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Prehistoric Aegean Treasures of Greece’s Keros Island Seen for First Time

Keros Greece
Some of the artifacts found on Keros island on display. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Ancient Aegean treasures from Keros and Daskalio, early Cycladic island sites which flourished from 3200-2100 BC, can be seen — for the very first time — at an exhibit which opened in Athens on Monday.

“Des Apenanti – A settlement on Keros of 4,500 years ago” is now on display at the Athens Municipal Gallery in the Metaxourgio district with objects first discovered in 2019.

It includes objects unearthed by the long-term excavation by the University of Cambridge on the islets southeast of Naxos, Keros and Daskalio, part of the Koufonissia group of islands.

Keros Greece
Excavations at Keros have revealed priceless clues regarding life in the pre-historic Aegean. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The exhibit highlights the start of urbanization and the maritime trade networks for raw materials and goods in the Aegean Sea during the prehistoric era. One section shows aspects of daily life and trade, and another provides a glimpse into archaeological methods and documentation, including what were cutting-edge technologies at the time.

The opening was attended by Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, archaeologist and curator Stefanos Keramidas and ephor Dimitris Athanassoulis of the Cyclades Ephorate of Antiquities, among others.

Keros Greece
The small island of Keros

Keros: One of the most important prehistoric sites globally

Bakoyannis spoke of the numerous objects found on such small sites, and of archaeological information that would “take dozens if not hundreds of books to record fully.”

“4,500 years ago Daskalio was not a separate island, but the southwestern-most promontory of Keros,” Mendoni said.

“At this promontory, archaeologists revealed the oldest island sanctuary, one of the most important prehistoric sites globally, according to Lord Colin Renfrew,” she added, referring to the pioneering prehistoric Aegean specialist who has dug there.

Keros Greece
Metalworking finds. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

“It was clearly the most significant ritual center of the Cycladic Islands in the center of the Aegean from the start of 3000 BC, and definitely nearly 500 years earlier than any other ritual center in the prehistoric Aegean, according to its other excavator, Michael Boyd,” the minister added.

Thriving center for metal production

The now uninhabited island of Keros was, in the Early Bronze Age, the site of the world’s earliest maritime sanctuary, and a thriving center for metal production, with monumental architecture, providing a great deal of evidence for crucial developments in architecture.

Keros Greece
Keros Project students excavate on the island. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The site first came to prominence in the 1960s, when Colin Renfrew and Christos Doumas (separately) visited the site and discovered that part of it had been subject to looting. The looted area was first investigated archaeologically in 1963 by Doumas.

As the Keros Project of the the University of Cambridge notes, three major international collaborative projects have been carried out on Keros since then. These projects have completely transformed our understanding of what was previously seen as a Cycladic enigma.

The work done has defined the site as central in the networks of the Early Bronze Age, a center of congregation for long-lived pan-Cycladic ritual practices as well as a center of power where the greatest architectural undertakings of the age housed centralized craft practices, set in a landscape of intensified agricultural innovations and satellite settlements, the Project says.

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