Papyrus Fresco, Akrotiri

Papyrus Fresco, Akrotiri


Papyrus Fresco, Akrotiri - History

Warren Peter. The fresco of the garlands from Knossos. In: Bulletin de correspondance hellénique. Supplément 11, 1985. pp. 187-208.

THE FRESCO OF THE GARLANDS FROM KNOSSOS

Στή μνήμη τοϋ αρχαιολογικού εργάτη Μύρου Μαρκάκη

1. Introduction : discovery of frescoes

The character and historical range of occupation in the city of Knossos hâve been the major focus of interest in récent excavations, 1978-1982, on the Strati- graphical Muséum site, directed by the writer for the British School.1 One of the major results is the discovery of rooms and areas of a Late Minoan I house located on the north side of a road, which runs west beyond the site and east towards the palace some 350 mètres away.

The house (fîg. 2)2 was destroyed in Late Minoan I B, circa 1450 B.C. At this time the land sloped down towards the north hence on the south or road side the surviving rooms were semi-basements, while on the north the floors were a little above the ground level beyond the building. In the eastern room excavated (the eastern limits of the house lie under the Stratigraphical Muséum or its western pavement), at the north end, were much destroyed and comminuted fragments of frescoes (fig. 2, Room of the Frescoes). No pièce was in situ on a wall ail were in the fill of the room, a jumbled mass of fragments, face-up, face-down, on edge, sometimes preserved by lumps of the thick clay wall plaster on which the white backing plaster for the frescoes was set. The original positions remain unknown,

(1) Preliminary reports: P. M. Warren, "Knossos: Stratigraphical Muséum Excavations, 1978-80", Part I, ArchReports (1980-81) (no. 27), p. 73-92 Part II, ArchReports (1982-83) (no. 29) p. 63-87 Arch- Reports (1978-79) (no. 25), p. 36-7 ArchReports (1979-80) (no. 26), p. 48-50 ArchReports (1981-82) (no. 28), p. 51-53 (fig. 115 for fresco of the garlands). The Rritish School at Athens, Annual Report of the Managing Committee for the Session (1977-1978), p. 13-15 (1978-1979), p. 12-14 (1979-1980), p. 14-18 (1980-1981), p.17- 21 (1981-1982), p. 17-21. BCH 103 (1979), p. 607 & figs. 176-7 104 (1980), p. 671-3 & figs. 182-4 105 (1981) p. 869, 871 & figs. 191-3 106 (1982), p. 622-4 & figs. 168-70. I am grateful to the Managing Committee of the British School for permission to use some of my illustrations in this paper. (2) The plan tracing of fig. 2 was prepared by Mr. D. Smyth, the British School's Honorary Surveyor. The site supervisor for the excavation of almost the whole of this LM I house, from 1979 to 1982, was Miss Kay Boreland, who also did most of the original planning at 1:20 scale. Of ail the workmen engaged in this area my loyal friend Myron Markakes did most. His prématuré death early in 1982 deprives the archaeology of Knossos of a skilful, ever hard-working and completely devoted practitioner.


History

It’s said that an ancient Ypapanti church used to exist on the site which now houses the archaeological museum of Thera. The church fell down in the disastrous 1956 dated Amorgos earthquake and much later a decision was taken to erect a museum in its place. The decision was taken after S Marinatos excavated the Akrotiri area around 1967 and the entire archaeological world was surprised by the remarkable condition of the archaeological finds.

It’s unlike the popular perception that says that only finds from the Akrotiri archaeological sites are housed here, this museum also holds finds from the archaeological site of Potamos and exhibits that belong to other Cycladic islands. Note that all major excavation works and decisions regarding the upkeep and display of the findings are taken by the Archaeological Society of Athens. Much of the excavation finds were also shifted to Athens but after the establishment of this museum, many exhibits are being returned back.

The museum actually covers the whole Santorini island’s history from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Cycladic period and these sections offer 80% of the exhibits. The collections comprise of ceramic ware, wall paintings, pottery and vases, sculpture, ritualistic items, household objects, weapons and some jewellery. Some of the wall paintings and frescoes presented in this museum are said to be the oldest surviving pieces of this sort.

Everything falls into perspective when you consider the fact that ‘ancient Thera’ was as ancient to the Greeks as ‘ancient Greeks’ are to the rest of the world. Apart from these, sections were established to represent the geological changes in Thiras and its conversion into 5 scattered islands (Santorini, Therasia, Palea Kameni and Nea Kameni). Items from the Bronze Age are also displayed in this museum.


