Shortly after, the excavation became extremely interesting. Stephanopoulos was there almost every day, either with his wife, or with some of his students. We now had lots to do. Everywhere on the slopes walls were found. The local workers too were enjoying themselves. … One morning the Syrian foreman excavated a small painted terracotta female head, with a high cap and distinctly drawn eyes. For a long time I sat under the fig-tree turning it over in my hands and could not stop looking at it. Sherds were found continuously and they had to be washed and rinsed in diluted hydrochloric acid. … Red and brown paintings appeared in surprisingly vivid colours from underneath the grey limestone layer. Spirals and flower petals, simple lines and circles - the colourful variety was stunning and I regretted all the more that we only managed to find sherds and no single unimpaired vase ().

On 30 July 1956 a curator of the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden (NMA) with two aides-de-camp arrived at the port of Heraklion, Crete. They were members of the Greek-Dutch archaeological expedition that would excavate a Minoan site at Troullos, the eastern quarter of the village of Archanes, located sixteen kilometres south of Heraklion. Even though the campaign would not last for more than four weeks - from 31 July until 28 August - the results were promising.

Although plans were made immediately following the end of the expedition to continue the campaign in the succeeding years, the excavators, surprisingly, did not return to the site at Troullos. Moreover, since this excavation has never been fully published within the time span of six decades - with the exception of a few brief notes (; ; ) -, it has fallen into oblivion to the majority of the archaeological world. The main reason that Dutch readers could be made aware of an old Greek-Dutch expedition on Crete is that one of the Dutch expedition members used the excavation as the setting of his first novel ().

Thanks to the efforts of the Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project (;, which aims to trace and digitise photographs of past excavations, much of the overlooked Dutch documentation could be assembled. Conrad Stibbe, participant of the expedition, was able to clarify the circumstances and outcomes of the 1956 campaign and provided the author of this article with his photographs, drawings and notes from his diary which he kept during the excavation. Adriana Buurman-Brunsting, daughter of Hendrik Brunsting, who was curator at the NMA at the time and acted as supervisor of the Dutch team members, was able to oblige by showing me her father’s correspondence to her mother during his stay at Archanes. To these documents were added slides, letters and excavation plans found at the archives of the NMA.

Six decades on, this expedition will now receive the attention it deserves. The publication of this documentation not only creates an impression of the unpublished excavation, but it also provides the reader with some insights into the archaeological world of those days.

The Organisation of the 1956 Greek-Dutch Expedition

In 1956 the co-operation between Spyridon Marinatos, professor of Archaeology at the University of Athens and Director of the Archaeological Society at Athens, and Hendrik Brunsting, curator at NMA, was not brand new. In the preceding years Brunsting had already participated in Greek excavations at Pylos, Kanli Kastelli and Vathypetro, all directed by Marinatos (; NMA archive 204/56). The involvement of Brunsting in Marinatos’s excavations seems to have been the result of a fruitful meeting between them at the NMA on 27 April 1954. Marinatos was invited by NMA’s director Van Wijngaarden to give a lecture at the museum about the ‘small palace at Vathypetro’. Only five weeks later Brunsting received a letter from Marinatos inviting him to join the excavation at Pylos that same year (NMA archive 204/56). Subsequently, the excavations at Kanli Kastelli and Vathypetro took place in the next year.

As the Netherlands did not have their own archaeological ‘school’ in Athens until 1984, Dutch archaeologists in the 1950s were not allowed to organise their own independent excavations in Greece. However, thanks to the agreeable co-operation in the foregoing years, Marinatos decided to invite Brunsting to join him again in 1956. Brunsting’s involvement was very important to the NMA because in this way the NMA, through its curator, was able to acquire practical experience in Greek archaeology, even without a Dutch school at Athens. On 8 June 1956 W.D. van Wijngaarden, Director of NMA, published a press release - in Dutch and English - in which he declares that on his orders:

Prof. Dr. H. Brunsting, keeper of antiquities at the said museum, will make a scientific journey to Greece in July and August 1956, in order to take part in an excavation campaign in collaboration with the Greek Antiquities Service (NMA archive 201/16).

