The Current Excavations

The project had four general goals when it began in 1989: 1) to continue excavation on the island of Mochlos in order to obtain a detailed stratigraphic sequence of occupation through the Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age with artifactual and ecofactual remains; 2) to continue excavation on the island in the area of the Prepalatial cemetery and so to uncover an entire cemetery of the 3rd millennium B.C.; 3) to continue cleaning and excavation on the island in the area of the Minoan settlement in order to uncover a partial plan of the Prepalatial town and as complete a plan as possible of the Late Minoan town; and 4) to investigate and excavate selected sites on the adjacent plain in order to establish the relationship, especially in the Bronze Age, between the settlements on the island and sites in the plain.

The project has conducted excavation at five different sites, opened over 75 trenches, has realized many of these original objectives, and has made several additional, unanticipated discoveries. It has uncovered material from ten different periods of the Bronze Age, all of it in well-stratified deposits, including a continuous sequence of Early Minoan material, an isolated deposit of the Old Palace period, a continuous sequence of New Palace period material, and another sequence of LM IIIA and IIIB material. It has completed the excavation of the Prepalatial cemetery and has uncovered four houses and one street belonging to the Prepalatial settlement. It has uncovered a large segment of the Late Minoan town on the island, and it has located and excavated two important outposts of this town on the adjacent coastal plain. It has also opened 20 unplundered LM III chamber tombs which belong to the LM III settlement uncovered on the island. It has uncovered remains of four different civilizations: Byzantine, Hellenistic, Mycenaean, and Minoan.

Current Excavations

Early Byzantine (600 to 827 A.D.)
Late Hellenistic (1st Century B.C.)
Mycenaean (1400 to 1200 B.C.)
Neopalatial (1700 to 1425 B.C.)
Protopalatial (1900 to 1700 B.C.)
Prepalatial (3100 to 1900 B.C.)

1992 Excavation in Main Settlement area

Main Settlement

Composite plan of settlement area (2010)

Early Byzantine (600 to 827 A.D.)
The main occupation of the Byzantine period appears to be a reoccupation of an earlier Hellenistic fort on the top of the island. The excavation has uncovered parts of a large house, however, located outside of this fort and to its south near the modern shore line.

Late Hellenistic (1st Century B.C.)
The remains of the Late Hellenistic fort were partly excavated by Seager who identified them as Roman houses. The current excavation found that these "houses" extended over an area nearly 60 m. long and continued in a line which connected with the eastern circuit wall of the fort that was already known from Seager's work on the island. Cleaning revealed two groups of connected rooms set behind, and to the north of, a continuous wall that extended the whole length of the area exposed. They might be described best as "garrisons" located just inside a continuous circuit of fortification wall which forms a large circle around the whole island.

The western group contains about nine rooms, many of them divided in two by a spur wall, and most of them previously excavated. Room 1 contained Eastern Sigillata A ware along with evidence for cooking and a large stone platform in the northwest corner of the room which probably served as a sleeping platform. The room could be entered through a doorway in its east wall and may have provided access to a rectangular bastion that projected from the south side of the room. All of the rooms in this section adjoined one another and, entered from the east, north or west, they formed a solid, unbroken line of wall on their south. The section of rooms to the east, which were also excavated by Seager, were arranged a little differently. They were set back behind a terrace wall or rampart that projected to the south leaving an open space between the buildings and the actual line of wall. A series of terraces lay in the space between these two building groups behind the same line of wall, and a wide staircase appears to have led up from one terrace to another, past an exedra on the third terrace, into the interior of the complex.

New excavations on either side of the area excavated by Seager uncovered two stratified layers in this fort, the uppermost Early Byzantine and the lower containing more examples of Eastern Sigillata A ware and Hellenistic relief ware, as well as coarse storage and cooking wares. The most striking discovery in this lower level, however, was a small terracotta head of Jupiter Serapis, one of the most popular gods in the Late Hellenistic period, especially important to mercenaries serving in Crete who are known to have made dedications to him (Sanders, pp. 36-37). Just to the south of this fortification the excavation has also uncovered a large building which may have served as a communal workshop. Two of its rooms were provided with bench presses, the earliest examples known of this type of press; one was used to crush olives to make olive oil and the other to press wool, perhaps for the manufacture of felt.

