Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Minoan ship

Cat. No.





Kalochorafitis, Tomb B/1973


H: 0.7 m; L: 1.02m; W: 0.46 m


Clay chest larnax, no lid, four rectangular legs forming an integral part of the body. Broken in many pieces, poor paint preservation. Local workshop using phyllite-tempered clay. Coarse reddish fabric with inclusions and yellowish slip. Reddish-brown to black painted decoration. Horizontal projecting rim square in section. Frame delimited by raised fugitive bands inside the bottom of the chest. Nine holes running centrally on the long axis, one hole in each of the four corners.

Accession Number

HM 20590


Karetsou and Girella 2015: 59-116 (esp. 78, 92-98), figs. 3.9-27, 3.36, pls. II-V

Ship to the right with a crescentic hull. The stempost has a gentle rise, ending in a horizontal bowsprit. Unlike the elongated bow, the sternpost curves at a much sharper angle, rising vertically and terminating in a pointed extremity that bends inwards at a 90o angle. Above the keel line which is painted solid is a thin horizontal line (gunwale), with the two joined by 11 vertical parallel lines which probably represent ribs (appearing somewhat oblique as they follow the curvature of the hull). The mast is slightly aftwards of amidship. A series of radiating lines from the masthead (4 fore and 3 aft) represent fore- and backstays, one forestay being attached to the bowsprit. There appears to be a bird perched at the masthead, facing the stern, it's beak at the level of the sternpost terminal.

Tomb: Kalochorafitis is located in a remote area at the southern foothills of Mt Psiloritis, not far from Hagia Triada and 8 km north of Phaistos in south-central Crete. The area had two important Late Minoan cemeteries which in total have produced over 116 clay vessels, 15 larnakes as well as other notable burial goods. Kalochorafitis had at least one very characteristic local workshop, and had access to imported vessels from the Chania workshop in West Crete. Tomb B/1973 is a rock-cut chamber with an irregular elliptical shape totaling 13.5 m2, with a niche (0.5 x 1.6 m) in its SW side. Its longest axis is oriented in a NE-SW direction, measuring 4.5 x 3 m. Its entrance and now largely destroyed dromos was on the west side, with convergent walls on its long sides. It has a preserve length of 1.72 m, with a width of 1.5 m on the inner side, and a total height of 0.85 m on the inner side and 1.5 m on the outer. The tomb contained 80 vessels and 8 larnakes - half of which were decorated while the others were unpainted. Close to the tomb entrance on the floor of the dromos was found a deep bowl containing pieces of coal, with clear traces of fire on the soil below it and in a radius around it along with animal bones. These have been interpreted as a cultic act to honor the dead. Tomb B was used over a long period of time, as indicated by the pottery which spans from LM IIIA2 to the end of LM IIIB. Notable imports include 6 Chaniot vessel - one dated to LM IIIA2 while the rest are of LM IIIB date. Of the larnakes themselves, the earliest is dated to LM IIIA2, but the majority are LM IIIB in date. The skeletal material was found in very poor state and had mostly disintegrated. It includes at least 10 burials, counting the larnakes as well as two secondary burials on the floor of the chamber. These represent both sexes, including a young woman aged 25-35 and a child under 10. Grave offerings were found inside the larnakes, but predominantly wither underneath or set against their sides. Grave offerings are fairly rich, with most of the offering vessels being small and medium-sized stirrup jars for aromatic oils. The pictorial larnax B-7 contained a few bones and a LM IIIB stirrup jar (A33, B-Cat. N. 56).

Larnax: The rectangular panels are delimited by painted bands on all sides. Narrow side B has the main motif framed by one vertical band, the rest have two with intermittent bars between them. No panels dividing the decorative surfaces. There are no lines indicating the ground, vertical panels or zones. All surfaces are filled, suggestive of a *horror vacui*. The main scenes (bull leaping, chariot, ship, and human figures) are not positioned centrally on their respective pictorial surfaces. The decoration finds parallels with vase painting in terms of its wealth and variety of decoration (argonauts, fish, papyrus-like flowers, etc.). The juxtaposition of a chariot scene and a ship on the same side is unlikely coincidental and could allude to transport in a ceremonial context. A journey in the otherworld by ship is a plausible interpretation.