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The first habitation at the site dates from the Late Neolithic times (at least the 4th millennium BC), with its prehistory being closely intertwined with the Minoan civilization that flourished on the island of Crete.

As early as the 3 rd millennium BC, the so-called Cycladic culture, Akrotiri started to rise in importance and fame due to its important geopolitical and geostrategic location, factors that allowed it to become a wealthy merchant harbor, trading in goods from across mainland Greece, while also maintaining ties with Crete, Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt.

Over time, Akrotiri came to be known as one of the main urban centers and ports of the Aegean, as well as an important point for copper trade in the wider region.

Akrotiri is frequently referred to as the “Greek Pompeii”’ since the site was covered by volcanic ash due to the explosion of the island’s location, around 1600 BC. It is generally accepted that this was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 4,000 years.

However, an important difference is that in Akrotiri no animal or human remains have been found, neither any gold nor other precious metals, leading the archaeologists to believe that the people of the island had enough time to evacuate the city. Nevertheless, it is still unknown where the people migrated to or why they never returned.

As a result of the explosion, the preservation of the settlement is exceptional, marking it as one of the most significant archaeological sites in Greece and a profound source of information about the culture of the period.

The walls of many buildings survive to this day, as well as a significant number of everyday items and frescoes, which are considered masterpieces of Cycladic art. It is worth noting that the settlement has been suggested as a possible inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis.

Systematic excavation in the site began in 1967, by Professor Spyridon Marinatos under the auspice of the Archaeological Society at Athens. More specifically, he decided to excavate at Akrotiri hoping that he could verify his old theory, published in the 1930s, that the eruption of the Thira volcano was responsible for the collapse of the Minoan civilization.

According to him, that would explain the presence of pumice in Knossos and the abrupt flooding and eventual destruction of the great civilization. In any case, since his death, the excavations have been continued under the successful direction of Professor Christos Doumas.

The settlement of Akrotiri presents a significant number of notable features. It boasted an elaborate drainage system and sophisticated houses, which were spacious, multistoried, made of stone and mud, with balconies, underfloor heating, as well as hot and cold running water.

All these were characteristic of the Cycladic architecture of the period. Furthermore, the upper stories had large windows and imposing murals, the basements were mostly used as storerooms and workshops, while the houses were surrounded by narrow, stone-paved streets.

As far as the everyday life of the settlers is concerned, we find that the people here mostly cultivated grains such as wheat, barley, legumes, olives, and vines. Other important factors that contributed to the prosperous economy were animal husbandry, fishery, and shipping, while the residents’ occupations as engineers, architects, town planners, builders, and even artists also become clear from the excavations. The residents were also occupied with beekeeping and, especially women, with weaving and saffron collection.

It is worth noting that no palaces were found on-site, like the ones in Minoan Crete, an observation that indicates that the people of Akrotiri fostered a democratic and egalitarian society with no social hierarchies.

However, people here used to project their social status and higher standard of living, as well as their artistic skill and talent, by decorating their houses with rich works of art. The surviving murals constitute masterpieces of Cycladic art but also a valuable source of information about the life of people of that period since they usually depict scenes from everyday life, religious practices, and nature.

The technique used is the fresco, most possibly influenced by the Minoans, where the mural painting is executed upon freshly laid or wet lime plaster. The colors mostly used include white, yellow, red, brown, blue, and black. Overall, the frescoes in Akrotiri are thought to be extremely important for the general study of Minoan art, since they been preserved in a much better state than the ones in Crete.

Pottery was also an extremely developed form of art in the prehistoric settlement, based on the numerous and high-quality vessels that were excavated in the area. These came in all sizes, shapes, and colors, for both domestic and aesthetic use.

Since pottery used to serve a multitude of purposes, it can inform us a great deal about the society of Akrotiri. Many vessels were found that were used for storage, transportation, cooking, and eating, as well as in other diverse activities, such as bathtubs, oil lamps, flowerpots, and more.

Concerning furniture, many negatives of the disintegrated wooden objects were produced, since the volcanic ash which engulfed the city penetrated into every room of the buildings’ in large quantities. Using these negatives as molds, a particular liquid plaster can be poured in order to produce casts of parts, or even entire pieces of furniture, such as beds, tables, and chairs.


The Prehistoric Buried City of Akrotiri – Discovered in 1860

Nicknamed Greece’s Pompeii, Akrotiri is the ruined city of Santorini. The main thing that Pompeii and Akrotiri have in common is that they were buried by volcanic eruptions which resulted in them both being perfectly preserved thereafter.

However, there are also some major differences between the two. As reported in On The Luce, Pompeii (an archaeological site in Southern Italy) was destroyed by a gigantic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and was completely covered over in volcanic debris.

