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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory

Reconsidering Neolithic and Bronze Age Cave Use in Crete, Greece
Peter Tomkins

The island of Crete, lying on the southern border of the TABLE 4.1 Chronological table (after Tomkins 2007b, table 1.1).
Aegean Sea, is rich in caves and rockshelters. One esti- Phase Absolute Date Range
mate, probably conservative, places the total at around
Mesolithic ca. 8700–7000 BC
2,000 (Davaras 1976, 42), of which approximately 10
Initial Neolithic (IN) ca. 7000–6500/6400 BC
percent have produced material dating to phases of the
Neolithic (ca. 7000–3100/3000 BC; Tomkins 2007b) or Early Neolithic (EN) ca. 6500/6400–6000/5900 BC
Bronze Ages (hereafter, Minoan; ca. 3100/3000–1100 Middle Neolithic (MN) ca. 6000/5900–5500/5300 BC
BC; Warren and Hankey 1989) (see Table 4.1, Figures Late Neolithic I (LN I) ca. 5500/5300–4900 BC
4.1, 4.2, 4.3). The majority of these, including all Neolithic Late Neolithic II (LN II) ca. 4900–4500 BC
examples, host types of material culture, such as coarseware Final Neolithic IA (FN IA) ca. 4500–4200 BC
and fineware ceramics, that are essentially the same as those Final Neolithic IB (FN IB) ca. 4200-3900 BC
found at contemporary open-air sites. As a consequence,
Final Neolithic II (FN II) ca. 3900-3600 BC
the default interpretation of Cretan prehistoric caves has
Final Neolithic IIII (FN III) ca. 3600-3300 BC
been to treat them as domestic sites, whether refuges (Faure
1964, 30) or the seasonal homes of farmers or transhumant Final Neolithic IV (FN IV) ca. 3300-3100/3000 BC
pastoralists (Davaras 1996, 93; Dickinson 1994, 37; Faure Early Minoan I-III ca. 3100/3000–2000 BC
1964, 189–97; Manteli 1993a, 191; Marinatos 1928, 100; Middle Minoan I-III ca. 2000–1600 BC
1950, 256; Nilsson 1950, 56; Papathanassopoulos 1996b; Late Minoan I-III ca. 1600–1100 BC
Pendlebury 1939, 384; Pendlebury, Pendlebury, Money-
Coutts 1935–1936, 23; Sakellarakis 1989, 88; Tzedakis
1996; Watrous 1982, 10; 2001, 162–63). Exceptions to this and Nowicki 1996, 4–5). Although the incidence of their
rule are so-called “burial caves,” defined by the presence of usage varies from period to period across Crete and the
human skeletal material and mainly of Early Minoan (EM; wider Aegean, caves are always a rare site-type when com-
ca. 3100/3000–2000 BC) date, or “sacred caves” of Middle pared to open-air sites and especially to the total number of
(MM; ca. 2000–1600 BC) or Late Minoan date (LM; caves available for use. Even though caves dominate the list
ca. 1600–1100 BC), the definition of the latter varying of known Neolithic sites in certain regions (e.g., western
greatly in terms of stated degrees of certainty (Rutkowski Crete), this is an artifact of methodologies of investigation


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60 Peter Tomkins

FIGURE 4.1 Neolithic sites mentioned in the text.

FIGURE 4.2 Early Minoan sites mentioned in the text.

in which caves were prioritized for investigation by early Neolithic and Minoan cave use on Crete was primarily if
field workers (e.g., Faure 1964; Marinatos 1928, 1950; not entirely ritual in nature and, moreover, that Middle
Taramelli 1897, 1901). and Late Minoan cave sanctuaries developed directly out
Structuring interpretations of function has been the of an earlier tradition of ritual usage during the Neolithic
presumption that domesticity represents the natural and and Early Minoan periods. Key elements of this argument
self-evident interpretation of prehistoric cave usage—a have been developed in detail elsewhere with specific refer-
belief held most strongly for the Neolithic period. In this ence to Neolithic caves in the Aegean (Tomkins 2009). In
way the onus of proof is placed firmly on those seeking this chapter the focus is on cave use on Crete during the
alternative, usually ritual, interpretations. In this chap- Neolithic and Early Minoan periods and the transition to
ter I argue that this presumption should be reversed, that Middle Minoan (ca. 7000–2000 BC).

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 61

FIGURE 4.3 Aegean Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites

mentioned in the text.

DOMESTICITY RECONSIDERED with its very different regimes of subsistence and mobil-
One of the reasons that domesticity has seemed such a safe ity, the logic of an adaptive, domestic use of caves is rather
and uncontroversial interpretation is that it accords with more difficult to envisage (Tomkins 2009 for a discussion).
the popular myth that prehistoric people, but particularly The modal form of agricultural production in the regions
those of the Stone Age, were cave dwellers by preference. of the Aegean during the Neolithic and Bronze Age was
In fact, during the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic in the small-scale and horticultural in the sense that it took the
Aegean, both cave and open-air dwelling coexisted as logi- form of an intensive cultivation of plant and animal domes-
cal parts of a strategy of seasonal foraging where specific ticates (Halstead 1989, 70–1; 1996a, 301–3). Proximity of
caves offered convenient shelter close to important subsis- habitation was a critical part of this subsistence strategy,
tence resources (e.g., Bailey 1992; Runnels 2001, 236–7, minimizing costs of security, time, and labor (G. Jones
239, 241, 244–5, 253). In the case of agriculture, however, 2005). It is thus entirely logical that the principal forms of

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62 Peter Tomkins

Neolithic and Bronze Age habitation in the Aegean should on the surface inside some Cretan caves, such as the three
be the open-air dwelling, hamlet, village, or city located from the entrance to the Gerani cave, represent the remains
directly adjacent to the areas of arable land that formed the of inhabitants who were trapped by a rockfall (Godart and
foci of subsistence production (Halstead 1994, 198, 200). Tzedakis 1992: 77–8; cf. also Papathanassopoulos 1996c,
In contrast, the kinds of caves frequented during the 82; Weinberg 1970, 579) or who were victims of violence
Neolithic and Bronze Age tend to lie at or beyond the (Faure 1964, 30; 1969a; 1969b). However, articulated
margins of agricultural production, often on high hills and skeletal material has also been found stratified below these
steep slopes, and can thus never compete with the proxim- final use-surfaces (e.g., Ayios Ioannis; French 1990, 79).
ity, locational flexibility, and efficiency offered by open-air This suggests instead a deliberate form of primary corpo-
forms of habitation. Moreover, it should not simply be ral deposition, parallels for which occur at other Neolithic
assumed that areas of modern or historic cultivation that caves in the Aegean (e.g., Alepotrypa; Papathanassopoulos
lie in the vicinity of these cave sites were always deemed 1996d; more generally, see Tomkins 2009). More fre-
cultivable in the past, agricultural strategies being no more quently, however, human skeletal material in Neolithic
universal than other cultural constructs. The agricultural caves in Crete and the Aegean is disarticulated and asso-
colonization of agriculturally marginal upland regions in ciated with different stratigraphic units. It has often been
Crete begins only in the final few centuries of the Neolithic assumed that this juxtaposition and intermingling of activ-
(i.e., FN IV; ca. 3300–3100/3000 BC; Tomkins 2007b, ity areas with mortuary space was standard Neolithic prac-
44) or else at the beginning of the Bronze Age (i.e., EM I), tice (e.g., Papathanassopoulos 1996b, 1996c). In fact, the
depending on the particular region concerned (Tomkins relationship between the two appears to have been struc-
2008, 37–42), while the introduction of agricultural ter- tured and clearly defined. Human skeletal material is typi-
racing on steeper slopes in the Aegean is currently placed no cally absent from active domestic living spaces in Neolithic
earlier than the Middle Bronze Age (French and Whitelaw villages, such as the Cretan site of Knossos, but does occur
1999, 173–75). In this way, it is difficult to see how caves occasionally sealed in pits, walls, ditches, and cemeter-
might have formed a logical element within an agricultural ies (Perlès 2001, 273, 281; Triantaphyllou 1999, 128–30;
subsistence strategy as they typically lie beyond the diurnal 2008, 142–47). The only exceptions are rare isolated frag-
sphere of production. ments, which appear to have circulated above ground as
Domestic explanations are further called into question valued items in their own right. On Crete this separation
by some of the specific characteristics of caves known to is further enhanced and formalized with the emergence of
have been frequented during the Neolithic or Bronze Age. specific burial foci, certainly from the beginning of EM I, if
Often Cretan prehistoric cave sites comprise features that not the preceding FN IV period (see below).
would seem to render them poorly suited for habitation, And so, at the heart of the domestic model of prehis-
whether through excessive darkness (e.g., Trapeza, Ellenes, toric cave use lies a paradox. Why would prehistoric farm-
Eileithyia), dampness (e.g., Trapeza, Pelekita, Ellenes), cold ers periodically use caves as habitation sites when those
(e.g., the Idaean and Kamares caves), or through difficul- caves that are known to have been frequented are less con-
ties of access (e.g., Stravomyti) (Faure 1964, 55–6, 72; Hall veniently situated in relation to agricultural land than are
1999, 128, 131; Tyree 1974, 34–6; Zois 1973, 176–7). open-air locations, and they often lie in landscapes where
Thus the small entrance of the Eileithyia cave restricts ven- agriculture may not have been practiced until long after
tilation to such an extent that at on at least one occasion such caves were first frequented? For domestic explana-
its excavation was brought to a halt (Faure 1964, 55); and tions to remain valid they need to explain not only how
workers excavating in the narrow, awkward passageways of and why certain caves might have been viable and advan-
the Stravomyti cave are said to have panicked on at least tageous domestic sites for farmers, but also how domes-
one occasion (Marinatos 1950, 252). Movement inside tic usage might account for all aspects of the prehistoric
many caves is also restricted by fallen boulders and gaping assemblages found within them.
chasms (e.g., Platyvola; Hall 1999, 118–19). Moreover, in One much favored domestic explanation for cave use
several cases the principal area of prehistoric deposition posits that prehistoric caves in Crete and elsewhere in the
actually seems to have been focused in the darkest parts of Aegean served as the seasonal dwellings of mobile pasto-
the cave. In these characteristics Cretan prehistoric caves ralist groups (e.g., Jacobsen 1984; Moody 1987, 288–91;
closely parallel those frequented elsewhere in the Aegean Watrous 1982, 10; 2001, 166). This seemingly attractive
(Tomkins 2009; Wickens 1986). theory is, however, actually very difficult to sustain both
Equally challenging to the domestic model is the rela- theoretically and empirically, particularly so in the case of
tively frequent presence of human skeletal material. It has the Neolithic (Halstead 2008; Tomkins 2009). Studies of
been suggested that examples of articulated skeletons found faunal and botanical assemblages from Neolithic–Early

