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Aphrodite’s Kephali

Aphrodite’s Kephali: An Early Minoan I Defensive Site in Eastern Crete

Philip P. Betancourt
Kostas Chalikias
Heidi M. C. Dierckx
Andrew J. Koh
Evi Margaritis
Floyd W. McCoy
Eleni Nodarou
David S. Reese
Volume: 41
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: INSTAP Academic Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Aphrodite’s Kephali
    Book Description:

    The small site of Aphrodite’s Kephali, among several other Minoan and later sites, took advantage of the valley topography in the Isthmus of Ierapetra in eastern Crete by establishing themselves along the nearby hills, resulting in easy access to the natural trade route between the Aegean and the Libyan Seas. A discussion of the architecture, artifacts, and ecofacts are presented from the excavation of this Early Minoan I watchtower. The conclusions challenge some of the commonly held views about Crete in the third millennium B.C. It is suggested that rather than being a precursor to a socially complex state that would arise later, early polities involving several communities probably already existed in the isthmus during the EM I period. Social and economic differentiation existed on a regional, not just a local level, and decisions for mutual defense could involve collaboration by groups of workers, including the building of the watchtower that is the focus of this volume.

    eISBN: 978-1-62303-283-8
    Subjects: Archaeology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables in the Text
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Figures in the Text
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-8)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      Aphrodite’s Kephali is a translation of the Greek phrasetis Aphroditis to Kephali(της Aϕροδίτης το κεϕάλι). It is the local name for a small hilltop in eastern Crete where a Minoan archaeological site was excavated in two seasons of work, in 1996 and 2003. The location is named after the property owner. The word kephali (κεϕάλι) is a local Cretan noun in the neuter case. It means a small rounded hillock that stands out from the surrounding landscape. The word is closely related to the feminine word for “head” (κεϕάλι). As explained by Eliopoulos (1998, 301) in regard to...

    • 2 The Isthmus of Ierapetra
      (pp. 9-14)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The isthmus of Ierapetra is the narrowest part of Crete by a substantial margin. It consists of a long valley extending 12 km north and south across the eastern part of the island between the Gulf of Mirabello at the north and the Libyan Sea at the south (Fig. 1.3). The valley is much flatter than the land that flanks it on both the east and the west. Because the rest of Crete is mountainous, this valley provides the most easily traversed land bridge between the northern and southern coasts, and a well-traveled modern road lies along it. The modern...

    • 3 Geology and Geologic History
      (pp. 15-34)
      Floyd W. McCoy

      Late in the geological history of the eastern Mediterranean region at the beginning of the Neogene Period of the Cenozoic Era (23 million years ago; Table 3.1), newly established tectonic forces resulted in significant deformation of the Aegean crust in a new direction—east and west. This new force was added to dominant north-northeast–south-southwest forces responding to the continuing closure between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates that had been ongoing for over 200 million years since the Mesozoic Era (Table 3.1; Fig. 3.1). Accordingly, the southern edge of the Aegean-Anatolian microplate where these two sets of orthogonal forces...

    • 4 The FN/EM I Settlement Patterns in the Northern Part of the Isthmus of Ierapetra
      (pp. 35-40)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The Final Neolithic to Early Minoan I settlement patterns at the north and at the south of the Isthmus of Ierapetra had some basic differences. These different ways of settling the land were partly related to the topography and the geology of the region, both of which are discussed in the previous chapter. In addition, some important social factors were also at work. All of these aspects, and especially the social differences between the settlement histories at the north and south, must be taken into consideration in any discussion of Aphrodite’s Kephali because the small fort was situated between the...

    • 5 The FN/EM I Settlement Patterns in the Southern Part of the Isthmus of Ierapetra
      (pp. 41-50)
      Kostas Chalikias

      The south part of the Ierapetra Isthmus is characterized by its own variations in soil, terrain, topography, and water resources. The area is bounded to the north by the villages of Episkopi and Kato Chorio. To the west the landscape is characterized by the Meseleroi Ridge, the rock formations of Anatoli, the lowland hills of Amoudares, and the villages of Makrylia, Kalamafka, Anatoli, Gra Lygia, and Stomio (Fig. 5.1). The southern part of the isthmus is dominated by the lowland plain of Ierapetra and the island of Chryssi (Fig. 5.2). To the east, the West Siteia Mountains rise as a...


    • 6 The Excavation of the Site
      (pp. 53-56)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The thorough job of excavation and conservation at Aphrodite’s Kephali resulted in the almost complete excavation of the part of the site that still survives. The work was accomplished between 1996 and 2007 after the 24th Ephorate had stopped the property owner from leveling the site. A report of the work is presented here for the two seasons of excavation and the later cleaning and consolidation.

      We are greatly indebted to Theodore Eliopoulos, who directed the first work at Aphrodite’s Kephali, and the supervisor for the excavations in 1996, Nikos Panagiotakis. Their excavations on the small headland were part of...

