The cave has been frequented by people seemingly for as long as there have been humans on Crete. According to the site’s informative brochure, illegal excavations revealed Neolithic tools in 1928 and a bronze double-axe in 1940 (now in the Iraklion Museum). More systematic excavations were conducted in 1954 by P. Faure, who unearthed pottery dated to the Late Minoan, Geometric, and Roman periods.
Rescue excavations started in 1987 when the site was about to be turned into a tourist destination. Various layers of charcoal were unearthed in the so-called Raulin Room, a recess accessible from the “Room of Heroes”, which have been dated to the Late Minoan period, under which various pots were found dated to the Neopalatial period (on Minoan chronology, check this article). Along with finds elsewhere in the cave, it is clear that the site was used as a place of worship and/or ritual in the second millennium BC. Earlier, it may have been used as a dwelling.
By the Archaic period, a large phallus-shaped stalagmite inside the cave may have been a special object of worship. Various figurines of naked and dressed females, all dated to ca. 680-600 BC, were found at its foot. Worship here may have been interrupted until the Hellenistic period, when figurines are once again dedicated here. Then, from the Late Roman era, excavators have unearthed lamps and pins.
Inscriptions near the entrance of the cave indicate that it was by then associated with the messenger god Mercury (Greek: Hermes). Other inscriptions are hidden behind fallen rock; an investigation in 1998 in search for more revealed the presence of a makeshift lime-kiln near the entrance. Such a kiln is used for the calcination of limestone to produce quicklime or burnt lime (calcium oxide).
The site is relatively small, but the ossuary leaves an impression. However we may value the ancient world, it is good to learn about the more recent past of a country, and to honour the memory of those who stood up against tyranny. The chapel near the ticket office offers visitors a place to sit and reflect. Located 220 metres above sea level, the terrace here also offers a spectacular and humbling view of the surrounding landscape.