Lefkandi (Greek: Λευκαντί) is a coastal village on the island of Euboea, Greece. Archaeological finds attest to a settlement on the promontory locally known as Xeropolis, while several associated cemeteries have been identified nearby. The settlement site is located on a promontory overlooking the Euripos, with small bays forming natural harbours east and west of the site. The cemeteries are located on the hillslopes northwest of the settlement; the plots identified so far are known as the East Cemetery, Skoubris, Palia Perivolia, Toumba, in addition to further smaller groups of burials. The site is located between the island's two main cities in antiquity, Chalkis and Eretria. Excavation here is conducted under the direction of the British School at Athens, and is ongoing as of 2007 (Previous campaigns in 1964-8, 1981-4).
Occupation at Lefkandi can be traced back to the Early Bronze Age, and continued throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, to end at the beginning of the Archaic period (early 7th century BCE). The known cemeteries cover only part of the periods attested in the settlement, dating to the Submycenaean through Subgeometric periods (c. 1050 – 800 BCE, the "Greek Dark Ages"). The abandonment of Lefkandi coincides with a rise in settlement activity in nearby Eretria, and it has been argued by the excavators that the site is, in fact, Old Eretria.
Lefkandi's contribution to archaeology
The site's importance is due to a number of factors. First, substantial occupation strata of the Late Helladic IIIC period (c. 1200 – 1100/1075 BCE) excavated in the 1960s allowed the establishment of a ceramic sequence for this period, at that time insufficiently attested. The IIIC settlement furthermore stands in contrast to sites in the other parts of Greece, such as the Peloponnese, where many sites were abandoned at the end of LHIIIB (i.e. the end of the Mycenaean palatial period). This situation places Lefkandi within a group of sites in Central Greece with important post-palatial occupation, such as Mitrou (settlement), Kalapodi (sanctuary), and Elateia (cemetery).
Heroon of Lefkandi, as seen from the main door.
Reconstruction, heroon of Lefkandi c. 1000 BC.
The archaeological significance of the site was revealed in 1980 when a large mound was discovered to contain the remains of a man and a woman within a large structure called by some a heroön (ἡρῷον) or "hero's grave." There is some dispute as to whether the structure was in fact a heroön built to commemorate a hero or whether it was instead the grave of a couple who were locally important for other reasons. This monumental building, built c 950 BC, 50 meters long and 13.8 meters wide, with a wooden verandah, foreshadows the temple architecture that started to appear with regularity some two centuries later.
One of the bodies in the grave had been cremated, the ashes being wrapped in a fringed linen cloth then stored in a bronze amphora from Cyprus. The amphora was engraved with a hunting scene and placed within a still larger bronze bowl. A sword and other grave goods were nearby. It is believed that the ashes were those of a man.
The woman's body was not cremated. Instead, she was buried alongside a wall and adorned with jewelry, including a ring of electrum, a Bronze braziere, and a gorget believed to have come from Babylonia and already a thousand years old when it was buried. An iron knife with an ivory handle was found near her shoulder. It is unknown whether this woman was buried contemporaneously with the man's remains, or at a later date. Scholars have suggested that the woman was slaughtered to be buried with the man, possibly her husband, in a practice reminiscent of the Indian custom of sati. Other scholars have pointed to the lack of conclusive evidence for sati in this instance, suggesting instead that this woman may have been an important person in the community in her own right, who was interred with the man's ashes after her own death.
Four horses appear to have been sacrificed and were included in the grave. Two of them were found with iron bits still in their mouths.
Archaeological research has brought to light a settlement where continuous occupation can be demonstrated from the Mycenaean period through the Dark Ages and into historic times. It has been suggested by the excavators that the site can be identified as the old Eretria which was forced to up root and move farther from Chalkis as a result of the Lelantine War.
Preliminary report by Mervyn Popham, E. Touloupa and L.H. Sackett, "The Hero of Lefkandi", in Antiquity 56 (1982:169-74); final publication R. W. V. Catling and I. S. Lemos, Lefkandi II. 1. The Protogeometric Building at Toumba. The Pottery, BSA Suppl. vol. 22, Oxford 1991; M. R. Popham, P. G. Calligas, and L. H. Sackett, (eds.), Lefkandi II: the Protogeometric Building at Toumba, Part 2. The Excavation, Architecture and Finds, BSA Suppl. vol. 23, Oxford 1993.
Early Excavations at Lefkandi: THE PROTOGEOMETRIC BUILDING AND THE CEMETERY OF TOUMBA
D. Evely (ed.), Lefkandi IV: The Bronze Age: The Late Helladic IIIC Settlement at Xeropolis, BSA Suppl. 39, London 2006
Morris, Ian (1996). "Negotiated Peripherality in Iron Age Greece: Accepting and Resisting the East". Journal of World-Systems Research 2 (12).
Encyclopædia Britannica On-line article The post-Mycenaean period and Lefkandi
Thomas R. Martin, Ancient Greece from Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, Yale University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06956-1
Barry B. Powell, "Did Homer Sing at Lefkandi?", Electronic Antiquity 1(2), July 1993
John R. Lenz, "Did Homer Sing at Lefkandi?", Electronic Antiquity 1(3), August 1993
The official Lefkandi excavation web site
Lefkandi excavation page from the British School at Athens, which undertook the archaeological dig at the site
Photo tour of the site at Lefkandi
Dartmouth classics department site for early Aegean archaeology: "Lefkandi I" and Tiryns Cultures
The "Heroon" at Toumba, Lefkandi
Eretria Archaeological Museum. (with the famous terracota centaur)
Lefkandi Perseus Map
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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