Culture 07/12/2021

Exceptional find in the Mediterranean: a Greek kitchen is found at the Empúries site

It dates to the 6th century BC and it is thought that it may have served a nearby sanctuary due to the quantity of shells found

3 min
Image of the northern sector of the Greek city of Empúries, where you can see the allós stone cairn and the whole cliff of the ancient coastal façade

L'EscalaMore than a century after the excavations began, the Empúries site continues to provide surprises. This year's discovery was unique, not only because it is unprecedented in Empúries, but also because there have been very few similar finds in the whole of the Mediterranean. A Greek kitchen from the second half of the 6th century BC has been discovered, that is, from the foundational period of the neapolis, according to ACN. "We are talking about a kitchen with specific structures that we had never found before," says the head of the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia-Empúries, Marta Santos. It is made of baked clay and was made up of a stove (with a vault that has not been preserved) and a small hearth, which was fed with embers from the bottom. Apart from the structure, what makes it special is also the amount of culinary remains that archaeologists have found inside the room where it has been located. Mixed with the earth that covered them, and where pieces of Greek pottery have also appeared, Marta Santos explains that "thousands of cockle shells", remains of fish and fragments of bears have been found. From these lands, archaeologists have collected samples that have been sent to specialized laboratories to try to discover what dishes were prepared in this kitchen

Stove and hearth discovered in Empúries
Archaeologists excavating the house's fireplace

"We are talking about an extraordinary number of shells, not usual for domestic consumption, so we think that this kitchen had to have a special function," says the head of the museum. The archaeologists' hypothesis is that the kitchen was related to a sanctuary that was in the area and that, for the moment, the remains that have been found (offerings and pottery) seem to indicate in was dedicated to the goddess of agriculture Demeter. "We can think that this kitchen would be peripheral to the sanctuary, and that it would be related to their ritual meals," Santos specifies. "It could be used for the meals and celebrations that would be held around religious ceremony", adds one of the archaeologists at Empúries, Pere Castanyer.

To build this theory, the archaeologists base themselves on another similar kitchen that was discovered in Corinth. "There are very few parallels with kitchens like this one in the Greek world, and the best, and almost the only one, has been found precisely in a sanctuary", explains the head of the MAC-Empúries. Specifically, it was found at the Isthmia site, where the Greeks erected a temple in honour of the god of the sea, Poseidon. "It is a very suggestive hypothesis, and the discovery of the kitchen is extraordinary, but we must be cautious," explains Santos. Because there are still open questions and it will be necessary to excavate the area of Empúries where the sanctuary was located (near the ancient Greek port) in depth in order to "make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together". For the moment, once it has been discovered after 1,500 years, the Greek kitchen has been buried again to preserve it.

Excavations in the port district

During this archaeological campaign, the work has focused on the ancient coastal façade of Empúries. In the 6th century BC, when the Greeks built the Neapolis, the morphology of the area was very different from what it is today. The Ter formed a large estuary and the sea water almost reached the area where the museum building now stands. In 2021, archaeologists continued excavating the whole area.

Their goal was twofold. On the one hand, to make visible a large part of the ancient cliff on top of which the Greek city was built, where a large breakwater had been discovered that protected the small natural cove that was the first port of Empúries from the storms. This port was located directly on the beach, where there were walkways and jetties, and was used until the 2nd century BC. "It was then, coinciding with the arrival of the Romans, when this space ceased to be efficient and an artificial port was built further east", the archaeologist explains.

On the other hand, to continue discovering what the port district was like (which extended to the edge of the rocky promontory). It was in this sector, made up of different islands of buildings separated by alleyways, that archaeologists have unearthed Greek kitchen. Until now only traces of fireplaces had been found in the village. They were usually located in the centre of rooms and were used both for heating and cooking.

It was during the 4th and 5th centuries AD when the population moved inland and the late-antique and medieval nucleus of Santa Margarita was born.