On Crete Brunsting was assisted by Conrad Stibbe and Frédéric Bastet, who had both just finished their studies in Classics and Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden respectively ().

The correspondence between Marinatos and Brunsting, stored at the NMA archive, and the personal notes written by Stibbe, show some interesting details from a historiographical point of view. First of all, it appears that the most important condition of participating in the expedition was a financial one. Brunsting was expected to pay half of the estimated excavation costs of 4,000 guilders (the equivalent of 13,000 euros today). Fortunately, The Netherlands Organisation for the Advancement of Pure Research (ZWO) - the predecessor of the present Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) - approved Brunsting’s grant application and the amount of 2,000 guilders was transferred to the Archaeological Society at Athens (NMA archive 204/56; ZWO Archive 2.25.36/235 and 293).

Another striking aspect that can be elicited from the correspondence is that the destination of the expedition was not known until the eve of the campaign itself. In a letter from Brunsting to Marinatos only a month before the start of the dig, he asked him to let him know where to travel to (NMA archive 204/56). Even two weeks before the curator headed for Crete, he erroneously assumed that he was going to excavate at the Greek site of Lykastos, i.e. Kanli Kastelli, where they had excavated a year before, and the Juktas peak-sanctuary (NMA archive 202/ZWO). In the end they agreed that Brunsting would get in touch with Marinatos as soon as he had arrived in Athens on 19 July. It was not until his arrival in Greece that Brunsting heard that the expedition would start on 28 July (Correspondence Brunsting to his wife, 20 July ). That was probably also the moment that he learned that they were to excavate a plot at the village of Archanes.

Marinatos - in the position of Director of the Archaeological Society at Athens - acted as director of the Greek-Dutch excavation. From reading the collected unpublished letters and notes as well as looking at the old photographs and slides, it becomes clear that the Dutch members were responsible for measuring, classifying and mapping the site. They also co-ordinated Marinatos’s regular foreman and several of the hired local workers who did the actual digging. Their work was observed by a large number of the residents of Archanes who enjoyed witnessing this unusual event in their village.

Marinatos, his wife and seven Greek students resided at the Minoan site of Vathypetro, about four kilometres south of Archanes, where he also continued excavation, which he had started in 1949. Now and then they would visit the site at Archanes in order to keep abreast of the progress being made. Another regular visitor was Nikolaos Platon, the then director of the Archaeological Museum at Herakleion, who was able to date some of the finds and arranged the transport of the artefacts to the museum during the excavation period ().

The 1956 Excavation at Troullos (Archanes)

The village of Archanes is situated about sixteen kilometres south of Heraklion and ten south of Knossos, and borders on the eastern side of Mount Juktas. The presence of Minoan archaeological remains at Archanes and its environs had already been demonstrated in the first few decades of the twentieth century. A variety of finds had been reported, such as sherds, walls, fragments of unpainted sarcophagi, lentoid seals and vases (; ; ; ). When Arthur John Evans, the famous excavator of the palace of Knossos, visited Archanes in the 1920s, he recognised the remains of a considerable building in the village. In the foundation of houses in the centre of the village, he identified base blocks and some limestone orthostats of that building. In 1922 he was shown ‘a ring of great hewn blocks’, a reservoir, which he called the ‘Spring House’, and dated it LM I (1600–1450 B.C.). Evans also acquired several seal-stones and a gold signet-ring in the village (). On the basis of these finds, Evans concluded that Archanes used to be an important Minoan centre and had a small palace. More specifically, a ‘summer palace’ used by the priest-kings of Knossos (). Furthermore, a MM III (1700–1600 B.C.) votive deposit, containing a heart-shaped white alabaster ladle - ten by eight cm - with a Lineair A inscription, had been found at Troullos (; ; ; ). According to Evans, the place where the votive deposit was found used to operate as a sanctuary dedicated to Cretan Zeus and functioned as a starting-place for pilgrimages from there to the peak-sanctuary at Mount Juktas ().

