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Hagios Charalambos: A Minoan Burial Cave in Crete

Hagios Charalambos: A Minoan Burial Cave in Crete: I. Excavation and Portable Objects

Philip P. Betancourt
Costis Davaras
Heidi M.C. Dierckx
Susan C. Ferrence
Panagiotis Karkanas
Louise C. Langford-Verstegen
Tanya J. McCullough
James D. Muhly
Natalia Poulou-Papadimitriou
Antonia Stamos
Eleni Stravopodi
Maria Tsiboukaki
Gayla M. Weng
Philip P. Betancourt
Costis Davaras
Eleni Stravopodi
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: INSTAP Academic Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Hagios Charalambos: A Minoan Burial Cave in Crete
    Book Description:

    This is the first of five planned volumes to present the primary archaeological report about the excavation of the cave of Hagios Charalambos in eastern Crete. The Minoans used this small cavern as an ossuary for the secondary burial of human remains and grave goods, primarily during the Early and Middle Bronze Age. The geography and geology surrounding the cave is discussed along with the methodology of the excavation. A portion of the pottery and all of the small finds are presented with many illustrations.

    eISBN: 978-1-62303-393-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Plates
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Philip P. Betancourt
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-6)
      Philip P. Betancourt, Costis Davaras and Eleni Stravopodi

      Crete has about two thousand caves, and the Minoans used many of them for various purposes including as places for temporary or more permanent shelter, as tombs for burials, and as locations for the observance of cult ceremonies and other celebrations (Faure 1960, 1964; Rutkowski and Nowicki 1996; Davaras 2003, 144–148). In several instances, as was the case with a small cavern near the modern village of Hagios Charalambos, a natural underground chamber was used as an ossuary for the secondary deposit of human bones. The excavations in the ossuary at Hagios Charalambos provided historical information in several categories,...

    • 2 Geography and Topography of Lasithi
      (pp. 7-12)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The island of Crete marks the southern border of the Aegean Sea, with the Libyan Sea to the south and the Sea of Crete (part of the Aegean) to the north (Fig. 1). It is situated near the center of a geographical feature called the Hellenic Arc. The arc is a crucial factor in the creation of the island’s mountains because it is the point of collision between the northward moving African tectonic plate and the southward moving European plate. The collision of the two plates and the subduction of the African one have created dynamic phases of mountain building,...

    • 3 Geology, Geomorphology, and Micromorphology Studies
      (pp. 13-16)
      Panagiotis Karkanas

      The cave of Hagios Charalambos is a blocked inactive sinkhole located on the western side of the Lasithi Plain. Its entrance is 834.95 meters above sea level (m asl) and about 14–15 m above the present surface of the plain in this area. The lowest altitude of the Lasithi Plain is near the active Chonos sinkole (ca. 810 m asl), about 2 km to the northwest of Hagios Charalambos on the same side of the plain. Circular depressions in the alluvial plain, which are located a few hundred meters to the north of the cave, are also features of...

    • 4 Discovery of the Cave
      (pp. 17-20)
      Philip P. Betancourt and Costis Davaras

      The village of Hagios Charalambos has a long history, although few records survive for most of the time it has been settled. Venetian census figures for 1583 when the village was known as Gero to Muri record that it had 18 families at that time (discussed by Spanakis 1957, 69, 87; 1976, 26). The village’s name was also spelled Geromouri, Geron to Mouri, Yerontomouri, and Gerontomouri before it was changed to Hagios Charalambos during the late 20th century (Spanakis 1991, 224). The population declined in the late 20th century, and many residents had left the region by 2002. The remaining...

    • 5 Excavations inside the Cave
      (pp. 21-30)
      Philip P. Betancourt, Costis Davaras, Susan C. Ferrence, Louise C. Langford-Verstegen, Antonia Stamos, Maria Tsiboukaki and Gayla M. Weng

      Five seasons of fieldwork were conducted at Hagios Charalambos. Campaigns were made in 1976, 1982, and 1983 (Davaras 1976a, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988) and in 2002 and 2003 (Bet-ancourt et al. 2008). The excavation discovered evidence for the way the underground rooms were prepared to make the cave into an ossuary, documented how the bones and their associated artifacts were deposited, and recovered human bones, animal bones, artifacts, and various archaeological materials from inside the ossuary and from small excavations outside the cave’s mouth.

