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

The Guard house

The guard house occupies a rocky ridge rising above the small valley of Choiromandres. Surface survey and excavation show that the building was associated with a quarry, roads, retaining walls and megalithic enclosures, if not with the dams and terraces extending along the southeast part of the valley. It was built in the 18th century BC and was in use for almost four centuries, until the late 15th century BC.

The guard house had a rectangular ground plan, covering an area of 158 m². The outer walls of the building were impressive, being constructed in the megalithic technique, whereas smaller stones were used for the interior walls. Amongst the former, particularly imposing is the southeast façade, which is still preserved to a height of 3.00m.

Two main occupation periods have been identified, which were separated by a short phase of abandonment. During the second period the main entrance of the building was in the middle of the southwest façade. It opened into a large paved room, which served the everyday tasks, as implied by the finds. The other rooms of the building were arranged around this paved space. The building probably had an upper storey. A staircase connected the paved room to the original main entrance of the building, which was positioned in the middle of its southeast façade. An open courtyard that was bounded by a strong wall extended in front of this entrance. The building was connected to open terraces, lying to its southwest and northeast. The latter occupied the edge of the ridge – that is, the point commanding the widest view.

The building oversees the valley of Choiromandres and controls the routes connecting the area of Zakros with the coastal plain of Xerokambos, which lies to the south.  Due to its strategic location, and because of the particular features of its layout and construction, the building is considered as a typical example of a Minoan guard house. As such, it belonged to a network of isolated buildings of similar size and topography, whose aim was the control of the communication axes and the defense of the hinterland.

Apart from pottery, finds include stone tools, clay loom-weights, fragments of stone vessels, two pendants (in the form of a female figurine and a bulls’ head), a bronze dagger with impressed decoration and some shells of Murex trunculus – the mollusk species most widely used in the Aegean for the production of purple dye. The presence of fine vases, and finds such as a clay weight stamped with a seal bearing signs of the hieroglyphic script, or the two sealstones depicting a wild goat and a lion, confirm that the building held an important position in the regional hierarchy.


The “Minoan Roads” Research Project

The “Minoan Roads” Research Project is conducted under the Directorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Starting in 1985, the Projects’ research focuses on the easternmost part of Crete (Prefecture of Lasithi).  Nevertheless, fieldwork has also been carried out in other regions of the island.

Goals of the project

The aim of the “Minoan Roads” Research Project is the investigation of the overland communications in Minoan Crete. This comprises the detection, recording and studying of both the natural communication axes and the ancient built roads, as well as of the sites relating to them. Amongst these, particular attention is given to the so-called guard houses – buildings that were situated near the communication axes and had a dominant, if not defensible position.To approach the above in their wider – regional and historical – context, the Project also aims at establishing the patterns of settlement and the character of habitation at the rural hinterland of the easternmost part of Crete.

Method of research

The “Minoan Roads” Research Project conducts both surface survey and excavation at selected sites. Over the years, more than 160 sites have been located and/or studied, whereas four of these have been systematically excavated. The study of the topography, the buildings’ remains and the surface findings aims to define and date the occupation phases of the sites, their function(s) and position in the regional settlement pattern. In this way, the sites are approached within the context of the wider human and natural landscape.


The “Minoan Roads” Research Project is directed by Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki, archaeologist, Head of the Educational Programs and Communications Department of the Directorate of Museums, Exhibitions and Educational Programs of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Dr. Leonidas Vokotopoulos, archaeologist, is in charge of the surface survey and is studying the finds from the excavated sites. Fieldwork is also conducted by Christina Katsavou, Alessandro Felici and Dr. Francesca Romana del Fattore, archaeologists. Maria Böttcher and Gerhard Plath (Dipl. Ing. Architekt AKH), participate in the documentation and study of the architectural remains. Alexis Karachalios, antiquities conservator, is in charge of the conservation of the finds. Charalambos Mavridis, surveying engineer, is in charge of the topographical works. Experts from other scientific fields contribute to the research, whereas laboratory analyses are carried out when needed. The INSTAP Study Center for East Crete contributes to the project by providing specialists on the fields of archaeological photography, conservation and drawing of the finds.


The “Minoan Roads” Research Project has contributed to the archaeological bibliography on topics such as the road network, the fortifications, the settlement patterns, or even the anchorages of Minoan Crete. Annual project reports are delivered to archaeological journals and bulletins, while articles and studies have been published in various journals and series (refer to credits-resources). Concerning the wider public, articles on the research and the major findings of the project have repeatedly been published in both Greek and international newspapers and magazines.


Relation with the local society

After more than 20 years of research at the east end of Crete, the “Minoan Roads” Research Project has built strong ties with the inhabitants. This has occurred through personal contact in the course of the fieldwork, by delivering lectures on the archaeology of the area, where the results of the projects’ research are presented, as well as by organizing educational programs for the pupils of the region of primary and secondary level, conducted in cooperation with the local authorities.

Greek Daily Press

In September 2007, articles on the research and the major finds of the Project have been published in the Greek Daily Press (PDF, 22MB) .

You may refer also to the press release (in Greek) circylated by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.