Troullos, where the votive deposit was found, is the eastern quarter of the village, also the location of the Minoan site, which is what the 1956 expedition was heading for. In contrast to the circumstances in the 1950s, today the modest plot with a perimeter of 78 meters is enclosed by several roads and houses. As the site is almost completely overgrown, the results of any past archaeological activities are hardly visible. A part of a monumental wall and a few blocks here and there between the undergrowth give away the location of the site (figs. 1 and 9).

Figure 1 

The overgrown site of the 1956 Greek-Dutch expedition in 2014. In the background a part of the monumental wall (photograph by the author).

Figure 2 

Plan of the site created by Hendrik Brunsting, scale 1: 40 (Courtesy NMA). Roman numbers added by the author.

Figure 3 

Slanting bare boulder at the end of the zigzag passage (Courtesy C.M. Stibbe).

Figure 4 

North-east corner of the zigzag passage taken from south-western direction. Bastet standing in the middle and Brunsting on the utmost right (Courtesy C.M. Stibbe).

Figure 5 

Section drawing of the southern wall of the zigzag passage by Hendrik Brunsting (Courtesy NMA).

Figure 6 

Monumental wall, photograph taken into north-east direction (Courtesy C.M. Stibbe).

Figure 7 

The MM-LM building, photograph taken into southern direction (Courtesy NMA).

Figure 8 

The pottery found in one of the rooms of the MM-LM building (Courtesy C.M. Stibbe).

Figure 9 

Map of Archanes including Minoan architectural remains (after and adjusted by Willem Beex).

The Minoan remnants were discovered by chance. Construction activities on that spot - a house was being built for an couple who got engaged - had exposed Minoan building-blocks and sherds not long before the Dutch excavators arrived at Crete (; NMA archive 201/16). An emergency excavation was required and Marinatos subsequently decided that this spot should be the destination of the Greek-Dutch expedition.

Thanks to the Dutch records published here, it is possible to get an insight into the archaeological approach and interpretation of this dig at that time. As it seems, the excavation can be divided into three sections (fig. 2): a passage in a zigzag shape; a monumental wall; a building. Below follows an overview of all the archaeological activity that took place in that location 60 years ago.

During the first week of the campaign the excavators focussed on the northern part of the plot where they encountered a four-meter-deep passage in zigzag shape which appeared to run to a dead end as it ended blocked by a slanting bare boulder (fig. 3). The solid walls of the corridor were made of neat stone masonry (figs. 45). The filling of the passage contained numerous sherds of vessels. All styles were present and some small copies even appeared to be intact. In the first horizontal part of the passage (fig. 2 - I), two small coarse terracotta bulls were found and one half of a black painted bull’s head, about seven centimetres high, with broken horns and a white circle around the eye. In the vertical part (fig. 2 - II) they found, next to fine pottery, a bronze needle, a half steatite mortar-shaped or ‘bird’s nest’ vase, a large ‘blossom bowl’ without bottom and a small terracotta idol with a large flat hat (Correspondence Brunsting to his wife, 1 August; ; ). Platon, who visited the excavation that day, dated these finds from MM IB to MM IIIB (2000–1600 B.C.) and had them transported to the archaeological museum in Heraklion. Due to the excellent condition of the walls and the absence of strata the excavators came up with the preliminary premiss that the passage had been filled with stones and pottery debris deliberately and was not the result of nature force. According to them the filled passage had probably functioned as a foundation for a superstructure ().

