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Water Management in Prehistoric Crete:
The case of Choiromandres, Zakros

According to the inhabitants of the village of Zakros who owned properties at Choiromandres, until the middle of the 20th century a part of the valley was covered by large carob trees (Ceratonia silica). A disastrous flood in 1949 brought a major change to the landscape, as it uprooted all the trees.Choiromandres. Carob-tree (Ceratonia silica): the last tree remaining in the western part of the valley.

The exploitation of carob trees constituted an important source of income. Specifically, three tons of carob pods would be gathered annually in the valley and transported to the bay of Kato Zakros, in order to be shipped outside Crete. Apart from being used as fodder for livestock (mostly pigs), a use they still retain to this day, carob pods were traditionally used as a natural sweetener, in the production of alcoholic drinks, as well as in tanning, the paper industry, etc.

Today, in the wider area of Zakros the extensive drilling for water which is used for the irrigation of the olive groves has resulted in a severe depletion of the aquifer, whilst the waste effluents from oil-factories contaminate surface waters. The generalized use of bulldozers for the clearing of the cultivable areas constitutes a serious threat for the unexcavated archaeological sites. Considering Choiromandres, a dirt road opened in 1993 destroyed parts of the Minoan terrace walls extending along the east side of the valley. Due to the construction of the same road, a part of the Minoan dam at the upper end of the ravine was destroyed, whilst the rest of the wall and its small basin were covered with debris.

However, the technical expertise of the 2nd millennium BC, acquired through the harmonious interaction of man and nature, could conceivably be used even today, suitably adapted to contemporary needs. In such a way the available water resources could be both properly protected and exploited to the best advantage. Particularly in cases where the natural environment is similar to that of the area of Zakros, the Prehistoric water management practices could serve as a prototype for contemporary applications. Using contemporary materials and advanced techniques suitably adapted to local geomorphological features, and taking into account the needs of the local community, we could obtain results along these lines without recourse to energy intensive options. 

In October 2010 a guided tour on the site of Choiromandres, addressed to the wider public, was given in the context of the Environment and Culture campaign of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism.  For the years 2010-11, the nationwide campaign’s events were structured around the theme of water

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is making concerted efforts to protect the area and its distinctive character, aspiring to grant to Choiromandres the status of an archaeological site open to the public. Apart from protecting the monuments, this would contribute to the public awareness of the need to preserve our cultural heritage Besides, it would be in keeping with the wider trends favoring cultural tourism and ecotourism – activities, which may contribute to the economy of the local community.