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

1900 - 1700 bc

Old Palace period — During an early or middle phase of this period a small, open-air sanctuary was established on the rocky ridge that rises in the middle of the southern side of the valley. This ridge overlooks the route that connects the wider region of Zakros to the coastal plain extending to its south. Thus, the establishment of the cult may imply an increased use of this route. It may also indicate an increasing exploitation, if not habitation of the valley.

The sanctuary was abandoned by the late Old Palace period. At that time, an imposing building of megalithic masonry was constructed on the ridge.Choiromandres. The central and western part of the valley (view from the east).Choiromandres. Aerial view of the guard house (by Marilyn Bridges, INSTAP Study Center for East Crete). This building is interpreted as a guard house. The radical change of function (religious to secular) within the same period is rather unusual, since the memory of cult places normally lives long after their desertion, discouraging the development of other uses.

The dam that blocked the upper part of the streambed at the southeast end of the valley may also be dated to this phase, if not to the beginning of the New Palace period.

The scattered pottery of the late Old Palace period indicates that the larger part of the valley was by then under exploitation.


.1700 - 1490 bc

New Palace period — The guard house collapsed at an early stage of this period, most probably due to an earthquake. There followed a phase during which the ruined building was abandoned. This coincides with the construction and use of the isolated building that occupied the low rise on the opposite, northern side of the valley.

The guard house was rebuilt at a mature stage of the New Palace period –the time, when the palace of Zakros was erected.

In the course of the same period, the plateau to the southwest of the guard house was bounded by a megalithic enclosure. This wall ended at a small, tower-like building.Choiromandres. Aerial view of the megalithic enclosure and the tower-like building at the plateau to the southwest of the guard house (by Chronis Papanikolopoulos, INSTAP Study Center for East Crete).

The southeast part of the valley was organized into stepped terraces, which were retained by strong elongated walls.Choiromandres. The guard house and the structures at the souteast part of the valley. The terraced area was surrounded by enclosure walls. The terraces were connected to the system of the two dams and the smaller barriers lying in between them, so that the collected rainwater could be channeled on their surface. Choiromandres. The structures of the water management system. The red lines indicate the position of the steps and ramps that provided access to the dam (view from the south). Choiromandres. The check-dam and the adjacent terrace walls (view from the south / southwest).

The guard house was destroyed at the end of the New Palace period.


.1430- 1300 bc

Third Palace Period — After a short phase of abandonment, the site was reoccupied: a one-roomed building was constructed to the southeast of the guard house. The small size and makeshift construction of this building contrast sharply with the monumental appearance of the adjacent guard house. The building was occupied on a year-round basis, as is indicated by the quantity of the finds yielded by the excavation. Its inhabitants established a small shrine at the south corner of the now-ruined guard house.

The reoccupation of the valley implies that the terraces were still in use – if not the water-diverting system itself.


.480 - 69 bc

Classical - Hellenistic period  In the 4th century BC a building with a rectangular ground plan was constructed at the east end of the valley, near the Minoan dam at the upper part of the streambed.

The Minoan dam at the upper part of the streambed was repaired. This fact, as well as the systematic use of the area that is implied by the construction of the aforementioned building, indicate that the Minoan water management system and the agricultural terraces were again in use.