On 6 August the excavators started to expose the centre of the site. To their own surprise they encountered a structure, adjacent to the most southern wall of the zigzag passage, which was a monumental wall of about 24 meters long and two meters high (fig. 6). It was built with one-meter-long square hewn limestone blocks. As the blocks were found in front of the surviving part of the wall, the excavators concluded that the upper part of the wall must have collapsed in the past. The huge number of building blocks that were laid bare, gave rise to the premise of there being an immense superstructure on or behind this wall. A test trench, dug in the middle of the wall (fig. 2 - III), learned that the wall was five blocks high at this point. Additionally, the trench exposed a second wall which leaned directly against the monumental one. This supporting wall was three meters high in itself and existed of coarse smaller stones. At reasonable depth in the trench LM I (1600–1450 B.C.) sherds and terracotta fragments were found. It seemed to the excavators that this building - at that moment interpreted by them as ‘a palace or other impressive structure’ - had collapsed due to nature’s force (; ; NMA archive 201/16; Correspondence Brunsting to his wife, 10 August; ; ).

Five meters to the west of the monumental wall, a maze-like MM-LM (2200–1400 B.C.) complex of passages and rooms was found (fig. 7; ; ). Approximately ten solid walls gave shape to five distinguishable separated rooms. Marinatos was convinced that part of the small rooms had functioned as support of a staircase (fig. 2 - IV). Next to this spot, a pithos was found at the end of the small passage (fig. 2 - V). The other part of the building complex displayed a wall with a gentle bend over a wide stairway of which two steps were laid bare (fig. 2 - VI). Marinatos recognised this building composition from sites at Knossos and Phaistos (). Due to its modest nature, the excavators did not identify this part of the building complex as a palace. Furthermore, on the second last day of the campaign they made an interesting discovery in one of the rooms (fig. 2 - VII). This room seemed to be filled with 50 household vessels (fig. 8). All types of pottery were present and was dated at least LM I (1600–1450 B.C.). In the other rooms refuse from a neighbouring MM-LM (2200–1400 B.C.) sanctuary was found. Other artefacts found at the building complex were a blue steatite button and a building brick with a MM mason’s mark (; ; ).

The quality of the architectural remnants and artefacts exposed at the Troullos site was regarded as very promising for future campaigns, but, according to Brunsting, four weeks of field work were not enough to make head or tail of this Minoan site (Correspondence Brunsting to his wife, 19 August). After the end of the 1956 campaign the excavators proposed three possible interpretations of the architecture remains and finds, which included among others, considerable fragments of offering tables, figurines of human and animal shapes, stony utensils, a building block with a mason mark and bases of double axes. Firstly, the excavated site could have been ‘just’ a part of a Minoan settlement (). Secondly, knowing that in the beginning of the twentieth century a circular reservoir as well as large building blocks incorporated in the walls of houses were discovered not far away from the Troullos excavation (), combined with the rich finds from this site, led the excavators to presume that they may have revealed a separate building: a summer palace of the priest-kings of Knossos (; ; ). The third and last suggestion was that the site could have functioned as a sanctuary, regarding the discovery of ritual crockery and figurines. Both Marinatos and Brunsting even wondered whether the so-called Grave of Zeus could be traced here rather than at the Bronze Age sanctuary on the top of Mount Juktas.

The Troullos Site After 1956

It is obvious that Brunsting, Marinatos and Platon were satisfied with the fruitful outcome of this emergency excavation and were convinced that this Minoan site was significant (; ; ; ). Since they planned to continue the archaeological campaign in the succeeding years, they decided to postpone the publication of a full report. Although Marinatos had explicitly emphasised that the continuation of the excavation could only be accomplished after an expensive dispossession of the land, Brunsting announced in his augural speech, as professor of Archaeology and Prehistory at the Free University of Amsterdam on 23 November 1956, that the plot had already been bought in order to secure future archaeological research (; ). That claim appeared to have been erroneous. A process of dispossession usually takes quite some time, whereas Brunsting held his speech only a few months after the end of the campaign. Besides, Marinatos’ note in which he warns for the related expense of a possible dispossession, was published in December.

