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Pithoi Knossos
16 Sep

Agriculture, live stock and wild animals of Minoan Crete

There are cave drawings in the Vernofeto Cave at Kato Pervolakia (Sitia district) which indicate that the cave was used for rituals of pastoral magic. Goats are shown, one being netted. A crouching female, possibly a priestess or goddess, holds a bow and arrow with her arms upraised: a dog is near her.

“Below is a fishing scene, with three men in three boats casting nets for several different sorts of seafood, including octopus, dolphin and starfish. It is one of the clearest examples of sympathetic magic in ancient Crete and is thought to date from around 1400 BC But to return to the sheep.

A clay dish found in the Minoan town of Palaikastro contains a model of a flock of sheep with their shepherd. The Knossos tablets add documentary evidence by listing very large numbers of sheep. The total mentioned for the Labyrinth’s final year, around 1380 BC, runs to about 100,000 sheep.

The numbers of lambs are carefully noted, presumably so as to keep a check on the everchanging strength of the flocks. The tablets record target figures for flocks and for wool production. The target is one unit of wool, about 3 kilograms, for every four sheep, or about 750 grams per sheep, which agrees with the quantity of wool expected from sheep in the medieval period. Breeding flocks yielded less because lambs produce no wool in their first spring. The tablets give the names of ‘sheep officials’ or owners, who are presumably not the shepherds. A second name on some of the tablets seems to indicate a dedication to either a deity or a named citizen.

Livestock farming was a major element in the Minoan economy. In the New Temple Period, according to Nicolas Platon (1968), there is much evidence of large-scale breeding of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. There were domestic goats in Minoan Crete and it is suggested, by Hood (1971), that the wild goats of bezoar stock (the agrimi or Cretan ibex) may really be feral, i.e. descendants of Minoan domestic goats that escaped or were deliberately turned loose back in the Minoan period.

The creatures so carefully depicted by Minoan artists, creatures with long horns knobbed at intervals, look very similar to the modern wild goats, yet they are often shown in domesticated situations, such as drawing goat-carts or sitting on the roof of a temple. At the same time, similar-looking goats were portrayed leaping through mountainous landscapes or being chased by hunters; in other words, in the Minoan period there was little difference between the wild and the domesticated goat.”

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