Talk abstract details

Orientations at the Bronze Age town of Gournia in Crete
Göran Henriksson and Mary Blomberg


As a part of the Uppsala University project to study astronomy amongst the Minoans, we measured the orientations of three cult rooms identified by archaeologists as belonging to the three main phases of Gournia’s occupation. Two of these were built by the Minoans and the third was used during the later occupation of the town by the Mycenaeans.
The two Minoan shrines were built in different parts of the town and at different periods, with about 300 years between them. Despite the fact that the layout of Minoan towns is irregular, these two shrines have the same orientation (78.9°±1.0° and 78.3°±0.6°). Within the margins of error this was to sunrise one synodic month before the autumn equinox, the solar event that determined the beginning of the Minoan lunisolar calendar. This, of course, is also to sunrise one lunar month after the spring equinox. From the 14 Minoan buildings that we have so far evaluated in our project, we have discovered that twelve of them have targets to sunrise at synodic-month intervals with respect to the autumn equinox. They marked the intervals of all but the ninth and eleventh months of the year. The relevant orientation of one other site would provide the missing intervals.
In the case of the Mycenaean shrine, cult objects consisting of several statues of goddesses and so-called snake tubes were found in the northeast corner with some indication of an altar. The room is oriented such that on the night before the autumn equinox the last rays of the sun at sunset would reach this corner and would not reappear until the day after the following spring equinox. The orientation to the setting sun at a date important for the calendar is typical for Mycenaean shrines in Crete but not for cult places in Mainland Greek, the homeland of that culture.
We will present the details of this study and interpret them in the light of their relationship to the other sites that we have studied.