Discovery of 4,000-Year-Old Structure in Greece Stumps Archaeologists and Threatens Major Airport Construction

The mystifying Minoan structure, unearthed on a hilltop in Crete, is one of 35 newly announced archaeological finds in the area

Aerial view of mysterious archaeological site on Crete
Animal bones found at the site suggest it may have been used for ritual ceremonies. Greek Ministry of Culture

Archaeologists on the Greek island of Crete have uncovered a monumental ancient structure that threatens to halt progress on the construction of a new airport.

The structure belonged to the Minoan civilization and was mainly used between 2000 and 1700 B.C.E., around the same time that Crete’s monumental palaces at Knossos and Phaistos were built, writes Nicholas Paphitis for the Associated Press.

But unlike these palaces and other feats of Minoan architecture, the purpose of the building remains unknown, and it’s now the subject of much archaeological attention and speculation.

The structure resembles “a huge car wheel from above,” according to the AP, with a total area of 19,000 square feet.

According to a statement from the Greek Ministry of Culture, some of the 157-foot-diameter structure’s features are comparable to Minoan tombs, including its circular arrangement of stone rings and its intricate layout. But a large quantity of ancient animal bones found nearby is complicating researchers’ understanding of the site.

“It may have been periodically used for possibly ritual ceremonies involving consumption of food, wine and perhaps offerings,” says the statement, per a translation by the AP.

While archaeologists further excavate and study the building, which sits on top of Papoura Hill, near the town of Kastelli, they must contend with the hilltop’s future function: a planned radar station for Crete’s new international airport.

Aerial view of circular structure in Crete
The circular structure has a diameter of 157 feet. Greek Ministry of Culture

Beginning in 2027, the airport will serve Heraklion, Crete’s capital and largest city, as well as a wealth of cultural and archaeological sites across the island.

Eighteen million passengers are projected to use the airport annually once construction is complete, the AP reports. Tourists want to visit Crete’s well-preserved historical sites, but they need convenient, modern infrastructure to take them there.

At times, rampant tourism has threatened the integrity of ancient sites in Greece, prompting the government to take protective measures, like limiting the number of visitors to the Acropolis in Athens.

Per the statement, excavations in the area uncovered at least 35 other archaeological sites. As Greek authorities build Crete’s new airport and the network of roads needed to connect it with the rest of the island, they must continually strike a balance between innovation and maintaining cultural heritage.

In the statement, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni describes the structure as a unique find of great interest. She says the Greek government and airport officials will explore alternative locations for the radar station to ensure the preservation of this historically significant archaeological site.

“It’s possible to go ahead with the airport while granting the antiquities the protection they merit,” Mendoni adds, per the AP. Her comments offer hope that Crete’s past, present and future will once again be reconciled.

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