An ancient Greek pyramid dating back to the Bronze Age – making it the same age as Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt – has been discovered on an island in the Aegean Sea and has archeologists and Greek historians throwing around the exclamation “This changes everything!” It certainly changes one thing … who knew the Greeks built pyramids? And how did they get a pyramid’s worth of marble to an island 4,600 years ago? Did they get any advice from the Egyptians or the early Brits? Did they give them any?
"It is by far the largest prehistoric marine transport operation that has ever come to light anywhere in the world. It demonstrates quite clearly just how important, and integral to their culture, seafaring was to these early Bronze Age Aegean people."
The story broke this week in The Independent but the actual announcement of the discovery was made earlier by members of the four-year Cambridge Keros Project centered at the University of Cambridge, with help from the Ephorate of the Cyclades and the Cyprus Institute. Keros is the well-known Aegean island where the large collection of artistic and unbroken marble Cycladic figurines now called the "Keros Hoard" was previously found. The nearby smaller island of Dhaskalio, was once linked to Keros by a narrow causeway, is where pyramid was discovered under what was once a settlement. There are few quality marble formations on Keros or Dhaskalio, so this massive pyramid-covering amount of the stone had to be transported there by Bronze Age sailors – a concept that archeologists and historians never believed these ancient Greeks were capable of.
How much marble? The project team estimates between 7,000 and 10,000 tons of glossy white marble was transported by sea from the island of Naxos, about 10 km (6.2 miles) north. It’s estimated that the Aegean boats at that time -- Cycladic boats that were only 10-15 meter long and capable of carrying only between one and two tons of stone – made over 3,500 trips over a 20-year period totaling 45,000 miles.
What the builders used all of that marble for was a six-step terrace pyramid built by terraforming the island’s small mountain. (Photo here.) The terraces were six meters wide the end result was a thousand meters of glistening marble pyramid. The archeologists believe the top terrace was once flat and used for ceremonies, and Greek sanctuary expert Dr. Alan Peatfield of University College Dublin’s School of Archaeology thinks this may have been the first and a model for the later ones.
“It is potentially a fundamental place of origin for the phenomenon of sacred mountains within the Greek world.”
If it was the first, it was an impressive start, according to Professor Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge and co-director of the excavation.
"At Dhaskalio we see a number of sophisticated architectural techniques employed in a well-thought through manner. These include massive entranceways, stone-flagged stairways, and an intricate drainage system covering the entire island. This gives the clear impression of a skilled architect and a guiding hand planning and executing a building programme whose scope can only be compared with a site like Knossos on Crete.”
The mountain pyramid may have symbolized the importance of Dhaskalio and Keros as a metalworking center and marketplace for metal products such as high-quality daggers. With those metal products being found throughout the islands, this new discovery reinforces the new theory that the seafaring skills of the ancient Greeks began earlier and were much more impressive than first thought.
Is it just a coincidence that this Greek pyramid, Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids (and possibly those in Central and South America and Asia) were built at about the same times? Or was something else going on that influenced these nearly simultaneous “This changes everything!” constructions? That’s a question for another day and a different set of experts.