Architectural and ceramic studies
01-Oct-13 Built space, ritual action and society in Palatial Crete: the case of architectural complexes with polythyra and lustral basins
The “lustral basin” and the “polythyron” are two of the most typical (and strange) devices conceived by Minoan architecture in the proto and neopalatial periods (1900-1450 a.C.). The first one is a small space characterized by a sunken floor accessible by a short staircase. It usually occurs in Minoan monumental buildings and is placed at the end of a long path through rooms of different type, size and function, sometimes provided with polythyra. The polythyron consists of a sequence of three or more adjacent doors placed on one or more sides of a room and sometimes opened on a columned porch and light well. The function of lustral basins and polythyra is much debated, as well as their mutual relationship. Some scholars think they were used only for utilitarian purposes, but the increasingly prevailing opinion in recent studies is that they had a main ritual destination. This latter option will be followed in this research. The starting point will be the analysis of the archaeological evidence furnished by the building called “Xesté 3” at the Late Cycladic IA site of Akrotiri in Thera. Because of the volcanic destruction of the island at the end of XVII sec. a.C., this three storied building preserves its architectural structure, furniture and cycles of frescoes in an exceptionally good condition. The building also has the only lustral basin so far found outside of Crete. The frescoes displayed around it offer good arguments for a ritual interpretation of this space and most scholars accept the thesis of N. Marinatos which supposes that the room was used for the performance of a feminine ritual of passage. Until now, however, the problem of the functional relationship between this room and the next others has been neglected by the scholars. Moreover, the architectural arrangement of the complex with lustral basin and polythyra from Xesté 3 shows strong similarities with the analogous complexes of Minoan Crete. So, the question arise if these correspondences would imply analogies also in ritual use of all these complexes, despite their location in different (but indeed very related) cultural contexts. Therefore, the main goals of this project are three. First, we aim to reconstruct in as much detail as possible the ritual action performed in the lustral basin and neighboring rooms of Xesté 3. This reconstruction will be formulated by combining the information borrowed from architectural elements and from items and frescoes found in the building. Secondly, we will analyze in the same way the analogous complexes of Crete in order to propose a functional classification of this evidence, to highlight similarities and differences with Xesté 3 and to verify if it is possible to claim that the same ceremonies (or very similar ones) were performed in both the contexts. Finally, we will explore the role and significance that these ritual performances could have had in both the Minoan and Cycladic society of the Late Bronze Age I.