Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey in relationship with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

To join the discussion about ancient Minoan culture and Modern Minoan Paganism, head on over to our welcoming community at Ariadne's Tribe on Facebook.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Archaeological Dating: A thorny issue, even for the Minoans

I've been a big fan of archaeology ever since I discovered the ancient Egyptians back in grade school. Indiana Jones aside, I think it's absolutely fascinating that we can dig up the remains of civilizations from centuries ago, put the pieces back together (mostly) and get a glimpse into those long-ago lives.

Ah, but there's the big question: Exactly how long ago did it all happen?

First of all, there's the issue that the ancient world as a whole is terribly remote from us. It's easy to lump everything BCE into one large mental category without trying to sort it out. But that leads to trouble, since the different cultures and societies didn't all happen at the same time. The ancient Minoans, for instance, are clearly a pre-Greek, non-Indo-European culture that later came in contact with the Mycenaean Greeks. I like to put them in their historical context alongside the Egyptians, Sumerians, and others who lived during that time period.

We can pretty easily sort out which cultures came before or after others. That's not terribly difficult, what with the layers of remains the archaeologists dig up. A bigger problem is absolute dating: figuring out the exact year to label something with. Why is this such a contentious issue?

Partly, it stems from the fact that archaeology wasn't originally a science, not really. It was the hobby (albeit a really enthusiastic one) of wealthy Christian men whose main aim was to prove the historicity of the events in the Bible. So the "baseline" of archaeological dating is the assumed dates, based on the Bible stories, of certain dynasties and kings in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. And that's the real problem.

We know now that the world is far older than Irish Archbishop Rev. James Ussher calculated based on the Bible. The problem is that, even though archaeology has progressed into a real and reliable science, much of the dating is still based on those 19th-century biblical calculations.

For instance, for many years the eruption of the volcanic island of Santorini, known as Thera in the ancient world, was dated to about 1450 BCE. It was assumed to have been the cause of the fall of Minoan civilization, since it created a huge tidal wave in the eastern Mediterranean as well as doing damage via earthquakes and a drifting ash cloud. But it turns out that the eruption happened much earlier and the Minoans managed to recover from it.

Dendrochronology and ice core dating now put the eruption of Thera to somewhere between 1646 and 1590 BCE. These are much more accurate methods than the carbon-14 dating that has been popular for years, and obviously also far more accurate than relative dating based on the presumed times of biblical incidents.

So the eruption of Thera didn't destroy Minoan civilization. It killed a lot of people, severely damaged the cities on the eastern and northern coasts of Crete, and put a serious damper on the island's society for 50 years afterward, as they slowly rebuilt. The debris layer from the tsunami is pretty spectacular, as archaeologist Sandy Macgillivray has shown with his excavations at Palaikastro on the far eastern tip of Crete. But it wasn't the end, and we wouldn't know that if we hadn't developed these newer dating methods.

The Minoans managed to continue for at least a century and a half after the eruption of Thera. Their final downfall consisted not of a natural disaster but a human cataclysm, the purposeful looting and burning of all the major cities on the island. That's a sad bit of news. I like to think people are better than that, but history continues to contradict my hopes. But I also like to find out what really happened, even if it doesn't line up with someone's religious text or their preconceived notions. I think we owe that much to these marvelous ancient cultures. They were living, breathing people just like us.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Last modified on
I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. My first book was published in 2001; one of my most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. I've also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When I'm not busy drawing and writing, you can find me in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

Comments

Additional information