Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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Cambridge Archaeological Journal (2010), 20:109-127 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2010

Research Article

Wild Nature? Human-Animal Relations on Neopalatial Crete

Andrew Shaplanda1

a1 Department of Greece and Rome, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, UK, Email:
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shapland a [Google Scholar]


The Neopalatial period of Middle to Late Bronze Age Crete is marked by a dramatic increase in the depiction of non-human animals. In contrast to the domesticates listed in the Linear A documents, the animals which appear on frescoes and seals are largely wild or supernatural, or in non-domestic scenes (particularly bull-leaping). This article seeks to explore the quantitative differences between the types of animals displayed on different media, and ask why non-domestic animals appear in such significant proportions. Arthur Evans and subsequent scholars have explained this phenomenon as an expression of interest in the natural world. Instead of this modernist view, it will be argued here that it is by trying to approach these depictions as expressing specifically Bronze Age human-animal relations that the role of such animals in Cretan society can be understood. From a relational perspective, the animals depicted can be seen as active participants in prestige activities such as hunting or bull-leaping rather than the passive motifs of artistic naturalists. This perspective might also provide a more illuminating answer to the question: why depict animals?

(Received June 24 2008)

(Accepted October 20 2008)

(Revised March 03 2009)

Andrew Shapland is the Greek Bronze Age Curator at the British Museum. He has recently completed his PhD on human-animal relations in Bronze Age Crete at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, where he is an Honorary Research Associate. He is also involved in the Knossos Urban Landscape Project.