Analysis of everyday utensils questions the Mycenaean invasion of Crete in the Bronze Age

A modern scientific analysis of ancient stone tools calls into question ancient beliefs about what brought about a sea change on the island of Crete, where the first European state flourished during the Bronze Age: the Minoan civilization.

About 3,500 years ago, Crete underwent major cultural transformations, including the adoption of a new language and economic system, burial customs, clothing, and consumption habits, all of which could be traced back to neighboring Mycenaean mainland Greece.

At around the same time, many important sites on the island were destroyed and warrior tombs appeared in the famous palace at Knossos, leading scholars to long believe that these changes had been the result of a Mycenaean invasion.

Map by C. López

A new study, published online in the journal PLOS Onequestions that theory. Our findings suggest a more complex picture than previously believed.explains Tristan Carter, lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University, who has conducted research in north-central Crete for nearly three decades.

Rather than large-scale cultural change, our study has found evidence of significant continuity after the alleged invasion. Although new practices can be initiated through external forces such as invasion, migration, colonialism, or intermarriage, we also know of examples where locals decide to adopt foreign habits to distinguish themselves within their own society.says Carter.

Bronze Age obsidian blades from Melos | photo Deanna Aubert

Instead of looking at things like burials, art or clothing, practices that tend to change with fashion, archaeologists have begun to look more at more mundane everyday practices as a better insight into a culture’s true character, he explains. .

For the study, the researchers analyzed a sample of tools that Bronze Age Cretans made from obsidian, a black volcanic glass that is sharper than surgical steel when freshly chipped. Vassilis Kilikoglou, director of the national research center Demokritos in Athens, used a nuclear reactor to determine the origin of the raw materials and discovered that they came from the Cycladic island of Melos.

When these results were considered along with the way in which the obsidian blades had been made and used for jobs such as harvesting crops, it became clear that the community had lived in the same way as their predecessors for the last thousand years, that it was still different from life on the Greek mainland.

Our analysis suggests that the population had remained largely local, of Minoan descent.say Carter and Kilikoglou. This does not mean that an invasion of Crete did not take place, but rather that the political situation in the rest of the island at this time was more complex than previously believed, with significant demographic continuity in many areas..

The researchers believe that although local elites strategically aligned themselves with the Mycenaean powers, as evidenced by their conspicuous adoption of mainland dress, drink and bury styles, most people continued to live their lives much like the former.


McMaster University | Tristan Carter et al., Raw material choices and technical practices as indices of cultural change: Characterizing obsidian consumption at ‘Mycenaean’ Quartier Nu, Malia (Crete), PLOS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273093