ATHENS – On a small, deserted Aegean Sea islet, British and Cypriot archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Copper Age settlement from almost 5,000 years ago that suggest its inhabitants had an impressive technological mastery, especially in the fields of metallurgy and construction, Greece’s culture ministry said on Wednesday.
According to the ministry’s statement, the islet of Daskalio – located some 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the southeast of Athens, in the North Aegean region – was at that time part of the now-uninhabited island of Keros, before it broke off the larger isle due to rising sea levels.
“The new discoveries show that Daskalio was almost completely covered with unique, monumental buildings constructed using stone from Naxos, despite the distance of approximately five nautical miles (9.3 km) that separates the two islands,” the statement said.
The terraced settlement took advantage of the terrain’s naturally pyramidal shape, with its inhabitants creating a complex canalization network that evinced a highly-advanced command of the art of building that predated the famed Mycenaean palaces by about 1,000 years.
Meandering between walls and under stairs, a sophisticated drainage system allowed for the circulation of either sewage or fresh drinking water, something that is set to be revealed in the near future by the results of the materials’ ongoing chemical analysis.
Over 1,000 tons of stone were transported from Naxos for the spectacular settlement’s construction.
At two metal workshops, researchers found a copper ax, molds for the manufacture of knives, and a terracotta oven.
The copper used in everyday objects and weapons was not available on Keros, which is why the experts posit that it was imported from other islands in the Cyclades group, such as Serifos or Kythnos, or even from certain areas of what is now mainland Greece.
The project’s co-director, Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge, said that at a time when technological know-how and access to raw materials were limited, Daskalio seems to have constituted a hub for metallurgic experts.
Boyd added that the settlement showed signs of being in the early stages of a nascent process of urbanization, as implied by the traces of centralization, an intensification of artisanry and agriculture, the desire to impose with monumental architecture and the progressive inclusion of ritual aspects from a nearby sanctuary into the wider public sphere.
Keros was an important site of worship during the early period of the Cycladean civilization, starting in circa 2,500 BCE.
The archaeological team also found large vases that were used for food storage purposes. The find almond, grape and cereal remains inside them suggest that Keros was not self-sufficient and depended on imports to flourish.
Until now, there had been no scientific evidence of any food trade occurring during the Copper Age or Chalcolithic (5th-3rd millennia BCE).
The current excavation, led by the Cyprus Institute and the University of Cambridge, saw the participation of students from Greece, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Although scientists first started digging in Keros in the early 1960s, the present-day program including Daskalio was launched in 2015 with the Greek culture ministry’s authorization.