: (+30) 6977455930: [email protected]

The history of cooking and eating

The history of cooking and eating …the famous Mediterranean diet through Crete’s history..

Early man is normally portrayed as a grunting cave-dweller of little intelligence and limited horizons. However recent research suggests that our ancestors may have been smarter than we give them credit for. They were capable of quite complex things.

A number of ancient tools (vessels ,clay pots and table offerings)found on the island of Crete have been accurately dated – and found to have been made by our early ancestors, The age of the tools demonstrates that Homo Erectus must have built rafts to sail to Crete from Northern Africa the East and settled . The oldest known human settlements on Crete date to around 9,000 years ago at least.. Traditional theories hold that at it was around that time that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East began navigating vessels to Mediterranean islands

We begin on Crete, where ca. -2000-1900B .C. there suddenly appears a culture of a most striking nature. Archaeological remains in Crete dating to the third millennium B.C. present a picture of a relatively unimpressive, rather typically  (organized)early bronze-age culture.

At the turn of the millennium, however, a transformation occurs, with a sudden and quite dramatic change in the material remains and (one assumes) in the society those remains represent.

The impetus behind this transformation is uncertain, but it would seem to be associated with the gradual assimilation of an immigrant population  .The precise identity of the immigrants is unknown: even their language is of uncertain origin, archaeological remains, however, attest to one of the most impressive civilizations ever to appear in the ancient Mediterranean: a highly centralized and sophisticated society with a system of writing, a complex and efficient bureaucracy.  Today, the people of this society are known as the Minoans..

The most prominent, and most instructive, feature of Minoan culture is presented by the palaces. The largest and most elaborate is that at , KNOSSOS but others are to be found throughout the island. The elaborate layout of the palaces reflects a highly sophisticated artistic and architectural aesthetic. [The design of the palaces allows us to draw several inferences concerning Minoan society. First, it suggests a complex and highly organized political structure, and seem to have had a very tightly controlled and centralized political/economic system. The palace at Knossos clearly was an important political seat, but it was also an administrative and industrial centre, as the vast storerooms, copious amounts of raw materials, and numerous workshops indicate. It would seem that produce from the countryside (grain, wool, oil, wine, etc.) was brought to the palace, recorded (on  clay tablets , and subsequently redistributed, employed in the various workshops, or and also exported. This high degree of centralization, along with the general cultural continuity throughout the island  has suggested to some a wealthy and powerful central monarch,priest or priestess leader  with an agricultural ,farming ,working population who toiled, not in their own interest, but the nobility’s/priest priestess Devine rulers .

Although the artisans of ancient Crete are very noticeable because of the tools and other evidence that they left behind, by far the largest proportion of the population must have been taken up by subsistence farmers. Subsistence farming is growing sufficient food, and keeping sufficient animals to feed all the members of a family. (Before the 20th century most of the world was kept alive by subsistence farming, and it is still the most important means of feeding people in the majority of countries around the world today.)

Olive presses and separators have been found in several farming as well as basins and separators used in wine production. Both items were made on the farm, but it is thought that wine production, which was small in size, was for palace, possibly religious, consumption only. It was of fundamental importance in Crete as in other Mediterranean lands. The main problem with the olive tree is that it bears a heavy crop only in alternate years and that the trees of a whole district tend to be in phase. On the other hand, the fruit can easily be stored in jars and the pressed oil keeps well too. Olive oil was used for cooking, washing, lighting and possibly as a body oil. The olive harvest was the last and longest of the year, starting in November and going on until the beginning of March. The olives were probably beaten from the trees with sticks, just as they are today, then soaked in water, crushed in wooden mortars or presses, and the resulting pulp put into a settling tank. Various sorts of presses that could have been used in wine-making or oil-pressing have been found in rural dwellings, together with mortars and pestles. After some time in the settling tank, the oil rose to the surface and the water was drained off through a spout at the base of the vessel. Large clay jars with spouts at the base are known from each Minoan period.

