Gately ’12 and Acquisto ’13 Uncover Minoan Past in Crete

The INSTAP center for East Crete, where finds from the field are analyzed.
The INSTAP center for East Crete, where finds from the field are analyzed.

On the northeast side of the island of Crete, the small site of Gournia lies, dormant, only a few hundred meters from the coast. In 1600 B.C., during the Minoan civilization on Crete, this site was bustling with the activity of a small city, and the construction of the enormous central palace was underway. Working with John McEnroe, the John and Anne Fischer Professor in Fine Arts, Maeve Gately ’12 and Kiernan Acquisto ’13 are excavating the site to learn more about its ancient past.

At one time thought to have a population of more than 4,000 people, Gournia was first settled in 2300 B.C. and was inhabited for about a millennium. It is called “the Pompeii of Minoan Crete” because it is so well preserved, leaving some of the best remnants of Minoan culture at its peak (between 1550 and 1450 B.C.).

Early excavators gave Gournia its modern name because of its prodigious numbers of round stone objects with holes in the middle, the function of which has yet to be determined. “Gournia is a relatively small site, but any knowledge gained there would contribute considerably to our understanding of the history of the island and the heritage of the people that lived there,” Acquisto said.

Parts of Gournia were excavated in the early 1900s by Harriet Boyd Hawes, the first woman to lead an excavation in Greece. But these parts were from a later period than Professor L. Vance Watrous, an art history professor at the University at Buffalo and the leader of the dig, is studying. The team is looking deeper into Gournia’s past to find more of the mysterious stone objects, as well as find more of the ancient inhabitants’ everyday objects: “I am interested in objects that might shine some light on the lives of the people who lived at Gournia, such as items of industry or religious items,” Acquisto said.

A double major in art history and comparative literature, Gately is happy to be spending her summer on a project that so fits in so well with her academic interests. “Crete is the most beautiful place I have ever been,” Gately said. She intends to study abroad in spring 2011.

Having just finished her first year, Acquisto is planning to major in art history and classical studies. She would like to one day become a museum curator specializing in antiquities. “This [dig] is a very rare opportunity, and I'm very grateful to the professors and faculty at Hamilton who made it possible,” she said.

Gately is a graduate of the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore and Acquisto graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse High School ( N.Y. )


Tread Softly and Carry a Big Stick (7/21)
The Language of Life on Crete (7/27)
A Shift in Perspective (8/5)
Digging Through the Dust (8/16)

Back to Top