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By Eleni Nodarou

The site of Aphrodite’s Kephali is a fortified watchtower on a hilltop overlooking the north-south passage in the isthmus of ...

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By Stephania Chlouveraki

The primary mission of the W.D.E. Coulson Conservation Laboratory is the conservation and protection of the material ...

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By Vera Klontza-Jaklova

When I was a student of prehistory and the archaeology of the middle ages and ...

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By Kathy Hall

This year we were fortunate to be loaned a handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer for six weeks by Bruker AXS. ...

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Figure 1. The hilltop of Aphrodite’s Kephali, looking south.
P E T R O G R A P H I C   A N A L Y S I S O F   E A R L Y  
M I N O A N   I   P O T T E R Y   F R O M  
A P H R O D I T E’ S   K E P H A L I,   E A S T

By Eleni Nodarou


       The site of Aphrodite’s Kephali is a fortified watchtower on a hilltop overlooking the north-south passage in the isthmus of Ierapetra (Betancourt 2008, 17) (Figure 1). The excavation by the 24th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and Temple University revealed a small building surrounded by fortifications and dated to the Early Minoan I period. Although fragmentary, the ceramic assemblage is of special interest not only for the understanding of the character and function of the site, but also for the study of patterns of pottery production and distribution in east Crete during the EM I period. The repertoire of shapes reflects a typical EM I assemblage with coarse and semi coarse open vessels, various jars, burnished vessels (including chalices of the Pyrgos type), and dark-on-light painted jugs of the Hagios Onouphrios tradition. The pithoi of the site deserve special mention. They are among the earliest on Crete, and the recovery of a minimum number of nine attributes gives new meaning to the role of the site in the broader area of the isthmus.

The Petrographic Analysis

       Two main issues were addressed through thin section petrography: the characterization of the ceramic fabrics and the discussion of their origin, and the comparison with contemporary assemblages in the broader area of the bay of Mirabello and further east. The petrographic analysis demonstrated that the pottery found at the site is broadly local. This comparative study would provide insights on the manufacture and distribution of pottery at this early period, and contribute to a better understanding of the role of Aphrodite’s Kephali in the area of the isthmus of Ierapetra. The array of fabrics identified is revealing about the centers of production operating in the area, the distribution of the final product, as well as the clay recipes and manufacturing traditions. The majority of the ceramic assemblage belongs to three distinct fabric groups:

Fabric Group 1 is characterized by the presence of angular calcite fragments and occasionally organic matter, both added as temper in the clay mix (Figure 2). This is a common potting practice in Crete that starts in the Final Neolithic and becomes more widespread in the earlier part of the Prepalatial period (EM I––IIA). The presence of micritic limestone and the secondary non-plastic components indicate the use of local raw materials, related to the Neogene marl deposits of the isthmus. The shapes represented are mainly closed vessels with burnished surfaces.

Fabric Group 2 is used exclusively for the manufacture of pithoi at Aphrodite’s Kephali and is characterized by the addition of coarse grog fragments in the clay mix (Figure 3). Tempering with grog also constitutes a widespread practice across the north coast of Crete with regional variations. At Aphrodite’s Kephali but also at Kephala Petras (Papadatos et al. in press), grog is the predominant component of the fabric. The two sites seem to share the same technological tradition and common manufacturing procedures with adaptations and variations according to the raw materials available locally. This does not exclude the possibility of itinerant potters traveling across east Crete and manufacturing pithoi with local raw materials, in a very similar way to the Thrapsaniote itinerant pithos-makers of the 19th and early 20th century a.d. (Voyatzoglou 1984).

Fabric Group 3 comprises the majority of the pottery (ca. 47%) at Aphrodite’s Kephali and is associated with the ophiolite series and the flysch mélange outcropping in the isthmus of Ierapetra, and the south coast of Crete west of Myrtos (Figure 4). There is an array of fabrics associated with this geology; the main non-plastic components are rounded fragments of basalt, sandstone, and fine-grained metamorphic rocks. Parallels of similar compositions have been encountered at the Final Neolithic-Early Minoan I levels of the neighboring site of Kavousi (Day et al. 2005). The vessels represented are closed shapes with dark-on-light painted decoration in the Hagios Onouphrios tradition.

       At Aphrodite’s Kephali, there are also a few other fabrics represented in small numbers; the most typical are the vessels originating from the area of Gournia/ Kalo Chorio in the Bay of Mirabello with the characteristic composition of acid igneous rock fragments (granodiorit).


       The petrographic analysis of the ceramic assemblage from Aphrodite’s Kephali provided insights on the composition and recipes of manufacture of the pottery, and on the patterns of pottery distribution in the area of the Ierapetra isthmus at this early period. Specific clay recipes were used for the manufacture of particular wares, i.e., calcite-tempered for burnished ware, south coast flysch related for dark on light painted, and grog-tempered for pithoi. With regard to provenance, the analysis showed that the pottery reaching the site is broadly local deriving from potting centers in the north and the south coast. Along with the site’s strategic position, the evidence from the pottery indicates that the people using the site must have participated in an active network of exchanges along the north-south axis of the Ierapetra isthmus.


Betancourt, P.P. 2008. The Bronze Age Begins: The Ceramics Revolution of Early Minoan I and the New Forms of Wealth that Transformed Prehistoric Society. Philadelphia, INSTAP Academic Press.

Day, P.M., L. Joyner, E. Kiriatzi, and Relaki M. 2005. “Appendix 3. Petrographic Analysis of Some Final Neolithic-Early Minoan II Pottery from the Kavousi Area,” in Haggis, D. C. Kavousi I, The Archaeological Survey of the Kavousi Region pp. 177–195, Philadelphia, INSTAP Academic Press.

Papadatos, Y., Tomkins, P., Nodarou E., and Iliopoulos Y. in press. “The Beginning of Early Bronze Age in Crete: Continuities and Discontinuities in the Ceramic Assemblage at Petras Kephala, Siteia,” in Doumas, C., Giannikouri, G.A. and Kouka, O. ,eds., The Aegean Early Bronze Age: New Evidence, International Conference, Athens, April 11th–14th 2008.

Voyatzoglou, M. 1984. “Thrapsano, Village of Jar Makers,” in P.P. Betancourt (ed.), East Cretan White-on-Dark Ware: Studies on a Handmade Pottery of the Early to Middle Minoan Periods, pp. 130–142, Philadelphia, University Museum Monograph 51.


       A recent addition to the W. A. McDonald Laboratory of Petrography at the Study Center is a Leica DFC295 digital camera attached to the petrographic microscope. The new camera provides a live image from the microscope on the computer screen, and good quality pictures for presentations and publications.