An installation at Vathypetro, which includes a spouted jar of this type, has been interpreted as a wine press, but it could equally have been for separating olive oil as well…
Olive stones were found at Fournou Korifi and in a well at Knossos dating back to the Early Minoan I period: a cup of olive stones was found at the temple palace of Zakros .

The Knossos tablets document olive production levels; the Dawos area, in the Messara plain, is recorded as producing about 9,000 litres of olives. Fig trees were also grown. Like the olive tree, the fig appears to have been regarded as sacred by the Minoans.

Grain was the main crop, with emmer wheat and barley as the staple foods. The major tool of the Minoan farmer was the plough, and bronze sickles were used for harvesting during the era of the palaces..

Fishing and hunting would have added seafood and meat to the diet of the ancient Minoans, but we know nothing about the numbers of people who may have engaged in these occupations. It is very likely that most of the men went hunting at some time during the year, even as they did in Crete at the beginning of this century. Since the pictures we have of hunters always show men, it is unlikely that women went hunting very often.
Other information has been gradually accumulating about the farmers. Warren’s study of Myrtos  has revealed that the most common items of production among the early Minoan farmers were olives, cereals and grapes.

Both men and women would be involved in this agricultural work. Sheep were herded and eaten, and it is most likely that the children would have had the job of looking after the animals — even as they do today in many Mediterranean countries. Ninety per cent of the bones from animals found on the archaeological sites were those of sheep, so lamb and mutton would have formed an important source of protein in the Minoan diet.
The most common items of production among the early Minoan farmers were olives, cereals and grapes. Both men and women would be involved in this agricultural work. Sheep were herded and eaten, and it is most likely that the children would have had the job of looking after the animals — even as they do today in many Mediterranean countries.

Ninety per cent of the bones from animals found on the archaeological sites were those of sheep, so lamb and mutton would have formed an important source of protein in the Minoan diet.
One of the signs in the Minoan script was a plough.

In the eighth century BC, Hesiod described a primitive type of plough that consisted of little more than a stout forked branch, a type which was still in use in the Roman period. The Minoan plough, as shown in the script-sign, seems to have been a little more complicated, with a handle made of two additional pieces of wood, probably bound together with leather thongs; it was drawn by pairs of oxen or donkeys. Ploughing was an important act, fundamental to food production, and may have been accompanied by rituals. A remarkable series of clay tablets from Knossos, the Ch series, gives us the names of some of the ox-drivers and their oxen. The oxen were given simple descriptive names: Black, Dusky, Noisy, Fair, Red, Sandy, Dapple or Spotty, White-foot, Whitemuzzle, and Red-rump.

After the ploughing, the grain was sown. Some millet may have been grown, though no evidence of it has yet been found. Richer cereals were apparently preferred – wheat, soft wheat, spelt and barley. Barley and wheat seem to have been equally plentiful at this time.         Although separate signs were available for wheat and barley, the clay tablets often record only ‘grain’, which makes it difficult to tell which cereal was intended. Sometimes it is possible to infer which was meant by the size of the ration. A basic ration was 2 ‘T’ units per month in one grain, 3.75 ‘T’ in the other. It seems reasonable to assume that the two rations were of equal nutritional value, so the smaller one must be wheat, the larger barley.

Some of the ripened grain may have been picked by hand, just as it was until recently in upland fields on Crete. But simple sickles made of pieces of wood armed with ‘teeth’ of obsidian or flint are known from the neolithic period and bronze sickles were made in the Minoan period. The Minoans harvested some of their grain with sickles. How the threshing was done is not known. Today, grain is threshed with a wooden sledge with chips of flint fixed into its base; this is dragged round a circular paved threshing floor by oxen.(volosiros) Similar sleds similarly armed may have been used by the Minoans, but so far no threshing floors have been positively identified. It is possible that the circular platforms excavated by Peter Warren in the Minoan town of Knossos were threshing floors rather than dancing floors, as Warren himself has suggested (1984). Two of the circular platforms he excavated were about 3 metres in diameter, the third was 8 metres.
After threshing, the grain was winnowed, probably by flinging it up into the air so that the chaff blew away in the breeze, leaving the grain to fall to the ground – the method still used in Crete today. The Harvester Vase, a stone libation vessel found at Agia Triadha, may show winnowing forks. A group of exultant farm workers is shown singing and dancing in procession with a priest, a musician and a trio of singers; several of the farm workers carry what appear to be winnowing forks on their shoulders

