LIFE

Light shed on Temple of Apollo at Despotiko

New discoveries unearthed on small islet near Antiparos, likely a satellite of Delos sanctuary By John Leonard

Recent excavations at the ancient sanctuary of Apollo on the small uninhabited islet of Despotiko, just west of Antiparos island, have revealed additional walls, architectural members, sculptural fragments and painted Classical pottery that are now helping archaeologists to understand more clearly the sacred site?s layout, function, chronology and overseas connections, according to a statement by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism on July 15, 2010.

Director of the Mantra Despotikou project since 1997, archaeologist Yiannis Kouragios, of the 21st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, reports that the latest season of fieldwork took place between March 25 and June 25. Among the most important architectural discoveries were further sections of the peribolos (or temenos) wall marking the sanctuary?s sacred boundary; a plaster-lined cistern 3.40 meters deep for collecting precious rainwater on the dry islet; and numerous carved architectural blocks built into a post-antique yard wall, including reused column drums and members belonging to various parts of a temple entablature (architrave, geison, triglyph). The triglyph fragments are particularly telling, since their material consists of poros, a type of limestone that points to the existence of an earlier phase of the site?s Apollo temple ? later rebuilt in marble. Only spolia from the Apollo temple have yet been found but its foundations are believed by excavators to lie on the east side of the site, adjacent to a structure designated as Building A.

Sculptural finds in 2010 include the badly eroded marble head of a kouros statue and a marble finger from a life-size figure. Four other kouros heads had previously been unearthed at Mantra. Smaller objects recently recovered consist of a complete iron spearhead, three bronze coins still to be identified and fragments of a krater (a mixing bowl for wine at banquets) painted in red-figure style during the last quarter of the 5th century BC. This last artifact, produced in an Attic workshop, confirms overseas connections between Mantra and the Greek mainland.

Despotiko was first excavated in the 19th century by noted archaeologist Christos Tsountas, who discovered cemetery remains dating to the Early Bronze Age. Evidence for the Archaic temple ? later identified through inscribed votive offerings as belonging to Apollo ? came to light initially in 1959. The temple was Doric in style, erected at least by ca. 500 BC. Since 1997, Kouragios?s excavations have revealed auxiliary areas and features of the sanctuary including a Doric stoa more than 35 m in length. In total, at least six structures of Archaic, Classical or Hellenistic date have been unearthed. Medieval and premodern structures have also been recorded, from which archaeologists have retrieved more than 500 architectural blocks originating from ancient sacred and other public buildings. Objects previously discovered in the sanctuary include faience figurines, zoomorphic ceramic vessels representing roosters, hares and a lion, gold jewelry, stone, glass and gold beads, bronze or iron swords, knives and agricultural tools, a large ceramic figurine of a female deity from ca. 680-660 BC, and the stone torso of a nude male.

Mantra Despotikou appears to have been one of many satellite sanctuaries that beginning in the 6th century BC ringed Apollo?s main sanctuary on the central Cycladic island of Delos. Like the shrine at Delos and another on nearby Paros, the Despotiko sanctuary may have been sacred to both Apollo and his sister Artemis.

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