The cist-shaped larnax (small lidded coffin) and vessels found by chance in an unlooted Minoan tomb in Crete.

A farmer finds an unlooted Minoan tomb

A Minoan tomb in an olive grove near the village of Kentri in Ierapetra, on the agricultural plains of south-east Crete, found by chance by a farmer, has now been excavated. Archaeologists say the tomb dates from the Late Minoan 111A2-B period circa 1400–1200 BC. Yiannis Papadatos, Assistant Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology of Kapodistrian University in Athens, led the excavation project, aided by students from the university.

The Minoan civilisation had its beginnings circa 2000 BC and continued until about 1100 BC, yet it was only brought to light when Sir Arthur Evans began his excavations of the great palace of Knossos in 1900. This till-then forgotten Aegean Bronze Age civilisation, which Evans named after the legendary King Minos of Crete, was one of considerable sophistication as evidenced by the advanced design and construction of the Minoan palaces and by the remarkable frescoes and elegant artefacts they contained.

Carved out of the region's soft limestone, the newly discovered chamber tomb had remained intact. Reached by a vertical shaft, its entrance had been sealed with large river pebbles. The floor of the tomb now lies 3.3m below ground level. Elliptical in shape, it contains three interior niches and two contained larnaxes (small, closed coffins). One complete cist-shaped larnax, decorated with images of vegetation, still had its lid in place. Inside it was the well-preserved skeleton of an adult, probably female. In front of the larnax were various vessels – 14 stirrup jars, an amphoroid crater and a cup, all in a good state of preservation.

A second larnax, of the washbasin type, found in the third niche, contained the skeleton of an adult male. This was decorated with a scene of a three-man chariot pulled by a horse led by a human figure. A similar scene has been found on another larnax found in the nearby village of Episkopi in Ierapetra, and archaeologists believe these may be by the same artist. Future research may be able to validate this.

Diana Bentley