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Building F

On the south slope of the Kephali hill lie the remains of Building F, a large architectural complex explored since 2008. The building occupies a relatively flat area bordered to the south by steep cliffs.

How much this situation reflects Bronze Age topography is uncertain but it is likely that the area occupied by Building F once extended further south before the tip of the hill was cut away by modern road works.

From Zone 6, one can have a commanding view of the nearby valleys and the Selinari Gorge and it is not unlikely that such considerations guided the choice of site location (Fig.1).

View of the valleys surrounding the Kephali hill from Zone 6 (photo G. McGuire).

Fig.1 : View of the valleys surrounding the Kephali hill from Zone 6 (photo G. McGuire).

Excavations revealed that this part of the hill was probably inhabited throughout the Bronze Age. However, successive occupations and severe erosion led to poor preservation of archaeological remains. Indeed, the rooms of Building F were found largely empty, with only few vases found in situ or fallen from an upper floor or shelves. These finds, associated with the building’s last occupation phase (LM IIIA2/B), provide a glimpse into the daily life of its inhabitants before final abandonment.

The main part of Building F consists of a square construction (c. 10 m x 10 m) divided into at least four rooms (Spaces 6.1-6.3 and 6.6-6.7). The building was accessed from the north through a doorway marked by a large threshold made of limestone. The northern and western façades of the building stand out by the quality of their construction. Both are made of carefully cut limestone blocks. In particular, the western façade consists of a single line of slabs probably representing a plinth or euthynteria originally supporting a wall in ashlar masonry (Fig.2).

Building F: west façade (plinth or euthynteria) seen from the north (photo S. Jusseret).

Fig.2 : Building F: west façade (plinth or euthynteria) seen from the north (photo S. Jusseret).

In one of the rooms (Space 6.3), a low platform shaped like a quarter-circle suggests some kind of industrial installation (Fig.3a). An amphora (Fig.3b) and a storage vessel (Fig.3c) found resting on the floor close to the platform may indicate activities involving the treatment of liquids such as oil or wine. On present evidence, it seems appropriate to associate this installation with the last occupation phase of the building (LM IIIA2/B).

Building F, Space 6.3: a) Working platform seen from the northeast; b) LM IIIA2/B amphora seen from the south; c) storage vessel (transport stirrup jar?) seen from the south (photos S. Jusseret).

Fig.3 : Building F, Space 6.3: a) Working platform seen from the northeast; b) LM IIIA2/B amphora seen from the south; c) storage vessel (transport stirrup jar?) seen from the south (photos S. Jusseret).

Adjacent to the south of Spaces 6.1 and 6.3 is an axial structure accessed from the west. This structure includes Spaces 6.4.1, 6.4.2 and 6.5. Although the function of this part of the complex remains uncertain, discoveries made in one of the rooms (Space 6.4.2) suggest that food processing took place in this area. Indeed, animal bones and drinking vessels – several of which found inverted – were discovered in the eastern end of Space 6.4.2 (Fig.4a). In the south-western corner of the space was a large storage vase set in a rubble installation (Fig.4b). A quern and several lithic tools were found lying nearby and suggest that the vessel may have originally contained cereals and pulses. In the central part of the room, two stirrup jars were found fallen upside down and smashed by collapsed debris (Figs. 4c-d). One of them (Fig.4d), datable to LM IIIA2/B, is beautifully painted with flower decoration and curvilinear motifs.

Building F, Space 6.4.2 : a) deposit of cups and animal bones in the eastern end of the space; b) storage vessel set in rubble installation; c) transport stirrup jar smashed by fallen stone; d) stirrup jar smashed by fallen stone (photos S. Jusseret).

Fig.4 : Building F, Space 6.4.2 : a) deposit of cups and animal bones in the eastern end of the space; b) storage vessel set in rubble installation; c) transport stirrup jar smashed by fallen stone; d) stirrup jar smashed by fallen stone (photos S. Jusseret).

In 2011, excavations revealed new evidence for Building F’s earlier history. To our surprise, exploratory trenches opened along the western façade of the building revealed a large rectangular court made of blue and white pebbles set in clay and occasionally in lime. A large stone slab with depressions or kernos was constructed on top of the court and placed against the western façade of Building F (Fig.5).

Pebble court and kernos exposed along the west façade of Building F (Photo S. Jusseret).

Fig.5 : Pebble court and kernos exposed along the west façade of Building F (Photo S. Jusseret).

