Lustral Basins, or the Archaeology of Remembrance
We stood in the sun, which was sharp and swimmingly white, though not quite directly overhead. The only thing brighter than the sunlight was the dust, which swirled and eddied low around our feet, stirred by the rare breezes. The olive trees and other low, scrubby plants were soaked in this dust, and seemed nearly as parched as we were.
We stood attentively and looked at every bit of stone drawn to our attention there at Palaikastro. The Canadian guide, though humorous, was large and menacing, and our coterie, though not always the most sensible, knew when to be on good behavior. Huge, who was not Canadian, listened to his comrade, and nodded sagely when the Canadian made a good point, or dryly entered a caveat on the more fanciful hypotheses. Once the tour was over, we were free to look around. Accordingly, we dissolved in clumps of threes and fours, and drifted across the level excavated plain towards the pools of shade.
‘Look,’ said the boy with the slender ankles, ‘it’s a lustral basin.’
I looked. It was a moderately deep trough cut in stone, which could conceivably have been used for a purifying bath prior to sacrifice. I looked at the bathtub. ‘Do you really think so? ’ I said, ‘it looks look a bathtub.’
‘First rule of archaeology: ritual is always the explanation. No one wants to know how, or if, the Minoans bathed…’ his voice trailed off. Archaeology was his field, the little puddle of knowledge in which he chose to splash—ergo he wordlessly implied, his explanation was probably pretty near the mark, at least so far as current scholarship was concerned.
But the day was hot, and my nose was sunburnt, and I, the purported historian, was feeling difficult—that particular rule was only amusing the first time one heard it. ‘But I might want to know.’ Might being the operative word.
He was silent a moment. He looked from me to the alleged lustral basin and back again. Now he, too, was looking for an explanation. Whether he was successful or not I cannot say, for after awhile he shook his head, and sneered. ‘You would.’