Besides cereals, the Minoans were growing vetch, chick peas, pigeon peas, cultivated peas, sesame, hemp, flax and castor oil plants in their fields. Large areas were given over to vineyards. The vine may have been native to Crete. Grape pips were found at the early settlement at Fournou Korifi, and in Middle Minoan storage jars at Monastiraki and Phaistos. These pips may represent the remains of raisins rather than signs of wine production; some grapes were almost certainly dried in the autumn sun in order to store them for winter food.      On the other hand, wine had been produced from grapes for a long time in the eastern Mediterranean region: there was wine production in Egypt not long after 3000 BC, so there is no reason why Cretans should have been without wine even at the beginning of the bronze age. The Egyptians had both light and dark grapes to produce white and red wines; the Cretans too probably produced both, just as they do today. In historic times, it has been the Cretan red wine that was particularly well known; the province of Malemvizi to the west of Knossos is said to have given its name to Malmsey, the popular red wine that was exported to England in the middle ages.

Fishing and hunting would have added seafood and meat to the diet of the ancient Minoans, but we know nothing about the numbers of people who may have engaged in these occupations. It is very likely that most of the men went hunting at some time during the year, even as they did in Crete at the beginning of this century. Since the pictures we have of hunters always show men, it is unlikely that women went hunting very often.

Wool from the sheep was used in the manufacture of textiles, and leather from the deer and cattle killed was used for work aprons, headgear, shoes, belts and other items of clothing. Unfortunately, leather items seldom last long in rainy climates such as Crete, so we do not have the remains of Minoan leather items.