The settlement was all but obliterated in the middle of the second millennium BC, when the volcano it sat upon, Thera, erupted

Akrotiri is much older than Pompeii and was destroyed by the Theran eruption in 1628 BC. The eruption completely destroyed the Minoan settlement (the Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization on the Island of Crete and its surrounding Islands) and covered it in volcanic ash.

It has been described as the most destructive natural disaster to have ever been recorded.

It has been said that the people of Akrotiri were extremely advanced for their time. The buildings that people lived in were often up to three stories high.

Santorini, Greece – April, 2018: Ancient ruins at Akrotiri archaeological site in the Santorini Island which is believed to have inspired the story told about Atlantis by Plato

They also had toilets, baths, hot and cold running water, and an underfloor heating system. It was a highly evolved and incredibly cultured settlement. Akrotiri wasn’t always rich but it became a wealthy city over time due to being on a trade route that ran between Europe and Western Asia.

The people of Akrotiri were mainly known for their farming and fishing. The city had no palaces as there was no royalty, they were a democratic society governed by a parliament.

The Minoan civilization existed on Crete and its surrounding Greek islands, and flourished from approximately 3600 BC to 1400 BC

It is interesting that the Minoans were so advanced during the Bronze Age, painting beautiful frescoes, crafting pottery and making wine. Especially since the people of Britain at that same time were living in huts.

Scholars and historians have speculated that Akrotiri was Plato’s inspiration for the city of Atlantis. This is because Plato wrote about an Island that he described as ‘a great and wonderful empire’ which was suddenly destroyed by earthquakes and floods.

Ruins of the ancient buildings and decorated pottery from the Minoan Bronze Age at the archaeological site in Akrotiri, Greece.

It has been said that Akrotiri could potentially have been named Atlantis originally. This is because the city was only named ‘Akrotiri’ in recent years after a neighbouring village of the same name.

The Theran eruption was so enormous it managed to create a caldera that was four miles wide. The ash cloud that resulted was over 20 miles high and the explosion encouraged a 100-metre tsunami.

The entire area was covered in hot lava, ash, and debris. It is reported that no one went back to the island for centuries after the disaster.

This resulted in Akrotiri being forgotten about until the 1860’s when workers who were digging came across some buried artefacts. However, archaeological excavations didn’t take place until much later in 1967.

Unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found at Akrotiri, and only one gold object was found on the site

These excavations uncovered over 40 buildings from the ancient city of Akrotiri and there are still many more to be discovered. It is said that so far only a third of Akrotiri has been uncovered and it could take another 100 years to uncover the rest.

Visitors are welcome to go to the archaeological site and walk around on structures that have been built above the ruins. Some of the walkways lead down to the houses so that visitors can see what a Minoan home would have looked like.

The city has been completely preserved, but unlike Pompeii there are no remains of human beings. It seems all the people who lived there must have had time to evacuate before the damage was done, taking with them their livestock and precious belongings. The strange thing is that nobody ever returned to Akrotiri.

A lot of the furniture seen at the site has been recreated for the purpose of visitors since the actual artifacts have been moved to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.


The Characteristics of Roman Papyrus Rolls

"The length and width of the roll depended on the taste or convenience of the writer. The contents were written in columns, the lines of which ran parallel to the long dimension, and the reader, holding the roll in both hands, rolled up the part he had finished with his left hand, and unrolled the unread portion with his right. This way of dealing with the roll is well shewn in the accompanying illustration (fig. 9) reduced from a fresco at Pompeii. In most examples the two halves of the roll are turned inwards, as for instance in the well-known statue of Demosthenes in the Vatican. The end of the roll was fastened to a stick (usually referred to as umbilicus or umbilici). . . .

"These sticks were sometimes painted or gilt, and furnished with projecting knobs (cornua) similarly decorated, intended to serve both as an ornament, and as a contrivance to keep the ends of the roll even, while it was being rolled up. The sides of the long dimension of the roll (frontes) were carefully cut, so as to be perfectly symmetical, and afterwards smoothed with pumice-stone and coloured. A ticket (index or titulus, in Greek . [sillubos or sittubos]), made of a piece of papyrus or parchment, was fastened to the edge of the roll in such a way that it hung out over one or the of the ends. . . .

"The roll was kept closed by strings or straps (lora), usually of some bright colour and if it was specially precious, an envelope, which the Greeks called a jacket (. . . [dipthera]), made of parchment or some other substance, was provided. . . .

