During the dawn of the Cycladic Bronze Age, a gleaming white monument rose up out of the Aegean Sea. A manmade network of terraces and buildings constructed out of more than 1,000 tons of imported white stone, the massive monument took up practically every inch of the Dhaskalio promontory that was once connected to the Greek island of Keros.
Thousands of years later, Keros is an uninhabited and protected archaeological site. Time has weathered the monument and rising sea levels threatens Dhaskalio. But thanks to a recent excavation, a team of international researchers are digging into the island’s thriving but mysterious past.
“It must have been absolutely striking to approach that from the sea,” says excavation co-director Michael Boyd. “The island itself is visible from quite some distance.”
A Sophisticated Society
Archaeologists have known that ritual practices took place on Keros 4,500 years ago, and past excavations have unearthed a sanctuary and thousands of marble sculptures. Experts believe the objects were made elsewhere, intentionally broken, and brought to the island for burial.
As the oldest excavated site on the island, the sanctuary likely drew people to Keros from nearby lands, Boyd says. With them, they brought food, metal, and the volcanic glass obsidian, among other raw materials. Keros grew to be a sophisticated metropolis over time, complete with experienced metalworkers and engineers. It’s the largest known Cycladic monument to date.
“Everything else seems to follow just a little bit after [the sanctuary],” says Boyd, a fellow in the archaeology department at the University of Cambridge. His co-director, Colin Renfrew, is a National Geographic explorer.
Armed with iPads, a digital excavation system, and a National Geographic Society grant, the team located a complex system of plumbing under the structure’s stairs and within its walls. This shows the islanders carefully planned and built their architecture; their sophisticated drainage system dates back 1,000 years before other known systems. Future testing will determine if the plumbing was meant for freshwater or sewage.