Long side A: Bull-leaping scene with a male leaper over the bull's back in the upper left corner. To the right is a scene of worship involving two figures. Bucranium with a rayed circle between its horns on the upper right. To its left is an animal scene that includes a running dog, a caprid, and aa small palm tree. On the left edge, seven-spoked wheel flanked by groups of stacked and diminishing slightly curves lines above and below, as well as a motif of concentric semicircles with a fringe attached to the left border. At the bottom left there is an Argonaut with six to eight tentacles. Background filled with fish and both large and small waterfowl in various stances (standing, flying, pecking). To the left is a partially preserved male figure with arms raised.

Long side B: Read from right to left based on its thematography. The three dominant themes include: 1) a chariot with charioteer, wounded deer and other animals suggesting a hunt; 2) a ship in a marine landscape; 3) the natural world showing a palm tree, pecking bird and an abundance of floral and lakeside motifs. One-horse chariot with a rider (wearing a crested helmet) on the upper right corner, while below is a ship in a marine setting identified by fish (one large and two smaller ones in close proximity to the ship), an argonaut and a sea-urchin. Between these two main scenes and under the tail of the horse are two unidentified animals, with a speared deer behind them. In the top right corner above is a bucranium with a vertical shaft between its horns and flanked by rayed circles. The central and left portions of this section are filled by a Nilotic landscape. There is a palm tree on the extreme left and a papyrus-like flower above it to the right. To the right in the centre is a giant pecking bird, with a diminutive male figure drawn in silhouette below its belly. Background filled with a large petalled flower (possibly a sea anemone variant), an argonaut, 1-2 sea urchins, a spoked wheel, a horizontal chain of three lozenges, a small bucranium, and a rayed circle.

Narrow side A: Palm tree with a bird in its branches to the right. To the right below are an agrimi and a fish facing left. To the palm's left, there is a circle with a regular pattern of dots and a fringe (sea-urchin) with two sets of stacked and diminishing curvilinear lines. Additional sea-urchins on the left edge.

Narrow side B: Oversized headless bird facing right in the center filed. Striding male figure with upraised arms in the upper right interpreted as a hunter. There is a papyrus-like flower behind him and set of stacked and diminishing curvilinear lines all around the bird. Finally, stacked semicircles with fringes line the side-frame at the top right and left.

The morphology of the hull suggests this is a Minoan ship (Wedde Type IV). The inclusion of what resembles the horizontal ladder motif is paralleled by the other two Cretan larnakes (A78, A79). The shape of the sternpost terminal is quite reminiscent of the inward-facing bird head device of Cypriot ships, an intriguing possibility which would make it the sole (and earliest) example from the Aegean.1

1. An interpretation also entertained by Wedde (Wedde 2018, personal communication).

Karetsou, A. and Girella, L. 2015. Kalochorafitis: Two Chamber Tombs from the LM IIIA2-B Cemetery: A Contribution to Postpalatial Funerary Practice in the Mesara. Padova: Bottega d’Erasmo, Aldo Ausilio editore in Padova.

  • isolated ship with reconstructed parts

    copyright icon © drawing by T. Manolova Click for fullscreen
  • long side B

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 61, fig. 3.10. Watercolour by K. Iliakis Click for fullscreen
  • long side A

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 60. fig. 3.9. Watercolour by K. Iliakis Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side A

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 61, fig. 3.11. Watercolour by K. Iliakis Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side B

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 63, fig. 3.12. Watercolour by K. Iliakis Click for fullscreen
  • long side B

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 425, pl. III Click for fullscreen
  • long side A

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 425, pl. II Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side A

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 426, pl. IV Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side B

    copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015: 427, pl. V Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Karetsou and Girella 2015 Click for fullscreen