"When the number of rolls had to be carried from one place to another, they were put into a box (scrinium or capsa). This receptacle was cylindrical in shape, not unlike a modern hat-box. It was usually carried by a flexible handle, attached to a ring on each side and the lid was held down by what looks very like a modern lock. The eighteen rolls, found in a bundle at Herculaneum, had doubtless been kept in a similar receptacle..

"My illustration (fig. 10) is from a fresco at Herculaneum. It will be noticed that each roll is furnished with a ticket (index or titulus). At the feet of the statue of Demosthenes already referred to, and that of Sophocles in the Lateran, are capsae, both shewing the flexible handles" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 20-35).


Papyrus Fresco, Akrotiri - History

The most important buildings of the site are:

Xeste 3: Large edifice, at least two-storeys high, with fourteen rooms on each floor. Some of rooms were connected by multiple doors and decorated with magnificent wall-paintings. In one of them there was a "Lustral basin", which is considered a sacred area. The most interesting of the frescoes are the ones of the Altar and of the Saffron Gatherers. The former depicts three women in a field with bloomed crocuses and an altar, and the latter, female figures engaged in collecting crocuses which they offer to a seated goddess, flanked by a blue monkey and a griffin. Judging from the architectural peculiarities of the building and the themes of the frescoes, one may conclude that Xeste 3 was used for the performance of some kind of ritual.

Sector B possibly comprises two separate buildings, the one attached to the other. From the first floor of the western building, came the famous wall paintings of the Antelopes and the Boxing Children. The eastern building yielded the ?fresco of the Monkeys?, a composition of monkeys climbing on rocks at the side of a river.

The West House is a relatively small, but well-organized building. In the ground floor there are storerooms, workshops, a kitchen and a mill-installation. The first floor is occupied by a spacious chamber used for weaving activities, a room for the storage mainly of clay vessels, a lavatory and two rooms, the one next to the other, embellished with magnificent murals. The first was decorated with the two frescoes of the Fishermen, the fresco of the Young Priestess and the famous Flotilla miniature frieze. The latter ran around all the four walls and depicted a major overseas voyage, in the course of which, the fleet visited several harbours and towns. The rocky landscape, the configuration of the harbour and the multi-storeyed buildings identify the port, which is the fleet's final destination, as the prehistoric settlement at Akrotiri. The walls of the second room were decorated with a single motif which was repeated eight times. This motif is identified as the cabin at the stern of the ships depicted in the miniature frieze.

Complex Delta includes four houses. A room of the eastern building is decorated with the Spring fresco: the artist represented with special sensitivity a rocky landscape, planted with blossoming lilies, between which swallows fly in a variety of positions. Tablets of the Linear A script have recently been found in the same building. All four buildings yielded interesting finds such as abundant imported pottery and precious stone and bronze objects.

House of the Ladies. The large, two-storeyed building was named after the fresco with the Ladies and the Papyruses, which decorated the interior. The most interesting architectural feature of the building is a light-well constructed at its centre.

Xeste 4. It is a magnificent three-storeyed building, the largest excavated up to now. All its facades are revetted with rectangular ashlar blocks of tuff. The fragments of frescoes that have so far come to light belong to a composition which adorned the walls on either side of the staircase at the entrance of the building, depicting life-size male figures ascending the steps in procession. It was in all probability a public building, judging from its unusually large dimensions, the impressive exterior and the decoration of the walls.

Finds from the excavations at Akrotiri are exhibited in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera.


The First 3500 Years

More often than not, the paintings that really grab my attention are landscapes, and I like to think I’m a somewhat knowledgeable about them in terms of art history. So, I was surprised to learn recently that the word “landscape” — an anglicization of the Dutch landschap — was only introduced into the language — purely as a term for works of art — around the start of the 17th century. That is not to say that landscapes didn’t exist in art before then … apparently there just wasn’t a word for them.

In West e rn art, the earliest extant example of a painted landscape is a fresco in Akrotiri, an Aegean Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini. It was beautifully preserved under volcanic ash from 1627 BC until about 50 years ago.

Elements of landscape were also depicted in Ancient Egypt, often as a backdrop for hunting scenes set in the reeds of the Nile Delta. In both cases, the emphasis was on individual plant forms and figures on a flat plane, rather than the broad landscape. A rough system of scaling, to convey a sense of distance, evolved as time went on and as the decorating of rooms with frescos of landscapes and mosaics continued through the Hellenistic and ancient Roman periods.

It wasn’t until the 14th century, though, that it became common for the focal action of a narrative painting to be placed against a natural setting, and by the following century, landscape-as-setting had become an accepted genre in European painting. The landscape often became more prominent, the figures less so.

