Minoan Human Sacrifice?

There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Minoans practiced human sacrifice, but as time goes on, evidence is making it increasingly clear that although it was not a common religious motif, human sacrifice in Minoan Crete did indeed occur. Three Bronze Age sites in Crete contain evidence of Minoan human sacrifice: at the “North House” in Knossos (LMIB), what is perhaps a religious building in Fournou Korifi (EMII), Anemosphilia, a temple near Mount Juktas (MMII), but for the sake of brevity and because it is by far the most published on, I will be focusing on the human sacrifice at Anemosphilia.

At Anemosphilia, a temple site located 20 miles from the palace of Knossos in a cave near Mount Ida, a group of human bones were found. Based on the bones, archaeologists have identified the remains of three humans at the site. The report that followed detailed a gruesome scene. Yannis Sakellarakis, the lead excavator at the cave at the time these bones were discovered, has been accused of skewing evidence for the sake of drama, but others say those who deny Sakellarakis’ evidence are simply Minoan-centric scholars who cannot stomach the idea of their beloved Minoans carrying out such a deed. Three bodies were found at the temple. A young man of about sixteen, an extremely tall (well over six feet) middle aged man, and a female who has been interpreted as a priestess. The boy was found in front of the tall man near a long piece of stone, which Sakellarakis has interpreted as an altar. Restraints were found near the both of them, along with a 16 inch knife. 

Perhaps most interestingly, an iron pendant was found near the priestess. At this time, iron would have been inexpressibly rare, (think a moon rock) and would have been needed to be found naturally. The presence of this object suggests that no matter what happened at Anemosphilia, the event carried significance. Because Minoans did not routinely practice human sacrifice, many questions have been raised about the purpose of sacrificing what looked to be a healthy adolescent male. Due to the timing of this sacrifice, archaeologists have theorized the sacrifice was a desperate attempt to stop environmental disturbances occurring on or near the island of Crete. Indeed the scene painted does suggest desperation, a priestess directing a huge man to seize an unwilling boy and drag him 20 miles to a mountain to sacrifice is dramatic, but does point to this event being very important.


the 16-inch knife

the site of Anemosphilia

one of the bodies found


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1 thought on “Minoan Human Sacrifice?

  1. What are the possible problems associated with conducting archaeology at burial sites? Also, archaeologists are often critiqued for being “outsiders” who insert themselves in places they do not belong for the supposed greater good of academia. What are the potential benefits of being an outsider when studying other cultures? How about in terms of this burial site?

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