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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Burial Building 19: A Unique Minoan Semi-Vault Tomb in Archanes

The MM I Burial Building 19 in the prehistoriic cemetery of Phourni at Archanes is of particular interest for its unique architectural form, its sealed and stratified MM IA – IIB pottery deposit, and its variety of burial customs. The peculiar ground-plan (rectangular exterior, apsidal interior), the corbelled apse, the unusual thickness of three of the walls, the buttress-like outer face of these walls and a huge monolith abuttinc on the south wall; the amount and shape of the collapsed masonry as well as the fashion in which it collapsed, this extensive destruction of the vases, ani other pieces of evidence suggest permanent, heavy stone roof in the unique form of a semi-vault. Bund Building 19 combines elements of both the house tomb and the tholos tomb each characteristic of a different region of Crete, a fact which may reflect population amalgamation and perhaps political combination of two differed Cretan elements at Archanes, at the dawn of the first palatial societies. The careful excavation and study of the tomb revealed a well-defined stratification of four successive burial layers, and a tripartite pattern in the distribution of the finds in each layer (the earliest finds near the walls, the subsequent ones in the central area, and the latest ones at the entrance), which facilitated their further chronological classification into sub divisions within each phase an redefined the MM IA-IIA pottery of the north-central Crete.

The study of the undisturbed burial deposits of the tomb revealed a great variety of burial customs, thus throwing new light on the Minoan funerary ritual and tracing its evolution in the EM – Urn period. An open-air fixed altar situated immediately outside the tomb and in the area of an unpaved court, an indoor fixed altar surrounded by the most important burials, and an external depository niche were the focus of the funerary ritual. The study of burial containers defined their role and threw new light on the phenomenon of burial individualism, the evolution within the collective burial tradition, and its possible social dimensions. The application of various criteria, such as the types of grave goods, the position inside the tomb and the funerary treatment of a burial revealed interesting information on social ranking. Furthermore, the combination of several variables suggests a population unit consistent with a family lineage, which according to all indications must have had a high social status in the local community.