“For even as he has brought the Israelites out of Egypt, so has he rescued the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir.”
The Arkalochori cave, outside the village of the same name in Heraklion Prefecture, is one of Crete island’s most important archaeological sites. A place of worship since prehistory, the site is most famous for an unusual horde of weapons and votive offerings found there in the early 20th century. Much has been written about these discoveries, but the cave’s contents and their significance seems somehow understated, even lost, in the greater inquiry into who the Minoans were. With this in mind, here’s some free-flowing thought on the matter.
The Arkalochori cave was discovered when locals found Bronze Age weapons there and sold them in Heraklion. Iosif Hatzidakis was the first explorer of the central cave chamber where he discovered masses of bronze votive weapons and silver labrys (double axe). Later weapons discoveries and a now-famous double axe made of silver, prompted archaeologists to probe deeper into the collapsed chamber of the cave.
The archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos took over the Arkalochoir site when a child found a golden double axe, which prompted villagers to start plundering the site. Marinatos discovered the side chambers, which had been blocked with debris from the collapse of the cave’s natural roof. In these previously hidden chambers, researchers found hundreds of bronze axes, twenty-five golden ones, seven made of silver ones, and some fantastic bronze long swords from late third millennium BCE to Late Minoan II (ca. 1500 to 1425 BCE).
Dr. Marinatos believed that the cave had been a worship center to a war god (Ariadne/Astarte) since around 2500 BC, in favor of a war god possibly, as most of the votive were weapons. It is also possible that the cave was part of a center for metalworking since pieces of raw copper were found.
One myth about the cave is that this was the actual spot where the goddess Rhea gave birth to Zeus. The idea has merit for the fact that the site is unique for its hand-crafted buildings and its proximity to the main Minoan peak sanctuaries. From the top of Prophet Elias hill, one can see Mt. Kofina and Mt. Juktas. Another interesting coincidence here is the church of Profitis Ilias built atop the hill. While there are many locations in Greece associated with the prophet, the Arkaloshori instance seems like a breadcrumb to a larger mystery. If you walk among the ruins of what was her before the current small chapel, you get the sense the site above the cave was more than a shrine.
The aforementioned hill remained sacred through the present because of an association with the prophet Elias. This prophet, some may recall, was a miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab (9th century BC). This association brings into focus other myths about the Minoans and Crete (Keftiu). According to scriptures, God performed many miracles through Elias, including resurrection (raising the dead). So, the linkages between Keftiu (Caphtor), the Egyptian references to Creta as the “Island of the Dead”, King Minos, and others bear mentioning here.
The biblical story of Elias condemning the worship of the Caananite god Baal is a fascinating connective here. But, the fragmented archaeological evidence from the Late Minoan period (1400 – 1100 BC) seems to link Minoan culture and that of Caanan. At Tel Kabri in Israel, for instance, archaeologists unearthed a palace dated to the 19th-century B.C.E. where Aegean-style wall frescos were found.
The Biblical accounts also seem to link the Minoans (Caphtor) and the Philistines, and some speculate that the last of the Minoans became the Israelites. But, such speculation is far outside the scope of this profile of Arkalochori. The prospects are fascinating and tempting, though. Perhaps we’ll one day find the linkages between Elias (My God is Yahweh), Minoan and Caananite religion, and catastrophes like the one that spelled the end for the Minoans? Elias’ mockery of Zeus and Poseidon during the challenge of Baal in the Hebrew version of the tale…
While the connections I presume in between the Minoans and Arkalochori, and the land of Canaan and the prophet Elias are thin, it’s curious how Canaanite religious influences can be seen in Greek mythology, particularly in the tripartite division between the Olympians Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.
The archaeological finds at Arkalochori are unique. The cave’s proximity to other Minoan sites, particularly the recently discovered Galatas Palace unearthed by the renowned archaeologist Dr. George Rethemiotakis, amplifies the importance of finds. Rethemiotakis has associated the votive objects of the Arkalochori cave with the Galatas palace, which is, in turn, a mysterious and unique find among Minoan sites.
The Arkalochori finds do, in fact, lend credence to the assertions of Rethemiotakis, and Knossos Curator Kostis Christakis. Their paper on the finds at Galatas point to the political, social and ideological power that must have been centered in this region of Crete.
Dr. Rethemniotakis believes that the region surrounding Galatas Palace succumbed to some sort of cataclysm from which the areas past glory never resurfaced. He was of the opinion that the object at the Cave of Arkalochori was hidden there to prevent looters from stealing them. Perhaps they were religious items from the Galatas palace itself? If you visit the site you might agree the shallow cave resembles more a place to bury and hide something, than a ritual enclave where worship would take place.
The artifacts from Arkalochori remind us of a culture steeped in religion. Minoan Crete was the site of some of the most ambitious building projects in the ancient world, temples aimed at a higher belief system. Interposed onto this spiritual realm of inquiry we find linkages extending to the known world of the time. Take for instance the legendary archaeologist John Pendlebury’s (1939) view was that the Minoans combined their goddesses into a single deity. Could his ideas lead us to the Prophet Elias and the condemnation of Baal and polytheistic worship? Perhaps Zeus and Poseidon, and the animism that cloaked the mighty civilization abandoned the Minoans when Thera erupted? Or, their perception led them to abandon the gods?
Interesting ideas, I hope. For further reading on the Minoans’ religion, here’s an interesting report.