Experimental Archaeology ( Minoan Domestic Life )

15 Jan


Jerolyn Morrison, my friend and colleague at the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete has been researching on Crete for 17 years  into the domestic life of the ancient Minoans.

Jerolyn  and I worked at sorting and fitting together many bags of ancient pottery shards to form vessels  for Jerolyn to make replicas of these vessels from local clay so that she could experiment with how people used them. At this stage I left her to continue with what has been her long term project, she works with archaeologists and botanists to discover what foods these ancient people ate; she uses the replica pots to cook feasts for local guests in the Minoan way, using the kinds of ingredients Minoans used. Of course all at the Study Center had a sneak preview first.

Jerolyn has a  master’s degree in anthropology  with emphasis in archaeology; she has been a Fulright  Scholar and a trained potter and has just submitted her dissertation for a Ph.D. in  Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, England.

Jerolyn creating minoan style pots

Jerolyn Morrison creating Minoan style pots. Photo by Stella Johnson 20ll


The Minoans, a Bronze Age people lived in Crete between 2000 – l500 B.C. They were  a seafaring people ruled by a King; they built massive palaces and created vibrant frescoes; their city of Knossos was sung of by Homer, ‘ with their unique art and architecture, the Minoans made a significant contribution to the development of Western European civilization as it is known today, ‘notes Mark Cartwright in the Ancient History Encyclopedia, ‘ The archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans excavating at Knossos from l900 – l905 CE, discovered extensive ruins which confirmed the ancient accounts both literary and mythological, of a sophisticated Cretan culture and possible site of the legendary Labyrinth and palace of King Minos.


Jerolyn and her fellow researchers look for details of the Minoan’s domestic life through piecing together shattered objects, chemical analysis, experiments (like cooking demonstrations, she works with a conservation team; who put these deposits together very slowly and meticulously, to form a story about an archaeological deposit that’s been excavated. From there she works with other archaeologists, and other archaeo- botanists, putting together a more in depth story about ancient people from the objects that are found. Here is how the archaeo-botanists determine what the Minoans ate.Jerolyn  and her colleagues go through these deposits to look for little carbonized lentils, pieces of fish bones, goat, small pieces of crushed olives; and tiny precious gems under the microscope where you can see if they have been crushed or charred or cooked in particular ways. Jerolyn says ” we find a lot of lentils, cracked wheat, butchered pork bones, butchered sheep and goat, also cattle bones and butchered deer. ”


Jerolyn’s replica Minoan style cooking pots. That’s Cleo the Study Center’s cat inspecting them.

In 20ll Jerolyn’s team, Minoan Tastes (, along with the excavators Chrysa Sofianou and Tom Brogan, produced a tasting for some 80 – l00  people in the village Papadiokampos in eastern Crete. Their menu and methods were based on the contents of House A1, an excavated two-story, multi- room, mud and- rubble house that had evidently been destroyed instantly, as evidenced by a smashed jar with the remains of fish soup near parts of the hearth. Her lecture at the British Museum and article in 2009  “Cooking Up New Perspectives for Late Minoan 1B Domestic  Activities:  An Experimental Approach to Understanding the Possibilities and the Probabilities of Using Ancient Cooking Pots” explains how they went about it.

The cooking pots were crafted  by Jerolyn from clay that ” macroscopically  and petrographically closely matches the Mochlos cook-pots-tripod cooking pots, jars and  wok-shaped cooking dishes with broad spouts. ” However, due to heavy winds it was too dangerous to have an open firing, so a modern pizza oven and an electric kiln in Pachia Ammos were used to fire the vessels,” her dissertation notes.  The team formed a rectangle of stones to make the hearth and lit the charcoal and olive wood chippings to start the cooking fire which took about 45 minutes to reach the right temperature. It takes about three hours from start to finish


Lentils seasoned with honey, bay leaf, crushed coriander seed, sea salt and topped off with olive oil (this island had no tomatoes or carrots back then).

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

Sautéed cuts of pork, mainly pancetta, seasoned with grape syrup, leeks and garlic,

Beef Liver simmered in pure’ed  chestnuts, crushed coriander seeds, and garlic. ( This was my favourite,it was absolutely delicious )

Sautéed lamb seasoned with whole coriander seeds, garlic, and leek and finished off in a Cretan red-wine reduction.

