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A Microarchaeological Approach to the Riddle of the Knossian Replica Rings from Crete and Thera


Principal investigators: Prof. Yuval Goren* and Prof. Diamantis Panagiotopoulos**


*Ben Gurion University of the Negev

** Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany

The question of the Knossian Replica Rings (KRR) represents one of the most intriguing problems in the study of the political setting of Neopalatial Crete. This term refers to a certain class of Late Minoan IB (LM IB) seal impressions on clay, copies of each one of which were found in more than one site within the island. The first reference to this unusual phenomenon was made by Spyridon Marinatos, who first observed that some of the sealed clay nodules found at various Cretan sites were apparently impressed by a certain set of high-quality sealing rings that existed in the island. The unique attribute of these specific nodules was that as opposed to others, examples of each type of them were found in more than one site. Hence the most important aspect of this group is that sealings impressed by one and the same ring (or a few identical ones) were discovered in more than one and up to four different sites. The assumed KRR were found so far to seal more than fifty clay nodules found at six different Cretan LM IB sites, including Hagia Triadha, Zakro, Sklavokambos, Gournia, Khania, and Knossos.

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A group of "Replica Rings" sealings from Cretan sites, depicting bull-leaping motifs (photo: Y. Goren with permit by the Cretan Museum, Heraklion).

Similar sealings were later found also at Akrotiri in Thera (Santorini). Over the past decades, this discovery attracted much scientific interest and was forwarded by others, so much so that it plays now a fundamental role in the debated reconstruction of the island's political geography during the LM IB or Neopalatial period.

The crucial question of this ongoing debate relates to the provenance of the sealings. So far, the clay of the KRR has been examined only by visual and thus very subjective observations. Although it was clear that the superficial visual examination of the clay could supply only limited and highly speculative data, this state of the research resulted from the fact that the application of destructive analyses was excluded because of the delicacy of these objects.

As consequence of all the above background, we performed a research project with the aim of addressing the riddle through detailed analyses of the KRR from Crete and Thera. The KRR were subjected to a set of physical, mineralogical and elemental examinations using optical mineralogy (OM, often misnamed petrography), X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), ‘Environmental’ Scanning Electron Microscopy (ESEM) equipped with Energy-Dispersive Spectrometer (EDS) and X-Ray Florescence (XRF). All these analytical techniques were involved in the attempt to identify the technology, degree of uniformity and possible provenance of the sealings in order to reconstruct their administrative background.

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