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Archaeologists’ Spotlight on Siphnos, Serifos, Amorgos Illuminates … Us

ATHENS – When it comes to the ancient Aegean world, we know the glorious names – King Minos of Crete, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, King Theseus of Athens, Helen, Jason and the rest – and their more or less mythological history. Did you know, however, that we are gaining better ideas about their real stories? Also, are people with roots in the Aegean aware of the long string of civilizations they are heirs to – Cycladic, Mycenean, Minoan, Archaic-Classical-Hellenistic Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, etc.?

Thanks to the decades-long work of heroic pioneering and dedicated contemporary archaeologists, we have a deeper knowledge of those times from research that more and more brings long lost worlds to life – and makes them part of the tourism experience on the islands that were cultural cells and bridges within and between civilizations.

What we learned from our conversation with noted archaeologist Giorgos Gavalas applies to all the Cyclades, but we focused on three historically important and now-popular islands, Siphnos and Serifos – he is  archaeologist-Curator on those islands in the Ephorate for Antiquities of the Cyclades – and Amorgos, where his family has roots.

Photo courtesy of Giorgos Gavalas

We learned that modern day visitors to Greece, aided more and more by the latest technology, can enrich their historical knowledge. Virtually on every island archaeologists are finding evidence that fills in important parts of the economic maps of the eras noted above – their glories and their tragedies. Again, are you aware of the Arab, Avar, and Slavic raids that devastated the Byzantine Aegean – there are remains of devastating fires in places like Siphnos – but which were followed by a renaissance?

The museums of the Cyclades are filled with bits and pieces of the ancient world that help experts reconstruct the economies that shaped what we see today and the societies whose members bequeathed to us not just art and artifacts … but our very own DNA.

For Gavalas, a conversation about his work is an opportunity to honor his predecessors, expressing his appreciation for their pioneering work, and, more personally, for guiding, indeed, inspiring his career.

Born in Athens and always liking history, Gavalas studied Archaelology at the University of Ioannina, where the renowned Lila Marangou was first woman to be a professor of archaeology in Greece. Curiously, she was also from Amorgo – indeed Gavalas said she and her colleagues ate at his pappou’s taverna. Meeting her after his studies, Marangou was impressed and “she opened to path for me,” Gavalas said.

Photo courtesy of Giorgos Gavalas

His archaeological work began after completing his PhD coursework – the dissertation took a while because he was absorbed in his work. He seized an opportunity to go to Cambridge to work with the renowned Colin Renfrew, who made him his scientific assistant at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2001-2007, but he also respected Gavalas’ desire to return to Greece.

Among Gavalas’ notable publications is ‘The settlement at Dhaskalio The sanctuary on Keros and the origins of Aegean ritual practice: the excavations of 2006 – 2008, vol. I’, for which he and Renfrew were among the editors. The Cycladic/Bronze Age era finds at Keros, an island between Amorgos and Naxos, are among the most dramatic recent archaeological discoveries in the whole Mediterranean. In 2017 Gavalas was made permanent in the Ephorate and in 2018 he was assigned to Siphnos and Serifos.
Among the things he emphasizes is that today, cooperation among municipalities and Greek and international universities, and donations by private donors are contributing to a more balanced development of the region through the establishment of and renovation of sites and museums that have helped extend the tourist season and enrich the experience of visitors.

Beyond sea, sun, sky, and delightful settlements of dazzling white houses, Gavalas noted, “there very nice museums all over the Cyclades thanks to the initiatives of scholars and municipalities.”

Photo courtesy of Giorgos Gavalas

AMORGOS

Amorgos.gr reveals that the island’s residents’ pride is deep and broad-based. The site features beaches, nature and geography, and charming villages, as well as culture, spotlighting archaeological sites, museums, churches and monasteries, and traditional dance and music. The Events Calendar contains festivals, concerts, and exhibitions on Amorgos – but each Cycladic isle is a unique little world with similar calendars.

The website reflects the care and effort taken throughout the Cyclades by the municipalities and the Ephorate. Among Gavalas’ most time-consuming – but also rewarding and enjoyable work – is organizing concerts and exhibits on Siphnos and Serifos.

Amorgos’ archaeological museum is located in the town of Chora and is housed in the 16th century Venetian Tower of Gavras. The collection also includes items from Minoan civilization.

Gavalas pointed out the importance of Markiani, a Bronze Age fortified settlement, and Minoa, at Moundoulia Hill, above the port of Katapola. Findings there run from the later neolithic period to 300 AD. There are impressive walls, public buildings like the gymnasium, big houses with peristyles – like those of the famed Cycladic isle of Delos – temples, and an agora.

The imposing tower of Agia Triada is also worth visiting, important because its surrounding area is also preserved and includes inscriptions.

SIPHNOS

The West Cyclades island of Siphnos is known for its natural beauty, picturesque settlements, its cooking – the renowned chef and author Nikolaos Tselementes was a native – and its fine pottery.

“There have been important investigations but much remains to be researched,” said Gavalas. The archaeological museum is in the Medieval capital – but also an important ancient Greek site – of Kastro. It is situated in a house generously donated by the Maridakis family, and planning is underway for its expansion, needed to house many finds now in storage.

In the 1930’s British archaeologists G. M. Young – J. K. Brock found bronze age remains – i.e. Minoan era, but not yet Minoan. “They have been covered up, but we know where they dug and want to return to them,” Gavalas said, who added he believes Minoan discoveries remain to be made.

In Kastro, Gavalas is also working with the Municipality to improve accessibility, and to clear up the area where there have been excavations while also providing helpful information – signs, QR codes, etc. to inform people about what they are seeing, what is ancient, Byzantine, or modern. It is an important effort that is duplicated throughout the Cyclades.

Siphnos’ most impressive site is the Mycenean citadel of Agios Andreas, which draws visitors not only for its archaeology and fine little museum, but for its breathtaking views of Siphnos and nearby islands – as well as for the delightful concerts presented by the Ephorate.

SERIFOS

Serifos is also the scene of important archaeological work and cultural happenings. The island is a treasure trove of finds from the period of Roman rule, chief among them in metallurgy, which was critical to the Aegean economy. “At Skouries there is the largest concentration of metallurgical sites in the Cyclades,” the island being a major source of vital metals in several historical periods.

Among the exciting recent finds are those at Ancient Chora (site of modern Chora): Bath complexes, impressive floor mosaics of the 2nd and 3rd century AD, the former with wonderful depictions of dolphins. Serifos’ museum contains statues from the Hellenistic and Roman eras gathered by his predecessors.

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