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 63

Bronze Age caves around the Aegean consistently indicate a land, their difficulty of access, and/or the nature of their
mixed-farming mode of subsistence, essentially the same as finds (e.g., metal objects; Nakou 1995). Even in such cases
that practiced at lowland open-air villages (Halstead 2008, the idea that they might have been ritual sites has met with
241–43; Halstead and Jones 1987, 144–5). Domesticated resistance (e.g., Zachos 1999, 158–61). In general the con-
animals do not appear to have been managed to maximize tinued attractiveness of domestic explanations of cave use
their calorific yield via dairying, but were instead kept may be understood to derive from a failure fully to com-
in small numbers and culled periodically for their meat prehend Neolithic ritual and develop methodologies for
(Halstead 1996a; 2008, 241–44). Stable-isotope analysis its identification, a situation which in turn has prevented
of human skeletal material from Neolithic caves elsewhere the development of a ritual model of Aegean prehistoric
in Greece confirms this picture, suggesting that the users of cave use that might challenge the dominance of domestic
caves ate mainly cereals and legumes, with no evidence for a explanations (Tomkins 2009).
significant intake of red meat (Papathanasiou 2001, 24–6,
38–40, 44). The earliest evidence for a coherent system of
upland sites on Crete dates to the final phase of FN (i.e., FN
IV: e.g., east Cretan uplands), but here caves still remain a
minority site in a landscape that consists almost entirely of Ritual is generally understood to denote something
small, dispersed, open-air sites located next to small stands deliberately odd, in the sense that it belies functional or
of cultivable arable land and with surface assemblages that economic explanation and is unusual, striking, and sym-
include mortars (Tomkins 2008, 37–42). Although none bolic when placed within its temporal and spatial context
of these sites has yet been excavated, current evidence sug- (Hodder 1982, 164). Most approaches to prehistoric ritual
gests a form of mixed farming (Halstead 2008; Tomkins in the Aegean have treated it as a separate domain of activ-
2008, 40, 42). It is perhaps also worth noting that the dis- ity, in isolation from and often in polar opposition to the
tribution of a FN IV vessel type known as the “cheesepot” domestic or that which is daily, familiar, and habitual. The
(if, that is, it had anything to do with cheese production) conventional methodology for the identification of pre-
is almost entirely confined to FN IV coastal sites, such as historic ritual in the Aegean has been to rely on the pres-
Petras Kephala, and is absent from the Cretan upland inte- ence of material signifiers that are interdependent and defy
rior (Tomkins 2007b, 44; 2008, 42). explanation in domestic terms (e.g., Renfrew 1985, 19–20;
Problematic also is the way domestic explanations 1994, 51–2). Central to this approach is the notion that
draw support from modern Greek traditions and ethnog- ritual practices and places will identify themselves through
raphies of cave use, thus assuming a series of questionable their distinctively different and unusual formal characteris-
socioeconomic constants—such as attitudes to landscape, tics (e.g., specialized shrine architecture; dedicated “ritual
subsistence practices, or mobility—with time as the only assemblages” of specialized equipment, or votives).
variable (Halstead 1996b; Nixon and Price 2001, 395–7). This approach lends itself well to cases when ritual is
In reality the traditional Mediterranean rural economy, marked in such unambiguous terms. In the case of MM
within which pastoralism has historically operated, is the and LM Crete, the presence of votives (e.g., figurines, body
product of specific socioeconomic conditions (e.g., global parts, miniature vases) and/or specialist shrine equipment
market economy, extensive agriculture) that are unlikely to (e.g., offering tables, altars) in distinctive natural locations,
have been in place before the Middle Bronze Age, if not such as hilltops, peaks, caves, and springs, provides the
later (Cherry 1988; Halstead 1996a, 301–2; Nixon and basis for their identification as sacred sites (Peatfield 1983,
Price 2001). Similarly anachronistic is the notion that 1987, 1990; Rutkowski and Nowicki 1996; Tyree 1974, 6;
Neolithic caves on Crete served as refuges under similar Watrous 1996, 28–9, 73–96). However, the effectiveness
geopolitical conditions of domination and resistance as of this approach is predicated on the incidence of such
obtained in the nineteenth century AD (Faure 1964, 30; strong indicators, which varies from site to site. This is less
Hall 1999, 104–5 for a critique). of an issue for peak and spring sanctuaries, where unam-
In the last decade or so several scholars have suggested biguous ritual assemblages are a consistent feature from the
that the use of some Neolithic caves on Crete and elsewhere beginning of the Middle Minoan period onwards. In the
in the Aegean may have been ritual in nature (Broodbank case of caves, however, their incidence is much more infre-
2000, 165; Demoule and Perlès 1993, 404–5; Dickinson quent. For MM I–II, only Trapeza and Psychro have pro-
1994, 34, 40–41; Hall 1999, 105–7; Nakou 1995, 21–2; duced bronze objects, clay figurines, stone offering tables,
Whitehouse 1992, 194). In most cases these are brief state- or seals that secure a ritual identification by this method
ments, couched in cautious language, and confined only to ( Jones 1999, 5–6, 23–4, 69–72, 80; Watrous 1996, 33).
caves that stand out by virtue of their distance from arable For the Late Minoan period (MM III–LM III), they are

