Rethymno Late Minoan Cemetery of Armeni

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Location: Armeni

Dating from the 13th and the 12th centuries BC, the Late Minoan cemetery of Armeni lies just 12 kilometers south of Rethymno Town, in the area of Prinokefalo. It is the largest Late Minoan burial site that has ever been discovered, as, so far, more than 230 tombs have been excavated.

Nearly all of them are rock-cut chamber tombs, with a narrow corridor leading to the burial chamber, and only one of them is a beehive (tholos) tomb. They were accessible either through a downhill path or through a series of steps, and the entrance was sealed with a large stone slab or with rubblework. Initially, there were separate tomb clusters for the rich and the poor, but as the cemetery grew, this distinction was blurred. Each grave belonged to a particular family, and the bodies were either laid down on the ground or placed inside clay sarcophagi that were richly decorated with natural motifs and depictions of religious ceremonies.

Research has brought to light a plethora of grave goods, consisting mainly of clay sarcophagi, painted jars in many shapes, and household goods that were either produced locally or imported from other regions of Crete, mainland Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Other findings include a collection of bronze tools and weapons and an impressive range of ornate jewelry and seals. Among the most outstanding are a helmet covered by no less than 59 boar tusks, a pendant with an inscription in Linear A and a reed basket decorated with bronze pins.

However, the cemetery’s significance lies in the wealth of information it has provided on the Minoans’ physical appearance and living conditions. Their diet seems to have consisted mainly of carbohydrates, with a low meat consumption, while life expectancy was remarkably short: around 31 years for men and 28 for women. Many of the women’s deaths occurred during childbirth, while other causes of death included accidents and several infectious and metabolic diseases.

The existence of such an extensive necropolis presupposes a flourishing local Minoan settlement, so excavations are still being carried out to determine the town’s location. The cemetery itself was discovered entirely by chance when, in 1965, a school teacher saw a pupil playing with an ancient clay jar.



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