Pablo Picasso is regarded as a co-founder of the modern art form known as Cubism. Where did he get ideas for the odd-shaped Cubist images he painted? Art experts believe he was inspired by flat-faced marble statues found on the Greek island of Keros and made by the Cycladic culture which flourished there around 2500 BCE. That small island, uninhabited today, is back in the news for a different reason. Archeologists excavating what looks like a pyramid have found evidence of sophisticated metalworking shops that prove this early Bronze Age culture was far more advanced that first thought.
Wait, what? Pyramid? On a Greek island?
The prominent feature of Keros is a pyramid-shaped promontory or outcropping rising from the Aegean Sea (image here). Evidence shows that the island’s residents carved the surface of this natural structure into the shape of a stepped pyramid, covering it with 1,000 tons of imported white stones. That alone is impressive, giving the island’s harbor a massive symbol to go along with the ritualistic culture that created the many now-broken sculptures covering the island.
But wait, there’s more.
Archeologists working on a new project to uncover a staircase in the lower terraces found a sophisticated network of drainage tunnels that may have been used for delivering clean water or removing sewage – predating by 1,000 years the indoor plumbing found in the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete. That drainage system was likely used by people working in another discovery – two metalworking workshops containing a lead ax, molds for copper daggers and metalworking equipment such as bellows and an oven.
Joint director of the excavation Michael Boyd, of the University of Cambridge, said in a statement that the metalworking shows this was a center for the start of urbanization. Even more impressive, the island’s remote location meant most if not all of the raw materials, food and means for living there had to be imported, making it a center for trade as well.
Artwork, metalwork, a fantastic pyramid. What happened to the Cycladic culture that made these things? They were most likely assimilated into the Minoan civilization centered on the island of Crete which flourished from about 2600 BCE to 1100 BCE. The island was abandoned and eventually looters stole or destroyed most of the flat marble statues of females that inspired Pablo Picasso.
Fortunately, those days are over, at least on Keros. The island can no longer be inhabited and the archeologists are digitally recording all excavations using the iDig program which creates 3-D models of the process in real time. It’s hoped that the new discoveries will reveal how the civilization became so advanced in plumbing and metalworking as well as what purpose the statues served.
Explaining what Picasso was trying to tell us will take more time.