The food of contemporary Crete is founded on its history and what is locally produced. Crete lies in a strategic position in the Mediterranean, acting like a modern aircraft carrier in the southern Aegean. For this reason it has been a prime target of invaders for millennia. Crete was home to the Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age (3000 to 1100 BC) that built the Palace of Knossos that can be visited today. The Romans also ruled Crete, but the Crete of today began its formation with the Arab occupation that lasted from 824 to 961 AD. But unlike Arab rule in Spain and Sicily, little of lasting value was left in Crete by what amounted to a band of Arab adventurers. The island was restored to Byzantium in 961 and the Christian ruling class was strengthened. A slow decline, tethered to the decline of Byzantium in general, occurred and by 1204 Crete was sold to the Venetians who used the island as a source of grain, wine, hides, and wood for shipbuilding. More importantly Venice   understood the strategic importance of Crete and secured the island for its excellent harbors. A feudal administration was established, but Venetian rule was vigorously confronted by the Cretan character and for centuries terrible revolts occurred that were ruthlessly suppressed. Venetian rule lasted until 1669 and by the end of their rule Crete was an amalgam of Cretan and Venetian influences. As Venetian power waned, a new force entered Crete. The Ottoman Turks took Crete in 1669 and ruled until 1898. In the beginning of Turkish rule there was great hardship and deprivation. Later there was ruthless discrimination against Christians and conversions to Islam were frequent. Greek and Cretan cultural traditions were preserved and protected throughout this period by monasteries and the Greek Orthodox church. Culinary traditions, too, were preserved in monasteries and in remote mountain villages that could resist occupation. But Crete is quite different than the rest of Greece, even though that may not be immediately evident to the casual visitor. Like other Mediterranean islands Crete is self-contained and isolated. And, like many of the other islands of the Mediterranean it is mountainous, meaning that life is not automatically associated around the sea which has always been dangerous because of invaders and pirates.
Today, the traveler is most likely to encounter Cretan food in tavernas where prepared food (etimo fayeto) is served at lunchtime from bain marie. One inspects the various dishes that the chef has prepared, sometimes up to   12 different dishes, and chooses what they want. Stuffed vegetables, tourta, savory pies, and dishes of pulses that are a kind of cross between soups and stews are made. In the evening one will be presented with a selection of meze, a variety of appetizing little dishes that might be the entirety of the meal. Other food, such as stifado(stew) or grilled meats will arrive at the table haphazardly as they are finished. Being an island, Crete is renowned for its fish dishes which are usually grilled or made into a stew.
Cretan food has a kind of mythic, legendary status among nutritionists because of studies showing that rates of chronic heart disease and other chronic diseases are quite low as a result of the diet and lifestyle of Cretans. Even so, Cretan food is actually quite simple, based on olive oil, olives, pulses and vegetables and fresh and dried fruits with very little meat and fish consumption. Crete also has deep traditions surrounding two food items that remain special on islands: bread and cheese. There are many breads, from votive breads to preserved rock-hard breads for times of famine. Like its other
Mediterranean islands, Crete shares the same traditions when it comes to bread and a whole book could be written about them. So too with cheeses, many are still unnamed, just as in Corsica, called simply “cheese.” Although when pressed, Cretans will tell you that you are eating kefalotyri, or malaka or a clotted cream-like product called staka. Each of Crete’s invaders influenced the food. The ancient Greeks made sausages. The Byzantines salt and dry-cured meats and used honey in both sweet and savory dishes. With the Venetians wine production grew as did olive. Although many Cretan dishes have Italian names, they are not necessarily Italian in origin. The Turks brought the use of various spices such as sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander seed and certain other dishes such as the chicken liver and cinnamon pie called tzoulama. But there are other influences including Jewish.
Cretan food is simple food, but that does not mean it is bland food. It is food based on a foundation of basic native ingredients, olive oil, wild greens, lemons, oranges, lentils, beans, barley, and vegetables and a culinary structure emerges from the combinations created by cooks.
Cretan Cuisine

It is no hardship to eat like a Cretan. The people of Crete eat well. Crete’s economy is based on agriculture, not only tourism. With its rich plains and valleys covered with olive trees and vineyards added to the abundance of the surrounding sea, Crete has an enviable food culture. The wine and olive oil are locally produced, traditionally processed and wonderful. The warm, sunny climate is perfect for growing delicious fruits and vegetables, and the Cretans also raise sheep and goats for dairy products and meat. Their cheese and yogurt are fantastic, and their deserts are usually sweetened by fresh honey. This is a place where the ordinary food is truly extraordinary.

Although formal restaurants can be found in the touristy areas, often the best and most memorable Cretan meals are served in traditional tavernas off the beaten path. Choose from among the dishes on display; the menus are for tourists, and often the day’s specials are better. Try the fish soup, the fava bean stew and the delicious local variations on dolmades, or stuffed vine leaves. Gamopilafo, or wedding pilaff, is rice cooked in a rich meat stock. If you’re in Crete in the spring, don’t miss the fresh artichokes.

Paximadia, or rucks, are a type of hard, twice-baked bread, often made with rough-ground barley or rye flour. They are delicious with meals and sweet variations are available, too. Cretan baking, often involving filo dough and citrus, is not to be missed, and the cheeses are fantastic. Enjoy Cretan specialties like graviera, either fresh or aged, and myzithra, which is reminiscent of ricotta.

Visitors to Crete will find that the road network is extensive and fairly easy to navigate. There’s no need to stay in just one place. Visit the vineyards and the olive orchards and enjoy a traditional Mediterranean diet at the best restaurants and tavernas Crete has to offer.

