Karpathos excavations reveal settlements safe from piracy
New and interesting information on the proliferation of Pax Minoica (the Minoan Peace) has come to light from a Thrace University mission to the Aegean which examined a number of newly found settlements of Minoan character, built and destroyed by earthquakes during the so-called Palace period (circa 1800-1500 BC).
Some of these settlements are located near the sea and may have served as ports, while the others are located 400-800 meters from the coast but maintained complete visual contact with the sea. “This illustrates – beyond the maritime activities (fishing and commercial) and the contact with Crete – the security the Minoans felt, probably because of King Minos’s legendary victory over piracy,” said Associate Professor Manolis Melas, who headed the excavations.
The research, which began a year ago, is part of a program run by the University of Thrace and is estimated to last for four more years. The focus is on the systematic examination of the ground surface in Afiarti, a lush plain in southern Karpathos. “Other than archaeology, the program also focuses on geology, geomorphology, ecology and ethnography,” explained Melas. “It is looking to examine a particular type of island environment where we can map changes over time in a number of areas, such as the natural environment, history and the material aspects of a civilization.
“The central aim of the investigation is to study the relationship between the natural and human environment, especially during the Minoan period.” This is necessary, says the professor, in order to understand why the settlements were built as they were and where they were, in relation to the use they made of the natural resources at their disposal, the strategic positions of the settlements and their sociopolitical organization.
The Afiarti Plain, says Melas, can be separated into three ecological zones, all more or less parallel to the coast and facing east. Evidence suggests that the area was constantly cultivated for farming, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on what crop was being grown and the availability of water.
“Fertile land was a very valuable asset and this is why its use for anything other than farming was avoided,” said Melas.
Land use, according to the archaeologist, was always worked out in advance and human habitation on it was almost always limited – especially during the Minoan period – to rocky, arid areas of the land that were normally located on a rise (low hills or on amphitheatrical ridges), so that they would have solid foundations and a wide view that would ensure control over the area and safety. Evidence of this has been discovered in two zones in Minoan, Roman and earlier settlements.
What does Melas think the future holds? He says he expects several more similar settlements to come to light, which will “establish in a more solid way the mythical, historical tradition of the Minoan civilization’s domination of the sea and the peace it brought to the Aegean.”