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This Ancient City Was Three Times Bigger Than Archaeologists Suspected

Will Crete’s tourist boom threaten the archaeological treasures of Knossos?

Turns out the discovery of the Palace of Knossos is just the beginning—the ancient city is three times the size archaeologists suspected. (Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Surrounded by turquoise waters and smiled upon by a Mediterranean sun, the island of Crete, located on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea, is best known for being the largest island off the coast of Greece. But it turns out that today’s tourist playground was also a haven for ancient shoppers. Archaeologists have discovered that the ancient city of Knossos was much larger than previously thought—and that the spectacular city was a major trade cen

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati and the Knossos Urban Landscape Project learned that Knossos was triple the size of previous estimates while doing fieldwork at ancient houses and cemeteries. In a release about the discoveries, they write that tombs spread out over a larger-than-anticipated area yielded a huge trove of ceramics, jewelry, bronze and other personal items. All that bling was imported, suggesting that the city engaged in trade with mainland Greece, Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt, Italy and all over the Mediterranean.

Knossos is considered to be Europe’s oldest city—a Bronze Age metropolis that sprang up thanks to the Minoans, Europe's first advanced civilization. Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist who found Crete’s most famous archaeological landmark, the Palace of Knossos, named the ancient civilization after King Minos, a mythological figure who, according to legend, ordered the construction of a labyrinth to house a minotaur on Crete.

Minoan culture on Crete ended around the 15th century B.C. and most archaeological work on the island has been focused on discovering the remnants that they left behind. But this project looked at newer artifacts, instead. They discovered that the city recovered from the collapse of its socio-political system around 1200 B.C. and thrived during the Iron Age that followed the Bronze Age. The artifacts they discovered suggest that Knossos became a vibrant trading hub, influencing and exchanging goods with the areas that surrounded it.

Crete's current reputation for being a haven for tourists who want to enjoy the island’s beaches, high-end hotels and ancient echoes, worries archaeologists, especially in light of their recent finds. They hope to work with locals to prevent development on sites that could hold priceless remnants of Knossos. Crete may have been great for Iron Age consumers, but if its recent travel boom continues, modern-day tourists could destroy the very heritage that makes the island so special.

(h/t mental_floss)

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