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Kouros Sculpture Unearthed at the Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Despotiko

Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Despotiko
The Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Apollo on Despotiko, where a Kouros sculpture was recently discovered. Credit: Ministry of Culture

A marble Kouros sculpture has been unearthed at the Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Apollo on Despotiko, Greece

Despotiko is an uninhabited islet south of Antiparos, and is amongst the most important discoveries of recent times.

According to several archaeologists, Despotiko might have been as important as Ancient Delos during antiquity.

At the site, which has been excavated since 1997, an extensive settlement has been discovered, including a temple dedicated to the god Apollo.

Kouros Sculpture Unearthed in the Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Despotiko

This year, archaeologists discovered new finds which shed more light on the sanctuary. Among the most important discovery was a headless kouros, the modern term given to free-standing Ancient Greek sculptures that depict nude male youths.

Ancient Greek Sanctuary Despotiko
The statue of a kouros was unearthed at Despotiko. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The Greek Ministry of Culture says that the sculpture can be dated to just after 480 BC. It is a work of exceptional quality made of marble from the island of Paros with a smooth and shiny skin.

Despotiko Ancient Greek sanctuary
Despotiko is located in the middle of the Aegean Sea and is surrounded by the Greek islands of Antiparos, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Sikinos, Sifnos, and Kimolos. credit: google maps

Despotiko lies about seven hundred meters southwest of the shores of Antiparos. It is situated practically right in the middle of the Cyclades, and, on clear days, it is possible to see the other surrounding islands from Despotiko.

Currently, the island is accessible only by boats from the island of Antiparos.

The strait separating Despotiko from Antiparos is only about a meter deep, and the islet of Tsimintiri is situated between the two.

The strait is, therefore, extremely shallow. This might be because there could have been a link between Antiparos and Despotiko in ancient times. According to several scientists, Paros, Antiparos, and Despotiko were all connected into a single land mass thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists say the earliest indications of activity on the island date back to the Early Iron Age while the period of greatest prosperity is documented to have been around the middle of the 6th century BC.

It was during that time that the 1,600 square meter temple of Apollo was likely constructed. Alongside the temple, there were other ceremonial buildings, a banqueting hall (hestiatorion), and an aqueduct.

Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Apollo at Despotiko, Greece
The 1,600 square meter temple of Apollo. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Excavations at the Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Despotiko

Excavations have revealed eighty-eight fragments of marble kouroi. In addition, forty marble bases of statues of different types have been uncovered.

Excavations have also unearthed plenty of ceramic artifacts from the archaic and classical period, including vases, basins, bottles, lamps, pots, and amphorae. Metallic objects were also found. These were all estimated to be from the 6th century BC.

Ancient Greek Sanctuary Despotiko
A vase unearthed at the archaeological site of Despotiko. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The project is headed by Yannos Kourayos, a Greek archaeologist with vast experience and a wealth of knowledge in the field.

In a recent interview, Kourayos compared the importance of the sanctuaries of Despotiko and Delos.

“Delos was under the influence of Naxos and later Athens although there also offerings— i.e. sculptures—from Paros,” the Greek archaeologist told Greek News Agenda. “What we now see in Delos is a Hellenistic and Roman town; so in…Archaic times, Despotiko’s temple must have been more important and probably attracted more worshippers from the surrounding islands and Asia Minor, compared to the one on Delos.”

Ancient Greek Sanctuary of Despotiko
Marble bases of statues discovered at Despotiko. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Indicative of the size of the sanctuary was the unveiling of an extensive and complex water collection and management system in 2020 consisting of reservoirs and a built conduit. The conduit ran down the hill and all the way south of the sanctuary.

Ancient Greek Sanctuary Despotiko
Excavations at the ancient site reveal more secrets every year. Credit: Ministry of Culture

In 2016, a human skeleton was found. Archaeologists believe it to be the remains of a worker from approximately 550 BC.

Due to the contracted position of the buried skeleton in the ground, archaeologists assume that it could have been a worker who was working on the north temple wall.

“It is likely the skeleton of a worker because he was buried without offerings,” said Kourayos. “He seems to have died during work on the north wall in 550 BC and was buried at that point.”

Ancient Greek Sanctuary Despotiko
The skeleton of a person—possibly a worker—discovered in 2016 at the Despotiko Ancient Sanctuary. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Future plans involve turning the site into an open-air museum. Current construction projects, including the building of concrete walkways, will allow visitors to walk around the site.

Excavation findings from Despotiko are exhibited in the local Archaeological Museum in Parikia, the port town of Paros.

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