LIFE

Ancient artifacts, kouroi and goats

A multitude of finds makes the need to protect islet of Despotiko imperative By Iota Sykka

Uninhabited apart from dozens of wild and disobedient goats that roam its scrubland, Despotiko, off the island of Antiparos in the Cyclades group, was in ancient times a destination for pilgrims. Its strategic importance as a beacon of the Aegean has been confirmed by a number of significant archaeological finds, which include impressive kouros statues, parts of which are scattered around Despotiko.

Despotiko is thought to have been a sanctuary throughout the Geometric era which rose to prominence in ancient times after the inhabitants of Paros established it as a place of worship in order to confirm the larger neighboring island as a dominant force in the Aegean.

It continued to serve as a religious site up until the beginning of the 2nd century BC, when it suffered extensive destruction at the hands of the Athenians as a punishment to Paros for siding with the Persians. Later, in Roman times and the post-Byzantine era, the islet was frequently targeted by pirates.

In recent years researchers have been attempting to secure Despotiko a place in the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funding program in the hope that it may one day be seen as a paradigm of Archaic restoration, just like Sangri and Iria on Naxos, Messini in the Peloponnese and Karthea on Kea.

For the time being aspirations are focused on getting off the ground a plan by architect Katerina Tsigarida for an archaeological park, or ?open museum,? with the restored temple as its main attraction. In addition, plans are also being made by architect-engineer Goulielmos Orestidis (who took on the restoration of the ancient theater at Sparta) for further studies into the stabilization of the ruins.

Whether these plans will be implemented rests with the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) and the archaeological services, while according to the director of the excavations on Despotiko, Yiannis Kouragios, the Municipality of Antiparos has been aiding proceedings to the best of its abilities so that steps can be initiated for the island to become a destination for archaeological tourism.

While previous excavations have taken place on Despotiko, most of the architectural ruins and a plethora of tools and storage vessels made out of seashells were brought to light during this year?s digs in the area of Mantra, as well as Archaic ceramics and other ancient artifacts concerning the god Apollo. During the last few days of excavation work, a pleasant surprise came in the discovery of a piece of marble which appeared to belong to a kouros due to its muscular form, adding to the dozens of marble fragments that have been unearthed on the island of kouroi, as Despotiko has been dubbed.

Kouragios has continued his research around the ancient temple dedicated to Apollo. Twelve buildings have been discovered around Despotiko and another five on the nearby islet of Tsimintiri. The current research team (which includes archaeologists Cornelia Daifa, Spyros Petropoulos and architects Aenne Ohnesorg and Katerina Papagianni from the University of Munich) has been working around the temple and a walled-in space where rituals were held. The various facets of the structures have been studied, more buildings have been excavated and various architectural elements categorized. A marble sacrificial site was discovered at the forefront of the temple, similar to one found at a shrine on Naxos. Kouragios says older artifacts uncovered in front of one of the temple?s pillars have proved crucial, as ?they identify the temple?s function during the Geometric era.? Among the finds were vases from the Late Geometric and Early Archaic periods, as well as engravings and a table-like structure made of four plaques (a type of altar).

The tomb of an adult was discovered without funeral offerings in the outer corner of the temple and at its base was yet another find that proved perplexing for the archaeologists as it was next to a place of worship. If this tomb proves to date back to the Archaic period, it could be surmised that the deceased was a laborer that died in the temple and was buried next to the ruins. If however evidence shows it is from more recent times, it could be merely one of the temple?s pillagers. A tomb containing three skeletons dating back to Late Roman era, meanwhile, was found within the interior of Building B.

The excavation was made possible thanks to the sponsorship of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, the P

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