Monthly Archives: February 2012

Experimental Archaeology (More on Minoan Cooking)

The first demonstration of cooking in the way we believe the Minoans cooked their food was held during the winter of 2011 at a Taverna in Pacheia Ammos Crete. There have since been two further events hosting between 80 and 200 people at each event.

Building explanatory models using hands-on method for discovery and teaching is a two phase process. First the LM l (Late Minoan) kitchen had to be reconstructed and then the food is prepared and served as a meze (small bites of food) to a group of individuals willing to parcipitate and share their opinions of the experience, second whether it is a modern or an ancient  kitchen,one must have a collection of cook-pots,utensils a hearth, and the proper ingredients to prepare the food.

For the cooking demonstrations replicas of LM l (Late Minoan) cook-pots e.g. tripod cooking pots,jars and wok shaped cooking dishes with broad spouts were produced from clay that macroscopically and petrographically closely matches the cook-pots found on the Mochlos excavation.(Barnard 2003; Nodarou 2003. Collaboration between Barnard, Nodarou and Morrison 2004.

Utensils were collected, such as wooden spoons,wooden lids covered with leather and super saturated with water,ceramic lids,thick cotton pot holders,straw brooms, and flat wooden paddles used to move coals under the pots for cooking. As supplimentary modern tools ,tin- foil lids and iron shovels and tongs were collected

Built hearth structures are largely absent from the archaeological record,but concentrated areas of ash and charcoal are found on domestic sites both indoors and outdoors(Muhly 1984; Soles 2003; Rutter 2004; Brogan et al. forthcoming) For this reason, a large hearth was built at each venue by placing stones in a circle and fueled using olive wood charcoal, small branch clippings and oil.


For one of the food demonstrations a seafood soup was prepared in a replica cooking dish using top shells and limpets and flavoured with honey,grape syrup, red wine vinegar,sea salt, olive oil, leeks and garlic. Seven food dishes have been created by Minoiton Gefsies and served at the cooking events. In the tripod cooking pots and jars the following have been prepared.

Lentils seasoned with honey,bay leaf,crushed coriander seed,sea salt and topped off with olive oil.

Octopus simmered in either beer or red wine and seasoned with thyme, garlic, and leeks.

Beef liver simmered in pureed chestnuts ,honey, crushed coriander seed and garlic.

Rabbit stewed with leeks and garlic,seasoned with honey, bay leaf and whole coriander seeds.


In the bowl of the cooking dishes the following foods were prepared.

Sauteed cuts of pork seasoned with grape syrup, leek and garlic

sauteed lamb seasoned with whole coriander seeds, garlic and leek and finished off in a Cretan red wine reduction. The cooking dishes were also turned upside down and placed on supports over coals. This enabled their domed surfaces to be used to bake flat bread. The flat bread is made of wheat,barley,fennel seeds and sea salt.


The response to the cooking demonstration continued to be enthusiastic on occasion overwhelming.The winter event at Pacheia Ammos,the weather was cold,windy and rainy so it was very difficult to maintains the proper cooking temperatures in the poorly covered hearth,however once the problem became aparent,participants immediately began building a more suitable roof to protect the hearth,stoking and fanning the coals to keep them lit,and covering the replica cook-pots with lids and tin-foil to maintain the heat.

From this experience, it was obvious that regardless of an individuals knowledge of ancient cooking practices,they understood fundamental principles of cooking over a hearth fire. This confirms that introducing archaeological topics to the public in interactive ways can extend curiosities beyond viewing objects in a museum to how these objects were used daily in ancient societies. It was such a pleasure for my colleages Jerolyn Morrison,Jad Alyounis and Stefi Chlouveraki founders of the project, pulling the replica cook-pots from the fire,plating the food and serving people.

When preparing the food there was a noticeable difference between the techniques required to cook in the various types of LMl (Late Minoan replica cook-pots. The tripod cooking pots and jars are closed vessels that made it difficult to visualize into the pot to determine if the food was fully cooked. The food must be either spooned out in order to see with your eyes,or for your nose to smell the food, and/or for your hands to feel the texture to determine if it is ready for serving.Open vessel shapes of cooking dishes expose the food making it visible. In tripod cooking pots and jars, the food is  cooked in the belly of the pot,making the evaporation of natural juices and added liquids fairly slow..

Interestingly,the entire cooking event from lighting the coals to serving took approximately two and one-half hours. It takes about 45 minutes to prepare the coals and warm the replica vessels for cooking,while the remaining time was used  to cook the food. This is not a significant amount of time when compared with the time it takes to prepare these food dishes in a modern kitchen equipped with a gas stove.

Other notable observations are that once the cooked food was removed from the replica cook-pots the vessels cooled quickly, allowing them to be cleaned using bare hands and room temperature (or warm) water. The cleaned vessels retained the smells of the food. At first, one could imagine that perhaps the Minoans kept certain pots for specific food items,such as those used to prepare seafood,but this may not be the case. Smells and ideals of steralization are cultural and what would be unpleasant or unclean to us might not have bothered the Minoans.

