Rethinking Crete

Analysis of everyday tools challenges long-held ideas about what drove major changes in ancient Greek society.

Minoan society in Crete underwent a major transformation 3,500 years ago. This dramatic change in Cretan society was assumed to be the result of a Mycenaean invasion from the Greek mainland. Many important sites across the island were destroyed, while warriors’ graves appeared at the Palace of Knossos. Mainland dress styles came into fashion, drinking customs aped those of the mainland, and burial customs changed.


Certainly, there were seismic changes. But what about people in the countryside and society as a whole? The picture was probably far more complex than previously believed, according to preliminary results of a new study based on more day-to-day finds.


Tristan Carter (pictured above), a Minoanist in Canada’s McMaster University and his colleagues, analysed a broad sample of obsidian tools used in Minoan communities, the volcanic glass having long been a valued trade commodity across the Aegean Sea. The tools under investigation were used for such routine tasks as harvesting crops. They were commonplace local products and the obsidian used to make them came from the island of Melos in the Cyclades, an easy 146km (91-mile) passage over open water. The Aegean obsidian trade began long before the Minoans and continued after their society collapsed.


The team emphasises that this is not to say an invasion of Crete did not occur but that, for most people, daily life continued as before. Despite the conspicuous adoption of mainland styles of dress and drinking by the elite, this new work indicates that most people continued to live their lives much the same way as before.


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