There are cave drawings in the Vernofeto Cave at Kato Pervolakia (Sitia district) which indicate that the cave was used for rituals of pastoral magic. Goats are shown, one being netted. A crouching female, possibly a priestess or goddess, holds a bow and arrow with her arms upraised: a dog is near her. Below is a fishing scene, with three men in three boats casting nets for several different sorts of seafood, including octopus, dolphin and starfish. It is one of the clearest examples of sympathetic magic in ancient Crete and is thought to date from around 1400 BC But to return to the sheep. A clay dish found in the Minoan town of Palaikastro contains a model of a flock of sheep with their shepherd. The Knossos tablets add documentary evidence by listing very large numbers of sheep. The total mentioned for the Labyrinth’s final year, around 1380 BC, runs to about 100,000 sheep. The numbers of lambs are carefully noted, presumably so as to keep a check on the everchanging strength of the flocks. The tablets record target figures for flocks and for wool production. The target is one unit of wool, about 3 kilograms, for every four sheep, or about 750 grams per sheep, which agrees with the quantity of wool expected from sheep in the medieval period. Breeding flocks yielded less because lambs produce no wool in their first spring. The tablets give the names of ‘sheep officials’ or owners, who are presumably not the shepherds. A second name on some of the tablets seems to indicate a dedication to either a deity or a named citizen.
Livestock farming was a major element in the Minoan economy. In the New Temple Period, according to Nicolas Platon (1968), there is much evidence of large-scale breeding of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. There were domestic goats in Minoan Crete and it is suggested, by Hood (1971), that the wild goats of bezoar stock (the agrimi or Cretan ibex) may really be feral, i.e. descendants of Minoan domestic goats that escaped or were deliberately turned loose back in the bronze age. The creatures so carefully depicted by Minoan artists, creatures with long horns knobbed at intervals, look very similar to the modern wild goats, yet they are often shown in domesticated situations, such as drawing goat-carts or sitting on the roof of a temple. At the same time, similar-looking goats were portrayed leaping through mountainous landscapes or being chased by hunters; in other words, in the Minoan period there was little difference between the wild and the domesticated goat.
No doubt flocks of goats and sheep were driven back and forth by herdsmen, wintering on the low ground and spending the summers on the high pastures. Paul Faure (1973) believes that the shepherds’ dwellings in the high pasture became surrounded by mystique, and that they served as places of initiation. Faure draws on the substantial and very peculiar folklore which surrounded shepherds in the later, classical period. The shepherds’ folklore includes strange three-eyed giants, the Triametes, who were both cunning and cruel: the third eye, on the nape of the neck, looked backwards. The man-eating Triametes were a Cretan variation on the cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus’ experience with the cyclops represents a bronze age initiation in which the young shepherd became a mortal master of animals. Some of the caves high in the mountains have a sinister reputation; they are places where you can throw the beasts of your enemy if you wish to take revenge on him for some wrong. Faure speculates that many of the deeply entrenched rural customs of Crete may be Minoan in origin, but it would be rash to assume this.