      The cavern is located at a contact between deposits of limestone and dolomite, and the cave...

    • 6 Excavations outside the Cave
      (pp. 31-36)
      Philip P. Betancourt and Tanya J. McCullough

      Areas outside the cave were explored in 1976 and in 2003. In 1976, excavations were conducted at the sides of the hill in order to learn something of the context for the cave and to see if the original entrance could be discovered (Davaras 1976a). The entrance to the cavern was not visible until after the removal of the dangerous front part of the limestone formation in 1982 when it was revealed as a vertical cylindrical hole leading down into Room 1 (Davaras 1982). In 2003, the area in front of the entrance was excavated to see if any traces...

    • 7 Later Occupation of the Area
      (pp. 37-42)
      Philip P. Betancourt and Natalia Poulou-Papadimitriou

      Vance Watrous conducted an intensive surface survey of the region around and within the village of Hagios Charalambos as part of an archaeological survey that documented traces of past habitation in the Lasithi Plain. He reported finding MM III and LM I pottery on the higher elevations that rise to the north above the cavern (Watrous 1982, 65). His suggestion that a Minoan settlement existed here at Hagios Charalambos is surely correct. Although he did not note any surface pottery from the same periods as the finds in the cave, the presence of later habitation does not exclude the possibility...


    • 8 Larnakes
      (pp. 45-48)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      Beginning in EM III to MM I or perhaps earlier, the Minoans began changing their burial customs as increasing numbers of people began burying the dead in clay jars and elliptical or rectangular coffins called larnakes (“boxes”) or cists (arca). Although some writers prefer to restrict the term larnax to the rectangular clay boxes (i.e., Watrous 1991, 285 n. 2), other scholars use the term for both classes. This study follows authors like Preston (2004a, 178; cf. Davaras 2003, 199–203, figs. 94–97) who use the word larnax for both rectilinear and elliptical burial containers. The elliptical coffins have...

    • 9 Figurines
      (pp. 49-54)
      Philip P. Betancourt and Susan C. Ferrence

      Several figurines come from the cavern. They include both zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures in several classes. Materials are varied, particularly for the human figures, with the imported and unusual materials that are used for some of these artifacts suggesting that this category includes some of the objects with elite status in the community. A high percentage of the figurines have pierced holes, suggesting they were worn as personal ornaments or, rather, as amulets.

      Objects carved as seals are not described in this chapter. The classification is inexact, because some of these pieces may have been intended as seals, but their...

    • 10 Objects of Copper and Bronze
      (pp. 55-56)
      James D. Muhly

      Relatively few metal objects come from the cave, and many of them are difficult to date with confidence. Few, if any, objects can be assigned to the beginning of the Bronze Age. Most of the pieces are most likely from EM III to MM II, the period of the majority of the pottery. The Cyclades and Lavrion were responsible for considerable influence on the Cretan copper production (Stos-Gale 1993, 1998; Stos-Gale and Macdonald 1991), and they probably exerted an influence on the objects found in the cave.

      Some of the metal objects from the cave were analyzed for elemental composition...

  10. 11 Objects of Gold, Silver, and Lead
    (pp. 57-60)
    James D. Muhly

    Several conclusions are obvious in the collection of metal objects. First, almost all of the metal objects are items of jewelry. One must conclude that they were deposited in the burials as personal possessions, either worn by the deceased or intended as prestige items in the next life. Secondly, gold was clearly a favored metal over silver or copper alloys or lead as the material of choice for elite personal adornment. Approximately twice as many gold pieces occur as silver and lead combined. All three metals were imported into Crete, but the relative abundance of gold over especially silver is...


    • 19 Comments and Discussion
      (pp. 95-104)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The data acquired from Hagios Charalambos is important for several reasons. The interpretation of this data, and the information it sheds on the place of Lasithi in the development of Minoan Crete, are discussed in volume III in the Hagios Charalambos series (Ferrence, forthcoming). Specific information on the rituals associated with secondary burials is rare in Minoan archaeology, and the information recorded here can be used to help explain the situation at other secondary burial sites, especially the Trapeza Cave, the only other burial cave excavated from the Lasithi Plain (Pendlebury, Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts 1935–1936). At the Trapeza Cave,...

  12. References
    (pp. 105-116)
  13. Index
    (pp. 117-120)
  14. Figures
    (pp. None)
  15. Plates
    (pp. None)