Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Potato Farmer

The hot Cretan sun burnt down on the farmer as he toiled his land - digging, sowing, and harvesting his potato crop ready for market. Life was tough, in summer it almost never rains in Crete, but luckily the Gods had blessed this farmer with good fortune. His land sat on an underground aquifer which he could access simply by digging a hole so that he could always irrigate his precious potato crop whenever it was needed. 
The farmer loaded up his cart with his latest crop of potatoes to sell at the market, but on the way he stopped off at the jewellers. He told the jeweller that he wished to sell some of his gold. The jeweller invited him to take a seat whilst he examined it in his office. Little did the farmer know that he was in fact contacting officials from the local authority. When they arrived they questioned him and said "where did you get the gold". He replied "from my gold mine, of course".
By digging water holes for his potatoes he had unwittingly stumbled upon a 4000 year old Minoan Palace in Malia, a place that was completely unknown in terms of Cretan archaeology. The famous archaeological sites in Crete had all previously been discovered by studying the ancient tales and legends handed down over thousands of years from Minoan history. Malia never received a mentioned in any of these legends or tales from antiquity.
Amongst the gold that the farmer found was this exquisite, now famous, pectoral pendant, consisting of two bees depositing a drop of honey in their honeycomb. They are holding the round, granulated honeycomb between their legs and the drop of honey in their mouths. On their heads is a filigree cage containing a gold bead, while small discs hang from their wings and the sting. This is a true masterpiece of the Minoan's skill, combining repoussé, granulated, filigree and incised decoration. This beautiful gold pendant is 4000 years old.
Unlike the UK where treasure trove is rewarded both to the finder and the owner of land, in Crete you only own what is on the land and nothing beneath the land. The farmer was simply given another potato field as compensation and sent off on his way.
Note:
The farmer found the gold in the early 1920s.
In the Aegean culture, the bee was believed to be a sacred insect, especially associated with connecting the natural world to the underworld, and this helps to explain why the above pendant was placed in a tomb. 
The bee was also the symbol of the Minoan goddess Potnia, meaning "mistress" who was also referred to as "The Pure Mother Bee". Her priestesses were given the name Melissa which also means "bee".

32 comments:

  1. It is a wonderful story and the pendant is absolutely beautiful. Jewellery with this kind of synbolism is so much more appealing than bling for the sake of bling. It really is exquisite. And there is an element of poignancy attached to it when one contemplates the precarious situation of bees and other pollinators today.

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    1. I loved this story and how exquisitely beautiful is this bee pendant.

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  2. What a beautiful story, and what a beautiful antique pendant!
    Every country has its own rules regarding historical finds. I don't know what rules are in the Netherlands, but I think that is the same as in England.

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  3. The famous Mallia Bee Pendant! I hope to see it next year in the museum in Crete! My name, Debra, is the Hebrew equivalent of Melissa and therefore, not only literally means "honeybee," but also connotes "priestess of the Goddess." Thanks for this post -- I love it!

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    1. The Malia bee pendant is in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion - do make sure that you pay a visit next year Debra.

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  4. I love Crete. Interesting about the name Melissa.

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    1. It is a very beautiful island - I loved all of the antiquities, it's legends, and it's stories.

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  5. Stories such as this make us realize only too well how important it is to preserve historic treasures - the likes of which will most likely never be seen again. Sad that he was 'rewarded' so lightly - maybe he should have put it in suitcase and sailed across the sea to sell it elsewhere! Let's hope he made a living from his potatoes. I wonder what else was under the ground though - do you know if the site ever excavated Rosemary?



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    1. Yes, the site has been excavated Mary, and we did visit it.
      The farmer was just a simple uneducated pheasant, but it seems wrong that he was treated thus. There is no reference to him in the museum or anywhere else as to the fact that he found the treasure. I only knows this story because we happened to have a local expert travelling with us.

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  6. What a lovely story and the exquisite workmanship of that pendant. It's always assumed that ancient peoples were 'primitive' but that's certainly not the case. Much of our 'modern' knowledge comes from scholars, philosophers, artists, writers etc who lived many thousands of years ago. Best, Jane x

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed the story Jane - the Minoans were a very early sophisticated civilisation.

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  7. What a great story! The pin is both interesting and beautiful.

    I have always loved the granulation technique. The Etruscan's were famous for it. No one has ever done it better since their time either. There is a lot of fake granulation made in today's jewelry.

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    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing this beautiful pendant Catherine - the details in it are so beautiful.

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  8. Such a beautiful thing. Thanks for posting the story and reminding me of one of my favorite UK programs The Detectorists.

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    1. This was the beginning of archaeologists unravelling 4000 years of history at Malia.

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  10. Hello Rosemary, The no-ownership or reward rule is a faulty one. It could cause loss of archaeological treasures through smuggling, hoarding, melting down, etc. Even when the item itself is rescued, either in the original country or by turning up elsewhere, the archaeological context is lost, which might tell scholars more than the item itself.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - it does seem to be an anarchic rule - if the farmer had been a wiser and not just a simple peasant, then this site and the treasure he found could have been lost forever.

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  11. How beautiful is this pendant, and thank you for reminding me of this story which I heard years ago studying Ancient History. It is wonderful to know the pendant has been preserved, while feeling sorry for the potato farmer, who received no big reward.

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    1. I decided to write about the farmer Patricia because he received no mention or acknowledgement from anywhere that we visited i.e. at the Malia archaeological site or in the museum. I only know about him because we had a local expert travelling with us.

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  12. How lovely this story is; a simple farmer finding enormous treasure! It's too bad that he was not recompensed more, but I'm glad his story is still being told. It should be part of the museum exhibit, too, and would add a very human connection to the display.

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    1. I thought that it was quite wrong that there was no mention of the farmer anywhere. The story was told to us by our very knowledgeable local guide.

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  13. Great story. Watched one recently about possibly finding the biblical city of Sodom, exactly where the bible said it would be(not accepted by some at present) and Cleopatra's Tomb may yet be discovered shortly so great finds are still occurring. Bet that farmer was not happy.

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    1. I suspect that the farmer just accepted his lot - from the way that he thought he had a gold mine, it reveals that he was not very astute in the ways of the world.

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  14. Oh my! What a great story! I would hope he could still access the water from his new field!!!

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    1. I don't know what happened to the farmer Janey - he has been wiped out of history.

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  15. Dearest Rosemary,
    The land of milk and honey seems to have had a very profound meaning in antiquity! One can only admire such art piece from over 4,000 years ago.
    Sad for the farmer for having to give up his special land, with underground aquifer!
    But in any way, he has left us and millions of others with something to admire.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. This beautiful pendant is just the tip of the treasures that were uncovered at Malia. There are the archaeological remains of the palace, the ancient city and a museum room filled with treasures.

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  16. What an amazing piece of jewelry , hard to believe it is 4000 years old !

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