The Renaissance brought significant breakthroughs with the development of a system of graphical perspective, which allowed expansive views to be represented convincingly, with a natural-seeming progression from the foreground to the distant view. The word perspective comes from the Latin perspicere, meaning “to see through” the application of perspective comes from mathematics. The basic geometry: 1) objects are smaller as their distance from the observer increases and 2) an object’s dimensions along the line of sight are shorter than its dimensions across the line of sight, a phenomenon known as foreshortening.

Despite artists having learned to render exemplary middle- and far-distance panoramas, until the 19th century landscape painting was relegated to a low position in the accepted hierarchy of genres in Western art. However, Narrative painting — typically biblical or mythological stories — was highly prestigious, and for several centuries Italian and French artists promoted landscapes into history paintings by adding figures to make a narrative scene. In England, landscapes mostly figured as backgrounds to portraits, suggesting the parks or estates of a landowner.

In the Netherlands, pure landscape painting was more quickly accepted, largely due to the repudiation of religious painting in Calvinist society. Many Dutch artists of the 17th century specialized in landscape painting, developing subtle techniques for realistically depicting light and weather. Certain types of scenes repeatedly appear in inventories of the period, including “moonlight,” “woodland,” “farm,” and “village” scenes. Most Dutch landscapes were relatively small: smaller paintings for smaller houses.

Subsequently, religious painting declined throughout the rest of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. That fact, combined with a new Romanticism — which emphasized emotion, individualism, and the glorification of nature — promoted landscapes to the well-loved place in art which they continue to hold today.

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Spyridon Marinatos and the Discovery of Akrotiri

On November 4 , 1901 , Greek archeologist Spyridon Nikolaou Marinatos was born. His most notable discovery was Akrotiri , the site of an ancient port city on the island of Thera , in the southern Aegean Sea .

Spyridon Marinatos – First Excavations

Spyridon Marinatos became along with Georgia Andrea the director of the Herakelion Museum in 1929 . He was acquainted with Sir Arthur Evans ,[4] who became among other things famous for unearthing the palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete . Marinatos began gaining first excavation experiences as well, conducting several excavations on Crete at Dreros , Arkalochori , Vathypetro , and Gazi . He became professor at the University of Athens and began increasing his interest in the Mycenaeans , regarding them as the first Greeks . The archaeologist excavated sites in the Peloponnese including a royal tomb . Also, Marinatos performed excavations at the famous battle sites at Thermopylae and Marathon . [1]

The Island of Santorini

Santorini is a small Greek archipelago in the south of the Cyclades with the same name as its main island, which is mostly called Thera in Greek. According to the legend, the island was formed from a lump of earth that was thrown into the sea by Euphemos. The island is said to have been called Καλλίστη Kalliste (“the most beautiful”, handed down by Pausanias and Herodotus) and was inhabited by Phoenicians. According to Pausanias, Theras, son of Autesion, founded a Spartan colony eight generations later and named it after himself: ancient Greek Θήρα Thēra, which can be rendered as “the savage”. The Venetians named the island Santa Irini in the 12th century, after an early Christian basilica near today’s Perissa consecrated to Saint Irene, which probably corresponded to the historical settlement Eleusis described by Claudius Ptolemy. This later became Santorini.

Excavations on Santorini

The first findings on the island of Santorini were made around 1867 . A construction company found several old shards and remains of old walls . Henri Mamet and Henri Gorceix were the first known archaeologists to excavate remains of buildings and wall art . At Akrotiri , the first excavations were performed in 1899 by the German Robert Zahn , who found a building , jewelry and some fisher nets . However, it was back then not possible to accurately determine the finding’s age .

Uncovering Akrotiri and untimely Death

Around 1939 , Marinatos analyzed parts from the excavation site at Knossos and developed the theory , that the pumice the researchers found there originated from Santorini and that the floods resulting from the eruption could have been the reason for the sudden disappearance of the Minoan culture . About thirty years after World War II , Marinatos began performing excavations to further research on his theory . The archaeologist found a location , where the pumice layer was only 15m thick and already after four meters of digging, workers found jars from the Bronze Age and at the second day of excavations, a two story building was spotted and excavated. After further days at the site , it became clear that Marinatos and his team found an entire city from the Bronze Age . Sadly, Spyridon Marinatos was killed during an accident at the excavation site . He was buried at Akrotiri and the excavations were interrupted for quite a while due to the sad incident. Even on this day, the excavations continue and are led by Marinatos ‘ former assistant Christos Doumas . [2]

fresco from the bronze age in the minoan town Akrotiri, Santorini, Greece


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