We learned that at the beginning of the subsequent rounds of cooking the smells from previous cooked food were not detectable once the cook-pots were warmed near the coals and their interiors were coated with olive oil in order to prevent food from sticking.

The value in this teaching method is that the participants,through their five senses,approach archaeological and anthropological topics more intuitively,allowing for a deeper and more accurate understanding of how people lived in the past. It also provides a format for archaeologists to test their theories about how ancient people performed specific tasks,like cooking.

 Food in tripod cooking pots



                           Placing flatbread to cook.

 Jerolyn checking the food.

  Jerolyn and Matina Tzari plating the food.



At the Instap Study Centre where everyone exchanges their opinion of the enjoyable day of Minoan cooking

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Experimental Archaeology


Birds of a Feather

My partner John and I have always been interested in birds, so much so that we decided we would like an aviary in the garden,this was before we moved to Crete. First a plan had to be drawn up to a suitable size so as not to take up too much room in the garden as there were many shrubs and trees we did not want to lose. John had previously been a member of the Cage and Aviary club and had also bred small birds such as zebra finches,budgies, the green singing finch and canaries, but now he wanted to breed the more exotic species like cockatiels,love birds and cockatoos. That weekend John began measuring and planning the aviary so that it would blend nicely in the garden, also that the birds would have shade from the trees in the summer months.It took two weekends to erect the main frame followed by adding wire mesh around and dividing sections for the different breed of bird.

 Beginning of Johns Aviary

 With wire mesh.


 Once the aviary was complete we could then visit some pet shops to choose our first   birds to breed from,this was difficult because there were so many beautiful birds to choose from but my favourites are the cockatiels. To begin with we decided to buy male and female cockatiels also male and female canaries, two pairs of each. When we arrived home John immediately placed the canaries in the aviary and in a seperate area from the cockatiels just in case they did not get on with each other. As time went on we added more and more birds of different species and began breeding from them,this became a very rewarding hobby, but could also be upsetting if any of them were ill or accidentely hurt itself in some way. Our neighbors were delighted when the canaries were singing but not so much when the parakeets and cockatiels made too much noise while flying around, they loved the free space. Eventually John had the different species of his birds mixed together in the flight and they were quite happy with each other, also well behaved I might add, no fighting bullying or pecking.

Once John began breeding from his birds people were asking if he was going to sell them,this he had not thought of because it began as a hobby,however we both decided it may be a good idea because the money would help pay for the upkeep of them, also when some were sold we could replace them with other birds.

Its amazing how comical some of these birds can be I remember, we  had  for some time one of the cockatiels in the house and everytime the telephone rang the cockatiel imitated it,also if there was anything on the television where a  telephone was ringing this bird would make exactly the same noise it was so perfect.Eventually this got us down and we put him into the aviary with the other birds. One day there was a  meeting in the car park near to where we lived, by members of staff from the County Council when just as they began their talk this cockatiel, who we had named ringer by the way, began his imitation of the telephone.Have you ever seen six men dive in their pockets for their mobile phone. That was hilareous.

Whatever bird I have kept in the house I have always let them out of the cage,obviously with all windows closed and main front and back doors. One of my cockatiels used to sit on my shoulder when I was ironing so as soon as he saw me get out the ironing board he knew that he could come out of his cage,trouble was he used to hook my earings out from my ears and fly around the room with one.He always came back when I called him,his name was Smoky.

Now, Sammy was another cockatiel given to us because the person could not cope with him,they were out at work all day so obviously when they came home poor Sammy wanted some T.L.C so to gain attention he just squawked and screeched which didn’t go down very well with these people. No wonder because he had never been let out of his cage either. John said he would put him in his avairy but I said no I  will have him and train him to come out of his cage. One thing Sammy could do that someone had taught him was whistle to the tune of Colonal Bogey, but he began this backward before he could whistle it from the beginning. He was very comical.sometimes he would knock on the bottom of his cage and when I looked he would duck very low so that I couldn’t see other words he was playing peek a boo.However it took me nine months before I got him out of his cage and then began training him to come to me when I called, and stay when I told him,he also liked sitting on my shoulder when I was ironing. I felt happy because he now was a happy bird. Unfortunately he died some time ago.He was my favourite.

 Sammy in his Cage

Training Sammy 

                                               Sammy paying attention.

 Sammy playing peek a boo.

When we came to Crete to live, the first thing I did was buy a bird which was a budgerigar and because I had time on my hands while waiting for our new home to be renovated I thought I would try and teach him to talk this takes an awful lot of patience as I had to keep saying the same word over and over again.Once my bird could repeat that word I went on to the next and so on. After almost one year I did succeed in teaching my budgie Joey to say several things. Our Greek friends could not believe their ears as they had never heard of pet birds talking before. When John and I went out Joey our budgie would say….where you going followed by……..going shopping…followed by………….O.K. give us a kiss then.  Sadly Joey is not with us any more he died at the usual age for a budgerigar age seven.   So we have no birds now only our memories of them,which are happy ones.


Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Birds

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