Prepalatial Cemetery at Mochlos

Minoan PeriodPrepalatial PeriodProtopalatial PeriodNeopalatial PeriodMycenaean Period
Years3000-1900 BC1900-1700 BC1700-1430 BC1430-1250 BC
Relative ChronologyEM IA to MM IAMM IB to MM IIBMM IIIA to LM IBLM IIIA to LM IIIB

The Early Minoan Cemetery at Mochlos is one of the largest and most important of the Prepalatial cemeteries in eastern Crete; it contains more built tombs than any other EM cemetery in Crete and has produced a wide variety of rich finds that have provided much information about the Prepalatial period of Minoan civilization.

The cemetery was excavated in 1908 by Richard Seager, who uncovered over 20 built tombs on the island of Mochlos, as well as a number of pithos burials, rock shelters, and simple pit graves. Two monumental tombs, I,II,III and IV,V,VI, were located on a narrow terrace running along the west face of the island. Their size and architectural details, their relative isolation, symbols of rank, including large numbers of gold diadems, found among the grave goods, and evidence for differential treatment of the deceased, all indicate that these tombs were reserved for a ruling elite. There is some reason to believe that they were family tombs and belonged to individuals who played a religious role in the community, in which case they may well have belonged to the chiefs of Prepalatial Mochlos. The smaller, more numerous tombs, including rock shelter and pithos burials (VII-XXIII and Alpha-Lambda), were located on the adjacent South Slope and were used by the population at large. Most of the built tombs were constructed at the beginning of the EM II phase (c. 2600 BC) and continued in use in the EM III phase (c. 2300 to 2000 BC); fewer appear to have been used in the MM IA phase (c. 2000 to 1900 BC). After a considerable gap some were re-used in the Neopalatial period, and it was at this time that the pithos burials were made. In 1912 Seager published his discoveries in his Explorations in the Island of Mochlos. In it Seager concentrates on the small finds, since they include some of the most spectacular objects from anywhere in Early Bronze Age Crete, but he neglects the architecture of the tombs. In the early 1970’s Professor Jeffrey S Soles drew detailed plans of the cemetery and identified the tombs that Seager had excavated. The results are published in The Prepalatial Cemeteries at Mochlos and Gournia and the House Tombs of Bronze Age Crete, Hesperia Supplement XXIV, Princeton 1992.

Plan of Prepalatial Cemetery
(F. Hemans and J.Soles)


Tomb IV, V, & VI (J. Soles)


Tomb IV, V, VI, built at the beginning of the EM II period, is the largest of the Mochlos tombs. It was built entirely in stone with stone orthostates of differing colors placed upright at the base of its walls. It was isolated on a terrace that sloped up along the west side of the island and provided with a ceremonial approach, flanked by a reviewing stand on the east and a built stone altar at its northeast corner. It was used for collective burials for several centuries. The deceased was laid out in the central chamber, Tomb IV, until the decomposition of the corpse, when his or her bones were removed to one of two ossuaries on either side of the central chamber. Gold diadems and other symbols of authority were found with the burials in its interior, marking it as the tomb of important individuals who probably served as Chiefs of the Prepalatial community.

For details, see Seager 1912, pp. 44-56; and Soles 1992, pp. 51-62.



Tomb XX-XXI, seen above, is a two-room rectangular structure set against a natural L-shaped nook in the face of the cliff that rises above it on the north and east and provides natural rock walls on these sides. Its exterior walls on the south and west were provided with stone socles and mudbrick superstructures. A doorway opened in the center of the south facade. Two stone piers were erected along the north side of the tomb against the bedrock face to support an important wooden beam that provided support for a flat roof. It was one of the few tombs in the cemetery where a number of daggers and knives were found.

For details, see Seager 2012, pp. 74-78; Soles 1992, pp. 73-77.



Tomb XXIII, seen above, is typical of the small tombs on the south slope of the cemetery. Long and narrow with stone socles that probably supported mudbrick superstructures ont he west and east, it is unusual mainly for the large flat slabs that formed thresholds of its entrance on the south. A doorway was opened at the rear of its west wall to provide access to another tomb that lay along its west side and shared its west wall as a party wall. A stone vase and a string of minute gold beads were found in it when it was excavated in 1912 and a second stone vase was found when it was cleaned in 1976. Little is know otherwise about its contents.

For details, see Seager 1912, pp. 79-80; Soles 1992, pp. 65-72.



Tomb X, seen above on the right, illustrates another remarkable feature about the house tombs in the cemetery. Many like this one, which uses the entire face of the bedrock cliff on it east for its east wall, incorporate the surrounding bedrock into their architecture, creating an organic architecture where the built structure grows out of the surrounding terrain and becomes a part of it. The tomb may already have been plundered when it was excavated in 1912 and contained only two bronze cups and four stone seals, one of which pictured the head of a Minoan genie with upraised arms.

For details, see Seager 1912, pp. 57-58; Soles 1992, pp. 79-84.