The Priniatikos Pyrgos Project

The Site
In the area of the Gulf of Mirabello in east Crete, below the prominent peak of the Iron Age site of Vrokastro, the flood plain of the Istron river has created a broad tract of arable land leading down to the coast. To the west lies the headland of Ioannimiti, to the east that of Nisi Pandeleimon, together creating a sheltered bay where the river meets the sea. In the centre of this bay lies the site of Priniatikos Pyrgos, once a hillock near the coast, but now, due to rises in sea level over the millennia, a limestone promontory jutting out into the Aegean.

The promontory of Priniatikos Pyrgos from the west

The first settlers arrived in this area during the Final Neolithic period some five thousand years ago, and there has been almost continuous use of Priniatikos Pyrgos from c .3500 BC until modern times. Site function varied, and includes habitation, industrial and ritual uses, with peak periods of occupation dating to the Early and Middle Bronze Age and Hellenistic eras. However, occupation is well represented beyond these periods, through Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times to the twentieth century.

Excavation of historical remains in Trench II, in the centre of the promontory

History of Research at Priniatikos Pyrgos
The work of the Irish Institute at this site began in 2007 and continues the long tradition of investigations of Priniatikos Pyrgos and its landscape which commenced almost a century ago, led by the pioneering archaeologist Edith Hall of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Hall was excavating the late Bronze / Early Iron Age refuge settlement of Vrokastro, and in 1912 came down to this coastal promontory to excavate some trial trenches. These produced some well-preserved Bronze Age ceramics, although the prehistoric structures that she found were heavily disturbed by later building. Further investigation of this region was to wait until Barbara Hayden and Jennifer Moody undertook an intensive landscape survey in the 1980s (Hayden et al. 2004, 2005; Hayden 1999). This was followed by the Istron Geoarchaeological Project, a cutting-edge geoarchaeological and geophysical survey conducted by Hayden in conjunction with Apostolos Sarris of FORTH at Rethymnon and Ioannis Bassiakos of the Demokritos Institute at Athens (Kalpaxis et al. 2006). In 2005 and 2006 rescue excavations of features endangered by coastal erosion (e.g. kilns) were undertaken by Metaxia Tsipopoulou of the 24th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, with Hayden as field director. In winter 2006, it was decided that future investigations in this area would best be undertaken with the support of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens, with Barry Molloy of University College Dublin as co-director alongside Hayden. This new phase of archaeological excavation ran for four seasons from 2007-2010, and has been followed by three study seasons, 2011-2013. Post-excavation research is ongoing, with further study seasons planned, leading to comprehensive publication of the project’s results.   

Current Research
A main aim of the project is to investigate the diachronic importance of the site within the broader region. The coastal location led to its development as a port, and evidence of trade networks both within and beyond Crete occurs from early in the Bronze Age. As well as being a home to generations of people, at times the site had a more industrial focus, with evidence of ceramic kilns, iron working, ceramic production, and glass processing. Ritual activity is also likely, with a probable Minoan shrine overbuilt millennia later by a Byzantine ecclesiastical structure. In 2011-2012 the team focused on the Early Minoan I activity, with emphasis on a house discovered in Trench II. An article on this structure is forthcoming in the American Journal of Archaeology. A conference held in Athens in June 2012 presented preliminary results of the full research programme, and will be published by BAR (Archaeopress) in the near future. In the 2013 season, the later Prepalatial period was targeted, and as always, work on the hugely important Byzantine material continued too.

PP 2013
Staff and fieldschool students work with Protopalatial pottery at our base in Istron

Excavation of prehistoric and early historic industrial area on west of site

The Team
Like many archaeological projects, Priniatikos Pyrgos relies on an international  team. It is directed by Dr. Barry Molloy (University of Sheffield) and Dr. Barbara Hayden (University of Pennsylvania Museum), with Dr Jo Day (University College Dublin) and Dr. Vera Klontza-Jaklova (Masaryk University Brno) as assistant directors. Trench supervisors have come from Sweden, USA, England, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, and of course, Ireland. Materials specialists include experts in ancient glass, ceramics of many periods, chipped and ground stone, human osteology, zooarchaeology, palaeobotany, geoarchaeology and metallurgy. There is a team in charge of data management, who work on finds illustration and photography, cataloguing, database, and IT. The local archaeological service, based in Ayios Nikolaos, is also represented during every season. The project works closely with colleagues at INSTAP Study Center for East Crete too, who provide essential services such as petrographic analyses and conservation. The Priniatikos Pyrgos project is very grateful to INSTAP for their financial support.

Training students in all elements of archaeology has always been a key aspect of the Priniatikos Pyrgos project. During the digging seasons (2008-2010) the annual fieldschool taught students the basics of excavation and recording techniques in the field. Since 2011, a post-excavation fieldschool has been offered, focusing on managing and interpreting artefacts and ecofacts. All fieldschools include trips to nearby sites as well as hands-on seminars with project specialists. Students from Ireland (Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork, and National University of Ireland Galway), USA, Canada, England, and the Czech Republic have participated to date.

Fieldschool students take notes during a trip to the nearby site of Lato.

The 2008 team on site

Further Information

Select Bibliography

P. P. Betancourt (1978) LM IA pottery from Priniatikos Pyrgos. IN C. Doumas (ed.) Thera and the Aegean World I. London. 381-387.

B. Erickson (2010) Priniatikos Pyrgos and the Classical period in eastern Crete: feasting and island identities. Hesperia 79, 305-349.

B.J. Hayden (2012) "Firebars" and other ceramics of problematic function from Priniatikos Pyrgos. In Philistor: Studies in Honor of Costis Davaras, eds. E. Mantzourani and P. Betancourt, 59-64. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press.

B.J. Hayden, M. Hahn, G. Harrison, J. Moody, O. Rackham, M. Risser and A. Stallsmith (2005) Reports on the Vrokastro Area, Eastern Crete. Vol. 3: The Vrokastro Regional Survey Project: The Sites and Pottery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

B.J. Hayden, B. J. (2006) Priniatikos Pyrgos, primary harbor settlement and emporium of the Mirabello region, eastern Crete. Expedition Magazine, 48(3), 33-39.

B.J. Hayden, H. Dierckx, G. Harrison, J. Moody, G. Postma, O. Rackham and A. Stallsmith (2004) Reports on the Vrokastro Area, Eastern Crete. Vol. 2: The Settlement History of the Vrokastro Area and Related Studies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Musuem of Archaeology and Anthropology.

B.J. Hayden (1999) The coastal settlement of Priniatikos Pyrgos: archaeological evidence, topography and environment. IN P. Betancourt, V. Karageorghis, R. Laffineur and W-D. Niemeier (eds) Meletemata II. Aegaeum 20 . Liége. 352-355.

T. Kalpaxis, K. Athanassas, I. Bassiakos, T. Brennan, B. Hayden, E. Nodarou, K. Pavlopoulos and A. Sarris (2006) Preliminary results of the Istron, Mirabello, geophysical and geoarchaeological project. Annual of the British School at Athens 101, 135-181.

Updated: 20/9/2013

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