There are cave drawings in the Vernofeto Cave at Kato Pervolakia (Sitia district) which indicate that the cave was used for rituals of pastoral magic. Goats are shown, one being netted. A crouching female, possibly a priestess or goddess, holds a bow and arrow with her arms upraised: a dog is near her. Below is a fishing scene, with three men in three boats casting nets for several different sorts of seafood, including octopus, dolphin and starfish. It is one of the clearest examples of sympathetic magic in ancient Crete and is thought to date from around 1400 BC But to return to the sheep. A clay dish found in the Minoan town of Palaikastro contains a model of a flock of sheep with their shepherd. The Knossos tablets add documentary evidence by listing very large numbers of sheep. The total mentioned for the Labyrinth’s final year, around 1380 BC, runs to about 100,000 sheep. The numbers of lambs are carefully noted, presumably so as to keep a check on the everchanging strength of the flocks. The tablets record target figures for flocks and for wool production. The target is one unit of wool, about 3 kilograms, for every four sheep, or about 750 grams per sheep, which agrees with the quantity of wool expected from sheep in the medieval period. Breeding flocks yielded less because lambs produce no wool in their first spring. The tablets give the names of ‘sheep officials’ or owners, who are presumably not the shepherds. A second name on some of the tablets seems to indicate a dedication to either a deity or a named citizen.
J. L. Bintliff (1977) has reconstructed the likely seasonal movements of flocks in central Crete. There were Minoan farming villages at Sphakia, Anogeia, Kroussonas, Gergeri, Zaros, Vorizou and Kamares. From these, flocks were taken up in the spring to graze on the Nida Plain, with the peak shrine and sacred caves of Mount Ida probably developing as a ritual focus later. After spending the summer on the Nida Plain the flocks moved down to spend the winter on the low hills in the Phaistos area. There is a clear association between the migration to the high summer pastures and the development of the peak sanctuaries and high caves as cult centres. Pigs were apparently domesticated in Crete as early as the neolithic period. In Minoan times they were widely distributed but in fairly low numbers. At Knossos, single pigs were being offered in tribute, probably as special offerings for sacrifice. Cattle were reared from neolithic times too. Their bones, along with those of sheep and goats, were recovered from the earliest neolithic level at Knossos. The Cretan cattle, introduced into the island by the same generation of neolithic occupants who built the first village at Knossos, were brought in from elsewhere, a breed apparently descended from the giant long-horned Bos primigenius. The cattle may have been kept principally for their milk rather than for their meat. They also served as draught animals, and their skins were used to make the large figure-of-eight shields carried by warriors and hunters.
Cattle featured in the bull games, a major religious rite. It seems that the bulls were sometimes sacrificed after the games, but there is no direct or necessary connection between the two rites. Bull-leaping and -grappling evidently started very early in Crete, whereas most of the evidence of cattle sacrifice comes from the fourteenth century BC, and then often in connection with funerary rites. The bulls used for the bull games are shown on the frescoes as having dappled hides, implying that they were domesticated, not wild, but their behaviour may well have been fairly unmanageable if they were allowed unmanageable if they were allowed to live in a semi-wild state. The scene of bull capture on one of the Vaphio cups shows how dangerous netting one of these half-wild beasts could be.