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64 Peter Tomkins

present in only eleven caves from a much larger total of or cult representations of the human form found at later
known LM cave sites ( Jones 1999, 5–12, 23–4; Rutkowski Greek sanctuaries. Moreover, recent contextual studies
and Nowicki 1996; Tyree 1974). of Neolithic figurines in Crete, the Aegean, the Balkans,
In this way the vast majority of Neolithic and Bronze and Anatolia have tended to suggest that figurines did not
Age cave sites on Crete lack the sort of “ritual assem- specifically serve as specialized cult items nor did dense
blages” upon which the conventional methodology for accumulations of them demarcate shrines, but rather that
identification depends. Interestingly, however, this has not they were bound up in the practice and negotiation of
prevented some of them from being identified as sacred everyday life (Bailey 2005; Hodder 1996; Meskell et al.
through a broadening of the criteria for identification to 2008, 143–5; Mina 2008). It would appear, therefore, that
include aspects such as location. Central to this process was there is nothing intrinsic to categories of Neolithic or Early
the early identification of the mainly MM Kamares cave as Minoan material culture that might indicate where or
a sacred site on the basis of its restricted range of ceramic indeed if a boundary between domestic and ritual deploy-
forms (including decorated finewares), an absence of lithic ment might be drawn.
material or other sorts of the debris one would expect from The origin of these issues of recognition and interpre-
a habitation site, and its unsuitability for habitation (i.e., tation can be traced back to the misplaced notion that ritu-
so high on Mount Ida as to be blocked by snow for half the ality and domesticity were always the seemingly opposing
year; Dawkins and Laistner 1913, 1–34; Taramelli 1901). and separable domains of behavior that they are in mod-
As a result of an early and wide acceptance of this identi- ern Western society. In fact many small-scale societies lack
fication, Kamares quickly became the model for the iden- a conception of ritual as a distinct and separate domain
tification of other MM caves as sacred sites, where aspects of activity. In view of this, it makes better sense to define
of location and topography were taken into account (e.g., prehistoric ritual in broader terms as a particular form of
Faure 1994, 77–83; Rutkowski and Nowicki 1996). This practice or performance, described by its own conventions
loosening and broadening of the methodology for identi- and occupying a continuum between the local and infor-
fication has not, however, been consistently applied to all mal and the public and highly structured (Barrett 1988;
MM and LM cave sites, nor has it been extended to the Bradley 2005, 29–30, 119; Brück 1999, 314–18). In this
Neolithic or Early Minoan periods, when cave assemblages way the apparent ambiguity of prehistoric ritual, at least
are also, like Kamares, composed mainly of pottery. to modern outsiders, is its crucial element, deriving from a
Neolithic ritual, and to a lesser extent that of the Early close relationship with the domestic. Ritual offered a differ-
Minoan period (Warren 1973), has long been an area of ent way of experiencing the domestic and through it people
difficulty in Aegean archaeology, the pursuit of which were able to develop an understanding of their world that
might be characterized as an ultimately fruitless search connected the everyday with the cosmological. This plays
for a special class of ritual objects (Whitehouse 1996, 28, out at an active material level in the process of ritualization,
for a discussion). Neolithic material culture has long suf- where objects symbolic of the everyday are transformed
fered from being forced into modern functional categories, into important statements about human existence through
despite the fact that its formal characteristics consistently their juxtaposition with distinctive kinds of performance
fail to conform to expectations aroused by terms such as and context (Barrett 1988, 31–2; Bradley 2005; Hodder
domestic or ritual. Common forms, such as ceramic con- 1982, 172).
tainers or lithic tools, have repeatedly been glossed as “util- In this way it is ritualization, expressed in aspects of
itarian” or “domestic” in function (e.g., Hall 1999, 104; performance and context rather than ritual objects, that
Papathanassopoulos 1996b, 1996c; Perlès 1992, 148–49; is most critical to the identification and interpretation of
Sampson 1992, 95; Watrous 1996, 57–73), rather than Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual (Bradley 2005; Tomkins
treated more neutrally as objects no less subject to esteem 2009). Time and space are key components of ritualization,
and fluctuating value than other rarer types, such as beads not just in the sense that rituals may occur in specific places
or pendants (Appadurai 1986; Tomkins 2009). Figurines, or at specific times, but also in the sense that in ritual time
in contrast, have long been privileged, fetishized even, as and space are experienced in very different ways, which cre-
sacred objects, whether considered as votives or repre- ate distance from the everyday (Bradley 1998, 88–90). In
sentations of the divine (e.g., Gimbutas 1991; Mellaart nonindustrial societies, locales that are in some way lim-
1967), and have long been treated as our only source for inal to the domestic may come to evoke qualities associated
Neolithic or Early Bronze Age ritual (Evans 1901; Nilsson with the supernatural realm (Helms 1993; Renfrew 1985,
1950, 291–3; Sampson 1992, 96; Watrous 2001, 162). 16–20). This is usually clearest in cases when foci that are
Such an approach is, however, anachronistic in assuming spatially separate from habitation—whether natural places,
that such figurines functioned in similar ways to the votive such as caves, mountain peaks, or rivers, or constructed

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 65

monuments, such as built tombs—become the focus for and Gaydarska 2007; Gamble 2007, 132–52). These parts
ritual practice and deposition (Bradley 1998). However, might circulate as part of everyday existence, serving as
liminality also operates at smaller scales, as illustrated by “material citations” of the ritual act (A. Jones 2005). Such
ritual contexts that are adjacent to or overlap with domes- forms of ritual fragmentation and circulation may, for
tic space, such as examples of structured depositions in pits example, help to explain the presence at Knossos and other
or in the fabric of buildings at Neolithic Knossos (Tomkins Neolithic village sites of small, worked sherd disks that are
2007a, 187–90; Triantaphyllou 2008). Distance from the often pierced. Such disks may have served as material cita-
everyday may also be invoked by enlarging or miniaturizing tions of specific object-person relationships, which might
familiar subjects. be strung together and thus accumulated and displayed. In
It is important also to be sensitive to different regimes this way such part-whole relationships may serve as meta-
of value operating within and between different forms and phors for social relations through processes of accumula-
media, and to how their selective deployment may serve to tion, where parts or wholes are collected together as sets, or
raise an everyday activity to the level of ritual performance. enchainment, where a chain of social relations is achieved
During the Neolithic, ceramic containers were highly val- through exchange. A related form of performance, which
ued and their use seemingly restricted to special occasions, might be termed curation, involves the deliberate deposi-
with the daily burden of container usage being borne by tion of complete, unfragmented objects in such a way as to
a range of more durable nonceramic containers (Tomkins divert them from normal patterns of circulation and access.
2007a; Vitelli 1993, 213–16). Regimes of value may also Recent studies have demonstrated that through the
be glimpsed operating within object-substance categories, characterization and contextualization of these techniques
such as pottery, where preferential use and deposition of of ritualization it is possible to gain important insights
finewares or vessels from nonlocal sources may serve to into social categorization and social relations (e.g., Bradley
mark unusual contexts of deposition, examples of which 2005, 145–64; Chapman and Gaydarska 2007, 53–112).
may be noted at the Neolithic Cretan sites of Knossos and In Neolithic Crete, as well as the wider Aegean, examples
Katsambas (Tomkins 2007a, 2012, n.d.a, n.d.b). Moving of these techniques abound wherever forms of deposition
from containers to their contents, food consumption may are structured and spatially restricted (e.g., pits, caves), and
be ritualized by consuming everyday food in association where there has been a commitment to contextual study
with special or high-value object types, by consuming (Tomkins 2007a, 185–91; 2009). Fragmentation practices
unusual forms of food, or by preparing food in special ways. may also extend to include the human body or what has
The main dietary staples of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age been termed corporal culture (for the distinction between
communities appear to have been cultivated cereals and corporal and material culture see Gamble 2007, 87–110),
pulses, while all evidence, including bioarchaeological and good examples of which are the isolated human skeletal
stable-isotope analyses of human bone, suggests that meat fragments in Cretan settlement contexts, such as Knossos,
was consumed very infrequently, probably only on special that seem to have circulated among the living as expres-
occasions (Halstead 2007; Papathanasiou 2001, 24–6, sions of relationships with the dead (Triantaphyllou 1999,
38–40, 44). Meat consumption not only had a simple rarity 2008).
value, but also carried with it certain ideological and social
implications in that it involved the killing of livestock, the
possession of which is likely to have been a source of status.
Generally the carcasses of large animals spoil easily and are
thus most amenable to short-term, larger-scale consump- Issues of Data and Interpretation
tion by groups larger than a single household (Halstead With a handful of notable Bronze Age exceptions
2007, 27, 39, 41–43). (e.g., Ida, Kamares, Psychro), prehistoric cave use on
Rituals, such as floor cleaning, the deposition of Crete is a neglected area of study (see Hall 1999 10–18;
complete vessels, and deliberate destruction by burning, Strasser 1992, 39–89, for discussions of the problem). The
may accompany the abandonment of Neolithic houses very recent identification of twenty-eight Paleolithic and
at Knossos and elsewhere in the Aegean (e.g., Stevanović Mesolithic sites in the Plakias region of southern Crete
1997; Tomkins 2007a). Other forms of ritual perfor- (Strasser et al. 2010) demonstrates that the human use of
mance, such as fragmentation and accumulation, play caves and rockshelters on the island may now be pushed
out more explicitly at the level of objects. Fragmentation back well into the Pleistocene. Elsewhere on the island
refers to the deliberate breakage or division of something clear evidence for pre-Neolithic usage is currently lack-
and the distribution of its parts in order to construct and ing, although mention of bone fishhooks in preliminary
represent relations between people and objects (Chapman reports of excavations at the large coastal cave of Pelekita

