Malia - the Mu Quarter
  • The School
  • Research
  • Academic events
  • Training
  • Documentary resources
  • Publications
  • Members
    Jean-Claude Poursat
    The Mu Quarter, located around 300m to the west of the palace, is the largest complex currently known on Crete for the period of the first Cretan palaces. Discovered in 1965, in the course of surveys of the site of a seals workshop explored by André Dessenne in 1956, it was excavated in several seasons, from 1966 to 1991, under the direction of Jean-Claude Poursat. With the area uncovered being more than 3000m2, it consists of two large buildings (A and B), each with an annex (D and E) and surrounded by smaller structures, of which five have been identified as craftsmen's houses (Workshop C, Seals Workshop, Potter's Workshop, Smelter's Workshop, South Workshop). Another house (F) has been uncovered on its eastern edge. Built around the beginning of Middle Minoan II (c. 1800 BC), it was destroyed at the end of the same period (c. 1700), at the same time as the first palace and the other parts of the town.
     Figure 1. Plan général du Quartier Mu (M. Schmid ©EfA).
    Figure 1. General plan of the Mu Quarter (M. Schmid ©EfA).
    The main buildings. Building A is the largest. With a surface area of 840 m2, it takes the form of a trapezium with sides with the alcoves that are customary in Minoan architecture. The irregular shape of the building can be explained by the history of its construction, which took place in two main phases: to an original rectangular building was added a new complex of rooms that took up all the available space to the south as far as the earlier buildings, and was oriented slightly differently. Its rooms, with their separate functions, already prefigure the designs used in the Neopalatial period: courtyards with porticoes, columns and pillars, formal rooms with wide bays (polythyra), light wells, an underground lustral basin, and arrays of storerooms. Most of the walls were built of unfired brick on rubble foundations, and coatings coloured red, blue and yellowish-white adorned the walls and floors. Great blocks of dressed stone were used in places for the lower foundations of the facades. The open spaces were paved. The large number of staircases testifies to the existence of one or two storeys and of terraces. Further east, Building E (84 m2), which consists of a series of large rectangular rooms that look like storerooms, was probably an annex of Building A.
    Figure 2. Pièces principales du Bâtiment A, à gauche (cliché M. Schmid ©EfA), et pièces en sous-sol du Bâtiment B, à droite (cliché J.-Cl. Poursat ©EfA).
    Figure 2. Main rooms of Building A, left (photo M. Schmid ©EfA), and basement rooms of Building B, right (photo J.-C. Poursat ©EfA).
    The second large building, B, extends over almost 500 m2 to the west and has the same architectural characteristics as the newer part of Building A, with its rectangular rooms and thick walls. It comprised a series of basement rooms, built in a dip in the rocky ground, which were no doubt used as storerooms. Some walls have been preserved to a height of 1.8m. The sites of the ceiling beams are still visible in places and here some architectural features that have elsewhere disappeared can be seen, such as horizontal and vertical wood ties in the brick walls, alcoves, and door and window frames. Facing the northeast corner a rectangular building that has been almost completely levelled, Building D (115 m2), may have served as an annex.
    The fragile state of the remains necessitated protective measures and strengthening work throughout the excavation seasons. In 1990, a permanent roof, with a central walkway, was built to protect the complex of buildings in the Mu Quarter while making it possible to visit them.
    The workshop-houses. To the north and south of the two main buildings, five houses of modest size (80 m2) have been identified as houses inhabited by craftsmen. Also built with rubble walls and a brick superstructure, they all have the same layout, with a storey above a ground floor or semi-basement level. In each of them one of the rooms was reserved for craftwork or tool storage. Thanks to the items that have been discovered, it has been possible to ascertain the specialism of most of these craftsmen. In the north of the quarter are found houses of a metalworker, potter and seal-engraver; in the south was another smelter's workshop (Workshop C) and, for the South Workshop, various different activities. Many indications suggest that these craftsmen, who lived right next to the large Buildings A and B, were dependent on them.
    In the eastern part of the quarter, the last building to be uncovered, Building F, is a separate house adjoining Building E and its function remains unknown.

