Overall description & history of research

The Anavlochos mountain range, located in the Mirabello region (Lasithi, Crete), consists of a 5 km long North-West/South-East crest of limestone extending above the village of Vrachasi (fig. 1fig. 2). This naturally defensible ridge controls the major communication axis linking Central and Eastern Crete. To the North, it overlooks the coastal plain of Milatos, where a Greek city-state was established probably from the 7th c. BC onwards (fig. 2fig. 3). The Kastellos of Milatos, occupied since the Late Minoan IIIC period, may have been its urban centre during the Archaic and Hellenistic period, as suggested by surface remains. To the North, the Anavlochos ridge also overlooks the coastal plain of Sissi, where an important Minoan settlement abandoned in Late Minoan IIIB is currently under excavation by the Belgian School at Athens. The urban centre of the Archaic polis of Dreros, where the first laws of the Greek world were recovered, is located on a hill less than 10 km to the South-East. This site is also currently under excavation, by the Greek archaeological Service and the French School at Athens. The highest peak of Vigla, located at the South-East limit of the ridge, forms the most distinctive part of the massif and makes it identifiable from all the main ancient settlements of the Mirabello Bay (fig. 4). From there one can see the entire Mirabello bay and identify all the distinctive hilltop sites of the region up to the Siteia mountains. The North-West extremity of the ridge offers a view on the bay of Malia and by clear weather up to Iraklio.

Fig. 1: Map of Crete (c) F. Gaignerot-Driessen/IMS-FORTH

Fig. 2: The Anavlochos ridge from the South-East (c) F. Gaignerot-Driessen

Fig. 3: Micro-regional map (c) F. Gaignerot-Driessen/IMS-FORTH

Fig. 4: Vigla from Dreros (c) F. Gaignerot-Driessen

Mariani and Evans, who advised Harriet Boyd to start exploration of the Anavlochos, are among the first visitors of the ridge. But the first excavations were carried out by French archaeologist Pierre Demargne, under the auspices of the French School in Athens. From August 19th to August 23rd 1929, Demargne excavated six Geometric houses in the settlement of the central valley (fig. 5.A), a series of Late Minoan IIIC-Late Geometric graves below at Lami (fig. 5.B) and on the North slope of the North-western peak, at a place called Kako Plaï, a votive deposit including Late Minoan IIIC to Protoarchaic pottery and figurines and plaques (fig. 5.C). This last decade, rescue excavations have been undertaken by the Greek archaeological Service (Ephorate of Lasithi). In particular two houses were excavated in 2012 in the settlement of the central valley. and one of them yielded debris from a Late Geometric metallurgical workshop (fig. 6). For the rest, the two houses were almost empty, likely reflecting a planned abandonment of the settlement at the very beginning of the 7th c. BC. In 2014 a rescue excavation was carried out by the Ephorate of Lasithi on top of Vigla, where evidence for Middle Minoan II cultic activities were collected.

Fig. 5: Topographical map of the Anavlochos (after Demargne 1931: 369 fig. 4 (c) EFA)

Fig. 6: Houses excavated in 2012 (after Zographaki et al. 2012-2013: 522 fig. 5)

These various investigations highlighted the important archaeological potential of the Anavlochos for the study of a still poorly documented period of transition, from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, and from the palaces to the city-states. This is why the French School at Athens started a new systematic research program in 2015, the Anavlochos Project. First, a 2-year archaeological, topographical and geomorphological survey of the Anavlochos ridge was conducted in 2015-2016. As part of a new 5-year (2017-2021) research programme, we started excavations in the cemetery area, in the settlement, and in the three cult places located during the survey.