Blog

1. The crew (left to right: Matt Buell, Rod Fitzsimons, and Rafal Bieńkowski). N.B. We are not related (Photo credit: Kapua Iao).

The Khavania Topographical and Architectural Mapping Project (KTAMP, if one is looking for an acronym) took place over two sweltering weeks at the end of July and beginning of August, 2019. Rod and I were assisted in the field by Rafal Bieńkowski (Polish Academy of Sciences) and our Epoptria, Konstantina Kokolaki (Fig. 1). Our project was supported by the Canadian Institute in Greece (CIG), the Ephoria of East Crete, and the INSTAP Study Center, East Crete. Generous financial assistance was provided by the Bagnani Trust, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and Trent University. Chrysa Sophianou, Tom Brogan, Eleanor Huffman, Jonathan Tomlinson, Brendan Burke, Miriam Clinton, Agnieszka Kaliszewska, and Kapua Iao provided invaluable advice, aid, and logistical support in the months leading up to and during the project.

Khavania occupies a small peninsula on the western side of the Mirabello Bay in East Crete (Fig. 2). The peninsula is located on the hotel-lined, coastal road leading north from the region’s largest city, Ayios Nikolaus, to Elounda. It is of moderate height (ca. 15.5 masl) with sheer cliffs on its northern and eastern seaward sides. Two well-protected, shallow bays are located immediately to the north and south of the site. Standing at the summit of the peninsula one is provided with unobstructed views of the eastern side of the Mirabello Bay and further east to the Faneromeni Peninsula.

2. The Khavania peninsula from the northwest (Photo credit: Buell & Fitzsimons).

The southern and eastern sides of the Mirabello Bay have been the focus of intensive archaeological work, including three major archaeological surveys (i.e. the Vrokastro, Gournia, and Kavousi surveys), for well over 100 years. Notable archaeological sites in these areas include Priniatikos Pyrgos, Gournia, Vronda, Kastro, Azoria, Pseira, and Mochlos, among many others. This archaeological work has produced an almost incomparable body of evidence for cultural development on the northern and eastern sides of the Mirabello Bay from the Bronze Age through later periods. This situation, however, stands in stark contrast to the western shores of the Mirabello Bay. Here, periodic rescue excavations undertaken throughout and around the modern city of Ayios Nikolaos over the past half century, together with numerous chance finds recovered over the same period, have provided scholars with a solid, if patchwork, understanding of the city’s Hellenistic and Roman eras. The pre-Classical, and particularly Bronze Age remains, however, have continued to elude detection for the most part.

In 2016, at the request of landowners, the Ephoria of East Crete excavated five trenches at Khavania, revealing architectural remains with a broadly Minoan date. Moreover, stretches of walls, sections of pavements and streets, and thresholds are readily observed across the peninsula. Indeed, a large section of wall, preserved to some five or six courses, can be seen eroding out of the peninsula’s northern side. In light of this information and working in consultation with our colleagues in the Ephoria, we began to develop a program of study for the Khavania peninsula in 2018 in order to provide historical context to a Prehistoric settlement in a little-investigated area of East Crete and to study urban development and change over time at a site that has hitherto been unexplored. Moreover, Khavania’s situation along both land and sea communication routes and its two harbours suggests to us that during the Bronze Age it was a commercial node, perhaps interacting with other such settlements in the broader Mirabello region. As a result, we believe that Khavania offers the opportunity to study both local East Cretan, and broader, island-wide, sociopolitical, economic, and ideological relationships. And finally, we feel that documentation of Khavania’s remains will contribute to the historical preservation of the site, since it is threatened by both environmental and anthropogenic factors, including erosion and development along the busy coastal zone between Ayios Nikoloas and Elounda.

In order to establish the groundwork for subsequent, intensive research at the site, we developed and implemented a two-week program of study for the 2019 field season. Our overall goal was to document all natural and anthropogenic features at Khavania, including those found within the Ephoria trenches and those visible on the surface elsewhere across the peninsula (Fig. 3). As part of our plan of documentation, we also decided to create a series of orthophotos and photogrammetric models of the site using UAV’s, as well as high-resolution photogrammetric models of the architectural remains within the Ephoria’s trenches. It is our hope that this information will serve as the basis for future work at the site. Finally, we decided to collect limited portable finds in order to create a crude chronological profile of the site.

