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Cretan Musings

crete mapAn occasional column by GA! editor Cheryl Straffon who spends part of her time each year in Crete, researching the Goddess there. In this contribution she writes about – A tale of two Makriyaloses

When Lana Jarvis and I were researching material for our recent book The Goddess in Crete [Dor Dama press, 2015], we sometimes came up against some quandry or enigma that was difficult to resolve. It might have been  seemingly contradictory information about a site from different sources, or about a find whose whereabouts or provenance we could not easily trace. It meant that, while some sites and Goddess finds took relatively little time to write up, some took a great deal of time and research – sometimes days on end pouring over books and Internet sources, before we were finally confident enough to write up the information to be as sure as we could that it was completely correct.

The Minoan villa at Makriyalos

The Minoan villa at Makriyalos

One such site turned out to be, ironically, Makriyalos. Ironic, because our house in Crete is near there, and it is there where we stay, and is the place in all of Crete that holds the greatest affection  in our hearts. We have travelled throughout most of Crete, and know the island quite well, but nowhere else has quite the same magic, the same warmth, the same power in the land as does  Makriyalos. As a bonus, it also has the remains of a Minoan villa, an important Neopalatial house (dating to 1500 BCE approx.).

sealThis villa was constructed like a palace-temple site (such as Knossos, Maila, Phaistos & Zakros) but in miniature, oriented north-south, with a central court, exactly four times smaller than the  main sites. There was a large altar at the northern end of the central court, and facing it a bench that was doubtless used for ceremonies. Here was found a seal showing a sacred boat bearing a  priestess making a gesture of adoration, in front of a palm tree and a wooden altar [drawing left].

Also found at the site were sherds of Marine style pottery, and a large stone anchor, which the excavator, Kostas Davaras, thought was a votive offering to a Minoan Sea Goddess. Taken together with the seal stone showing the sacred boat, it would appear that what we have here is a villa, wherein was worshipped a Sea Goddess Finally, from the excavations, there is a brief mention of a  bronze Goddess figurine with pronounced breasts and genitals. This sounded intriguing, but wherever we turned, trying to find out more about her, and where she was now housed, we came up  against a brick wall. The local museum at Irepetra does not have her, nor does she appear to be in Sitea or Ag.Nikolaos archaeological museums. Eventually, we had to admit defeat and mention  her in the book without a picture or any further information.

And then, just before we went to press, we discovered a web site at: www.ime.gr/chronos/01/en/gallery/nl/ makryg/html that had not only a map of  Crete showing the location of Makriyalos but   also numerous pictures of fragments of Goddess figurines! [photos right & front cover].

There was only one problem. These were obviously not Minoan figurines, and the web site confirmed that they came from a Neolithic excavation, many centuries before the Minoan period. We knew of no Neolithic finds from ‘our’ Makriyalos area, so this was a real enigmatic puzzle. If these finds were from Makriyalos, why had no-one mentioned them before?

The only clue was a reference on the web site to a book or web site from where all the material had come: Bessios, M. and Pappa, M. Pydna [Pieriki Anaptixiaki]. We could not trace this book or  web site, so we attempted to find out more about ‘Pydna’ and soon realised that Pydna was in fact part of the muinicipality of Pydna-Kolindros, which lay, not on Crete but in the Greek administrative region of Central Macedonia! So, here was the answer. The web site had obviously made a mistake and assumed that the Makriyalos mentioned was the one in Crete (and had even put up a map showing it there!) whereas it was in fact an entirely different Makriyalos (the word means “long beach”) in an entirely different part of Greece! We subsequently discovered that the  excavation had taken place south-west of the present-day town, and was one of the largest prehistoric settlements in the whole of Greece.

The excavations began in 1992, covering an area of 60 sq. km, though the original settlement covered a vast area of 500 sq.km. It included dwellings and land under cultivation, and artifacts such  as clay pots, stone tools and small utensils were found, as well as many figurines of clay and marble, the majority of which were female, or Goddess shapes. It was a veritable treasure house of  Goddess finds, and had it not coincidently had the same name as ‘our’ Makriyalos, we would probably have never discovered it!