Further work is required before the Late Hellenistic period at Mochlos can be fully understood. At the moment there are several possible explanations for the remains which have been found here. The Ptolemies had been active keeping peace in the area since the 3rd century, and Patroklos, commander of the Ptolemaic forces in the Chremonidean War, established a garrison at nearby Itanos which the Ptolemies maintained well into the 2nd century. In the 2nd century they established another garrison at Leuke off the southeast coast of Crete and they may have felt a need to establish still a third as an additional base for their activities in eastern Crete and other operations in the Aegean. The city states of Hierapytna and Praisos who both claimed this area of Crete may also have attempted to secure the strategic harbor at Mochlos for themselves. In the middle of the 2nd century when war broke out between Praisos and Itanos, largely as a result of a dispute over the administration of the Shrine of Zeus Diktaios at Palaikastro, Praisos may have felt a need to secure its northern frontier; later after war broke out between Praisos and Hierapytna and Praisos was completely destroyed, Hierapytna took up the territorial claims of Praisos and pursued the war against Itanos. It might also have felt a need to secure the northern approach to the isthmus which led straight overland to the city. In 115 B.C. Hierapytna appealed directly to the Roman Senate to arbitrate its conflict with Itanos. It did so first through the mediation of itinerant justices from Magnesia on the Maeander, later through a Roman commission headed by Q. Fabius. In 112 the consul Calpurnius Piso was instructed to resolve the dispute and re-establish the border between Itanos and Hierapytna. Rome was now an active player in the area, but it may not have been until the next century that it actually required troops in the area.

In the 1st century Rome grew increasingly concerned as Crete, which had earlier supported Perseus in his wars against Rome, now supported Mithridates, supplying him with mercenaries, receiving his emissaries and opening its ports to Pontic ships. These actions, along with the reappearance of Cretan piracy, provoked the Senate to demand the conquest of the island. An initial foray sent out in 77 B.C. met with disaster, but in 68 the consul Q. Caecilius Metellus landed on the island with three legions. He undertook the complete subjugation of the island, conquering Cydonia in the west first, then moving east to destroy Knossos. The Cretan Aristion played a major role in the defense of the island and escaped to Hierapytna in 67 where he led the final resistance against the Romans. Hierapytna was the last city to fall, and while the details of Metellus's strategy in the conquest of the island are unknown, it is likely that he moved troops by land and by sea. To reach Hierapytna from Knossos, the easiest route would have taken him along the north coast of Crete to the isthmus of Hierapytna. Mochlos offered the best harbor at this point, and Metellus may well have established a camp here, or taken advantage of a pre-existing one, to support his troops in their march across the isthmus to Hierapytna.


Mycenaean (1400 to 1200 B.C.)

The excavation has uncovered the remains of thirteen houses belonging to the Late Minoan III reoccupation of the site, dating from the LM IIIA:1 phase to the LM IIIB phase. These range from modest one and two room buildings to a sizable house, House A, that was provided with its own roadway leading up over earlier LM I house walls to the entrance. The settlement remains reflect the social stratification of the population and also exhibit a second architectural phase corresponding with the IIIB period. The settlement has now been fully published in Mochlos IIA, Period IV, The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery, The Sites, Philadelphia 2008.


Neopalatial (1700 to 1425 B.C.)

The excavation has focused on the LM I town. It has traced its maximum extent north, west and east on the island and has uncovered new streets and houses in the process; it has uncovered a segment of the town on the opposite shore behind the modern village of Mochlos and an outpost of the town at the eastern end of the plain; it has also discovered and excavated its ceremonial center.
On the island, the excavation has concentrated on the unexcavated area of the Neopalatial settlement in Seager's Blocks B and C, where parts of ten houses, two roads, and a narrow alley have now been uncovered.



House C.1, already partly exposed by Seager, is one of the latest of the houses to be built in this area, dating to LM IB. Its facade and staircase were built in ashlar masonry and a deep and extensive layer of Theran tephra was found beneath its LM IB floor. A kitchen was found in the northern part of the house, but it was not possible to excavate the entire house because one of the large Byzantine buildings sits on top ot it.

Ash layer, C.1.

A second house, C.2, also partly excavated by Seager, has been uncovered to the north with two workshops in its basement rooms. The western side of the building, excavated by Seager, lies under Seager's dump which is not yet removed. When it is, the northwest corner of the house can then be drawn and added to the plan. Eleven successive floor levels, ranging in date from LM IB to MM III, have been uncovered along the south facade of the house, where a retaining wall was built to support an approach to the house.

Excavation of House C.3 was completed in 1992. It is a large rectangular house of three floors with the main entrance located on the second floor from the west. The basement, where three magazines packed full of pithoi and other objects are located, is still in tact. Perhaps the most important find here has been a foundry hoard of bronze tools and copper ingots which was being stored for re-use. Eleven different types of tools have been identified, including two shapes never before documented in the Aegean. Storerooms were also located on the second floor where the staircase to the uppermost floor is located just inside the house's entrance.

Pithos and bronze hoard in House C.3, Room 1.1 floor level

Pithoi, jars and other finds from House C.3, Room 1.1, including some fallen from the floor above.

