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Harbor site may be a Cretan pirate nest.

Harbor site may be Cretan pirate nest

For most of the last few centuries B.C., many inhabitants of the Mediterranean island of Crete made a living through piracy. Ancient Roman texts describe the navigational skill and fast ships that enabled Cretan pirates to terrorize and rob passing vessels. The writings describe pirate ships kept in harbors with watchtowers and arsenals, but make no reference to specific outposts.

Greek investigators now report they may have uncovered the first archaeological evidence of such a harbor on the western coast of Crete. In the just-released October AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGY, project director Elpida Hadjidaki of the Archaeological Museum of West Crete in Hania suggests the harbor, an excavated basin connected to the sea by a now-dry channel, "was one of the famous Cretan pirate nests, possibly one of those destroyed by Romans in the mid-first century B.C. when the Mediterranean was cleared of all pirates."

Preliminary excavations at the Phalasarna site, named for a nearby city, were conducted in 1986 and 1987. The harbor is now on dry land because western Crete now stands 6 to 9 meters above its level of 2,000 years ago.

Hadjidaki located the site with the aid of a map drawn up by a 19th-century English scholar who believed the area contained the remains of an ancient harbor. She noticed a long, dilapidated stone wall that may have served as part of a protective curtain for a harbor. Initial excavations were directed at a mound behind the wall.

Tons of earth removed in two field seasons yielded the remains of the circular foundation of a large harbor-fortification tower. Further excavation uncovered two parallel walls connected to the tower; apparently, the space between the walls was once filled with water and served as a moat, Hadjidaki says. Pottery found within the tower dates to the late fourth century B.C.

The tower, as well as three other mounds containing unexcavated towers, lies next to a 100-meter-wide basin dug out of the ground about 100 meters from the sea. A smaller basin of about 50 meters is situated behind the main harbor and is the focus of future excavations.

Similar man-made harbors were fashioned as early as the sixth century B.C. by the Phoenicians, who lived in cities along the coast of modern Lebanon and northern Israel and were avid sea traders. The Phoenicians generally used their harbors for trading rather than for military purposes. It remains unclear, Hadjidaki says, whether the Phalasarna harbor was influenced by the Phoenicians or was of purely Greek design.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 19, 1988
Words:429
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