There is also another argument indicating that the plot was not yet secured for archaeological purposes in 1956. Returning back to the Netherlands after the end of the 1956 campaign, Brunsting immediately, together with Prof. G. van Hoorn, applied for a new grant of 3,000 guilders in order to secure the continuation of the expedition in 1957. In the first instance, the advisory committee of ZWO seemed to concede with the application as they stated that ‘continuation of the grant is desirable’. For that reason, probably, Brunsting mentioned in his inaugural speech that the Greek-Dutch expedition to Archanes would be continued in 1957. However, in the same month J. H. Bannier, the director of ZWO, wrote to the Board - who gave out the grants - that ‘it concerns here only restricted small excavations that Prof. Brunsting conducted under the supervision of the Greek archaeologist Prof. Marinatos in 1955 and 1956 and which he is willing to conduct again in 1957… Our principal purpose was to let Brunsting have archaeological experience abroad. That goal has been partly achieved. Due to our poor financial means and to the tense political situation in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, I propose to reject the application’. The Board accepted this advice and the minutes read that ‘the previous grants have achieved Brunsting’s goals of archaeological experiences abroad. As the project itself does not seem to be of great significance, the grant will not be issued in 1957’ (ZWO Archive 2.25.36/6, 34–35, 293; ).

The assertion that the excavation did not seem to be of great significance is remarkable, particularly because Brunsting had indeed already emphasised the significance of the site and the necessity of continuation of the expedition in his report to ZWO. In his apply for a grant for an excavation at Archanes in 1958 he reiterates the significance: ‘We aim to continue the 1956 excavation at Archanes, Crete, where important remnants of a Middle Minoan building complex were exposed … The terrace walls found here are able to compete with all the other walls found at other sites on Crete from this period, especially at the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos. The interpretation of the remains (palace? or city?) can only be concluded with some certainty after further excavation’ (NMA archive 202/ZWO).

Also Bannier’s argument of poor financial means is rather weak. In the same year the NMA curator Klasens received 25,000 guilders for his excavation at Aboe Raosh (ZWO Archive 2.25.36/6). Henk Franken of Leiden University was even given 50,000 guilders for his excavation at Tell Deir Alla, while he applied for ‘a mere’ 40,000 guilders (Letter ZWO to Henk Franken, 3 December 1959). Brunsting’s application for 3,000 guilders is in striking contrast with the amount his colleague and Franken both received.

Another reason for Bannier to advise the ZWO Board to reject Brunsting’s application, found in the statement: ‘there is no bit of continuation, because it concerns a new site every year, appointed by Marinatos’ (ZWO Archive 2.25.36/34), is flawed since Brunsting applied for the continuation of an already existing excavation (namely at Archanes).

In a letter written on 15 March 1957 Brunsting informed Marinatos of the rejection of the grant application, but he also told him that the NMA would take care of the required financing, which meant that the Greek-Dutch expedition to Archanes could be continued that year (NMA archive 204/56). Marinatos responded to this message on 6 May, but, unfortunately, this letter cannot be found in the archives. However, from Brunsting’s reply to that letter, we may conclude that something happened unexpectedly on the side of the Greek organisation, as Brunsting writes on 6 June that he regrets that the Greek-Dutch expedition cannot not be continued in 1957, in particular because ‘Archanes is such an interesting object, which I would gladly help to excavate! Are there no other possibilities?’ (NMA archive 204/56).

What was the actual reason for cancelling the expedition in 1957? Despite the fact that the financial means were guaranteed by NMA, it did not appear to be possible to continue the excavation at Archanes, which came as a deep disappointment for both Brunsting and Marinatos (NMA archive 202/ZWO). A reasonable explanation could be that the plot of land concerned was not yet dispossessed at the time of the grant application. After ZWO rejected both applications for a Greek-Dutch expedition on Crete in 1958 and 1959, Brunsting decided to put any future attempts on hold (ZWO Archive 2.25.36/355). In 1960 he joined the first season of field work at Tell Deir Alla, Jordan, as a surveyor.

For this reason the Greek-Dutch expedition did not organise any further campaigns to the Troullos site after 1956 and it seems that there was no archaeological activity at all in the vicinity of the site until 1965. That year Yannes Sakellarakis and Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki conducted an emergency excavation adjacent to the 1956 plot (fig. 9; ). A new road was planned to run along the site and for that reason the area east of the monumental wall found in 1956 was excavated and brought to light a LM IA house with five rooms (; ). As described above, the result was not quite what the members of the Greek-Dutch expedition expected to find as they assumed that on top or behind the monumental wall there would be a superstructure.