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66 Peter Tomkins

in east Crete (Papadakis 1987) hints at possible Mesolithic early EM I assemblages from caves or rockshelters, such as
usage, given that bone hooks are entirely unknown at Ayios Nikolaos, Eileithyia, and Partira, were mistakenly
Neolithic sites on Crete but are characteristic of Aegean dated to the Neolithic (e.g., Renfrew 1964; Vagnetti and
Mesolithic coastal cave assemblages (e.g., Cyclops Cave, Belli 1978).
Yioura; Sampson 1999). At least 100 caves are known to
have produced Neolithic–EM material, around half of
Temporality and Spatiality
which have seen some form of excavation; but only in the
case of a quarter or less has this been more than a small At present a lack of detailed study and publication
sounding (Hall 1999, 10–12). Almost all of these excava- restricts what can be said about how and over what time
tions are either unpublished or accessible only in the form scales Neolithic cave deposits were formed. Analogy
of preliminary reports. Certainly no cave has yet been with better-known Neolithic cave sequences from other
investigated or published to the standards set by the work Aegean regions would suggest that cave use was episodic
at Franchthi (e.g., Jacobsen and Farrand 1988) and Kitsos and punctuated by frequent and sometimes long periods
(Lambert 1981) on the Greek mainland. of hiatus (e.g., Tomkins 2009; Vitelli 1999, 12, 15, 61–62,
Complicating understanding further have been a 96). Indirect support for this in Cretan caves is provided
series of long-standing problems of Neolithic and EM by the presence of ceramic material belonging to multiple
I phasing and chronology, problems which have only phases of the Neolithic. For example, the mixed deposits
very recently been resolved (Di Tonto and Todaro 2008; from Lera have produced material belonging to FN II–IV
Todaro 2005; Tomkins 2007b). Naturally, the available lit- as well as later Minoan phases (Manteli 1993b, 169–76;
erature on caves, formed during the course of more than Tomkins 2007b, 35–44). At Platyvola, the vast majority of
a century of investigation (for useful summaries see Hall the Neolithic pottery dates no earlier than FN IV (i.e., dull
1999, 98–146; Strasser 1992, 193–265), reflects older con- burnish; bowls with incurved rim; deep bowls with convex
fusions over phasing or terminology and thus considerable base; high-necked jars; s-profile bowls; bowls with hori-
caution must be exercised in using chronological attribu- zontal tubular lug; Manteli 1993a, 124–5, 200; Tomkins
tions that are not well corroborated by illustration. This 2007b, 41–44). Nonetheless, small amounts of FN I (e.g.,
chapter focuses primarily on caves that satisfy this criterion ripple decoration) and FN II–III (Manteli 1993b, 125,
and may thus be more securely linked to a newly revised figure 82) are also present. Likewise at Koumarospilio, the
Neolithic chronology for Crete (Tomkins 2007b). majority of the Neolithic pottery, including all illustrated
At present the earliest dated pottery from a Cretan semicomplete vessels, appears to be no earlier than FN IV
cave takes the form of a dipper with a double-horned in date (e.g., granulation decoration; deep bowls with con-
wishbone handle from Gerani that finds close parallels in vex base; low pedestal bases; cheesepots; bowl with hori-
Middle Neolithic (MN) levels from Knossos (Tomkins zontal tubular lug; Manteli 1993a, 163; 1993b, 180–82;
2007b, figure 1.4, 21). In advance of full publication of the figures 73.6, 9; 73b.8). However, there is also sherd mate-
Gerani excavations the possibility of still-earlier ceramic rial that appears to date to earlier phases, namely LN (i.e.,
material cannot be ruled out, although the original claim carinated bowl with pellet decoration; Manteli 1993b, fig-
of an Initial Neolithic (IN) stratum has been discredited ure 72, 6), FN I (Tzedakis 1973, 583), and FN III (circu-
( Jarman 1996, 215–16). Although there have been uncor- lar and triangular jabbed decoration; Manteli 1993b, fig-
roborated claims of pottery of Late Neolithic (LN) type ure 74, 6). In these examples the material from earlier FN
from Ayios Ioannis and Pelekita (Godart and Tzedakis phases is scarce, usually highly fragmented, and sufficient
1992, 44; Papadakis 1987; Tomkins 2007b, 27–32), the only to suggest periodic visitation.
only illustrated material of this type comes from Gerani (for The episodic nature of Cretan cave use is most clearly
references, see Tomkins 2007b, 29), Miamou (Taramelli demonstrated by the sequences from Miamou and Gerani.
1897, figures 10, 16), and possibly Koumarospilio (Manteli At Miamou lower (LN II–EM IA) and upper (mainly EM
1993b, figure 72, 6). However, future study and publication I–II) strata of deposition are separated by a hard layer of
of excavated cave assemblages and further deep soundings calcitic concretion (Taramelli 1897, 289–303, figures 11,
will surely increase this number. All other known Cretan 14, 15). However, the presence of EM I material in both
Neolithic cave assemblages appear to date to one or more levels suggests that the break in use lasted no more than
subphases within the long Final Neolithic period (FN I– a few generations. At Gerani deposits of MN–LN I, LN
IV; ca. 4500–3100/3000 BC). Until very recently (i.e., II, and FN I date are similarly separated by thin (1–3 cm)
Todaro 2005; Tomkins 2007b: 41–48; Warren 2004), con- calcified layers, each of which would have taken at least 80
fusion has reigned over the precise sequencing of deposits years to have formed (Godart and Tzedakis 1992, pls. xciv–
between the end of FN and the beginning of EM, such that xcvi; Manteli 1993b, 159, 167; Tzedakis 1980). Despite

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 67

the episodic nature of their formation, the individual com- via a twisting passage to a lower chamber ( Jantzen 1951;
ponents of the Gerani sequence are, like Miamou, chrono- Manteli 1993b, 178).
logically proximate and demonstrate clear continuities in
depositional practice. It would thus appear that, unlike at
open-air village sites, where structured forms of deposi-
tion (e.g., pits) suggest a need for direct physical conceal- Currently the number of known or suspected Neo­
ment, in caves items of material or corporal culture might lithic cave sites represents less than 5 percent of the esti-
be left exposed on the surface, often for long periods, safe mated total number of caves on Crete. This would seem
from unsanctioned removal. Such a practice enhanced the to suggest that cave users were highly selective in the caves
potential for the accumulation and periodic reorganization they chose to frequent and thus that aspects of cave mor-
of sets of objects, which, in remaining visible, actively con- phology or location are likely to have been significant for
tributed to the ongoing significance of the cave (Tomkins function. When compared to the open-air village—the
2009; cf. Briault 2007, 134–5 for MM–LM peak sanctuar- modal form of Neolithic settlement in the Aegean—all
ies). In this way caves could function as single depositional Cretan Neolithic caves emerge as liminal places, entry into
contexts, which, in remaining open, allowed activities to which involves dramatic changes in light, sound, smell, and
play out over different time scales involving multiple visits freedom of movement that force visitors momentarily to
(Tomkins 2009). reorient themselves. Aspects of topography, such as steep
Long-term continuities in practice suggest that the rock-faces, may further complicate access. For example, the
significance of a cave, such as Gerani, and the nature of the Stravomyti cave is situated in a cliff with multiple, mostly
practices that took place within it were codified and main- inaccessible openings and comprises two separate but con-
tained at permanently settled, open-air village locations nected cave systems with chambers and narrow passages
beyond the cave, where they were successfully transmitted that weave around each other (Hall 1999, 127–29).
over centuries or even millennia before the next phase of In many of the Cretan Neolithic caves this quality of
cave deposition might begin. In this way oral traditions liminality also seems to operate at the level of the wider
of place, reinforced and perpetuated by the ongoing land- landscape (Hall 1999; cf. Tomkins 2009). The large cave
scape presence of caves, are likely to have ensured that caves of Ellenospilia lies near a small bay, on the east coast of
remained candidates for further activity. This aspect of the rocky and arid Rhodhopi peninsula in West Crete and
caves is crucial to an understanding of subsequent phases at a considerable distance from the nearest zone of fer-
of cave use during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. tile arable land (Marinatos 1928, 100). Miamou lies high
The main built features noted in reports on Cretan above the agricultural plain of the Mesara in the hills of
Neolithic caves, such as Miamou, Gerani, and Ayios the Asterousia. Even further removed from the diurnal
Ioannis, are hearths and floors (Manteli 1993b: 159; sphere of Neolithic production is the Idaean cave, located
Taramelli 1897, 295–96; Tzedakis 1980; 1981, 395). Such above the snow line high in the mountains of central Crete.
features are typical of Neolithic caves in general around Koumarospilio lies in an arid, rocky, mountainous land-
the Aegean, which, like the Cretan caves, also appear to scape unsuitable for agriculture on the north coast of the
lack the complex spatial subdivisions thought to demar- Akrotiri peninsula (Moody 1987, 287). Pelekita is located
cate separate household groups at open-air village sites on a rocky, steep, and arid stretch of the east Cretan coast,
(Halstead 1999, 79–81; Tomkins 2009). Rather access at least 5 kilometers from the fertile river valleys of Zakros
and deposition in caves seems to have been structured by and Palaikastro.
natural features of internal physical topography, such as Exceptions to the trend toward geographical liminal-
niches, passageways, chambers, and pools, as well as the ity include a group of caves or artificially enhanced sub-
distribution and degree of light. At Ellenospilia human terranean chambers in locations proximate to permanent
bones and Neolithic finewares were noted as clustering open-air Neolithic settlement and fertile arable land. In
around a prominent stalagmite in the central hall, while such cases, liminality is evoked more obviously by the
the dark back chambers appear to have been the focus for qualities of the actual cave or chamber as a separate space
more than a meter of dark ashy deposit (Faure 1956, 99; of activity than by its geographical distance from the every-
1964, 53). At Eileithyia, the bulk of the Neolithic mate- day. For example, immediately to the west of the FN III–
rial was excavated at the very back of a long chamber and IV settlement site of Kastellos on the Lasithi Plain lie the
in a small, low, and nearly inaccessible chamber (Marinatos caves of Trapeza, Grymani, Skaphidhia, and Meskine, all
1932). At Koumarospilio the main focus of Neolithic and of which have produced evidence of use during FN and/
Bronze Age deposition appears to have been a massive rock or EM (Pendlebury, Pendlebury, Money-Coutts 1937–
in the upper chamber, from where a small opening leads 1938, 6). The FN–EM Eileithyia cave lies in rocky terrain,