    Figure 3. Jarre, amphores et cruches du Quartier Mu (clichés Ph. Collet ©EfA).
    Figure 3. Jar, amphoras and pitchers from the Mu Quarter (photos P. Collet ©EfA).
    The material that has been discovered. The excellent state of preservation of this quarter suggests that it was destroyed by a violent fire. In the two main buildings especially, the brick walls collapsed and formed an extremely dense destruction layer which sealed the whole ruin. This made it possible to find, either in place or fallen from above, a considerable body of material, which notably includes archival documents written in Cretan hieroglyphics. Buildings A and B are indeed among the few buildings of Protopalatial Crete, apart from the palaces, which have furnished documents of this type. Tablets, medallions and cones, sealed with unfired clay, and stored in the storerooms and archival offices, were baked and preserved by the final fire: they provide evidence for an elaborate system of economic management.
    Figure 4. Tablette inscrite du Bâtiment A (cliché J.-Cl. Poursat ©EfA) et sceaux de l’Atelier de sceaux (dessins ©CMS).
    Figure 4. Inscribed tablet from Building A (photo J.-C. Poursat ©EfA) and seals from the Seals Workshop (drawings ©CMS).
    The 150 seals from the Seals Workshop, mainly soapstone prisms, have made it possible to define a particular style of Minoan glyptic (known as 'Malia style'), of which examples are also attested on several other sites in eastern Crete. This workshop was the subject of an initial excavation in 1956 by A. Dessenne. The 1965 surveys, which led to the discovery of the Mu Quarter, also enabled archaeologists to ascertain accurately both the structure of the building from where the seals came and their date (end of Middle Minoan II).
    The hundreds of terracotta vases found in the destruction layer are characteristic of the ceramic period known as Middle Minoan II. Storage jars (pithoi, jars and amphoras) and tableware (pitchers, cups and plates) display a very great variety of shapes, techniques and decorations; polychrome vases and rare Egyptian-style motifs moulded in relief belong to the 'Kamares style'.
    Figure 5. Poignard à manche en or et pièce d’applique en terre cuite en forme de sphinx (clichés Ph. Collet ©EfA). « Lékanè » en terre cuite à décor de marguerites (aquarelle I. Athanasiadi ©EfA).
    Figure 5. Dagger with a golden handle and piece of a terracotta wall lamp in the shape of a sphinx (photos P. Collet ©EfA). Terracotta 'lekane' decorated with daisies (watercolour I. Athanasiadi ©EfA).
    Amongst the material that has been found is a sizeable collection of stone vases, numerous metal objects, bronze tools (scissors and axes) and weapons (spear points and daggers, including a ceremonial example with a golden handle), some figurines, as well as very many tools and utensils from everyday activities (millstones, lamps, braziers, perfume diffusers and so on). Several hundred loom weights attest to the importance of textile production in each of this quarter's buildings.
    J.-C. Poursat et al., Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu V. Vie quotidienne et techniques au Minoen Moyen II. Études Crétoises 34 (2013).
    J.-C. Poursat, C. Knappett, Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu IV. La poterie du Minoen Moyen II, production et utilisation. Études Crétoises 33 (2005).
    J.-C. Poursat, M. Schmid, Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu III. Artisans Minoens, les maisons-ateliers du Quartier Mu. Études Crétoises 32 (1996).
    B. Detournay, J.-C. Poursat, F. Vandenabeele, Fouilles exécutées à Mallia. Le Quartier Mu II : vases de pierre et de métal, vannerie, figurines et reliefs d’applique, éléments de parure et de décoration, armes, sceaux et empreintes. Études Crétoises 26 (1980).
    J.-C. Poursat, L. Godart, J.-P. Olivier, Fouilles exécutées à Mallia. Le Quartier Mu I. Introduction générale. Écriture hiéroglyphique crétoise. Études Crétoises 23 (1978).
    J.-C. Poursat, M. Schmid, Guide de Malia au temps des premiers palais. Le Quartier Mu. Sites et Monuments 8 (1992).
    M. Schmid, R. Treuil, Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu VI. Architecture minoenne à Malia. Les bâtiments principaux du Quartier Mu (Minoen Moyen II). Études Crétoises.

    ARCHIMAGE : The latest pictures

    Archimage is intended to gradually put online the graphic and photographic documents, kept in the Archives service of FSA.

    Archaeology in Greece ONLINE

    Agios Vasileios (Xerokampi)-6124
    Agios Vasileios (Xerokampi). A. Vasilogamvrou (ASA) reports on work, including geophysical prospection (Fig. 1). This revealed tombs in the north and remains of buildings in the south, probably connected with the buildings in the region of the Central Court and the West and South Stoas. Excavation in the area known as the West Stoa and Archive (where previously fragments of Linear B tablet had been found) revealed the existence of Byzantine period pits. In this disturbed level were found tiles, coins, a Turkish pipe, iron lance-points, Mycenaean beads, a fragment of a Linear B tablet and sealing. A Mycenaean destruction level was found lower down comprising a floor of plaster and pebbles and, above it, fragments of tablets and sealings, fallen from a room on the first floor of the We
    A collaborative project with the BSA.