Monday, September 27, 2010

(1000-800 BC)


On 28th September 2009, we started digging the foundations of our house in Kavrochori, Heraklion, Crete.   During the final stages of the digging a hollow and faint sound was heard and we came across a hole…

We stopped digging and went to see... an amazing sight… or rather to meet the history of the area coming from the deep past… 3000 years ago!
The first image we encountered was enough to send chills up our spines…

And now?... What are we supposed to do now?
There was vivid speculation about what was to happen and whether we should inform the authorities (the police, the archaeology department, the municipality).
Many warned us…
‘Forget your house, never mind your land”
while others expressed their concerns…
“How unfortunate you are!’
“The best you can do is dig a hole and throw in all findings smashed into pieces’,
‘You’ll get into trouble, you guys… don’t look into it any further and say nothing to no one - just plant them back in the ground’!
… and the ‘smartest’ of them all, (offered their wisdom)
… ‘I would sell them, mate, and secure not only the construction of my house but also the future of my great grandchildren.’

Yet, our education, our culture and most of all, our ethos wouldn’t allow us to be influenced by such ‘advice’. We were already 17 months behind getting the construction licence and the ‘responsible’ administrator of the urban planning department in the Heraklion Prefecture wished to exhaust her ‘administrative’ zeal… but that’s a different story altogether, one that is being written today and has nothing to do with the Heritage which we had just come across!
It was yet another delay (while it lasted), one that perhaps was worth enduring.
So, we told the handler of the digging device to place the pickaxe on the hole and we immediately notified the police; the police station of Ammoudara in Gazi, more specifically. At the same time, the architect Mr. Yiannis Chalampalakis, who was involved in the construction of our house, was notified of the event. Through Mr. Chalampalakis, the archaeologist Mr. Antonis Vasilakis was also notified, as the two have been close friends for years.

The police responded to our call straight away. Within 10 minutes a car arrived in the building site, so as to police it. A while later, the Mayor of Gazi, Μr. Yiorgos Markogiannakis arrived, together with his assistant Chrisa Vathianaki; I informed them of the findings.
In the evening the area was guarded by a private security team (notified by the Mayor) and by frequent police patrols until the morning, as I personally witnessed - having spent the night patrolling the area myself.
At 08.30 the following morning a car belonging to the archaeology department stopped outside the construction site; the archaeologist Mr. Antonis Vasilakis and his supporting team had arrived to start excavating the tomb.



The crew starts work right away and within a few minutes Mr. Vassilakis enters the tomb.

The tomb belongs to the Geometric period (1000-800 BC) and is a ‘dome carved on “kouskouras” (‘kouskouras’ is the Cretan name given to a kind of argyle limestone greatly compressed by geological alterations and virtually impenetrable by water).


The archaeologist’s task is to bring the findings to light without damaging them. It is a responsible and very detailed procedure that requires not only great attention but also real love for the job and most of all respect to the history and customs of our ancestors.

At first, all debris caused by the fall of the rooftop had to be removed by hand and then with the use of a tiny spade. I noticed that he didn’t hit the ground, but scraped it very carefully. A straw brush was the necessary tool to complete this stage. He used the brush to collect the dust, and then with a handle-less spade he placed them in a special elastic construction bucket, in order for the findings to be removed and placed in a designated spot for further processing. 

The first vase is revealed! It bared crosses and concentric circles, as well as parallel lines and earth-coloured ribbons, originated from nature itself. What follows is the revelation of more and more vases of amazing beauty, as indicated by their patterns, either engraved or simply painted upon their surface 3000 years ago…
It was as if time hadn’t found its way through that hole in the ground…


Τhe tomb was dome-shaped (a symbol of the uterus of the mother earth), 2.5 m in diameter and 1.2 m in height. It was carved in limestone and the carvings are still evident. These carvings help archaeologists come to valuable conclusions on the shape and size of the tool used to create the dome. A little further west of the dome a tunnel was dug leading to the entrance of the tomb, which was sealed with stone (called iron stone in Crete, due to the distinctive sound it makes when knocked). It is the kind of stone used to crash olive stones and thus produce oil in the oil-presses at the time).

