Last week Greece’s Ministry of Culture issued a statement concerning important results of a recent archaeological excavation conducted on the remote Chrysi Island offshore of Ierapetra on Crete.
A recent archaeological dig under the auspices of the Antiquities Ephorate of Lasithi has led to the discovery of some impressive findings from the Minoan era. Scientists have unearthed large quantities of shells used to produce red and purple paint, known as ”porfyra” in ancient Greek. The archaeologists also found the tools and processes necessary for the widescale production of this rare dye. This proves for the first time, that the settlement had developed an industrial level of production of this particular paint, which was later used on the impressive Minoan constructions on Crete. The Ministry of Culture added this in the statement:
”The multitude of broken red/purple shells found in the rooms of the dwellings prove the existence of a very early Mediterranean craft production of paint, developed during the (building of the) early palaces of Crete.”
The ministry went on to say that the settlement on Chrysi had a thriving economy. Further evidence of this was unearthed in 2018 when archaeologists found a gold ring, a gold bracelet, 26 told beads, a silver bead, and five bronze ones. As fabulous as the golden objects are, it’s the red and purple porfyra paint made from rare seashells is most telling. Also known as “royal purple” or “sea purple,” Tyrian purple was the most expensive dye in the ancient world.
Most often associated with the Phoenicians, the fact the Minoans produced it pretty much reshapes history and culture to a degree. And production facilities on Chrysi are an even more fantastic discovery. This study entitled “The Minoan Origin of Tyrian Purple” reveals a lot more about the subject. We can get an idea of the value of the dye when we consider it took 12,000 mollusks to yield barely 1.5 grams of the dye. Other than the dye’s intense color, the color was extremely hard fast and not prone to fade, which made it a rarity amongst the natural dyes from the period.
During the 2019 excavation at Chrysi Island, another treasure trove, with ancient ”talanta” coins was found along with a large saw and three vases, all made of copper. Their weight exceeds 68 kilograms (50 pounds), according to the Ministry’s statement. Other objects found include a fascinating agate seal in the shape of an animal head which engraved so as to make the imprint of a ship.
Archaeologists believe that the findings date back approximately to 1500 BC, and belonged to members of the upper class of the region’s society, probably administrators and traders.