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Tholos tomb of Kamilari

The Kamilari tomb was the largest and best-preserved of three tholos tombs found in the area when the Italian School carried out excavations in the area at the end of the 1950s.

It is located on a low hill near the sea and 1.9 kilometers southwest of Agia Triada and therefore also very close to the Palace of Phaistos. The internal diameter of the tholos tomb is 7.65 meters and the walls still stand to a height of two meters in places. The tomb has an entrance with a large capstone which is very well preserved.
To the east of the tomb, there is an annex of five rooms.

The first room, which encloses the entrance to the tomb and served as an antechamber, was linked to 2 other rooms by a short corridor. To the south, there were two more separate rooms and epsilon, built as lean-tos against the rock. North of the five rooms of the annex there was a paved area called the recinto delle offerte by the Italian excavators. The annex was probably added soon after the construction of the tomb since all three areas — the tholos tomb, the annex and the open area all contained large quantities of pottery.

The original excavator mentioned finding 500 vases of various types and 500 conical cups inside the tomb complex. However recent work at reconstructing pottery fragments from the tomb has now raised that total to 2500 of which 800 were conical cups. Four basic styles of decoration were used on these cups and since the same four were also used on bridge-spouted jars it would appear that the cups and jugs formed distinct sets.

A substantial number of conical cups and many of the stone vases were found outside the tomb, on or around “The Offerings Enclosure”. All of them had been placed upside down. It seems certain that these cups were used once only in a libation ritual.

It is likely that a small number of close relatives of the dead would have drunk from these cups before placing them upside down. Branigan, who has made a major study of tholos tombs in the Messara region of southern Crete, concluded that some 400 to 500 people may have been buried in the Kamilari tomb over the centuries. 

Based on these finds and their location within the complex, recent research suggests that the tholos chamber was the main area for burial while rooms beta and delta in the annex were used for secondary burials. Some Rooms and the connecting corridor were used for the placing of ritual equipment.


Who was buried here?

Although once considered to have been linked to the Palace of Phaistos, it now seems likely that the tombs at Kamilari were used by a settlement in the local area. Unlike some other tombs of the Mesara region, there was no move from communal burial to burial in pithoi or larnakes. Nor do there seem to be any prestigious burials of high ranking people.

Does this suggest a more egalitarian approach by the community using this tomb? Were the settlements in this area organized in large family groups so that rank would not have been important in funeral customs? Or was the emphasis on community visible in the communal burials an attempt, as some argue, to hide the very real differences in status and rank that existed even in these small communities?

There is now a current of opinion which argues that after the destruction of the first palace at Phaistos, there was some sort of crisis linked to the failure of plans to replace it with a new palace in MM III and a shift in power away from Phaistos to Agia Triada. The weakening of the power of Phaistos might then have allowed small communities like that at Kamilari, to become more autonomous and the political fragmentation could explain the failure to develop new funeral practices as was done elsewhere.

Although the tomb is fenced in, the gate is now left unlocked so it is possible to enter the site. Kamilari remains a very imposing structure and is well worth a visit. The views of the surrounding countryside are also quite spectacular.


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