Activities, Arts and Techniques

The Early Bronze Age Cycladic islanders were involved in farming, which assured their daily nourishment.


The Early Bronze Age Cycladic islanders were involved in farming, which assured their daily nourishment. Although the Cycladic landscape is predominantly mountainous and arid, with little rainfall, archaeological evidence suggests that agriculture was one of the primary economic sectors in Early Cycladic society. The imprints of tree leaves on the bases of clay conical cups provide evidence for the islands’ flora.

Making the most of the temperate climate and limited fertile land, the islanders cultivated cereals, legumes, the olive, and the vine. Grains were ground on grinding stones using stone grinders. A clay jug with traces of olive oil is among the earliest evidence for olive cultivation in the Aegean. In fact, the three main components of the Mediterranean diet—the olive, the vine, and cereals—were already established by the third millennium BC.

In addition to cultivating the land, the Cycladic islanders raised sheep and goats, pigs, and cattle. Zoomorphic figurines and pig and hedgehog-shaped vases provide evidence for farm animals and the islands’ fauna. Figurines and other representations of birds may suggest that these too were raised. The plaques with pecked representations of deer and wild goat hunts from Korfi t’Aroniou show that hunting was also a means for procuring food. In addition to meat and milk, farming and hunting also provided raw materials (wool) for other activities, such as weaving.

Naturally, the Early Bronze Age Cycladic diet also included fish and shellfish. The incised representations of fish on clay vases and the discovery of bronze hooks with remains of fishing line attached demonstrate that the islanders also practiced fishing.

Tools and Metallurgy

Throughout the Early Cycladic period, the islanders were involved in a variety of activities that provided for their daily requirements. Their tools were made from materials available in the natural environment. As in the Neolithic period, stone was widely used for this purpose. Obsidian, a hard volcanic glass from Melos, was particularly suited for sharp tools. Chert was equally important although not as effective. Obsidian and chert blades were widely used as scrapers, chisels, smoothing tools, and small saws. Small and large axes were also made of stone since the Neolithic period. Bone tools were used essentially as awls.

Metallurgy and metalwork developed in the prehistoric Cyclades due to the abundance of metal ore in the islands. Although there is evidence for metalwork as early as the Neolithic period, metallurgy becomes more intensive and systematic in the Early Bronze Age. A room with a hearth, bronze slag, clay crucibles for melting metals, and two open moulds for the manufacture of tools and weapons excavated at the Kastri settlement in Syros provides clear evidence for the practice of metalwork and the possible existence of a class of metalworkers.

Early Cycladic metalwork is represented by approximately 300 mostly bronze artefacts: tools, weapons, cosmetics implements, and jewellery. Tools and weapons were manufactured in open moulds and finished by hammering. Metal tools include axes, axe-hammers, saws, knives, awls and chisels. As far as weapons are concerned the midrib dagger with four rivets for securing dagger handles and the slotted spearhead with two elongated attachment holes, or slots, are regarded as Cycladic inventions. Cosmetic implements and jewellery included flat blades, tweezers, pins with simple or ornate heads, necklace beads, bracelets, hair coils, and diadems.

Silver was used for making jewellery and vases, and lead for anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, and repair clasps. Silver plating was a rare decorative technique exemplified by a painted juglet with traces of silver plating on the neck and shoulder from the cemetery at Spedos in Naxos.

Metallurgy and metalwork greatly affected daily life in the Cyclades as the new technology provided the islanders with more durable tools, which facilitated the daily household and farming chores, but also led the way for the development of crafts like marble and wood carving, shipbuilding, and the minor arts. Groups of specialized craftsmen and a more complex society emerged as a result, and the introduction of more effective weapons changed military practices. Finally, the increased demand for metals led to the development of commerce and the intensification of contacts between the Cyclades and other parts of the Aegean.

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