There were many types of Minoan burial on Crete, with Cave burials, Chamber tomb or tholos tombs all being popular in different parts of the island.
Burial was a reflection of life. Bodies were interred with their everyday possessions as well as special funerary items. Some burials were individual but it was more common to for ancient Cretan tombs to be communal. These communal tombs could be for the dead of whole communities or for particular clans.
Minoan Pithoi and Larnax Burials
The dead of ancient Crete were commonly interred in groups rather than individual graves. In the very early Minoan period, it was common for generation after generation to be added to the same tomb in discriminatively with only a layer of white sand placed over the bodies. This led to bones and grave goods becoming mixed together. Often, they would be swept to one side to make room for others.
Towards the beginning of the middle Minoan period, methods of interment in communal tombs began to change. Sometimes wooden coffins or biers were used. But more commonly, individual burials occurred in stone or terracotta vessels known as larnax or pithoi.
Larnax burials.A larnax was a large stone, terracotta or marble pot which was oval in shape. Each vessel would be placed into pits cut into the earth or else individually in tombs. It as a burial type peculiar to Crete.
Pithoi.Similar to the larnax, the pithoi was a pottery vessel commonly used for storing foodstuffs. They were large enough to accommodate children or infants for burial.
Minoan Burial Goods
Minoan grave goods varied. They could be items used by the individual in life. Pottery and stone vessels, tools, seals, weapons, jewellery have all been found interred with the dead that show signs of regular use, indicating that they were personal possessions. Food and drink would also accompany the decease into the afterlife.
Grave goods also included items specifically funerary objects. These included stone vases, so small that they were impractical for everyday use. Vessels shaped like animals or people were also common. Archaeologists can establish them as specifically for the grave as they are not found amongst household objects during excavations of Minoan towns and homes.
The types of tombs that burials occurred in varied across Minoan Crete.
Minoan Cave Burials
Cave burials were the earliest types of Minoan burial. Dating from the Neolithic, they can be regarded as a precursor of later chamber or house tombs. Generally, they continued to be favoured more in the far east and far west of the island. Bodies were interred communally in small depressions. Famous Minoan cave burials can be found at the Trapeza cave and Yerondomouri cave.
Chamber or house tombs were common in the north of Minoan Crete. They first began to appear in the early Minoan period. They were circular or horse shoe shaped, built of stone slabs and finished with flat roofs. Inside were square or polygonal interior chambers and a threshold entrance that could be sealed with a stone slab.
Famous chamber tombs include the South Royal tomb at Gypsades, near Knossos which was a two story structure with a courtyard, portico, antechamber and pillared main square chamber.
Minoan Tholos Tombs
Most commonly found in central to southern Crete, tholoi were generally popular during the early to middle Minoan period. seventy examples are known across Crete, situated over forty different sites.
Tholos tombs, which were also common on the Greek mainland, are circular with a domed roof which gives the structure its name. The walls were made thick and made of rough stone bound with clay. The diameters of tholoi across Crete varied between four and thirteen meters. Entrances were usually small and east facing.
Tholoi may have belonged to individual family groups rather to one settlement as a whole as examples have been found of several tombs in use in the same area at the same time.
Minoan Crete: From Myth to History (1999) by Andonis Vasilakis. Adam Editions: Athens
· 8 years ago