House C.4. lies on the eastern side of a narrow alley across from Houses C.2 and C.3. Only its western side was uncovered, but it suggests a similar arrangement as that of House C.3 with basement stories located on a lower level of the hill slope and the main second floor level terraced above it. House C.6 lies to the north of House C.3 on the other side of an east-west street that separates the two buildings. The eastern half of the building appears to have been re-used in the Late Hellenistic fort.

Building B.2, which displays palatial architectural features, is the main ceremonial center of the Neopalatial town. It is separated from Block C by a paved street, running north-south, and from House B.1 to the south, which was excavated by Seager, by a terraced courtyard. Terraced against the hill slope, the building was three-stories high, and because of its terracing, part of each story is still preserved. Two pillar crypts are located on the lower story at the east end of the building and considerable evidence for ceremonial activity has been found here.

B2 Pillar Crypts

Among the evidence are numerous conical cups that were used as lamps and placed on a low wall and on the pavement of the courtyard located outside the crypts to the south. A staircase, intact with 14 steps, leads up from the easternmost pillar crypt to a room which was a major focal point in the building. The main entrance to the building also leads from the east facade of the building through a corridor into this room. It is a room surrounded by doorways which is provided with a basin against its north wall. Two columns with an offering stone between flank the impluvium on the south and a drain leads out under the floor to the street on the east. Fancy LM IB cups were found in this drain.

Eastern pillar crypt in Building B.2, showing pillar broken by earthquake.

Room with Basin, from north B.2

A kitchen area has been excavated near the center of the building, with a large room that probably served as a dining area, which could be reached via a long corridor that led from a secondary entrance in the building's west facade. The third floor of the building may be traced beneath the Late Hellenistic fort that runs through the Minoan building incorporating many of its walls into its own structure. The largest building on the site, the only one built with ashlar walls, showing considerable evidence for ceremonial use, the building may also have served as the administrative center, villa, or manor house of the LM IB settlement.

Skull curated in basement room of B.2


Protopalatial (1900-1700 B.C.)

The excavation has uncovered only three small deposits of MM pottery, two in the settlement area, and one badly disturbed in Tomb Lambda where it also discovered a Syrian cylinder seal of the Classic 1 phase (above), which is dated between 1850 and 1720 B.C.


Prepalatial (3100-2000 B.C.)


The first settlers to arrive at Mochlos did so in two waves. The very first settlers were colonists from Melos who arrived right at the beginning of the Bronze Age when EM I pottery was in production. They were obsidian blade workers who imported their raw material with them, produced blades at Mochlos and distributed them to other parts of Crete. The Greek-American excavation uncovered the remains of their occupation in 1989 and again in 2010 in the northwest part of the island. A second wave of settlers appear to have arrived later, during the time that EM IB pottery was being produced at Knossos. Seager reported remains of their settlement along the south coast and western terrace of the island, and the current excavations have uncovered four or five additional houses and half a dozen additional tombs belonging to this settlement. At the start the settlement was apparently small, like others established in eastern Crete at this time, but by the the second phase of the Prepalatial period (EM II), the settlement had expanded considerably, perhaps partly because of a larger migration of settlers into eastern Crete that led to the establishment of many new settlements. The settlers are thought to have come from central Crete and may have been prompted to move eastwards as a result of overcrowding in that part of Crete or as a result of conflict between the different cultures in the northern and southern part of the island.[9] Mochlos offered several attractions to these settlers, chief of which were the natural harbor formed by its isthmus and the rich agricultural plain that lay across from the island on Crete. Through the EM II and III phases of the Prepalatial period, a period of 600 to 800 years, Mochlos flourished as a major center of population in Crete. Many scholars have stressed its importance during these formative years of Minoan civilization, and Mochlos has become a model site for the study of the cultural processes involved in the emergence of civilization.[10] The island was a center for new industries, such as the manufacture of gold jewelry, stone vases and faience; it was an important trading center, sending its ships to Melos to bring back huge quantities of obsidian, and perhaps serving as a gateway for goods coming to Crete from the Near East; it is also one of the few sites of the period to show convincing evidence for a hierarchical social structure.

The 1992 and 1993 excavations uncovered remains of two Prepalatial structures in two different areas, making a total of five or six Prepalatial buildings which the current excavations have exposed. The first of these, found in 1989, is located on the water's edge beneath the LM I houses C.1 and C.5. Prepalatial House 2, found in 1992, is located beneath Block B, midway between those found by Seager to the west beneath Block A and to the east beneath House C.2. The third house, discovered in 1993, lies to the north of House 1 beneath the street that runs alongside House C.3. These houses are scattered widely and, while some of them may be earlier than others, indicate the extent of Prepalatial occupation over the site; later occupation often cut down through Prepalatial levels to bedrock and it may not be possible as a result to learn the density of this occupation.

Prepalatial House 1 Extending Underneath Entrance of LM IB House C.1

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Last Modified: 03-April-2012
Mail to: Dr. Jeffrey Soles