Friday, February 9, 2018

Terracotta figurines at Minoan "Peak Sanctuaries": How did they become broken?

The religion of the Bronze Age Minoans has fascinated researchers since Sir Arthur Evans started to speculate about its nature and rituals based on the finds from his excavations over a hundred years ago at the so-called Palace of Minos at Knossos on Crete. The use of parts of the Minoan palaces as sanctuaries led to the identification of other places for cultic activities. Places of worship were found on prominent hills and peaks overlooking the palaces and the other major settlements. These so-called “peak sanctuaries” have been discovered across most of Crete. Their floruit of use was mostly in the Protopalatial period, MM IA – MM IIB. Their most characteristic element is deposits of offerings of terracotta figurines representing humans, animals and insects as well as miniature vessels. In the course of time a number of them have been excavated systematically. This research has permitted more sophisticated analyses of the recovered artifacts and the ecofacts in order to construct the rituals practiced at these sanctuaries.

On Wednesday evening, February 14th at 7:30 PM, Dr. CĂ©line Murphy (The Heritage Management Organisation, University of Kent) will give a lecture entitled “Reconsidering agency in the fragmentation of peak sanctuary figurines”.

Because of their allegedly ‘careless’ production and ‘poor’ appearance, it has been widely assumed that Minoan peak sanctuary figurines were not items made to last. In fact, is has been stated that they were made to be broken as soon as their ritual use was completed, by being thrown into rock crevices or into bonfires. The fact that they were intentionally broken by ritual participants, however, has never been questioned, and the influence of other factors in their fragmentation has never been considered. Drawing upon a direct examination and experimental research on such artefacts, Dr. Murphy will explore in her lecture the implications that the aforementioned statements have on our understanding of human and non-human agency in the context of figurine breakage. Starting with an examination of the material conditions upon which these items’ deposition at peak sanctuaries relied – such as their solid assemblage and their positioning on a base – Dr. Murphy will suggest that they were placed on display at the sites, and, thus, she will argue that they may not have been as immediately broken as is usually believed. In fact, the figurines may not have been uniquely broken by humans, but influence from the wider context in which they were deposited may have contributed to their fragmentation. Indeed, other factors, such as the weather and animal interference, for example, may have been causes. In the light of this observation, it is moreover conceivable that the breakage of peak sanctuary figurines occurred over time, over several generations, and consisted of a long-term process rather than an event isolated in a single moment. Dr. Murphy will, therefore, propose that non-human-provoked material decay can also be considered as a form of fragmentation where Minoan peak sanctuary figurines are concerned.

David Rupp

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