Pottery sherds collected on the court surface suggest a Neopalatial date for its construction. The court, oriented 16.5° to the east of north, has provisional dimensions of 9.70 m by at least 20 m. To the north, it is limited by a bench-like structure made of limestone blocks bearing hollowed-out depressions (Fig.6).

Bench with shallow depressions to the north of the pebble court (Photo M. Devolder).

Fig.6 : Bench with shallow depressions to the north of the pebble court (Photo M. Devolder).

To the west, removal of topsoil revealed the northern stretch of a wall constructed of ammouda ashlar (Fig.7).

Ammouda ashlar façade to the west of the pebble court (Photo S. Jusseret).

Fig.7 : Ammouda ashlar façade to the west of the pebble court (Photo S. Jusseret).

The quality of the construction leaves little doubt that this wall served as a façade for the court. Immediately to the west of the ashlar wall, remains of a rectangular space (Space 6.17) were partially excavated and may belong to another architectural complex located to the west of the court. The court was probably accessed from the north through a rectangular recess (Space 6.13) defined by large cut blocks of limestone. The south side of the recess is occupied by a stone base suggesting that Space 6.13 was originally covered by a roof. Three fragments of terracotta animal figurines found in the northern sector of the court and in adjacent Space 6.13 may represent one of the rare indications of post-Minoan occupation of the Kephali hill (Fig.8).

Post-Minoan (Protogeometric/Geometric?) terracotta figurines from the north sector of the pebble court (a and c) and Space 6.13 (b) (Photo J. Driessen).

Fig.8 : Post-Minoan (Protogeometric/Geometric?) terracotta figurines from the north sector of the pebble court (a and c) and Space 6.13 (b) (Photo J. Driessen).

Immediately to the north of Building F, an L-shaped paved area and a rectangular stone base were brought to light (Fig.9).

Paved area and rectangular stone base north of Building F. Aerial view from the northeast (Photo T. Gomrée).

Fig.9 : Paved area and rectangular stone base north of Building F. Aerial view from the northeast (Photo T. Gomrée).

This evidence may signal the presence of a lightwell or portico. Although the date of these architectural features remains unclear, their association with the Neopalatial pebble court and ashlar façades seems probable.

A good pottery deposit found along the south façade of Building F provides further evidence for the Neopalatial occupation of Zone 6. The deposit (MM IIIB/LM IA) contained a large number of cups and bowls – at least 81 specimens were identified in the course of excavation – and some of them were discovered stacked. A globular rhyton painted with dark-on-light spiral decoration was also identified in the deposit (Fig.10).

Neopalatial globular rhyton painted with dark-on-light decoration (Photo Chr. Papanikolopoulos)

Fig.10 : Neopalatial globular rhyton painted with dark-on-light decoration (Photo Chr. Papanikolopoulos)

The Neopalatial evidence from Building F altogether suggests that a large court complex occupied this part of the Kephali hill. Fig. 11 shows a hypothetical reconstruction of the Neopalatial features associated with Building F. What happens to the south of the pebble court remains at present uncertain but megalithic architectural remains visible on the south slope of the hill point to the presence of other constructions in this area.

Zone 6 (Building F): aerial view from the north (Photo C. Gaston) with conjectural Neopalatial features indicated. Orange: court (dark orange: excavated sectors); white: façade walls; grey: paved north court (dark grey: preserved pavement); red: stone bases; blue: kernos and bench.

Fig.11 : Zone 6 (Building F): aerial view from the north (Photo C. Gaston) with conjectural Neopalatial features indicated. Orange: court (dark orange: excavated sectors); white: façade walls; grey: paved north court (dark grey: preserved pavement); red: stone bases; blue: kernos and bench.

Although it is perhaps too early to suggest that Neopalatial Building F was a court-centred building, it is remarkable that the north-south orientation of the pebble court closely matches that of Minoan palaces such as Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros. Another interesting characteristic of the court at Sissi is that it aligns with the top of the Selena mountains behind. This observation reminds the relationship between Knossos and Mount Juktas, as well as between Phaistos and Mount Ida. It is finally worth noting that the provisional dimensions of the court at Sissi make it at least twice as large as that of Petras. The presence of such a court complex at short distance from the palatial centre of Malia may eventually invite us to reconsider traditional views of Minoan socio-political organization. Only future excavations will be able to clarify these hypotheses.

Simon Jusseret