Paper abstract

Settlement in crisis: the end of the LM /LH IIIB and early IIIC in Crete and other South Aegean islands

Nowicki Krzysztof

Investigations in Crete, carried during the last three decades, have brought to light substantial evidence for the reconstruction of the events at the turn of the LM IIIB and beginning of IIIC period. Research on this subject was much stimulated by the American ‘Kavousi project’ initiated in the late 1970s and co-directed by William Coulson. Among the most discussed topics in the early stage of that project were the reasons for the location of LM IIIC ‘hilltop settlements’ and the precise chronology of the phenomenon. Coulson’s work as a co-director of the excavations at Kavousi Kastro and Vronda, Chalasmenos and Katalimata allowed us to clarify some of these problems. At present, it is generally accepted that the new settlement pattern resulted from insecurity that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean states and in Crete the key moment between two phases took place between the very end of the LM IIIB and very beginning of IIIC period. The changes of the entire settlement system were without precedents in Cretan history. They concerned nearly all the regions and almost every aspect of life. Only a few areas and settlements/towns survived (like Knossos, Chania and Faistos), but even those experienced destructions, relocations, and impoverishment. In this paper I will present and discuss new evidence which became available or was identified after my book on defensible sites in Crete had been published in 2000 (Aegaeum 21, Liege). The proceedings of the conference in Dublin in 1999 on defensive settlements in the Aegean and the East Mediterranean (Nicosia 2001) allowed us to see the Cretan sites in a broader geographical context, whereas the conference on Rhodes in 2002, on the Aegean during the Early Iron Age (Athens 2004), yielded much information on the period which followed the very collapse discussed in this paper. The excavation at Katalimata - the key site for the problem of the Cretan refuge settlements - revealed the very precise moment of the process of relocation (the final publication in print). A series of LM IIIC settlements identified recently along the southern coast of Western Crete, between Sachtouria and Palaiochora, not only enriches the gazetteer of the sites, but throws more light on the problems of ‘when’ and ‘why’ people moved to hilltops. The analysis or regional landscape and the sites’ topography suggest the involvement of a non-Aegean element which may have also been responsible for the unsettled conditions in the East Mediterranean. The increasing contacts with the Italian-Sardinian regions, attested in Crete already in the LM IIIB period, and the appearance of very defensible settlements at the beginning of LM IIIC on the southern coast of Western Crete may not be casual. Beyond Crete, research of the problem is less intensive and the remarks on LH IIIC defensive sites are isolated from the broad settlement contexts. However, the foundation, topography and fate of the sites such as Koukounaries on Paros, Kastri on Astypalaia and Moulas on Karpathos (mentioning only a few of this kind which are scattered on the Cycladic and Dodecanesian islands) deserve more attention and further studies. The aforementioned sites belonged to the group of relatively small, suddenly founded and short lasting coastal citadels. They coexisted with the earliest and most defensible ‘refuge sites’ in Crete. Their abandonment marked the end of the most dramatic and unsettled phase of the transition between the Bronze and the Iron Age and the beginning of the process of shaping new social and political systems in the Aegean. The paper will discuss the Cretan, Dodecanesian and Cycladis sites as different elements of the same historical phenomenon which marked the beginning of the Greek Dark Ages in the Southern Aegean.

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