Kythera Island Project

Tholos Excavation (Kastri)

Plan of Tholos excavations

During KIP fieldwork in 1999, a large amount of whole and fragmentary pottery was discovered exposed in the surface of a dirt track running up the ridge that forms the landward extension of Kastri (an area called ‘Tholos’ by locals). Full excavation was conducted in a two-week season in late July 2000 as a synergasia, co-sponsored by Cyprian Broodbank (KIP) and Aris Tsaravopoulos (2nd EPKA), and is published fully in the Annual of the BSA 97 (Bevan et al. 2002).

Two rectangular and several irregular features were found, all cut into marl limestone bedrock. These were rarely preserved to more than ca. 20cm in depth, but still produced an impressive quantity of ceramics (over 250 complete or substantially preserved vessels) and a few other finds. No bone or bioarchaeological remains were recovered (despite dry-sieving and bucket flotation). Following excavation, the area was backfilled and the track restored to public use.

The pottery was studied by Evangelia Kiriatizi (Fitch Laboratory, BSA) and Carl Knappett (now Exeter). Surface ceramics from the excavation area point to the presence of Early Bronze Age, First Minoanising (late Prepalatial), possibly First Palace (Protopalatial) and definitely abundant Second Palace (Neopalatial) pottery in the vicinity. A couple of Archaic-Classical sherds were also found, but there was no evidence for Roman or Byzantine activity.

Tholos pottery
Two LM I jugs and some of the conical cups from Feature 5. Photography by A. Atali 2001.

The excavated deposits all produced pottery that clearly belongs to Late Minoan I (later Second Palace/Neopalatial period) and further ceramic analysis has identified two discrete sub-phases (possibly LM IA and LM IB respectively). Despite the lack of preserved human bone, a variety of evidence strongly suggests that these features are the heavily truncated remains of multi-chambered Second Palace tombs (similar to those excavated nearby by Coldstream and Huxley in the 1960s) and part of an impressive Second Palace mortuary landscape surrounding the Kastri settlement on several flanks. The best off-island parallels come from the north-central Cretan cemeteries of Mavro Spelio (Knossos) and Poros.

Feature 5 - southern corner
Conical cups from the corner of Feature 5:
stacked on a pebbled area (not visible here)
and inverted in a basin. Photography by A. Bevan 2000.

Feature 5 was perhaps the best preserved deposit at Tholos. In the middle of this cutting was a nest of closely packed pots, and on a pebble surface in the southern corner were masses of conical cups, carefully stacked on their sides or inverted in a large basin. The Tholos features all possessed a similar range of ceramic types and three contained conical cups on pebbled areas. Several pots imitate metal and stone vessels and are not at all common from the Kastri settlement, suggesting a primarily funerary role.

The Tholos tomb type, the regular occurrence of pebbled areas and the similar suites of pottery, all suggest a relatively conservative set of mortuary strategies, consistently reproduced over two phases of the LMI period. The picture at Tholos is comparable to that documented for other excavated tombs at Kastri and in combination, these Second Palace tombs offer an intriguing perspective on funerary practice, during a time of apparent demographic expansion and rural colonisation across the island.

Tholos was documented using a multiple context recording system. A set of sample recording forms is available as a .zip file:

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