Labyrinthine structure found on hilltop in Crete

Construction of a new airport on Crete has uncovered a monumental circular structure from the Minoan era that is unique on the archaeological record. Earth movers exposed the structure when clearing the top of Papoura Hill northwest of the town of Kastelli where the new international airport’s radar system is supposed to be installed. The discovery of an unprecedented circular monument from the Bronze Age occupying basically the entire summit might put a wrench in the radar works.

The structure consists of eight superimposed stone rings at different levels. The surviving rings average 4.6 feet thick with surviving heights of up to 5.6 feet, and the outer ring is more than 157 feet in diameter. The rings have a central circular building, likely a truncated cone or vault, with a diameter of 50 feet. The interior of the structure is divided into four quadrants. This central building, Zone A, is surrounded by another circle, Zone B, that features radial walls that intersect the rings of the lower levels creating smaller enclosures. The spaces access each other through narrow openings. There are two main entrances to the central zones from the outer ring on the southwest and northwest sides.

If this sounds like a lot like a labyrinth, that’s because it could very well be one. Labyrinths loom very large in Minoan culture. The archaeological material found at the site is concentrated in the two central zones and consists mostly of pottery fragments and large quantities of animal bones. This suggests that the feature was used periodically, perhaps for rituals, rather than inhabited.

Based on dating of pottery fragments found at the site, the main period of use was around 2000-1700 B.C. It was probably founded a little earlier — ca. 2100 B.C. in the Prepalatial period.

The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Culture are going back to the drawing board on the question of the radar installation. The construction of the airport will continue, but they’re looking for a new location for the radar. Meanwhile, the excavation of the Minoan structure is ongoing.