The Kamares Cave is located high atop the southern flank of the Ida massif in central Crete at an altitude of 1,524 m. The discovery of the first Kamares vases by Cretan shepherds in the early 1890s caused great excitement, and several famous archaeologists of the day, including Sir Arthur Evans, made attempts to reach the cave. However, most were turned by back the site’s remote location and the area’s unpredictable mountain weather. In 1894, the Italian Antonia Taramelli was able to explore the cave on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America and in 1913 systematic excavations were conducted by Richard M. Dawkins and M.L.W. Laistner of the British School at Athens.
The cave is large, with an entrance 18 to 20 m high and 42 m wide, creating a black gash in the mountainside just below the eastern of the twin peaks of Mount Ida, easily visible from the palace of Phaistos. The ascent is steep and difficult, taking about four hours from the nearest Minoan settlement by the present-day village of Kamares. The cave interior is uncomfortably cold and humid even in the height of summer. Its outer chamber is an enormous vaulted space about 100 m long, plunging 40 m into the mountain. A narrow passage leads into a second, much smaller chamber that slopes down 10 more metres and is entirely devoid of daylight.
The large amount of deposited ceramics and other relatively simplistic materials suggests it functioned as a sacred cave, despite the small numbers of votive gifts of precious and semi-precious materials and human and animal figurines so common in other Minoan sacred sites. The various pottery styles found suggest that Minoans visited the cave during all periods of the Bronze Age and the sheer number of vases demonstrates that these were more than casual visits.
Despite the importance of the cave as one of four major Minoan sacred caves in central Crete, interest among archaeologists waned after Dawkins and Laistner’s 1913 publication. In 2002, Drs. Loeta Tyree and Aleydis Van de Moortel undertook a reinvestigation of the finds from the cave under the auspices of the Canadian Institute in order to better understand the cult activities that took place at the sanctuary and to re-evaluate its role and importance in the Minoan world.
Van de Moortel, Aleydis. 2011. “The Phaistos Palace and the Kamares Cave: A Special Relationship.” Pgs. 306-318. In Our Cups Are Full: Pottery and Society in the Aegean Bronze Age. Papers Presented to Jeremy B. Rutter on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday. Walter Gaus, Michael Lindblom, R. Angus K. Smith and James C. Wright eds. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Van de Moortel, Aleydis. 2006. “A reexamination of the pottery from the Kamares Cave.” Pgs. 73-93. In Pottery and Society: The impact of recent studies in Minoan pottery. Gold medal colloquium in honor of Philip P. Betancourt. 104th annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, New Orleans, Louisiana, 5 January 2003. Wiener, J.L. Warner, J. Polonsky and E.E. Hayes eds. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, Boston.
Tyree, E. Loeta and Aleydis Van de Moortel. 2005. "The Kamares Cave." Pg. 69-71. In On site. Canadian archaeologists in Greece. S. Kennell ed. Athens: Motibo.