Dogs are known to have existed in Minoan Crete. The handles on some Early Minoan stone pot lids are shaped like relaxing dogs. It seems that the dogs were used mainly in hunting. At Pylos, the term ‘hunters’ literally means ‘dog-leaders’, proving that dogs were used in this way. On a sealstone apparently dating to Middle Minoan III, a collared dog is shown barking at a goat cornered on the rock above. A chalcedony seal with gold end-mounts found in a Late Minoan tomb at Knossos shows a dog of mythic size wearing an embossed collar. Evans suggested that this was a sacred dog, reminiscent of those described at the classical temple of Diktynna, a goddess with a pre-Greek name and pre-Greek origins; it seems that a Minoan goddess, called Diktynna, had sacred dogs in her service on the rugged headland of Spatha, to the west of the Minoan city of Kydonia. John Chadwick (1976) regrets that he sees no evidence of cats, but Sinclair Hood (1971) suggests that some of the Minoan sealstones do show cats. One very finely carved Middle Minoan seal has a cat-like symbol engraved on it; Evans proposed that the cat may have been the personal badge of a Cretan prince, which seems to be going too far. Another seal shows a cat attacking a group of water-birds. Domestic cats had been trained to hunt wildfowl in the marshes, and it may be that they were introduced to Crete from Egypt for the same purpose. An inlaid dagger from Mycenae, but probably made by a Cretan, shows golden cats again stalking water-birds, with fish and clumps of papyrus.
It is not certain whether the Minoans had chickens. The people of the Indus valley civilization were domesticating fowl by the year 2000 BC, but there is no mention of them in Egypt until the early fifteenth century BC, when they are mentioned elliptically as ‘the birds that give birth every day’. The chicken may have been introduced to Crete at about this time: a clay vase from Agia Triadha looks rather like a caricature of a chicken. Cats and dogs were used to help in hunting, and the wild mountain sides of Minoan Crete were rich in game of all kinds. In addition to the water-birds and wild goats already mentioned, there were deer and wild boar. The boar were dangerous wild animals and were doubtless hunted as a pest mainly, but their meat was probably welcome too. Their tusks are found among kitchen refuse, both at Knossos and elsewhere on Crete. It is possible that lions prowled there too. They were still in existence in Macedonia in the fifth century BC, so they may well have existed on Minoan Crete. Lions were often shown on Early Minoan and later sealstones. On Late Minoan seals they are often shown attacking other animals such as wild deer or cattle. Lions would have been regarded as a destructive menace, devourers of cattle, game and men, and pursuing and killing them a test of a warrior’s skill and courage. The best-known Mycenean dagger shows a pride of lions being hunted by men with shields, spears and bows; even though it was found in one of the shaft graves at Mycenae, it was probably made by a Cretan craftsman, and may conceivably show a scene on Crete. Lions are shown as sacred animals, attendant upon Minoan deities. One seal shows a lion walking along beside an armed goddess, and evidently accompanying rather than stalking her; another, apparently its pair, shows a lioness walking beside a god armed with a spear and a square shield.
Monkeys may have found their way, like cats, from Egypt. They appear in several wall paintings dating to the sixteenth century BC at Knossos and Akrotiri; the fossilized head of a monkey was identified – although it may have been a stone – among the debris of the fifteenth-century eruptions on Thera. Nevertheless, monkeys do appear in Minoan art and, significantly, they are painted blue, according to the contemporary Egyptian convention. They were also included in Middle Minoan jewellery and appear on Early Minoan seals: some of the early sealstones even have monkeys carved in the round as handles. The monkey may have been a sacred animal, but it may also have been caught for its meat, as it still is in the equatorial forests.
Wild birds were probably also part of the Minoans’ diet. As we have seen, cats may have been used to stalk and catch them, as shown on Late Minoan seals. Partridges and hoopoes may have been caught for food as well; these two birds appear in a frieze painted round the walls of one of the chambers of the Pilgrim Hostel at Knossos. Hoopoes are still summer visitors to Crete and Evans believed that they were regarded as a special delicacy in the eastern Mediterranean region in the Minoan period. Set against this, though, is the Jewish prohibition against eating the hoopoe, under the name ‘lapwing’, on the grounds that it is unclean. A law of this kind suggests an ancient prejudice against eating the hoopoe in the Levant at least. Perhaps we should not be so quick to read the frieze at the Pilgrim Hostel as a menu. Even so, the natural environment of ancient Crete brimmed with food. Bees were important in the Minoan economy, as the honey they produced was the main source of sugar. Egyptian bees were kept in horizontal clay cylinders with a flight hole at one end and a larger smoke hole at the other. When the honey was to be extracted, smoke was blown in to clear the tube of bees. As yet, no clay beehives have been found, or  at any rate recognized, from Minoan Crete. Hood suggests that the honey of wild bees may have been gathered from rocky clefts or hollow trees, but it may be that hives were built partly or wholly of wood and that they have simply not survived in the archaeological record. Some containers seem to have been made in the shape of modern hives; it is possible that one of the symbols of the Phaistos Disc (Evans’ symbol number 7) shows the shape of a Minoan beehive. The bee was used as a decorative motif. The famous gold pendant found at Mallia seems to show a pair of bees kissing. It has been proposed that it may be a pair of wasps fighting instead, on the grounds that the insects look more like wasps or hornets; on the other hand the Egyptians, with whom the Minoans shared many conventions, tended to portray bees in this way, so it is a difficult image to interpret

Scroll Up
error: Content is protected !!