3. Matt Buell rocks the Total Station in the obligatory action shot (photo credit: Konstantina Kokolaki).

The first step in creating our plan of the site was to establish a series of control points across the site, using a differential GPS (DGPS). Miriam Clinton (Rhodes College) generously offered her time and assistance to help us achieve this goal. Once we established our control points, we used a Total Station, provided to us by the INSTAP Study Center, East Crete, to capture spatial data at 5 m intervals across the site in accordance with the natural topography (i.e. flatland, breaking slope, and summit). We also took points along the perimeter of all natural and anthropogenic features in order to incorporate them into our overall plan. Post-processing was done in the afternoons using GIS software. In order to create stone-by-stone plans of extant (ancient) architectural features, we shot a series of points around the prominent stones within a feature, printed these out, and returned the next day to draw them on site. These plans were then digitised and placed on our topographic plan. All extant walls were also photographed, and pertinent information, including dimensions, relationship(s) to other architectural features, and building materials and technologies, was recorded on standardised field forms. As part of this documentation, we shot a series of overlapping, high-resolution photos of the excavated trenches in order to create photogrammetric models.  Flying a drone at an altitude of 30 m, we took a series of photographs of the peninsula in order to produce orthophotos of the site, as well as photogrammetric models. These images were orthorectified using the spatial data from our ground control points. The orthophotos and photogrammetric models will serve as valuable resources for purposes of documentation, study, and public education and engagement. And finally, towards the end of our project, we divided the site into a series of units, based on topography, to collect artefacts on the surface of the earth in order to develop a crude chronological profile of the site. Fieldwalkers were each assigned a unit wherein they collected all diagnostic ceramics and other, diagnostic, portable remains.

While our goals were relatively modest and our time limited, we generated a tremendous amount of information. Using our spatial data, we produced accurate plans of the site, as well as DEM and SLOPE maps, and a three-dimensional terrain model (Fig. 4). From the photos we took terrestrially, we made photogrammetric models of the architecture excavated by the Ephoria in 2016. In addition, we generated a series of high-resolution orthophotos and a three-dimensional photogrammetric model of the site using the information we captured from our drone flights. Over the course of our survey, we documented and drew 34 individual architectural features at the site, exclusive of those excavated by the Ephoria in 2016. While most of the architectural features we identified constituted walls, we did document several sections of pavement, as well as part of a street, and a series of risers, ascending the peninsula.

4. Plan of Khavania (Buell & Fitzsimons).

In general, walls at Khavania were constructed from local building materials, quarried at the site itself. Most consisted of a mix of large and small boulders, packed with smaller stones and pebbles. Some walls, however, were monumental in scale, both possessing widths greater than 1.5 m, and having been constructed from massive boulders, which had a dimension of over a half-metre in any one direction. Indeed, in some instances, these walls were even set on elegant projecting plinth courses. Wall faces were carefully constructed with their flat edges projecting outward, creating a unified outer façade. Roughly-worked, monolithic thresholds, marking the presences of doors, were documented in several instances. Generally, the walls were oriented in accordance with the site’s natural topography, though in some cases differing orientations were observed, which may be indicative of different building dates.

The architectural remains identified by the survey and from the Ephoria excavations testify to the presence of several monumental buildings, perhaps official buildings, which advertised the power and authority of prominent members of the community. Additionally, the dimensions and orientation of some walls suggest that they also served as retaining walls. Their existence may be indicative of substantial efforts to modify the local landscape. As observed at other sites within the broader Mirabello region (e.g. Gournia and Azoria), their presence may be taken to be indicative of some degree of urban planning, a situation to which the presence of streets also testifies. That such a settlement should be founded at Khavania is of no surprise, given its position on natural communication routes and its provision of two excellent harbours.

Our limited collection of portable remains included pottery sherds, ceramic building materials, obsidian artefacts, worked pumice, and a talismanic sealstone. With respect to the collected pottery, all vessel types (e.g. cups, bowls, jugs, plates, and pithoi) and wares (i.e. fine, coarse, cook, and storage) were identified in our survey. The assemblage provided a broad range of dates, from the Early Bronze Age through Medieval periods. Proportionally, Middle and Late Bronze Age pottery dominated the assemblage, though a significant amount of Roman pottery was found at the base of the peninsula on its westernmost side, an unsurprising occurrence, given that excavations undertaken in 2004 further to the east revealed parts of a Roman building (ΑΔ 56-59 (2001–2004), fig. 5). Preliminary macroscopic fabric analysis of the Prehistoric sherds reveals that many possessed grano-diorite within their matrix. Since this is a notable feature of ceramics from Minoan sites on the Mirabello between Priniatikos Pyrgos and Gournia, we may assume that the residents of Khavania were interacting with contemporary settlements within the broader Mirabello region during the Bronze Age. Based on its type, motif, and material, our sealstone dates to the Late Minoan IA period. Its stylized octopus motif seems to have close parallels from several sites within the Mirabello.

In terms of future work, we plan on returning to Khavania during the summer 2020 season in order to systematically survey the settlement and to study in detail the material remains we collected in last summer. We believe that in so doing, we will be better able to refine our chronology of the site and to come to some sort of understanding as to the type of site it was and what sorts of relationships it had with other local sites, as well as those further away. Ultimately, our goal is to conduct excavations at the site and to conserve recovered remains, as remains at the site are in danger of being destroyed.

D. Matthew Buell
Concordia University; co-director of KTAMP