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68 Peter Tomkins

just above the Bronze Age coastal settlement of Amnisos,

not far from the FN IV open-air site of Mesa Karteros
(Karetsou 1976; Tomkins 2007b, 44). The cave of Ayios
Ioannis is easily accessible from the fertile agricultural plain
east of Chania, and Platyvola, although located in steeply
sloping terrain, is only a kilometer from a suspected FN
open-air site (Tzedakis 1966: 429; Godart and Tzedakis
1992, 50).
In addition a number of artificial or artificially
enhanced subterranean chambers, apparently in use during
MN and LN, have been brought to light on the immedi-
ate periphery of the open-air habitation sites of Knossos
and Katsambas in north-central Crete (Tomkins n.d.a,
n.d.b). At Knossos (Figure 4.4) excavations early in the
twentieth century on the south slope of the Neolithic
settlement revealed a series of artificial subterranean cham-
bers, clearly anterior to the Middle and Late Bronze Age
structures above them (e.g., Evans 1921, 103–7, 427–30;
1928, 289–96). Although most of these chambers now
lack positive dating evidence, more-recent excavations
on the south slope have brought to light the entrance to
a subterranean chamber, the mouth of which was filled
with a mixed MN–LN I deposit (Trench Z; Evans 1994;
Tomkins 2007b). Elsewhere in this area modern tests FIGURE 4.4 Knossos, subterranean chamber beneath the southeast
have produced indirect evidence for digging in the form corner of the Palace. (Evans 1928, figure 171.)
of earlier Neolithic material redeposited in LN I levels
(Tomkins n.d.b). At Katsambas, around 10 meters to the
south of a LN I house, a series of connected subterranean In many cases the significance of a cave may also have
chambers up to 4.5 meters in length were excavated, the been informed by its centrality in relation to other promi-
roof of which appears to have collapsed at some point after nent natural features in the landscape (see Tomkins 2009).
the Neolithic (Alexiou 1953). Contemporary reports men- Examples include Stravomyti, located in the western flank
tion the presence of burnt human bone in the chambers of Mount Iuktas, which dominates the landscape of north-
(Cook and Boardman 1953, 50; Courbin 1954, 152; Faure central Crete and whose peak was the site of a Bronze
1964, 78). Study of the pottery by the author suggests that Age peak sanctuary (Karetsou 1981); the Idaean cave, on
the original in situ deposit in these chambers was MN and the northern slope of Mount Ida, which is visible from
LN (mainly LN I) in date and was unusual, with respect much of the island; and Pelekita on the eastern flank of
to MN and LN assemblages from houses at Katsambas, Mount Traostalos. Such caves are conspicuous for being
in being dominated by pottery in fabrics of nonlocal (> 7 the largest in their respective regions and may have served
km) origin (Tomkins n.d.a). Recent rescue excavations in as focal points, or axes mundi, within wider sacred land-
the immediate vicinity of this chamber have revealed addi- scapes, where other natural features, such as rocks, rivers,
tional, artificially enhanced subterranean chambers and or mountains, were invested with special meanings. Ritual
Neolithic ceramic assemblages. Therefore, it would appear cave use would thus have been one of the ways in which
that in the case of Knossos and Katsambas, our two earliest the significance of wider sacred landscapes could have been
known Neolithic open-air sites on Crete, ritual deposition, perpetuated or contested. In this way evidence for changes
probably in association with human skeletal material, also in depositional practice in caves, such as those that occur in
took place within the immediate vicinity of habitation, but FN IV–EM I and MM I (see below), might then be read as
in a zone set aside for special purpose (i.e., the south slope deliberate attempts to alter the significance of or otherwise
at Knossos, and the hilltop at Katsambas) and specifically appropriate wider areas of landscape. In contrast, the conti-
focused on subterranean, dark places, specially created or nuities in depositional practice that typify Neolithic caves,
modified so to function as concealed, intimate ritual spaces. which often bridge long periods of hiatus, are suggestive
of periods of continuity in significance, where landscape
provides a stable structure upon which to hang oral tradi-

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 69

tions. In this respect, the fact that the peaks of Iuktas and Taramelli 1897, 296–98)—reconsideration of some of the
Traostalos were the sites of later Bronze Age sanctuaries, more common items is instructive.
while Mount Ida was a focus of veneration via the Bronze In view of the special nature of meat consumption,
Age cave sanctuaries at Kamares and the Idaean cave, sug- which took place rarely, presumably on special occasions,
gests the likelihood that Bronze Age ritual in natural loca- and which implies a participating group larger than a
tions, such as peaks, caves, and springs, was informed by single nuclear household (Halstead 2008), the presence
much deeper traditions of knowledge and practice and in caves, often, of large quantities of domesticated-animal
linked to far older sacred landscapes. bone most likely marks a ritualized form of communal
The location of MN–FN I Gerani on the rocky coast food consumption. Evidence from Aegean Neolithic caves
of northwest Crete, at the mouth of a small river but away beyond Crete suggests that animal domesticates were most
from the fertile locations favored by early farmers, fits a likely slaughtered and butchered close to but probably not
pattern of earlier Neolithic cave usage around the Aegean within caves (Halstead and Jones 1987, 139). They were
characterized by a preference for locations close to the most likely driven there for special purpose from village
sea along routes of long-range, marine-based movement locations. Thus the nearest source for the domesticated-
(Tomkins 2009). Combined stylistic and petrographic animal bone (cows, ovicaprids) found in the lower (LN
study of EN and MN pottery from Knossos has demon- II–EM IA) level at Miamou (Taramelli 1897, 296–97), lay
strated intense local circulation of ceramic vessels as well as quite some distance below and to the north of the cave at
evidence, in the form of imported vessels, for longer jour- open-air settlements on the Mesara plain. Similarly distant
neys made along the north coast to the western and eastern to the south is the closest source of the shellfish, sea crab,
extremes of the island, as well as to still more distant regions and lobster also found in this level (Taramelli 1897, 297).
of the Greek and Anatolian mainlands (Tomkins 2004; The transportation of these resources to a distant location
Tomkins and Day 2001; Tomkins, Day, and Kilikolou far from their areas of procurement or production may be
2004). Taken together this suggests that Gerani and other understood in terms of the special investment expected of
coastal Neolithic caves, such as Lera, Ellenospilia, or sacred places (Renfrew 1985).
Pelekita, could have been frequented as much because they Similarly suggestive of special investment are the
were nodal points or landmarks on longer journeys as for unusually large amounts of obsidian tools reported from
their distance from the everyday. Such caves were thus well MN–FN I Gerani, LN(?)–FN Pelekita, and the late FN
qualified to act as places for interaction between everyday deposits from the Idaean cave (Papadakis 1987, 404;
and outside worlds—outside denoting not just the divine Sakellarakis 1985, 80; Tzedakis 1967, 1970, 1980). The
but also, via the equation of geographical distance with closest obsidian sources to Crete are those on the Aegean
supernatural distance, individuals and groups from distant islands of Melos and Yiali, with the former the source for
places (Helms 1993). Any such organized encounters at the very large majority of the Neolithic obsidian tools
caves between different allochthonous groups are likely to from Crete. At Neolithic Knossos obsidian tools are char-
have been ritualized, with participation in them indexed by acterized by a high intensity of reworking, suggestive of
identity and status. resource scarcity, and are most common during IN–LN
I, after which they become considerably scarcer (Conolly
2008). During FN IV it is now clear that there was sig-
Material and Corporal
nificant disparity in access to obsidian between coastal
Fragmentation and Accumulation
and inland sites, sufficient to suggest that obsidian pro-
A feature of Neolithic cave assemblages on Crete, and curement, working, and distribution were controlled by
one that has been used to argue in favor of a domestic func- coastal “gateway” communities, such as Petras Kephala
tion, is the presence of animal bone together with items of and Nerokourou (Carter 1998; Papadatos et al. n.d.;
material culture (e.g., stone tools, pottery) identical to that Tomkins 2008, 40; Tomkins and Schoep 2010). Thus the
encountered at open-air sites. However, if one accepts that presence of sixty-eight obsidian flakes together with deb-
the function of Neolithic material culture is not intrinsi- itage and cores in a single late FN context from the Idaean
cally domestic or ritual but is determined by aspects of con- cave (Catling 1987, 57–8; Sakellarakis 1985, 80) indicates
text and performance, then different avenues of interpre- a deposit that is as rich as it is unusual. The considerable
tation are opened up. While too little is currently known distance of the cave from the coast and from the nearest
to be able to draw any meaningful conclusions about the lowland settlement further contributes to the impression
depositional context of rarer items of material culture— that this reflects a special form of investment. Such tools
such as spindle whorls, axes, quernstones, pendants, or could have played a part in a variety of ritual acts associated
clay beads (e.g., Godart and Tzedakis 1992, pls. c–ciii; with their production and consumption. From shaving or

