Minoan archaeology

The monumental architectural ensemble revealed in Kastelli (Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture)

ATHENS, Greece — In a stunning archaeological discovery, experts in Greece have unearthed a massive circular structure at the site of Crete’s new airport, potentially rewriting our understanding of Minoan architecture and society. This unique find, dating back to around 2000-1700 BCE, has archaeologists buzzing with excitement and scrambling to unravel its secrets.

The monumental circular building, located atop Papoura hill near the town of Kastelli, measures an impressive 48 meters (about 157 feet) in diameter. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly the size of a professional ice hockey rink! This colossal structure covers an area of approximately 1,800 square meters (nearly 19,375 square feet), making it a significant architectural feat for its time.

What makes this discovery truly remarkable is its distinctive design. The building consists of eight concentric stone rings, each averaging about 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) thick. These rings create a series of circular zones, with the central area measuring 15 meters (49 feet) in diameter. As excavations continue, archaeologists are revealing an intricate, almost maze-like interior layout.

“This is a unique find of great interest. There are solutions so that the archaeological research of the monument is completed and it is completely protected,” says Dr. Lina Mendoni, Greece’s Minister of Culture, emphasizing the importance of this find in a statement.

What was this massive structure used for?

While researchers are still piecing together the puzzle, early evidence suggests it wasn’t a typical residence. Instead, the building may have served a special purpose, possibly related to religious or communal activities.

The archaeologists have found a large quantity of animal bones and other artifacts that hint at periodic use for rituals, possibly involving feasts and offerings. It’s easy to imagine ancient Minoans gathering here for important ceremonies, the air filled with the aroma of roasting meats and the sound of chanting or music.

This circular building is the first of its kind discovered in Crete, making it a landmark find for Minoan archaeology. The Minoans, who flourished on Crete from around 3000 to 1100 BCE, are known for their advanced culture, intricate palaces, and sophisticated artwork. However, this new discovery suggests there’s still much to learn about their architectural prowess and social organization.

The sheer size and complexity of the structure indicate that its construction required significant resources, specialized skills, and strong central management. This tells us that the ancient Minoans had the capability to plan and execute large-scale building projects, possibly even rivaling the famous palaces we typically associate with their civilization.

The monumental architectural ensemble uncovered in Kastelli
The monumental architectural ensemble uncovered in Kastelli (Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture)

While unique in Crete, the building’s circular design isn’t entirely without precedent in the ancient world. Archaeologists have noted similarities to early Bronze Age structures in the Near East, as well as to certain buildings in mainland Greece. These connections hint at possible cultural exchanges or shared architectural traditions across the Mediterranean region.

The discovery has raised fascinating questions about the structure’s original appearance. Based on the construction technique used in the central area, experts believe the roof may have been either dome-shaped or conical. This would have made the building an impressive sight on the Cretan landscape, visible for miles around.

The ancient discovery upends a modern airport

As exciting as this find is, it has also presented a challenge for an ongoing airport construction project. The circular structure was discovered in an area originally designated for radar equipment. However, both the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport are committed to finding a solution that preserves this important piece of history while allowing the airport project to continue.

“We all understand the importance and value of cultural heritage. We all understand the development size of this project, which is taking place in Kastelli. The new airport project can go ahead and the antiquities can be protected, as they should,” Minister Mendoni says.

As excavations continue, archaeologists hope to uncover more clues about the structure’s purpose and its relationship to other Minoan sites in the region. This discovery serves as a powerful reminder that there’s still much to learn about ancient civilizations, even in areas we thought we knew well.

StudyFinds Editor Chris Melore contributed to this report.

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