The 2010 Greek-American excavation at Mochlos was carried out during the months of June, July and August. Its main goal was to reveal earlier settlement remains, particularly Prepalatial remains lying beneath the Neopalatial settlement on the site, in order to answer questions about state formation. To reach these remains at Mochlos, however, it is necessary to dig through multiple layers of later occupation: Hellenistic, Mycenaean, Neopalatial and Protopalatial, all of which are stacked on top of each other (Soles, Kentro 12, 2009, fig. 1). While digging through the Hellenistic levels at the western side of the site, in the area Richard Seager identified as Block A in his 1908 excavation (designated as Area 4 in this year’s excavation), the project made a spectacular and wholly unexpected discovery. A large Hellenistic building, which appears to have been used as a public dining facility, was located here lying just below surface. In 2004 the project excavated its kitchen and found a coin of P. Canidius Crassus lying on its floor (Soles and Davaras, Kentro 8, 2005, 11, fig. 2). Dating to 34-32 BC, it provides a good date for the end of the Hellenistic occupation at Mochlos. This year we
excavated the building’s dining room, and then digging beneath this room we encountered wall collapse of a LM IB building on top of which the Hellenistic building sat. The remains of an ivory pyxis (Fig. 1) and ten ivory hair pins lay inside this wall collapse. They originally sat on an upper floor of the Minoan building along its eastern wall facade, and when this wall collapsed at the time of the LM IB destruction, they fell with the wall into a basement room located beneath. They were broken in the collapse and the ivory pyxis also showed traces of burning, but many pieces survived, and Stephie Chlouveraki, Chief Conservator of the INSTAP Study Center, was able to do an excellent job reconstructing the pyxis and the pins.
The pyxis was a rectangular box with its sides and lid made of elephant ivory and its base made of wood. Its lid measures ca. 0.11 by 0.14 m. and was designed to be lifted on and off the box below. The side panels were carved in low relief with a seascape while the lid was carved with a scene showing the epiphany of the Minoan Goddess. It is a well-known scene shown on many contemporary gold signet rings, including the Ring of Minos, where the goddess appears twice, both descending from the sky and then seated after her arrival (Dimopoulou and Rethemiotakis 2004). It resembles other depictions, including the fresco of crocus gatherers from Xeste 3 at Akrotiri, in that the scene is set on a stage supported by incurved altars. As C. Palyvou has recently noted (2006), this was a prefabricated stage that could be assembled, disassembled and moved around. It was used for the performance of religious spectacles, like the one depicted in Xeste 3 or the one on the Mochlos pyxis. On the pyxis the goddess sits enthroned beneath a tree shrine and appears to hold a lily in her left hand. A procession of four figures approaches her from the right, two men and two women. The figure of the goddess survives virtually intact, but unfortunately, the upper part of the figures to the right was lost during the building’s destruction, so it is unclear exactly who they are or what is happening. It appears however to be a presentation scene in which the first male figure, who is larger than the other figures, introduces a male-female couple to the goddess, while a female attendant stands at the rear. The first figure is recognizable by his pose with his left arm lying at rest behind him and by the elongated proportions of his legs: he resembles the figure on the gold ring from Poros who stands and addresses the goddess with outstretched arm (Dimopoulou and Rethemiotakis 2000). He is sometimes identified as a god or king, but he might also be a hero or ancestor figure who has the
ability to communicate with the goddess. Whoever he is, the scene depicts a real event, one of a number of spectacles that were performed around the island of Crete and dominated Minoan society. Eighty amethyst beads lay inside the pyxis, many of them in situ with traces of string still preserved so that it was possible to identify two necklaces, one of small and another of larger beads. Other beads included a silver pendant in the shape of a bull’s head, an assortment of carnelian beads, including one in the shape of a figure eight shield, glass paste beads, including one in the shape of a lily, and other beads of lapis lazuli.
The project excavated in three additional areas of the Neopalatial settlement, and in the course of this work uncovered a more complete plan of the LM IB town, exploring its limits on the northeast, and excavating areas that had been incompletely excavated in the past. It also uncovered earlier phases of the Neopalatial town and evidence for the way it (and Minoan civilization with it) was destroyed.