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70 Peter Tomkins

corporal inscription to the processing of animal carcasses the complete or semicomplete FN IV–EM IA jugs with
for consumption, the use of obsidian—a more scarce, more v-shaped spouts from the Melidoni and Idaean caves
effective, and thus high-value material—may have served (Godart and Tzedakis 1992, pl. cv). The presence of these
as an additional form of ritualization. The relatively large jugs at cave sites is particularly striking, not just because
amounts of obsidian in the MN–FN I Gerani cave—but they are normally only found at large FN III–IV villages in
above all the presence of unbroken, high-quality, leaf- lowland locations (Manteli 1993a, 162), but also because
shaped spear points from an early FN level (Tzedakis at Phaistos and Knossos they occur mainly in contexts of
1970, pl. 416, e), of a type unknown on Crete but pres- consumption and deposition that appear themselves to
ent at other Aegean cave sites (e.g., Zas: Zachos 1990, 38; be unusual and seemingly ritual in nature (Di Tonto and
Alepotrypa: Papathanassopoulos 1996a, no. 39)—suggests Todaro 2008; Tomkins 2007b, 38, 41–42). The quantity
deliberate curation as well as a preference for the deposi- of complete vessels from caves is made all the more remark-
tion of high-value objects, especially those whose raw mate- able by the fact that vessels and profiles, owing to homoge-
rial and/or style of production demonstrates connections neities in form and finish, are notoriously difficult to mend
with regions beyond the island. Notable also in this regard up in Neolithic ceramic assemblages, especially those that
are two figurines at Gerani of types that are rare or unpar- are as fragmented and mixed as tends to be the rule for cave
alleled in the corpus of Cretan Neolithic figurines (i.e., assemblages. This suggests the likelihood that the complete
Godart and Tzedakis 1992, pl. c, 2–3; Tzedakis 1970: 475; and semicomplete Neolithic vessels known from the lit-
Ucko 1968), Rare, too, is the series of phallic “idols” from erature were actually found in situ, either complete or in a
Pelekita (FN), Trapeza (mixed FN/EM), and Stravomyti fragmented but undispersed state.
(FN?) (Marinatos 1950, 255–6; Papadakis 1987, 404; Notable also is a marked preference for the con-
Pendlebury, Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts 1935–1936, sumption and deposition of a range of open-bowl forms
116; Strasser 1992, 256), which lack comparanda from at cave sites, primarily in finewares, to the near exclusion
most Cretan open-air sites (FN IV Petras Kephala for of the types of closed vessel that make up the remainder
an exception), but may be related to examples from the of ceramic assemblages at open-air sites. For example, at
Anatolian Chalcolithic and, more generally, to the phallus MN-FN I Gerani all the form types illustrated are bowls,
imagery that occurs at other FN caves in the Aegean (e.g., including the few listed closed-jar forms, which appear
Skoteini: Sampson 1992, figures 24–28; Kitsos: Lambert to be bowl forms that have been incorrectly oriented and
1981, 412, figure 284; Tomkins 2009). illustrated (Manteli 1993a, 119; Tzedakis 1980). Certainly
Equally unusual is the frequency with which complete none of the necked- or collared-jar forms present in the
or semicomplete vessels occur in cave assemblages, a fea- MN–FN I assemblages at Knossos are illustrated as pres-
ture also, it should be remembered, of the MM Kamares ent. This focus on bowls suggests a structured form of con-
cave sanctuary. The complete or semicomplete MN–FN I sumption and deposition, in which both the container and
vessels from Gerani are significant for providing our most its contents, whether containing the remains of a meal or,
complete view of several form types (Godart and Tzedakis as at Stravomyti, the bones of a neonate, were important,
1992, pls. xcvii–xcix, ciii–iv; Tzedakis and Martlew 1999, visible elements.
82–84, nos. 45–51) that are otherwise only present in frag- A feature of many Cretan Neolithic cave assemblages
ments in the much more extensively excavated and stud- is the presence of human skeletal material. In several caves,
ied deposits from Knossos. The dipper form is particularly such as Gerani, Ellenospilia, and Ayios Ioannis, fully or
common at Knossos but is always found in fragments, the partially articulated human skeletons are reported to have
wishbone handles being especially prone to breakage at been found on the surface of Neolithic strata (Faure 1962,
their point of attachment, the legacy of the probable ori- 45; Godart and Tzedakis 1992, 77–8; Marinatos 1928). A
gins of the form in a different medium (wood) (Tomkins skeleton in a crouched position from an FN level at Ayios
2007a, 186). Although there are as yet no details of the Ioannis and subsequently damaged by a rockfall was prob-
precise depositional context of the vessels from Gerani, ably also originally deposited in a similar way (Godart and
their degree of completeness is suggestive of some form Tzedakis 1992, 44; Tzedakis 1981, 395). A second skeleton
of deliberate, ritualized deposition. Other examples of from a lower stratum appears to have been associated with
this would include the intact FN I ripple-burnished bowls a schist flake (found at its feet) and some animal bones,
from Platyvola and probably also Ellenospilia (Marinatos suggesting the burial was accompanied by some form of
1928, 100–1; Warren and Tzedakis 1974, 337), a FN III material deposition and food consumption or deposition.
vessel containing the bones and part of a skull of a neonate These and other Neolithic examples from Aegean caves tes-
from Stravomyti (Marinatos 1950, 255–6; Sakellarakis tify to a practice of excarnation, in which bodies were laid
and Sapouna-Sakellarakis 1997, figure 329, far left), and out to decompose in caves, after which they might be sub-

