The Minoan and Mycenaean Pottery Vessels Part 3

21 Aug

In 1990, while excavating Knossos palace in Crete, archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered many of the Linear B clay tablets which reveal inventories of many important items. For instance, a variety of pottery vessels are recorded, such as jars, vases, cups, bowls  cooking pots, cooking trays, amphorae and pithoi   are among other vessels produced, even a special pot for libation. Of special importance were the huge pithoi used to store oil and oil based products such as perfumes, grain wine and other commodities.

The Linear B tablets tell us that produce from surrounding farmland was collected, recorded and stored in the palaces, as seen from the large storage – rooms  at Knossos where huge pithoi, amphorae and other such storage vessels were kept and where the palaces appear to have exorcized and extent of control of the trade. Some of the storage pots were used at the palace and others for transport not only within the local areas but also overseas contact.

Giant size Pithoi from Knossos Palace

The Storage rooms at Knossos Palace


These gigantic pithoi (storage jars) have been manufactured in Crete since Minoan times and are still made in some villages today. They often stand well over the height of a man. In the palace at Knossos there was room for some 400 of these vessels, placed in a row inside the magazines. If the large pithoi were sunk into the floor in storage rooms, as the archaeological evidence indicates they were, their weight and bulk raises a question of how they were brought there. Handling a full pithos except by extensive apparatus of tracks and cranes, of which there is no evidence, is unlikely. It is thought that maybe they were brought in empty, set in place and then filled from some other small vessel.

The pithoi the Uluburun Ship was carrying, if full of liquid would have been too heavy for manual handling, including the considerable weights of the containers, the total weights can be estimated around 150 to 420kg. Equipment for hauling to the ship and lowering into the hold must have been used.

The Uluburun Ship

The early pithoi were usually decorated with the simple trickle pattern whereby the decoration was applied at the top of the pot and continued down the buff coloured clay. Many handles were applied in sets of two around the shoulders and one above the base. The lids were either flat clay or stone or with some sort of fabric tied around the neck of the vessel.  Minoan pithoi were usually decorated with patterns by adding round clay “medallions, an early pattern, knobs and bands of applied thumb-impressed decoration, broad flat wavy bands and the “rope pattern”, a moulded imitation of the actual ropes with which they were bound for purposes of transport and reinforcement.

Pithos wavy band pattern

These huge Pithoi were used for burial

The above form of burial appears at the very end of the Early Minoan period, at the same sites where Larnax burial is more or less contemporarily introduced and becomes more popular in the Middle Minoan period.

While there were different burial practices found across Crete, the most common seems to have been the Larnax. The Minoan Larnax were made of terracotta (baked clay), but their structure resembles a wooden chest. The use of the larnax appears in the Early Minoan 111 period in East Crete at the archaeological sites of Pachia Ammos and Gournia and continues occasionally throughout Minoan times, disappearing after the customs of cremation became prevalent. The early Larnax are either plain or with a simple linear decoration but in the Late Minoan 111 period we see the Larnax painted in the style  of the time, decorated with abstract patterns, birds, flowers fish and octopuses besides other motifs, such as the double axe and other sacred objects, like bulls and other animals, human figures and sometimes ships.

Early Minoan Larnax (Coffin)

To be continued.  My next post will be about another storage vessel “The Amphorae”


1 Comment

Posted by on August 21, 2020 in Uncategorized


One response to “The Minoan and Mycenaean Pottery Vessels Part 3

  1. Ancientfoods

    August 22, 2020 at 1:52 am

    Fantastic article, I enjoyed the read.



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