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INSTAP Study Center for East Crete

View of the Study Center from the northwest.


The Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete (INSTAP SCEC) is dedicated to the investigation of Cretan prehistory from the earliest times through the Early Iron Age, with an emphasis on Minoan civilization. Our institution continues a 100-year tradition of archaeology on the island and annually provides unique and vital support to more than 50 projects. The next step is to ensure our ability to meet the challenges faced by future generations of scholars, students, and visitors. For more information or to make a donation, please contact our U.S. Academic Office.


The Study Center supports the exploration of Cretan material culture by Greek and international archaeologists and researchers. Major excavations on Crete began in the first decades of the 20th century and included: Arthur Evans’ work at Knossos; Italian teams digging in south-central Crete (Phaistos, Hagia Triada, and Gortyn); British teams in eastern Crete (Palaikastro, Kato Zakros, and Praisos); and Greek excavations at Malia, Tylissos, Nirou Chani, the Idaean Cave, and the circular tombs of the Mesara.

Map of Crete marking many of the sites mentioned here. Courtesy of Google Maps.

In the region of the northern isthmus of Ierapetra and along the coast of the Mirabello Bay, Harriet Boyd began American excavations at several sites, including Kastro, Vronda, and Azoria—all located near the modern village of Kavousi—before turning her attention to the Minoan settlement of Gournia, located west of the Study Center.

Map of the Mirabello Bay and northern isthmus of Ierapetra marking many of the sites mentioned here. Courtesy of Google Maps.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): portraits of Harriet Boyd, Richard Seager, and Edith Hall.

Her colleagues Richard Seager and Edith Hall continued work in the area at Vasiliki, Pseira, Mochlos, Pacheia Ammos, Sphoungaras, and Vrokastro. Richard Seager lived in this area for two decades, and his villa is nestled in the pine trees overlooking the village of Pacheia Ammos and not far from the Study Center. The two buildings form a visible link between the multiple generations of American excavators working in this part of Crete at the beginning and end of the twentieth century, often at the same sites.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): Richard Seager’s villa and the village of Pacheia Ammos located on the southern coast of the Mirabello Bay.

The INSTAP Study Center opened in 1997 to facilitate the growing needs of American research teams working on the island. From the beginning it has worked closely with the Lasithi Ephorate of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), and several projects of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) to develop a comprehensive approach to excavation, study, and heritage management for the wider archaeological community.

Its primary mission is providing support for excavators preparing ancient material for study and publication. When it opened, the Study Center served as the base for several excavations and surveys affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies (Mochlos, Pseira, Kastro, Vronda, Chalasmenos, Katalimata, Gournia, and Vrokastro) some in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): islet of Mochlos, Minoan settlement of Pseira, view of the Kastro looking northeast, view of Vronda looking north with the island of Pseira in the distance, Chalasmenos looking northwest with the northern isthmus of Ierapetra in the distance, and surveying Gournia.

By 2019, this assistance had reached several more projects affiliated with the ASCSA (Chrysokamino, Azoria, and Hagios Charalambos) and others in eastern and central Crete directed by our colleagues from the Lasithi Ephorate of Antiquities, various foreign schools, and Greek universities.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): aerial photography at Chrysokamino, Azoria looking northwest, Phil Betancourt at the entrance to the Hagios Charalambos Cave, and the Minoan town of Gournia.

To extend these services to an even wider community working on Crete, the Greek mainland and other islands, Cyprus, and Turkey, INSTAP created the Publication Team, which offers technical support for illustration, photography, conservation, petrography, and geophysical and faunal analysis. In 2019 the Publication Team worked with more than 40 projects based in the Aegean.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): Doug Faulmann in the SCEC drafting room, Eleni Nodarou in the petrography lab, and Chronis Papanikolopoulos in the photo lab.

Because of growing concern for the long-term conservation of sites and the curation of artifacts and excavation records, the Study Center has undertaken several initiatives concerning site presentation and object and record storage. Since 2010, the William D.E. Coulson Conservation Lab at the Study Center has worked closely with senior members of the Greek Conservation and Restoration Departments of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the Lasithi Ephorate of Antiquities to develop a series of protocols and mortars for the conservation of stone architecture at sites in East Crete. Currently, this strategy is targeting only the most vulnerable parts of these sites, but the ultimate goal is the long-term care of all of the architecture.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): site conservation at Pseira and Azoria.

The staff and conservation interns have also undertaken a major repacking project for the objects in storage. A central element of this work is the creation of a database to serve as the finding aid for the excavation data and records stored in the building.

Storage containers for the iron artifacts from the Late Geometric cemetery at Kavousi Vronda.

The final step in this heritage paradigm involves sharing new discoveries from the Greek past with the wider scholarly community and the local and foreign lay audience. There is a growing list of preliminary and final publications by our members in the journals Hesperia and Aegean Archaeology, various Festschrifts and conference proceedings, and the Prehistory Monographs published by INSTAP Academic Press. The Study Center’s newsletter, KENTRO, is another part of this dialog, along with articles in Cretan and other Greek journals.

Since 1997, the Study Center has hosted a diverse series of summer lectures, which bring together the archaeological community in Crete each summer. The staff also provides tours to student groups from Greek, European, and North American universities and all the primary and secondary schools in the Ierapetra municipality. As part of the centenary celebration of American work on Crete, Crete 2000, the Study Center produced a guide to American archaeological work on Crete and a substantial program of site presentation for visitors; paths and site signs in English and Greek were installed at Mochlos, Chrysokamino, Kavousi Kastro and Vronda, and Gournia. More recently, the Study Center has been assisting the Lasithi Ephorate of Antiquities with plans for the display of finds in the archaeological museums of Hagios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, and Siteia from the excavations directed by senior members of the INSTAP Study Center (e.g., Azoria, Kavousi, Mochlos, and Pseira). We are particularly proud of these efforts in heritage management because they have the potential to impact the widest audience and they bring a sense of completion to the projects that we have supported.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): evening lecture in the central court of the SCEC, school children on tour in the conservation lab, informational signage at Vronda, Kavousi, and precious objects from Mochlos on display in the Siteia Museum.


Becker, M.J., and P.P. Betancourt. 1997. Richard Berry Seager: Pioneer Archaeologist and Proper Gentleman, Philadelphia.
Boyd Hawes, H. 1965. “Memoirs of a Pioneer Excavator in Crete,” Archaeology 18 (2), pp. 94–101.
Davaras, C., P.P. Betancourt, and W.R. Farrand. 1992. “Pseira,” in The Aerial Atlas of Ancient Crete, J.W. Myers, E.E. Myers, and G. Cadogan, eds., Berkley and Los Angeles, pp. 262–267.
Gesell, G.C., L.P. Day, and W.D.E. Coulson. 1992. “Kavousi,” in The Aerial Atlas of Ancient Crete, J.W. Myers, E.E. Myers, and G. Cadogan, eds., Berkley and Los Angeles, pp. 120–123.
Muhly, J.D. 2000. “One Hundred Years of American Archaeological Work on Crete,” in Crete 2000: One Hundred Years of American Archaeological Work on Crete, J.D. Muhly, ed., Athens, pp. 7–20.

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