The site of Knossos has had a very long history of human habitation, beginning with the founding of the first Neolithic settlement (c. 7,000 BC). Neolithic remains are prolific in Crete. They are found in caves, rock shelters, houses, and settlements. Knossos has a thick Neolithic layer indicating the site was a sequence of settlements before the Palace Period. The earliest was placed on bedrock.
Arthur Evans, who unearthed the palace of Knossos in modern times, estimated that c. 8,000 BC a Neolithic people arrived at the hill, probably from overseas by boat, and placed the first of a succession of wattle and daub villages (modern radiocarbon dates have raised the estimate to c. 7,000–6,500 BC). Large numbers of clay and stone incised spools and whorls attest to local cloth-making. There are fine ground axe and mace heads of colored stone: greenstone, serpentine, diorite and jadeite, as well as obsidian knives and arrowheads along with the cores from which they were flaked. Most significant among the other small items were a large number of animal and human figurines, including nude sitting or standing females with exaggerated breasts and buttocks. Evans attributed them to the worship of the Neolithic mother goddess and figurines in general to religion.
Goddess image found at Knossos (note the tufts on the tails)
Among the items found in Knossos is a Minoan depiction of a goddess flanked by two lionesses that shows a goddess who appears in many other images.
John Davies Evans (no relation to Arthur Evans) undertook further excavations in pits and trenches over the palace, focusing on the Neolithic. In the Aceramic Neolithic, 7,000–6,000 BC, a hamlet of 25–50 persons existed at the location of the Central Court. They lived in wattle and daub huts, kept animals, grew crops, and, in the event of tragedy, buried their children under the floor. In such circumstances as they are still seen today, a hamlet consisted of several families, necessarily interrelated, practicing some form of exogamy, living in close quarters, with little or no privacy and a high degree of intimacy, spending most of their time in the outdoors, sheltering only for the night or in inclement weather, and to a large degree nomadic or semi-nomadic.