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Plant resources and subsistence in the Late Minoan mountain ‘villa’ at Zominthos, Crete

Abstract

Minoan ‘villas’ were large complexes—in the vast majority of cases, the central buildings of settlements—erected in the Neo-palatial period in Crete. Their function is still a matter of debate while very little is known about subsistence and economic activities in relation to farming for these sites. The excavation research project at the Minoan villa of Zominthos, the highest in altitude Minoan villa found to date, conducted between 2004 and 2008, provided an opportunity to shed light into these issues. For the purposes of this project, the first systematic archaeobotanical study of a Minoan villa was conducted. This indicated a potentially varied food plant base at Zominthos that included the most common and ubiquitous food plants and their combinations recorded in Bronze Age Crete. Spatial analysis of the finds added information on activities that were taking place in the various excavated parts of this villa and also highlighted taphonomic factors influencing the assemblage. Comparison of the arhaeobotanical results with those previously obtained from another four villas in Crete stressed the disparities in the quality of the different datasets and allowed only some tentative suggestions to be made. All villas included basic cereal and fruit staples of the period and recorded a variety and regular presence of legumes, with stored produce found to date only at Myrtos-Pyrgos. This study highlighted the need for embracing bioarchaeological investigations when excavating these sites and implementing sampling strategies planned together with excavators. It provided the data and, therefore, the potential for coming closer to understanding the function(s) that villas had in the spheres of subsistence, leading to a closer understanding of their socio-economic role(s) in the Minoan political society.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the project directors, the late Yannis Sakelarakis, Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki and Diamantis Panagiotopoulos and the co-ordinator of the bioarchaeology team, Valasia Isaakidou, for their invitation to participate in the excavation programme of Zominthos 2004–2008, and their collaboration and support for the completion of our study. We also warmly thank Valasia Isaakidou, Paul Halstead, Diamantis Panagiotopoulos, Anaya Sarpaki and Todd Whitelaw for their useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Many thanks are also due to Dr G. Georgiou for his help with administration and archaeological issues pertaining to our research, Alison Cox for the bioarchaeological work in the field in 2006, all the students and workmen that helped the flotation work throughout the years, Vasilis Fasoulas and Manolis Mavrokostas for their help with organising the last part of our study at Anogeia in June 2011 and Hector A. Orengo for his help with the figures for this paper. We would also like to thank the BSA at Knossos for allowing us to borrow their flotation machine. The archaeobotanical study of Zominthos was carried out with the financial support of the Psychas Institute, which we warmly thank.

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Livarda, A., Kotzamani, G. Plant resources and subsistence in the Late Minoan mountain ‘villa’ at Zominthos, Crete. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 237 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01203-1

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Keywords

  • Bronze Age
  • Crete
  • Minoan ‘villa’
  • Subsistence
  • Archaeobotany