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My interest in contemporary art (Part 1)


Excavations at Amorgos and Keros
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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Once we managed to get the final Melos excavations published, they only were, they only finally came into print last year, but we got them off to the publishers about four years ago. They took a long time to come through. I was able also to focus on earlier excavations that I haven't mentioned. This is back in 1987 while, by which time I was in Cambridge, and with Cycladic friends, Lila Marangou, the professor of archaeology in Ioannina University and Christos Doumas who was then professor in the University of Athens. We decided it was time to do some more work in the Cycladese and so we were able to excavate at a site which she had discovered on the island of Amorgos and also go back to the site on Keros, which I'd been the first archaeologist to visit way back in 1963. That was a very badly looted site, which, which I mentioned earlier, where the surface was strewn with pottery of the early Cycladic II period, the Keros-Keros culture and marble figurines and marble bowls and, and so on and it hadn't been at all clear exactly what the site was. It was hugely rich clearly with all this material just lying on the surface and no doubt much more having been taken by the looters, so that after 1963 Christos Doumas did some rescue work there on the site and so did the Ephor of antiquities, Mrs Zapheiropoulon and they became less and less persuaded that this had been a Cycladic cemetery. At first it was thought the looters had found a very rich cemetery. They'd been very careless. They'd smashed a lot of stuff and one was finding the bits that were left behind from their looting process, but as Christos Doumas and Photini Zapheiropoulon continued their work, they found more and more stuff all broken and they found no direct indications of graves, although they could all have been churned up, so it became very uncertain just what the site was. And there was a conference some, some years back in the, the 70s, which focused interest on that, so we agreed that it was time to have, have another look at that site and so we had a permit to do a surface survey on Keros and to do some digging in the disturbed area, so we did a site survey, which Tod Whitelaw, a former student of mine organised very well and we excavated in the disturbed area, found a lot more of this broken stuff but then it dawned on me that the breakages were nearly all ancient ones, and if it had all been churned up, they would all be recent or mainly be recent breakages. So we did a much more systematic study of the breakages and just about every piece had been broken in antiquity, and since there was no reason to imagine that people had fooled around there between the time it was in use and modern times, that made it very clear that they'd already been broken when they were buried and so that was really very mysterious. Well, it took a long time to get the excavation report for the 1987/1988, 1988 work completed and for the work on the site of Amorgos, but just a couple of years ago that got finished as well with the aid of a younger Greek archaeologist, Giorgos Gavalas, so we got those published and that meant one felt free to return to excavate again, because it's obviously bad form to have too many unpublished excavations hanging around. So we started again with that in the year 2006, and were very fortunate to find in a slightly different part of the site, to find some undisturbed deposit as it were, undisturbed in the sense of not recently tampered with and very much as it was put in the ground four and a half thousands years ago, but all smashed up and very fragmentary marble objects, ceramics and so on, and so it seems this was a major ritual site. These had been rather handsome objects. They weren't all broken by accident. They'd been deliberately broken and so we've had two years work. We excavated there in 2007 and we're going back there this summer to finish the excavation and that is going to be of great interest, I think, because they are so numerous, these objects, that although they're broken, more figurines, had they been complete, have been found on that site than all the rest of the Cycladic cemeteries put together, so that one begins to look on these sculptures as not necessarily just made for cemetery use, but maybe used for other ritual use of a rather different kind, that led to this very structured discard in, in this very special deposit so that's been a very interesting enterprise in, in recent years.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 5 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009