Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras, eds. 1997
  • Pseira III: The Plateia Building, Cheryl R. Floyd 1998
  • Pseira IV: Minoan Buildings in Areas B, C, D, and F, Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras, eds. 1999
  • Pseira V: Architecture of Pseira,John C. McEnroe
  • Pseira VI: The Pseira Cemetery I: The Surface Survey, edited by Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras 2003 Topography and methodology.
  • Pseira VII: The Pseira Cemetery II: Excavation of the Tombs edited by Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras 2003
  • Pseira VIII: The Pseira Island Survey, Part 1 by Philip Betancourt, Costis Davaras and Richard Hope Simpson
  • Pseira IX: The Pseira Island Survey, Part 2: The Intensive Surface Survey, edited by Philip Betancourt, Costis Davaras and Richard Hope Simpson

An introductory CD-ROM for a broad public audience was also produced.


References

  • Philip P. Betancourt, "The household shrine in the House of the Rhyta in Pseira" (pdf file)
  • Ian D. Bull, Richard P. Betancourt and Richard P. Evershed, "An organical geochemical investigationof the practice of manuring at a Minoan site on Pseira Island, Crete"; (pdf file)
  • Manning, S.W. (1995). "An approximate Minoan Bronze Age chronology" in A.B. Knapp, editor, The absolute chronology of the Aegean Early Bronze Age: Archaeology, radiocarbon and history (Appendix 8), in series Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol. 1 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press) A standard current Minoan chronology.

 
 

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