Symbolic past of early Aegeans revealed at Dhaskalio Kavos site
Normand Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent
A rocky islet and a nearby hillside have yielded evidence of one of Greece’s oldest and most enigmatic ritual sites. Imported stones and fragmented marble statuettes show that Dhaskalio and Kavos were “a symbolic central place for the Early Bronze Age” in the Aegean, according to Professor Colin Renfrew.
Kavos is a stony, scrub-covered slope on the Cycladic island of Keros. Forty-five years ago Professor Renfrew, then a PhD student at Cambridge, found extensive looting there, with fragments of marble bowls and the famous Cycladic folded-arm figurines scattered across the surface.
The date of the Dhaskalio Kavos site, based on pottery fragments and since confirmed by radiocarbon, lies in the middle of the third millennium BC, probably around 2800-2300BC — roughly the same age as the Pyramids. Later developments in the Aegean, centred on Crete and the Greek mainland, include the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations represented by sites such as Knossos and perhaps reflected in the world of Homer’s Iliad.
Investigations by Professor Christos Doumas, of the Greek archaeological service, followed by a new project headed by Professor Renfrew and Dr Olga Philaniotou, have shown that the mainland site of Kavos was used for ritual deposition of hundreds of broken marble figurines, none complete and with hardly any joining fragments (The Times, August 21, 2006), as well as fragmentary marble bowls.
Although the island of Keros has long been noted for two complete marble figures in the National Museum in Athens, the raw materials for the marble artefacts at Kavos seem to have originated elsewhere in the Cyclades. The pottery includes fragments of vessels probably made on the islands of Syros and Amorgos, and some may have come from the Greek mainland, from the Argolid and Corinthia in the northeastern Peloponnese.
The artefacts were discovered in two “special deposits” about 150 metres apart on the hillside: the northern had been looted before 1963, but the southern remained undetected until the recent excavations. These were completed this summer. Although everything found in the two special deposits at Kavos was broken, and excavations show that breakages occurred elsewhere — so that what was brought in was already fragmentary — the “missing” pieces have not been encountered on sites elsewhere in the Cyclades.
The Kavos fragments “must have been deposited in the course of ceremonies which were clearly of pan-Cycladic significance. Dhaskalio Kavos can now be regarded as a symbolic central place, the first such regional centre to have been discovered from the Aegean Early Bronze Age,” Professor Renfrew reports. On the Dhaskalio islet, “it is striking that no marble figurines of the standard folded-arm form were found, despite their frequency in the special deposit.”
Buildings uncovered this summer were well constructed, using not local stone but schist and marble imported from the large island of Naxos. On Dhaskalio the remains of a structure about 16 metres (52 ft) long were found, which had been abandoned around 2000BC and which Professor Renfrew notes is “the largest building yet known from the Cycladic Early Bronze Age”. A hoard of three bronze or copper axes found within it has more than a kilogram of valuable metal, but a lack of clay sealings from merchandise suggest that it was not a trading centre.
Another summit building was small and circular, and contained almost 350 beach pebbles. “The context suggests ritual deposition, presumably in the context of religious observance,” said Professor Renfrew. “Clearly there were ritual practices special to the settlement on Dhaskalio.”