Excavations at Hagios Charalambos(A Cave Burial)

13 May

By Philip Betancourt.

Hagios Charalambos is a secondary burial cave with artifacts ranging in date from the Final Neolithic to Middlle Minoan llB, with a small number of finds from later in the Bronze Age. Its material culture indicates that the community which buried its dead here came from nearby,because a large majority of the pottery is manufactured from the local red clay fabrics used in Lasithi and in the adjoining Pediada. The bones were all moved to the cave during Middle Minoan llB.

The 2003 season at Hagios Charalambos resulted in several new discoveries at the site.First excavated in 1976,the small burial cave in the Lasithi Plain was a focus of a new project undertaken as a collaboration between Philip Betancourt and Costis Davaras. For the 2003 season, Eleni Stravopodi joined the collaboration representing the Ephoria of Spedeology. Jamed D. Muhly and Albert Leonard.Jr were field directors. The Excavation uses the Instap Study Center as its headquarters.

Important new finds came from the 2003 season. Among the most interesting are two ivory female figurines used as pendants,an ivory monkey figurine also pierced for suspension,beads of rock crystal, serpentinite,and other stones, a bulls head pendant, a fragment of ostrich eggshell,stone vases, a prism seal with a design of three human figures, and both whole and fragmentary clay vases.

The ivory figurines are especially important because they help show that the site was receiving either foreign raw materials or the objects made from them. The ivory is all from the teeth of the hippopotamus, a material that is more common than elephant ivory at the beginning of the second millennium b.c. in Crete. The style of the figurines is Minoan.

The prism seal belongs to a class manufactured at Malia in MM lB-llB  Its three sides each have a different motif: a group of three human figures; a horned animal,probably a goat; and an abstract design. The tiny piece of ostrich eggshell is the first piece known from the Lasithi Plain. It was discovered by sorting the soil retained for water sieving. This excavation saved l00% of its soil because soil from tombs contains many tiny human bones as well as other objects. Sorting it with water separation machine saves all the bones of pre-natals,infants and sub -adults, which are difficult to collect by conventional excavation techniques but are essential for conclusions on infant mortality rates and for other studies concerning children.The piece of shell , gives us proof that such objects were not only imported into the island of Crete but were also distributed to inland sites, is an added bonus that was also collected this way.

Philip Betancourt at the modern entrance to the cave.

Good evidence for ritual feasting came from excavation just outside the mouth of the cave.When the bones were deposited in the Middle Minoan period, a ceremony outside the cave left many bones of food animals with butcher marks on them as well as a considerable number of tiny pieces of charcoal from the cooking fires.Among the animals were cattle and pig as well as sheep or goat, a testament to the stock raising that seems to have been an important part of the economy in this high,fertile plain.

When the study of the human bones from the Hagios Charalambos cave burial began at the Instap Study Centre, John and I were asked if we would like to help with sorting all the fragmentary pieces of bone as well as skull bones which needed to be joined. There were literally thousands of these bones to be worked on and for us it was a new experience,I had worked on a small project of bones before but my main interest lies with ancient pottery so both John and I were really looking forward to this project from such an importent excavation site.

Tina McGeorge overseeing the study of human bones

from Hagios Charalambos

Jane Hickman studies a partial skull from the cave.



John and I sorting Skulls from Hagios Charalambos

Etienne Baxter talks to school children visiting the centre about the skulls.


Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


5 responses to “Excavations at Hagios Charalambos(A Cave Burial)

  1. mbjssgpm

    May 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Your blogs just get better and better Rita. I am really enjoying following you. Gill


  2. carlos

    May 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Very interesting. The photos illuminated what you’re doing as text never could. How did these people die? I see one skull with a large hole, too large for trepanning I would think.


    • ritaroberts

      June 9, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Hi Carlos,there is an answer to your question on my last post More on Hagios Charalambos Cave Burial.


  3. Etienne Baxter

    May 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Hey I recognize those skulls!!
    You didn’t talk about your first day on the job with John…
    Great blog, keep it up!!


    • ritaroberts

      May 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Etienne,thanks for visiting my blog.I thought you might spot Charalambos. I will add Mine and John’s experience on our first day working on the skulls. I have more to add so check out my blog again.



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