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 71

jected to secondary forms of funerary performance, such as similar pattern can be detected at Koumarospilio, where
fragmentation and accumulation (Tomkins 2009). A good a long earlier phase of low-intensity cave use represented
example of such secondary forms of corporal manipula- entirely by sherd material (LN–FN III) appears to be suc-
tion are the five crania found together in an FN level at ceeded by a more-intense phase of FN IV deposition com-
Koumarospilio and the small pile of human skeletal mate- prising ceramic containers and human skeletal material but
rial, comprising a minimum of seven individuals, that was lacking the animal bone, dark organic material, and hearths
found nearby ( Jantzen 1951, 2–3). that normally characterize Neolithic cave use ( Jantzen
Although no full study of human skeletal material 1951, 3–4). Other caves that have produced evidence for
from a Cretan Neolithic cave is yet available, reported an earlier phase of lower-intensity deposition (Tomkins
quantities are generally low—perhaps the one exception to 2007b, 32–35) followed by larger FN IV–EM assemblages
this being the large quantity of human bone reported from of human bone and material culture, such as Eileithyia
Ellenospilia (Marinatos 1928, 100–1). Similarly low quan- and Skaphidia, may also fit this pattern. Although further
tities characterize other Neolithic caves around the Aegean, detailed study is required in order to clarify this picture,
with only Alepotrypa, situated not far from Ellenospilia, it seems likely that the functional diversification and spe-
opposite Crete on the southern coast of Greece, produc- cialization that typifies ritual cave use during EM I–II
ing a much larger assemblage (Tomkins 2009, table 2). (see below) may have first begun at some caves during the
The relatively small size of corporal assemblages and the preceding FN IV phase. It is perhaps significant that this
generally long histories of individual cave use suggest that shift is first apparent at caves that have an earlier history
a significant degree of selection was in operation, with of significance and either had always been close to open-
archaeologically visible forms of corporal deposition very air settlement (e.g., Trapeza to Kastellos) or had become
much the exception (Perlès 2001, 274; Tomkins 2009). close to settlement in FN IV as a result of the agricultural
The infrequency of this form of treatment and the effort colonization of the more marginal areas in which they were
required to transport a body to a cave strongly suggest that located (Tomkins 2008, 37–42). More-intensive forms of
selection may have been linked to status. material and corporal deposition of this sort represent a
Although the presence of human skeletal material departure from Neolithic practice and may be related to a
in Neolithic cave assemblages on Crete has encouraged more fundamental transformation in society that appears
some to categorize them separately as “burial caves” (e.g., to take place at this time (Tomkins 2010 for a discussion).
Dickinson 1994, 42; Strasser 1992, 61, 74; Vagnetti and During the late FN in Crete and the wider Aegean, a vari-
Belli 1978, 150; Watrous 2001, 162–63), such a term ety of ritual contexts, of which caves may form part, exhibit
implies a degree of intensity and a form of functional spe- evidence for a process of communal appropriation whereby
cialization that seems inappropriate and overly simplifies a specific interest groups seek to appropriate control over
wider range of ritual behaviors. Typically corporal deposi- what had previously been communally controlled resources
tion at Neolithic caves occurs alongside evidence for a vari- (Tomkins 2010, 2012a; Tomkins and Schoep 2010).
ety of other ritual activities, most notably the preparation
and consumption of food (i.e., animal bone, hearths; e.g.,
Ayios Ioannis; Tzedakis 1981, 395), and the deposition of
valued items of material culture. Since corporal deposition
itself represents a specific type of ritualization, it is perhaps The changes in cave use hinted at in FN IV become much
better to accommodate “burial sites” and “sacred sites” clearer from the beginning of EM I, when many more
within a single category of ritual places. caves, rockshelters, and crevices become the focus for dep-
The first hints of a development in this pattern ositional activity for the first time. Broadly these may be
of Neolithic cave use may be detected in the very final grouped into two categories:
phase of FN (FN IV). At Trapeza a small but seemingly
(1) Burial Caves: this group includes crevices, rockshelters,
undisturbed deposit at the bottom of the inner cham- and mainly small caves with restricted entrances, usually
ber contained pottery, probably no later than FN III in situated in the vicinity of permanent, open-air habitation.
date (incised decoration; slashed rims; Tomkins 2007b, Assemblages of this group combine frequently dense
39–41), and animal bone, but no trace of human bone or accumulations of human skeletal material with valued
stone tools (Pendlebury, Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts items of material culture. Examples of this type occur
throughout the island, with the notable exception of
1935–1936, 17–8). In the mixed, mainly FN IV–EM II
south-central Crete (Branigan 1993, 152–54; Haggis
level above this, large quantities of human bone represent- 1993, 13, 15), and include Ayios Antonios, Ayios
ing a minimum of 110 individuals were found (Pendlebury, Nikolaos, Ellenes, Grymani, and Partira (Béguignon 1931,
Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts 1935–1936, 102–27). A 517; Haggis 1993; Marinatos 1933, 296; Mortzos 1972;

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72 Peter Tomkins

Pendlebury, Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts 1935–1936, nondomestic environment of a cave, often located at great
13; 1937–1938, 3, 16–17; Platon 1953, 491; Tod 1902– distance from habitation and/or in a prominent landscape
1903; Tomkins 2007b, 20, table 1.6, 44–48).
feature, ritualized their deployment, which offered a means
(2) Nonburial Caves: this second and much less-discussed of commenting upon and situating the domestic within a
group of EM caves is primarily defined by an apparent
absence of human skeletal material. Caves in this group
wider cosmological context.
are mainly larger and are often associated with prominent While the shift toward more-intensive corporal depo-
natural landmarks in a region, such as mountains (e.g., sition at caves seems to have begun in some northern areas
Kamares) or hilltops (e.g., Archalochori). Several of these of Crete (e.g., north coast; Lasithi plain) already by FN IV,
(e.g., Archalochori, Kamares, Psychro, and Skoteino; in others, such as south-central Crete, this seems only to
Dawkins and Laistner 1912, 12–13; Hazzidakis 1913, 38– begin in EM I. For example, the upper layer from Miamou
43; Vagnetti and Belli 1978), are accepted to be foci for
ritual activity during subsequent phases of the Middle and
clearly evidences a shift to more-intense corporal and mate-
Late Bronze Age. In the case of Psychro (upper chamber), rial deposition, a shift which appears to have taken place
a lower stratum with domesticated-animal bone and during the course of EM I after a relatively short hiatus in
“bucchero” (burnished) pottery is mentioned (Hogarth the use of the cave. Significantly this appropriation in EM I
1900, 96), which, on the basis of the small group of of what had hitherto been a liminal resource of communal
burnished pottery published from the site (Watrous 2004, significance coincides with the first wave of open-air settle-
nos. 144–45, 142), would appear to be no earlier than EM
I in date. For other caves in this group, such as Ida, Lera,
ment along the valleys and coast of the Asterousia region in
Pelekita, and Stravomyti (Manteli 1993b, 169–76), EM which the cave is situated (Tomkins 2008, 37–42; Watrous
activity represents a continuation of a pattern of material 2001, 163, 168). Associated with this new wave of settle-
deposition that stretches back into the Neolithic, as well as ment in the Asterousia and with other EM settlements
forward into the Middle and Late Bronze Age, when these spread across the Mesara plain of south-central Crete are
caves are accepted as “cult sites” (Rutkowski and Nowicki built circular tombs, known as tholoi (sing. tholos), the
1996, 21–40).
earliest of which date no earlier than EM IA (Branigan
In none of the examples of this second group does 1993, 127; Tomkins 2007b, 20, table 1.6, 46–48; Warren
EM deposition appear to be extensive, yet its presence is 2004). These tombs enclosed round, dark, and in some
significant for marking the continuation of an essentially cases vaulted chambers, accessed via a small opening. The
Neolithic form of episodic, low-intensity ritualized depo- morphological link between these artificial caves and EM
sition involving ceramic vessels and other valued items burial caves is obvious and is reinforced by similar forms of
of material culture. The presence of particularly valued corporal and material deposition (Branigan 1970, 146–7;
items of EM date at some caves, such as the Idaean cave 1993, 39–45). During EM and MM cave and tomb assem-
(EM II/III seals; Sakellarakis 1985, 1988); the Psychro blages comprise cups, bowls, jugs, and “fruitstands,” while
cave (EM cutters, tweezers, and diadem; Boardman 1961, a piece of stalagmite deposited in one of the side chambers
4–5), and possibly some of the votive metal objects from at the Apesokari tholos (Davaras 1976, 43) represents an
Archalochori (Hazzidakis 1913, figure 8, 44–46; cf. example of the fragmentation of the fabric of a cave itself
Branigan 1993, 129, 133–5) is notable and finds parallels and its return deposition in a tomb. In this way tholos
in the Early Bronze Age deposition of sealings and metal tombs might best be understood to have originated as an
objects at prominent Neolithic cave sites elsewhere in the artificial type of proximate cave and should be interpreted,
rest of the Aegean (e.g., Skoteini: Sampson 1992, 66, 68; at least in their earliest phase of use, as a regional variant of
Zas: Zachos 1999, 153). the EM burial caves. If correct, this would serve further to
In this way, while the intensity of deposition at caves underline the importance of proximity to habitation in the
may vary through time and space, the most striking feature selection of caves, rockshelters, and crevices as foci for the
of these Neolithic, EM, and indeed MM caves is the gener- intensive deposition of corporal and material culture.
ally similar character of their assemblages, consisting in the Corporal deposition in caves, rockshelters, and round
main of a range of coarse and fine ceramic forms identical tombs seems to have been most intense during EM I–II,
to those in use at contemporary open-air habitation sites. after which deposition ceases or changes in intensity and
Recognition of this emphasizes the illogicality and incon- perhaps nature. At Pyrgos, Kyparissi, and Eileithyia in
sistency of confining identifications of prehistoric ritual north-central Crete it appears to cease after EM IIA,
usage solely to MM caves, as is presently the case (e.g., with material deposition recommencing only at Eileithyia
Watrous 1996, 47–48, 73–75). Rather, a more consistent from MM I, from which period it is considered to serve
reading of the evidence would suggest a deep continu- as a sacred cave (Betancourt and Marinatos 2001, 232–33;
ity in the ritual use of caves stretching back deep into the Warren 1980, 490). Similarly, although the date range of
Neolithic. The juxtaposition of domestic forms with the Ayios Antonios is EM I–MM I, broadly that of the nearby