 At around 10.30, the crew of TV Creta (aka Creta Channel) arrived together with the reporter Yianna Chronaki, so as to report on the incident.

The TV Creta video 29/09/09
Click to watch the video

The following day the incident was top news on the local press and other local media.


In total, 82 small and large vessels were found in the tomb. 4 large urns were found among them, containing remains of cremation.
The findings indicate four burials, one of which was a warrior’s. The point of his spear was in excellent condition, still sharp enough to cut and was found in the same urn as his bones; it was ‘killed’ as its possessor. It was bent (ceremonially ‘killed’) when the warrior died, as it had already completed its mission and should not be used by anyone else.

As the excavation continues, more and more vessels come to life, each of amazing beauty, decorated with geometric patterns; triangles, squares, rhombi, parallel lines, ribbons, concentric circles, crosses, symbols maintaining their vividness despite the passing of aeons and millennia, teaching us ‘culture’.

All these created to honour ‘man’, but mostly his passing away from this world!

One of the 4 burials was probably of a female. During excavation a number of beads was found, which possibly made up necklaces. The beads were made of faience, a precious material imported to Crete from Egypt. The Cretans moulded and then baked it in the oven to give it a glass-like texture.


Later, as the excavation was about to complete, our architect, Yiannis Chalambalakis, sketched out the tomb taking into account its dimensions and the exact position of the tomb and funeral gifts. The outline will be used in the reconstruction of the tomb where the original findings will be placed when the Archaelogical Museum of Gazi is constructed (as we have been informed).

In the afternoon, after the kids finished school, they got to the building site with Rena right away to take in this unique experience, bringing along some of their friends. They had the chance not only to see but also touch the findings and converse with the archaeologist, Mr. Vassilakis.


By 5.00 pm the excavation was completed. The dust had been removed from within the tomb and the magnificence of art and sensitivity had been completely revealed! Mr. Vassilakis picked up and showed us some of the findings…

Afterwards, all objects were listed, photographed and numbered before they were drawn up and transported.


Yes… we’ve seen ancient monuments before… In museums. Only you can’t touch them… Sometimes it’s glass, other times it’s a ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ sign which impede immediate access and keep you from taking in the energy transmitted even today by these soulless yet so vivid elements of heritage transferred through the ages. This may not be pointless, since not all who visit these wondrous monuments of civilization share similar sentiments towards them.

Unfortunately, modern Greek culture was unable to inspire the respect owed to this cornerstone of European Heritage. It was the Ancient Greek culture, after all,  that raised mankind and helped European civilization and philosophy to pass through the Dark Ages unscathed…

Now, however, the time had come for my family and myself! It was the time that not only would we touch, but we would be able to hold 3,000 year old artifacts in our hands!


There are no words to describe my sentiments at the time. The excitement overwhelms me just by contemplating that my children had this chance and I was lucky enough to live such an experience at the age of 50…


Following this ‘rite’ of pulling up all the funeral gifts from the tomb, we placed them one next to the other with bated breath before their transfer to the lab. At this stage, we not only had the opportunity to photograph the artifacts in detail, but we were also able to touch their interiors… the cremation ashes, the beads, the pins etc and study them (to the extent that our general knowledge allows).

Unlike the Minoan Era, when it was customary for the deceased to be buried, at the time the burials we uncovered were conducted, the deceased were usually cremated. The remains of the creation were cleansed devoutly with wine and then placed in urns. The order of placing the remains inside the urn seems to have been of importance, since the first bones we saw and touched were parts of the upper body, such as jaw fractures, cranial bone fractures, και clavicle. Thus, we can infer that lower-body fractures (legs) would be placed at the bottom of the urn and the remaining bones would be placed in order from bottom to top. The archaeological and anthropological study currently underway is expected to shed light into this matter upon its completion.

