Cycladic Civilization & Art

The Cycladic civilization (also known as The Cycladic period) is an Early Bronze Age culture of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, spanning the period from about 3000 BC-2000 BC.

The great Cycladic culture of the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age is best known for its schematic flat female idols carved out of pure white marble from the Cycladic islands centuries before the great Middle Bronze Age, when the Minoan culture arose in Crete, to the south. Unfortunately, these figures have been stolen from burials to satisfy the Cycladic antiquities market since the early 20th century. Only about 40% of the 1,400 figurines found are of known origin, since looters destroyed evidence of the rest.

The chronology of Cycladic civilization is divided into three major periods: Early, Middle and Late Cycladic. The early period, beginning around 3000 BC passed into the Middle Cycladic (archaeologically less known) ca. 2500 BC. By the end of the Late Cycladic period (ca. 2000 BC) there was essential convergence between Cycladic and Minoan civilization.

Figurines from the early Cycladic II period

Almost all information known regarding Neolithic art of the Cyclades comes from the excavation site of Saliagos off Antiparos. Pottery of this period is similar to that of Crete and the Greek mainland.

Mystery figurines from Keros, Smaller Cyclades, Greece
Mystery figurines from Keros, Smaller Cyclades. Photograph: Cambridge University/PA

In recent years, since 1987, excavations have been taking place at the small, uninhabited island of Keros (Smaller Cyclades), lying southeast of Naxos. Here thousands of broken figurines have been found on Keros itself but mainly on the tiny islet Dhaskalio about 100 m away. From what the Cambridge professor Colin Renfrew concludes, amazingly all these broken marble figurines have been broken on purpose 4500 years ago.

Keros – still a mystery

Group of three figurines from the early Cycladic II period, early Spedos type
Figurines from the early Cycladic II period

Until today it has been an archaeological mystery why fragments of beautiful but deliberately smashed bronze age figurines were buried in shallow pits on the small, rocky island of Keros which never seemed to have had any population of significance.

Soon, academics at Cambridge University will release findings that shed light on the 4,500-year-old puzzle of Keros, the tiny Cycladic island in the Aegean.
Professor Colin Renfrew, who led the most recent excavations, believe Keros was the ceremonial destination for a ritual that involved islanders breaking prized possessions and making a pilgrimage with fragments for burial. Apparently, breaking of statues and other goods was a ritual and Keros was chosen as a sanctuary to preserve the effects.