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Landscapes of Ritual, Identity, and Memory 73

settlement of Alykomouri, the majority of the material is EM III increasingly brought these more distant regional
EM I–II (Haggis 1993, 15–28). At Trapeza, although the ritual places and the sacred landscapes within which they
stratigraphy was mixed, the excavator was sure that burials were situated into play. Their regional ritual significance,
continued until EM III, after which and up until MM II it particularly as axes mundi within wider regional sacred
became a sacred cave receiving only depositions of pottery landscapes, and the visibility they enjoy over agricultural
and high-value votives in a manner similar to the nearby resources and their location, often straddling the boundar-
Psychro cave (Pendlebury, Pendlebury, and Money-Coutts ies between different agricultural regions, made them ideal
1937–1938, 23). A similar trajectory of intense corpo- sites at which elites might contest or maintain sovereignty
ral deposition during the earlier EM followed thereafter and influence. In this way the changing cycles of deposition
by a shift toward purely material deposition has similarly at caves during the late Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Age
been suggested for the Mesara round tombs. From EM may be read in terms of the changing political geography
II these and other built tombs gain additional chambers of Crete, in much the same way as depositional behavior
that served to accommodate discarded bones and offerings at extraurban sanctuaries has been read as an index of the
and, in some cases, also altars, niches, or paved courtyards geopolitics of Iron Age Greece (de Polignac 1984, 1994;
(Branigan 1970, 170; 1993, 127–36; Peatfield 1990, 124– Tomkins 1996; Watrous 1996, 78–81).
5). It would thus appear that, from the latter part of EM,
burial caves and tholoi entered new cycles of use, either
ceasing to be foci for deposition (but probably remaining
important places in the collective memory) or else becom- Traditionally, interpretation of the function of Neolithic
ing foci for ritualized material deposition of a form essen- and Early Bronze Age caves on Crete has been structured
tially the same as that of the second, nonburial group of by the belief that domesticity represents a more natural,
EM caves. self-evident form of cave usage than rituality. This chapter
This convergence of practice at burial caves, nonburial has argued for a reversal of this presumption, namely that
caves, and tholos tombs suggests a later EM ritual land- key aspects of the location and material records of cave sites
scape rich in ritual sites, but ones with differing identities, can only be adequately explained if Neolithic and Bronze
biographies of significance, and scales of influence. The Age cave use on Crete is understood as having been essen-
proximity of tholoi and burial caves to settlement suggests tially ritual in nature. It was also suggested that method-
that they served as ritual foci for a local community, but in ologies for the identification of prehistoric ritual that rely
ways that differed from Neolithic proximate caves through solely on the presence of ritual assemblages are structured
their personalization and appropriation by one or more by an overly narrow and exclusive understanding of ritual
local lineages through corporal deposition. Here the strat- and ritualization, and of the relationship of both to the
egy of intensive corporal deposition during FN IV–EM II domestic. Although insights are currently restricted by a
may be understood to represent a high-cost, high-energy lack of detailed information from Cretan prehistoric caves,
form of symbolic investment, most appropriate to a forma- forms of ritualization may be glimpsed in the temporality
tive period when emergent elite groups are first seeking to and spatiality of Cretan cave use as well as in aspects of their
define themselves as qualitatively different. Consequently, depositional records. It is, however, in the liminal nature
the decline of this practice at proximate caves and built of Neolithic cave sites that ritualization is presently most
tombs after EM II reflects a situation where the social posi- clear. In many instances caves appear to have been selected
tion of elite groups is more established and investment may for use because of their distance from the diurnal sphere.
take a more purely material form, but with a continued In others, where caves are more proximate to settlement,
emphasis on high-value items, at least until MM I. liminality plays out more specifically through the very dif-
The significant distance from habitation of other ferent locational characteristics of the cave. It may be sug-
more liminal places of deposition, whether nonburial gested that within agricultural landscapes, such as those of
caves, springs, hilltops, or peaks, suggests a second type of Crete during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the very act of
EM–MM ritual focus, one that was more regional in influ- traveling to and conducting activity in a cave served itself as
ence and whose significance was embedded within far- a form of ritualization.
older sacred landscapes and, in many cases, rooted in deep, From the perspective advanced here, ritual activity
local continuities in ritual practice stretching back into the at caves and the existence of sacred landscapes does not
Neolithic. Although the significance and location of these emerge suddenly around MM I (contra Watrous 1996,
regional ritual sites may have put them initially beyond the 47, 57–60, 73–4) but may be pushed back deep into the
control of local elites during EM I–II, changes in the nature Neolithic (cf. also Dickinson 1994, 258; Whitehouse
and scale of elite activity and political organization after 1992, 194). The intense MM I horizon of ritual deposi-

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74 Peter Tomkins

tion at certain cave and peaks is thus simultaneously real, being more actively negotiated.
reflecting a shift in depositional intensity that may be plau- Throughout Cretan prehistory, caves provide glimpses
sibly linked to territorial expansion at this time (Watrous of continuity across centuries of hiatus, suggesting that
1996, 77–80; Whitelaw 2004, 243, figure 13.8, 245), and they remained constants in an otherwise changing social
artificial, created by a latent circularity in traditional meth- landscape. In the Neolithic they were ritual foci, operating
odologies of ritual identification. By confining our defini- at different scales of proximity to the everyday, reproducing
tion of ritual to the presence or absence of special classes differing scales of community and identity, and referencing
of ritual object, such as shrine equipment and votive, we wider sacred landscapes. This role and significance contin-
confine our window on ritual solely to periods when such ued into the Bronze Age, where it became more obviously
specialized forms were in use. Such ritual objects are not, subject to manipulation and usurpation by specific, special-
however, culturally universal but denote a specific form of interest groups. From the end of the Neolithic (FN IV)
ritual signification. The MM I ritual horizon on peaks and notably more-intense deposition of human skeletal mate-
at certain caves (e.g., Psychro) thus reflects an extension to rial and material culture at certain caves is interpreted here
the materiality of ritual on Crete, manifest in more elabo- as early attempts by specific groups to appropriate existing
rate or specialized ritual equipment, but not the origins of communal resources, a process of appropriation sustained
the ritual significance of natural places. It may be suggested by emerging social inequality (Tomkins 2010), which by
that the development of specialized categories of ritual EM I had extended to include also places (i.e., other caves,
object reflects increased specialization in ritual practice rockshelters, crevices, and perhaps even artificial caves or
and perhaps offered more sophisticated ways of marking tholoi) that had not previously been ritual foci but which
social heterogeneity and hierarchy. That such objects were had the virtue of being proximate to settlement. It has been
not an essential element of ritual usage is shown, above all, suggested that changes in the nature and intensity of depo-
by their absence from the MM and LM assemblages from sition at prehistoric cave sites are perhaps best interpreted
the Idaean and Kamares caves, and indeed from the vast as attempts to contest, alter, or even appropriate the sig-
majority of MM and LM cave sites on Crete. nificance of ritual places and the wider sacred landscapes
While the traditional technique of grouping and in which they sit. Through such interventions groups
separating prehistoric ritual activity via typologies of place could edit the cultural hard-drive of their society, rewrit-
(e.g., cave, peak, hilltop) retains an analytical usefulness, it ing histories of place and cosmological origins to include or
is important also to appreciate how different ritual places exclude specific elements. In this way future, more-detailed
at different times interrelate and how they articulate wider studies of continuity and change in depositional practice
sacred landscapes. During EM and MM there are clear links at Cretan prehistoric caves and other ritual sites hold the
in the nature of depositional activity at built tombs and potential to bring insights into the configuration and scale
caves, but less so between built tombs, caves, and peak sites of social identities and territoriality, and into the ways in
(Tomkins 1996, 30–33; Watrous 1996, 74–5). Offerings at which these became transformed during the Neolithic and
tombs, as at caves, consist primarily of open ceramic forms, Bronze Age.
such as cups, bowls, and jugs (Branigan 1993, 129, 133–5),
and while these also occur at peaks, human and animal
figurines predominate in a manner quite unlike at caves.
Attempts to force these data into a compressed, linear nar- The author thanks Camilla Briault for providing com-
rative of Minoan ritual development from cave to tomb to ments on an earlier version of this chapter.
peak and palace (e.g., Peatfield 1987, 89–93; 1990, 123–6)
distort and oversimplify a much broader and complex pic-
ture of coexisting forms and scales of ritual practice.
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