It was not until 1978 that new archaeological research was conducted at the Minoan site where the Greek-Dutch expedition had been digging 20 years before. Sakellarakis and Sapouna-Sakellaraki excavated the MM - LM building found in 1956 and uncovered a great variety of pottery and many fragments of polychrome stucco (). This was the second and last time the land, where at one time an engaged couple dreamed of starting a new life together, was explored, after which the Minoan site was once again left to the mercy of nature.

A Palace at Archanes?

It is obvious that the excavators of the Greek-Dutch expedition were not able to answer the question whether they found the remains of a palace at Troullos. The question whether or not Archanes houses a Minoan palace is still relevant today, although the ‘geographical’ focus of the current palace debate has now been moved 250 metres north-west of the 1956 plot. As this question lies outside the main historiographical focus of this article, I will only briefly describe the interesting excavations that have been conducted in the centre of Archanes since the 1960s.

The assertion of the possible discovery of a summer palace at Troullos by the 1956 expedition, was rejected by Yannis Sakellarakis and Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki after they had traced a momentous building in the centre of modern Archanes almost a decade later. The main part of building is situated in the quarter Tourkoyeitonia (fig. 9) and can be dated MM IIIB - LM I (ca. 1650–1450 B.C.) (; ; ; ; ; ).

Although many excavations have been conducted at this spot since 1964, they never achieved to uncover the whole complex because the modern village has been built on top of the Minoan settlement. Nevertheless, thanks to several remnants still visible scattered around Archanes, which are of the same quality and have the same orientation as the building at Tourkoyeitonia, it is possible to have an impression of the building’s extent (fig. 9).

Due to the fact that the size - covering the centre of present Archanes -, the architecture, the materials used and the structural methods employed bear resemblance to the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos, the excavators are convinced that the building complex can be identified as a palace (). Additionally, the necropolis excavated at Phourni - located between Epano and Kato Archanes on the north-eastern side of Mount Juktas - between 1964 and 1989, reveals how prominent the inhabitants of the Minoan settlement of Archanes were. At the necropolis, which was in use from 2500 till 1200 B.C., 23 burial monuments were found. In the tombs they encountered artefacts such as bronze vessels, steatite and ivory seals, a sarcophagus, glass-paste beads, golden signet-rings and ivory pyxides (; ; ; ).


The numerous excavations conducted in Archanes in the last few decades generated much insight into the Minoan history of Archanes and the settlement’s relation to other centres at Central Crete. How different was the situation in the 1950s. The sensational hypotheses made by the excavators of the Greek-Dutch expedition were based on the outcome of a four-week campaign in 1956 and the archaeological knowledge of those days. Considering the new data provided by later archaeological research in this area, the supposition of a summer palace for the priest-kings of Knossos should be tempered.

Even though it remains important to publish forgotten or neglected archaeological documentation from the past. The photos, drawings, and notes published here, for instance, not only draw up a picture - also literally - of the Troullos excavation itself, but they also offer a view of the archaeological approaches, the communication in the archaeological world and the ways in which campaigns were organised in those days, including possible complications. In all, it brings back to life the present-day forgotten and overgrown plot at Troullos, as Bastet had already reflected in his novel:

I cannot think of any sight more fascinating than the one of a prehistoric palace which is being brought to light, stone by stone, by careful, almost loving, hands, revealing secrets that have been hidden underneath the soil for thousands of years. I wondered who lived here in ancient times, on a hill facing the high mountain ridge. In my imagination I saw Minoan women treading upon the path leading to the spring, wearing wide colourful skirts, their softly swaying breasts naked in the burning sun. We came across remnants of huge amphora. They had eaten grapes, just like us, and enjoyed the abundance of life fully and with exuberance ().