Rethymno Hilly Countryside Archaeological Project

View over the site of Aï-Lias

Rethymno Hilly Countryside Archaeological Project (ReHCAP) is an interdisciplinary regional archaeological project of the Finnish Institute at Athens, co-directed by Björn Forsén (University of Helsinki) and Anna Lucia D’Agata (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR-ISPC). The project has been running since 2019 and investigates selected parts of an area of 25 km2 located to the southwest of modern Rethymno, with the aim of forming a picture of the diachronic development of human presence and ecology in the area. The project consists of a surface survey, geophysical prospection and trial excavations at places of special interest.

During the first three field seasons we have located and studied two large sites dominating our research area at different stages of the past: Aï-Lias located ca. 0.5 km to the south of the village of Agios Konstantinos, and Kephala located ca. 0.5 km to the north of the village of Moundros. Both are situated on low hills with impressive views towards the long and sandy beach of Petres in the north. Kephala furthermore controls the important pass leading across the mountains to Plakias at the southern coast of Crete.

The finds from Aï-Lias cover at least 1.5 ha and range in date from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age to the Late Roman/Early Byzantine period, with the emphasis on the Bronze Age and the Late Roman/Early Byzantine periods. Among the finds especially worth mentioning are two LN-EBA green stone celts, a handful of obsidian flakes, a Minoan stone pyxis and at least one fragment of a bull figurine. Most of the more exactly datable Bronze Age finds could be assigned to the Middle Minoan III/Late Minoan I period. Some sherds belonging to the LM IIIA-IIIB have turned out and show a continuity in use of the site over most of the second millennium BC. A geophysical survey exposed remains of walls belonging to one and the same large building on the summit of the hill. Further Bronze Age finds have been located in fields towards the west and south of Aï-Lias; they were found especially in the vicinity of the perennial spring at the cemetery of Zouridi, located only some 400 m to the southwest of Aï-Lias.

On Kephala we recorded finds datable to the periods from Archaic to Hellenistic eras covering an area of ca. 4.5 ha. Hundreds of black/brown glazed sherds together with pithos/basin sherds, Olynthos mill fragments, loom-weights, spindlewhorls, a figurine and two lamp fragments were collected. A few architectural blocks and stone mortars/perirrhanteria were also recorded. A handful of Geometric sherds seem to indicate that use of the settlement on Kephala goes back to the eighth century BC, although the floruit of the site can be dated between the sixth and fourth centuries BC.

Loom weight
Fragment of a Minoan stone vessel
Decorated fragment

During the later historical periods, the study area does not seem to have been dominated by any single site like Aï-Lias or Kephala. During the Roman/Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods there seems to have been several isolated farmsteads, whereas beginning from the Medieval period the landscape was covered by small villages. For example, remains of a Medieval village were recorded around the chapel of Metamorphosi tou Sotiros, built on the highest point of an outcrop with steeply falling slopes towards the southwest and close to the rich perennial spring at the cemetery of Zouridi. The floruit of the village can be dated to the 12th–14th centuries, whereas the chapel itself seems to have been constructed during the 14th century.