What is it about?

It has long been argued that the radical changes we see in the archaeology of Minoan Crete some 3500 years ago (destruction of palaces, appearance of warrior elites, a new language and foreign goods) was the result of an invasion by the Mycenaeans of mainland Greece. This study provides a more complex reality, one that forefronts significant cultural continuity in everyday activities, suggesting that while the political classes may have changed and/or adopted new means of creating, and displaying power, we are not dealing with wholescale population replacement, and that much of the old 'Minoan' way of life continued as before. The study specifically looked at how the people of Malia had made their everyday (obsidian) tools in the period after the site's palace had been destroyed, and when the settlement's community was using an array of new Mycenaean style objects. Our results indicated that the specific raw materials chosen, and the way in which they were used to manufacture razor-sharp blades, formed part of an uninterrupted tradition of obsidian use at Malia that spanned 1000 years, allowing us to argue for significant cultural continuity at the site, rather than population replacement.

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Why is it important?

Today, for various reasons, we are seeing on the one hand the migration of peoples over space and political boundaries, and on the other, the global spread of technologies and fashions that involve, little if any population movement. Arguably this has always been the case, albeit in prehistory at a more regional, than global scale. This study engages with a long-held desire of archaeologists and the public alike, to understand what underpins some of the seismic cultural changes we see in the past; are we dealing with invasion and colonialism, migration, or the spread of ideas, technologies, and fashions through trade, or from one group wishing to emulate another? While there is no simple way of reading identity from archaeological remains, there has been an increased appreciation of how the everyday, domestic materials can give us the best insight to cultural traditions, rather than customs such as dress, and burial, which are often greatly influenced by larger fashions, and susceptible to change.


The perspectives we brought to this paper are methodologically radically different, yet complimentary. We meld the results of geochemical analyses from a nuclear reactor, with 20 years' experience of studying the obsidian tools of Malia - work that has included datasets that span 1000 years of the Bronze Age, providing that key deep-time perspective that allowed us to appreciate the degree of cultural continuity seen in the so-called 'Mycenaean' period at the site.

Tristan Carter
McMaster University

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This page is a summary of: Raw material choices and technical practices as indices of cultural change: Characterizing obsidian consumption at ‘Mycenaean’ Quartier Nu, Malia (Crete), PLoS ONE, August 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273093.
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