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Department of Archaeology


Minoan culture is often defined by its strong links with other eastern Mediterranean cultures, which engaged materials, ideas and people. This project aims to gain a better understanding of the relationship of Crete with the world outside the island through the lens of a key body of materials: goldwork.

It is well known that gold does not naturally occur on the island of Crete, nor in its immediate vicinity. However, gold artefacts are found on Crete since the Neolithic, with their exotism and depositional patterns clearly demonstrating that gold was considered precious by Cretan communities of all periods.

Recent technological and stylistic analyses of Minoan goldwork have successfully shown that gold items present a complex mixture of indigenous and foreign traits and influences (Hickman 2012, Prévalet 2013). Gold therefore constitutes a foreign material used to show important local values, providing a unique window into the relationship of Crete with the wider world. In fact, one of us has recently argued that the quest for such precious material may have played a central role in the developments that created the first state societies on the island (Legarra Herrero 2014). A possible move in the sourcing of gold from the north Aegean to the east Mediterranean sources (mainly Egypt) at the end of the Early Bronze Age could be part of a whole realignment of Crete in external trade routes that may have had a decisive impact in the developments occurring on the island in MM I. As such, it is perhaps surprising that Minoan gold has not been the subject of extensive archaeometallurgical analyses that add new information about the creation, exchange and consumption of these items in the island.

This project therefore aims to develop a non-invasive analytical programme focused on gold items in collaboration with the Herakleion and Hagios Nikolaos Museum and the Sissi Archaeological Project in order to investigate the following issues:

• Chemical composition of gold items in Cretan archaeological contexts. This will allow better knowledge of the metallurgical processes used in the production of the items, possible sources of the metal, alloy selection, and choices in colour, malleability and other traits.

• Technical analysis of manufacturing traits in the form of toolmarks and evidence of finishing techniques, and assessment of use trough signs of wear and/or repair.

• Characterisation of geographical and chronological patterns within the island, identifying changes in the composition and physical characteristics of the items through time and space, which may be informative of changes in trade networks, knowledge transmission and cultural contacts.

• Comparison of the analytical results with the growing body of analytical information on gold and goldwork from the northern Aegean, east Mediterranean and Egypt, in order to better contextualise Cretan gold metallurgy in the wider picture.

• Integration of the analytical results with recently published technological analyses of these items (Morero and Prevalet 2015), as well with the contextual information available, helping to create a more holistic perspective of goldwork and its role in Minoan culture. This will allow a contextual understanding of the artefacts’ biographies, from provision through manufacture and use to deposition, which may reveal variable patterns at the site or assemblage level.

• Assessment of the current conservation state of the items and possible correlations with composition or other parameters, which may aid future conservation management plans.

This project has received funding from the Instutute for Aegean Prehistory.

Key collaborators

Borja Legarra Herrero (UCL)

Marcos Martinón-Torres


Institute for Aegean Prehistory

Project Tags

Science, Technology and Innovation
Material Culture
Geographical areas: 
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Material Culture
Artefact Analysis & Technology
Archaeological Science
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