Gold Before the Palaces: Crafting Jewelry and Social Identity in Minoan Crete

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Archaeological Anthropology
Social and Cultural Anthropology
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Hickman, Jane

During the period c. 2000 – 1800 BC, the first civilization was established in Europe, as illustrated by the development of palace-centered societies in Minoan Crete. However, the extent to which stratified society existed before the second millennium BC is unclear. This study focuses on the development of ranked society in prepalatial Crete, as evidenced by the manufacturing, use, and deposition of gold and silver jewelry. Indications of social stratification are also explored in the material remains of sites where jewelry was recovered. Research objectives include an investigation of where, how, and why new forms of jewelry appeared in Crete and the impact jewelry had on the forging of individual and group identities. Jewelry is evaluated utilizing contextual, formal, technological, and functional analyses. In addition, human agency and instances of individual decision-making are revealed in association with the production and use of these objects. To place prepalatial Minoan jewelry in perspective, a comparison of this material with jewelry recovered from sites in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans is conducted. The appearance of gold and silver jewelry in Crete during the third millennium BC was an indigenous development with regional and site-specific variation. However, raw materials and perhaps the idea of making jewelry from precious metals were imported to Crete, most likely from the Near East. All prepalatial jewelry was recovered from funerary contexts; it was frequently found with other elite grave goods such as ivory seals, stone vessels, and copper/bronze daggers. Evidence suggests that objects such as diadems were used in public ceremonies, perhaps associated with ritual spaces at cemeteries. Signs of ranked society in prepalatial Crete include the presence of symbols of authority such as gold diadems, appliqués for clothing, and a scepter; finds of suspected heirlooms, indicating inherited status; the organized construction of monumental tombs; differentiation in tomb size, placement, and associated grave goods; and craft specialization in the production of jewelry, stone vases, and seals. One may conclude that ranked society existed in Crete before palaces were constructed. Gold jewelry was a tangible, enduring way to demonstrate membership in emerging social groups.

Richard L. Zettler
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