Wednesday 20 July 2011

Despotiko: The Island of the Kouroi

Despotiko: The Island of the Kouroi

From: To Vima, 18.07.2011, by Maria Thermou.

Kouroi, made of the famous Parian marble are being discovered on Despotikon, the little island near Antiparos, by archaeologist Yannos Kourayos, who has been excavating a large temple of the Archaic Period dedicated to Apollo since 2001.

The body of a Kouros - from the neck to the waist - that had been placed face down on the lintel of a door, used to support the lintel, and at a different part of the excavation two large sections of legs - thigh and heel - of another statue, also a Kouros, preserved in excellent condition was the impressive find of this year, but not the only one. It is interesting that the body is joined to the lower part of a Kouros that had been discovered built into the wall of a building of the sanctuary in 2005. It is possible, according to Mr. Kourayos, that the head of a Kouros found last year belongs to the same statue!

In order to better understand this "collection" of sculpture that is coming to light on Despotikon, it must be noted that until now more than 60 parts of sculptures have been discovered, including five heads of Kouroi and one smaller one that belongs to a Kore, more than ten bodies of various dimentions and about 30 bases for offerings (Kouroi or votive columns).

The body discovered this year had been cut from the rest of the statue, it had been placed in the ground upside-down and two joint-holes filled with lead had been made to support the doors axle. It had been surrounded by marble blocks to give it better stability and the upper part had been flattened so that the plaque of the lintel could better lie on it.

But the most important element is elsewhere: despite the flattening of the surface, traces of the hand bend and placed on the breast are discernible. As mr. Kourayos says: "This type of Kouros is only encountered in Parian workshops of the end of the 6th century B.C., while generally the hand held bent on the breast is, as we all know, a characteristic of archaic Kores". It must be noted that only two other statues with this trait are know, the Kouros of the Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhague and one other half-finished statue, in the Museum of Paros, found in the stone quarries of the island.

The building in which the body was discovered is small, being of the shape of a Naos with a prodomos, cella and adyton, located on the North-Eastern side of the sanctuary. "It appears that it was built in the late Archaic Period, after the violent destruction of the archaic Kouroi", says mr Kouragios.

But why the destruction? As mr Kourayos explains: "I believe that it might be connected to the war between Athens and Paros, when Miltiades was sent to punish the island because it sided with the Persians during the Persian Wars. That was when the statues were destroyed and were reused as construction material".

Another interesting point of this year's excavation was the discovery of a stylobate for a colonnade that was constructed around 500 B.C. with seven columns of a height of 3.80 m. In the foundations of the stylobate parts of the left foot of an archaic Kouros of natural size and of excellent style, which were joined with a portion of a thigh of a sculpture found in 2005. Next to these the base on which a smaller Kouros had stood, on which three toes of its right foot are preserved.

A square, marble well of religious character - it was where the libations were made - dated to the early Archaic Period was discovered under the later plaque-covered floor of the eating area of the sanctuary. Six different construction phases were discerned in the North gate of the sanctuary, considered to be its original entry. A mass of ceramic dated from the Geometric to the Archaic period has also been discovered, confirming that the sanctuary was already active in the Geometric period.

Ancient Prespesinthos, as Despotiko was called according to the testimony of Strabo and Pliny, played an important role in the Aegean. In antiquity in was attached to an (even smaller) island, Tsimintiri - where the archaeological finds extend -, it was home to an important sanctuary. Its position was strategic, it had a well protected port, a view to Sifnos to the west and Antiparos to the East, and was covered in plants.

Pieces of ceramics found on the island with the inscriptions "ΑΠΟΛΛ", "ΑΡΤΗΜΕ" or "ΑΡΧΗΜΕ" confirm the cult of Apollo and Artemis (sanctuaries dedicated to Apollo existed on 22 other islands). Pilgims bearing offerings arrived here: statuettes and objects of all sorts have been discovered: bronze and ivory buckles, gold, glass or stone beads, seal stones, statuettes of faïence, alabstra and Corinthian aryballoi, an ostrich egg, knives, swords, loom weights, agricultural tools and everyday vases. A special find made a few years ago was the discovery of the statuette of a female divinity of daedalic style (680-660 B.C.), considered to have been the cult statue of the sanctuary.

The excavation is carried out by the 21st Ephorate of Antiquities, under the direction of mr Kourayos, with the participation of many archaeologists, members of the scientific team: Kornelia Ntaifa, Spyros Petropoulos, Thanasis Garonis, as well as students from the University of Perugia. The study of the architectural material is been carried out for the second year, including the material from the twelve buildings, by the architect and Professor of the University of Munich, Dr And Onesorg and Dr. Katerina Papagianni. The I. Latsis Foundation and the A.P. Kanelopoulos Foundation were the sponsors of the excavation.

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