    • 7 The Architecture
      (pp. 57-74)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The architecture of Aphrodite’s Kephali provides useful evidence for the early history of building practices in Crete because little is known of Minoan architecture from the beginning phases of the culture’s history. The site was never reoccupied after its abandonment during Early Minoan I, and except for some extensive damage to the fortification wall within modern times, the architecture is well preserved. After the site’s excavation its walls were carefully consolidated by the 24th Ephorate in 2006 and 2007 by removing the loose soil from between the stones used in walls and replacing it with a carefully packed modern concrete...

    • 8 The Pottery
      (pp. 75-100)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The pottery from Aphrodite’s Kephali is very fragmentary. No complete vases come from the site, and only three pieces are restorable. The reasons for this poor survival involve both ancient and modern activities: the evidence was partly compromised by events in EM I when the small site was deliberately destroyed before it was abandoned, and additional damage was caused by the bulldozing during the 20th century. In spite of the incomplete preservation, however, the pottery provides important evidence for the history of the small citadel.

      The ceramics can be divided into several classes, and the nature of the deposits showed...

    • 9 The Ground and Chipped Stone Tools
      (pp. 101-108)
      Heidi M.C. Dierckx

      All three ground stone implements recovered from Aphrodite’s Kephali were made from calcareous sandstone, which was local to the area. In fact it can be found on the flanks of the hillock on which Aphrodite’s Kephali was built (see Ch. 3). The tools consist of a mortar and an abrader. The mortar is the earliest example known from Crete, dating to EM I by its context. The third stone piece is a large fragment of a flat and relatively thin slab with an incised checkerboard pattern. It was incised free hand, and not very regularly. Although its function is unknown,...

    • 10 The Faunal Remains
      (pp. 109-110)
      David S. Reese and Philip P. Betancourt

      The trench supervisors collected the faunal remains at Aphrodite’s Kephali during the excavation, and a water separation machine that processed all the soil collected during the cleaning operation in 2006 and 2007 retrieved additional material (for the water separation system, see Peterson 2009). Both fossil shells and more recent examples (Minoan period or later) were found. The fossils that were collected are natural to the geology of the hill, and they have little or nothing to do with the human habitation. The other material is summarized in Table 10.1.

      Very little faunal material comes from this site. The corpus documents...

    • 11 Arboriculture at Aphrodite’s Kephali
      (pp. 111-114)
      Evi Margaritis

      Until lately, only a few Early Bronze Age sites had been excavated in Crete, and even fewer had been sampled for, and actually revealed, plant remains. Fortunately, the situation has changed, and many third millennium sites have recently been the focus of research. This development has resulted in new information about the agriculture of the period, an area of research that has suffered by the lack of evidence. Aphrodite’s Kephali comes as a very interesting addition to the accumulated archaeobotanical dataset of the period and sheds light on the everyday life of Early Bronze Age eastern Crete.

      The site dates...


    • 12 Hillforts and Watchtowers
      (pp. 117-122)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The building of fortified citadels is not a universal architectural tradition, and a fort’s existence implies that several social conditions are present in order to plan the construction and bring it to a successful conclusion. Because the labor invested in a sizeable architectural undertaking can only be mustered with enough manpower to complete the required tasks, and because the construction of a stronghold differs in many ways from fabricating a house, a fort’s presence means that someone in the sponsoring group has to have specialized knowledge of architectural and engineering skills. Unless the walls are very modest or the time...

    • 13 The Place of Aphrodite’s Kephali in the Early Development of Fortifications
      (pp. 123-130)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The architects who built Mycenaean, Greek, and Roman defensive walls made important contributions to the history of ancient architecture in general (Winter 1971; Croix 1972; Lawrence 1980; Adam 1982; Iakovidis 1983; Johnson 1983; Fields 2006). They helped develop complex masonry, systems of crenellations, methods of supporting heavy loads, and many other practices, and they worked on inventive adaptations and modifications to the topography of their building sites, all of which had applications to other types of buildings. These Mycenaean and later chapters in the building of fortifications followed a long earlier history, but the beginning stages of that development are...

    • 14 The Significance of Aphrodite’s Kephali
      (pp. 131-150)
      Philip P. Betancourt

      The excavation of Aphrodite’s Kephali provides substantial new evidence for both the material culture and the social conditions that existed in East Crete at the beginning of the Minoan period. It is one of a whole series of sites that demonstrate the tensions and the dangerous conditions that caused many small population groups to establish themselves on high and defensible peaks (pp. 125–126). The many Final Neolithic and Early Minoan defensive walls that have been documented by surface surveys suggest that unsettled conditions were fairly widespread across some parts of Crete at this time, especially in the southeast of...

  11. Appendix A. Petrographic Analysis of the Pottery
    (pp. 151-170)
    Eleni Nodarou
  12. Appendix B. Gas Chromatography Analysis of the Pottery
    (pp. 171-224)
    Andrew Koh and Philip P. Betancourt
  13. References
    (pp. 225-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-248)