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Tracing Greek History by Studying 4,500 Year Old Seeds

keros real news wideArchaeologists from the University of Cambridge and The Cyprus Institute have been investigating the unique phenomenon of broken marble figurines on the Cycladic island of Keros, and have discovered the area to be the site of the world’s earliest maritime sanctuary, that eventually grew into the largest and most imposing site of the Early Bronze Age Cyclades (ca. 2750-2300 BC or a little later). Previous excavations in 2006-2008 had discovered a second area where figurine fragments could be found just below the ground surface. Crucially, this ‘Special Deposit’ had not been discovered by looters, so the archaeologists were able to study one of the two deposits in great detail, making up for much of the damage to the area looted in the 1950s and 1960s. The new excavations are part of the third campaign on the island, and were led by Prof Colin Renfrew and Dr Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge, who were joined by Asst. Prof. Evi Margaritis of the Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Center (STARC) of The Cyprus Institute.

Asst. Prof. Margaritis’ contribution to the excavation, as the Assistant Director of the excavation and Director of Environmental Studies, was extensively presented in an article by Alexandros Kyriakopoulos of Realnews ( She and her colleagues have been examining burned seeds, charcoal, phytoliths (the silicon signature of decayed plant material), bones, shells, and the residues of food production and storage on pottery and other materials, in order to illuminate the daily life and agricultural routine of the settlement, going back 4,500 years back in Greek history. Her work confirmed the importance of olive and vine to the economy of the site, showing the sophisticated and diverse diet followed at the time. Her work has also led to the recovery of tiny stone beads, just millimetres in size, a marvel of technology for that period.

During the 2016 excavations, The Cyprus Institute and the University of Cambridge co-organised a field school that allowed students from Australia, the USA, Canada, Bulgaria, and the UK to join the excavation, and to gain valuable experience on the latest excavation and scientific techniques. The field school epitomised STARC’s twin goals of promoting science in archaeology and establishing the highest standards of teaching and research. The excavation brought two entirely new innovations to the Aegean: an all-digital recording system that dispensed with any form of paper recording, and a system of 3D imaging that replaced traditional paper-and-pencil drawings and 2D photographs. The Cyprus Institute’s 3D imaging team was part of this innovative methodology.

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