It appears that one of the buried bodies had a serious dental problem. This can be inferred by the jaw fracture we held in our hands, since it is evident that some teeth are still in place (though broken), while some others are missing completely, as if they were gone before that person passed away.

One of the smaller vessels found was a tiny urn in the shape of a poppy. As Mr. Vassilakis explained, it was shaped as ‘mykon hypnoforos’, a plant used as a remedy and analgesic, particularly in the treatment of injuries thanks to its sedative qualities. This vessel bares Cypriot influences, an observation that reflects the strong cultural bond between the Cretans and the Cypriots at the time.

Observe below the way Mr. Vassilakis holds the vessel to make out its shape.

A while late, all findings were carefully transported into a van to be driven to the laboratory of the Archaeological Department for further study and cleansing.

That night, the building site was guarded again and the following day the archaeological crew arrived for the final operations. All the dust removed from the dome and its adjacent tunnel was further screened in detail.

Now the tomb is completely empty!

We can see that during its construction a crescent-shaped loft was also carved inside the tomb (on the left). It was used to keep the vessels, while the remaining part was decorated with pebbles extracted from the nearby river. The pebbles were collected by the archaeology department crew to be used in reconstructing the tomb when exhibiting the dome and its contents in the museum that is currently underway in the Gazi Municipality.

On both days, particularly following the media coverage of the incident, a lot of people visited the site so as to examine the ancient tomb up close. To our surprise, 15 pupils of the Kavrochori Grammar School, escorted by their teachers, arrived at the site on the afternoon of the second day of excavation. The pupils had the chance to attend an ‘archaeology’ lesson given by Mr. Vassilakis, one that was probably one of the most interactive and useful lessons for their age, since vivid stimuli lead to faster learning and assist cultivating the pupils’ personality.


That was it… After just a two-day delay, the archaeology department allowed us to continue construction work straight away, with no further delays.
What happened to the supposed constant delays? Why wasn’t our building site taken over? Why oh why are there such rumours? In the end, it seems that it is not a matter of bureaucracy, but of sensible employees in such departments. The department of Classical Antiquity of Heraklion seems to be working fine. Most importantly, however, our Heritage is enriched. What kind of white-collared worker in any archaeological department would deprive our Heritage from what it rightly owns, and by doing so deprive the right of modern man to live with dignity? Lest not forget that for some, building their own home may be a lifelong dream for themselves and their offspring!

Nowhere is there smoke without fire… It seems that there are indeed real cases of obstructionism. This explains why so much pieces of our heritage are buried, destroyed, ravaged or get in the hands swof improper, perverted and corrupted people who think that all artifacts have to offer them is wealth. The Department of Culture ought to restore its authority so that citizens cease to worry when met with Heritage!


I would like to thank the police department in Ammoudara - Gazi for their immediate response to our call and their overnight patrols during the first and second day of excavation.

My thanks also go out to the teacher of the Kavrochori Grammar School for their decision to escort their students to our site, for which I feel greatly honoured.

I would like to thank the Mayor of Gazi Mr. Giorgos Markogiannakis as well as his assistant, Chrysa Vathianaki for their assistance in safekeeping the site and for catering to the needs of the archaeological department.

I wish them all good luck in operating the Municipal Social Incentive of the Gazi municipality. Part of the project’s agenda is the construction of an Archaeological Museum in Gazi.

My thanks also go out to the members of the Archaeology Department crew, Nikos, MIchalis and Panagiotis, for their dedication during the excavation operations.


I would especially like to thank Mr. Antonis Vassiliakis for his immediate response to our call and more importantly for the Archaeology lessons he gave me and my family during the excavation, a fact that indicates his love for his job and his dedication to matters of Heritage.

Most of all, however,
I thank History
for blessing me with this extraordinary meeting.

Nikolaos Psychogyios (