“Exploring Crete” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first scheduled tour in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Is that a smile? Or a grin? Or a grimace?
Well, I don't know either. I can't know for sure, nor can anyone else. But I have some ideas about this Siteia face.
Let's go back a few steps: this is what a pottery specialist within archaeology would call a protome, more or less (it's not quite typical). It is a piece of modelled, as in deliberately shaped, clay attached to the rim of a very large storage star, used for storing oil, wine, water, grains, and so on. Such jars, called pithoi, are known to have been used in Crete from the Early Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago, to the mid-20th century, some six decades ago or less.
Of course, during those 50 centuries of use, many details of such vessels changed many times: their specific shape, the clay used, the firing methods, and the way they were decorated: no wonder pottery is so important to archaeologists. Thus, the modelled (sculpted) face and the stamped decoration with rosettes and circles visible just below and above help us in dating the object: they suggest a date in the 7th or 6th century BC, the Archaic period, when city states were forming all over the Greek World, including Crete, and when a distinctive material culture was shaping across the same area.
We saw this face today on our visit to the Archaeological Museum of Siteia, a repository of many very fine treasures, including some famous and great masterpieces of Minoan art. It was our first stop on a day spent exploring the easternmost portion of the island, the other highlights were the Minoan Town of Palaikastro and the Town and Palace of Kato Zakros, both overlooking the island's eastern shores - also the venue of a wonderful fish lunch...
I have no real solution to offer for our clay face. The storage vessel she decorates was discovered in the 1950s in one of the Iron Age cemeteries outside Siteia Town. Presumably, it contained some valuable supplies, such as wine or oil, to be used by an important person on their way to the next world. The face is almost certainly that of Medusa, used commonly as an apotropaic symbol - to avert evil. Admire the pot, it says, and the person buried here, but don't you dare lay your hands on its contents.
Tomorrow, we'll see the most famous site in Crete...