All of these dishes were cooked in pots on tripods. Also, some cooking dishes were turned over to allow the baking of flat bread.

Jerolyn Morrison Experimental Cooking 1

Jerolyn’s Experimental Cooking

Jerolyns cooking demonstrations have been a huge success and she intends to carry on teaching and exploring ancient domestic cooking. Also to publish an online newsletter or journal as well as hold workshops and cooking classes. There is nothing like this in Crete or for Cretan studies, and this is important, because at the end of these study seasons you want to put together articles, lectures, and books to broaden the knowledge of these ancient civilizations and explain why modern people should care about them.






16 responses to “Experimental Archaeology ( Minoan Domestic Life )

  1. Ancientfoods

    January 15, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Ancientfoods and commented:
    I’m so envious , I would have loved to taste all the foods the ancient
    Minoans ate. The Minoan culture has always fascinated me.


    • ritaroberts

      January 16, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Yes Joanna, the flavours were absolutely scrumptious ! and the team cooked them to perfection. The Liver cooked with chestnuts was delicious. I’m sure Jerolyn and her team will be doing more experimenting .I will blog about it if she does. Thanks for reading and your nice comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ancientfoods

    January 15, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    This is so exciting, just up my alley too. Annytime you have more information, id love to hear about it.


  3. Silver in the Barn

    January 15, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    The menu sounds delicious. I forget that tomatoes weren’t over on your continent until the New World was discovered. Pancetta seasoned with grape syrup….sounds delicious.


    • ritaroberts

      January 16, 2015 at 9:39 am

      It was indeed delicious Barbara and I am looking forward to the next event. Jerolyn and her team worked for a long time to get the menu to perfection, and it just goes to prove slow cooking brings out the flavours. Hate these fast foods. ! Thanks for reading and your nice comment.


  4. Anne

    January 16, 2015 at 12:08 am

    The flavours sound delicious, Rita. Just the sort I love, but never thought of using whole coriander seeds, will have to try that!


  5. ritaroberts

    January 16, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Hi Anne, Glad you enjoyed the experimental cooking, “its great fun when you are involved” and yes the flavours were scrumptious. Thanks for your nice comments.


  6. squirrelbasket

    January 19, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Fascinating post – I visited Knossos, Phaistos and Akrotiri many years ago and have always been impressed by the Minoans.
    Those pots are amazing – not just decorative but strong enough to be used for cooking in the old-fashioned way. All of those dishes sound wonderful – if they were on a menu I think I would choose the octopus and the lamb. But I do wonder what grape syrup tastes like…
    Keep up the good work 🙂


    • ritaroberts

      January 20, 2015 at 9:01 am

      Thanks for reading and your nice comments Pat. I can asure you that the tastes of all those ingredients were very acceptable to the modern day palate. The Lamb was delicious, but seing that I don’t like octopus I can’t pass comment. however everyone else seemed to enjoy it. As I said my favourite was the Liver with chestnuts. As for the cooking pots we had great fun looking for all the fragments in the hope of piecing them together and finding enough to represent a whole pot for Jerolyn to make her replicas.


  7. vallance22

    January 20, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    SPLENDID! I HAVE to reblog this. Richard. You have to see my latest post on ZERO-TOLERANCE accounting procedures, also a magnificent post! Richard


  8. vallance22

    January 20, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Linear B, Knossos & Mycenae and commented:
    SPLENDID! I HAVE to reblog this. Richard. You have to see my latest post on ZERO-TOLERANCE accounting procedures, also a magnificent post! Richard


  9. cav12

    January 21, 2015 at 6:14 am

    With the exception of the beef liver, I would try all those dishes! This is also very useful information especially for research into the Minoan culture for my stories.
    Thank you for a wonderful article 😀


    • ritaroberts

      January 21, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      Glad you enjoyed reading about the experimental tastes of the Minoans. Hopefully there will be more to learn from Jerolyn’s further sessions later in the year. Thanks for your nice comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • cav12

        January 22, 2015 at 6:26 am

        I look forward to them 😀


  10. jerolyn

    January 31, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Thank you for posting a piece about Minoan Tastes and all the work that has been happening in Crete!


  11. ritaroberts

    January 31, 2015 at 9:11 am

    You are most welcome Jerolyn ! We hope to see you at your next event of the Minoan Tastes. Good Luck.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: