Rich Antiquity, Early Christian and Byzantine finds at excavation on Greek island of Kythnos

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Rich Antiquity, Early Christian and Byzantine finds at excavation on Greek island of KythnosMonumental retaining wall of Classical Hellenistic times and rectangular spaces of Late Antiquity /Early Byzantine times (photo MOCAS)

Significant finds that feature an extensive early Christian church and early Byzantine installation, as well as monumental structures from an older ancient sanctuary have been unearthed by archaeologists on the rocky islet ‘Vryokastraki’ – opposite the ancient city of Vryokastro on the island of Kythnos.

The consecration case carved into the rock (photo: Ministry of Culture and Sports /MOCAS)

 

According to an announcement issued by the Greek Culture Ministry on Thursday, the later proto-Byzantine activity was intense and seriously disrupted the older buildings dating back to antiquity, with the partly-ruined ancient remains scavenged to build many walls and spaces in later structures.

The cover of the consecration case and the layer with fragments of Early Byzantine pottery (photo: MOCAS)


The ancient sanctuary

On the islet’s southern upper plateau, a nearly 22m long monumental terrace was located, which can be dated to classical times, both by its isodomic masonry and pottery collected inside a layer of “gravel” which is part of its structure. The findings include excellent quality ceramics of the geometric and archaic eras, as well as some findings of an undoubtedly votive nature (miniature vases, clay female figurines et al). At a distance of 5 meters east of the terrace, the carved rock forms a rectangular outcrop of approximately 11×4m, highly eroded today, which appears to be a monumental altar. The terrace forms a 4.50m high platform, west of which the natural rock forms a spacious terrace with numerous traces of ancient carvings, some of which appear to be related to a monumental temple which had obviously been established here. Careful study of these carvings may perhaps help to clarify to some extent the form of the classical-Hellenistic temple. The identity of the deity worshipped here remains unknown for the time being.

Part of the lead cup in the conservation process (photo: MOCAS)

Human activity in the Early Byzantine period was intense and the earlier buildings have been greatly disturbed. Numerous walls and ample spaces partially utilized the somewhat ruined ancient structures. Later pottery dates to the end of the 6th and first half of the 7th century AD. Following this period the city of Kythnos appears to have been abandoned and its inhabitants moved to the Castle of Oria, the island’s medieval capital.

Lead cup in situ (photo: MOCAS).

 

The intensive Early Byzantine use of the islet, where the city seems to have been restricted, lasted until at least the 7th century when it was abandoned, as can also be seen from the findings investigated at the other two sites.

Bronze collared jar in the conservation process (photo: MOCAS)


The long Building 2 and the fortifications

The coastal fortifications of Late Antiquity protected the weak eastern part of the islet. The other sides were inaccessible due to vertical rock formations. On the inside of the fortifications were numerous successive rectangular areas, in one of which was found a bronze follis coin of Emperor Maurice Tiberius (582-602). Investigation a little further north revealed the main entrance to the fortification, possibly protected by a tower. The Late Antiquity fortifications are built on earlier, probably archaic ones joined by areas partially carved into the natural rock. A few finds (ceramics and obsidian tools) of the Early Cycladic period came from backfills, as well as significant quantities of pottery from the Geometric to Roman times.

Bronze collared jar in situ (photo: MOCAS)


Three-aisled basilica

The excavation of the interior of the three-aisled Early Christian basilica, on a higher terrace, but on an axis with the entrance of the Early Byzantine fortifications was concluded this year. Seen on the church’s almost square plan, the sanctuary apse protrudes to the east.

 

Bronze follis coin of Maurice Tiberius (582-602) from Area IB of Building 2(end of 6th c) (photo: MOCAS)

 

The outer entrances open onto the lateral walls of the narthex, as the ground was raised on the west. The different levels of the floor in the basilica are due to soil morphology.

Bronze follis coin of Maurice Tiberius (582-602) from Area IB of Building 2(end of 6th c) (photo: MOCAS)


Each aisle had direct access to the narthex.

Woman’s headless torso from a seated clay figurine of the classical era from the sanctuary (photo: MOCAS)

 

The church has buildings to the north and south, of which the northern one was investigated, which had direct access to the church’s interior. The monument has a complex building history which includes three main phases. Indicative of these is the one in which alternating pillars and columns were used to separate the aisles and the last where the intercolumniation was sealed leaving small passages between the aisles. 

Fragments of geometric vases from the region of the sanctuary (photo: MOCAS)


Preserved in situ is the presbytery partition as well as parts of the architectural decoration.

Marble table and lead cup in situ (photo: MOCAS)

 

Marble members had been used as spolia on the building; wall cladding of ancient monuments, pedestals, the volute of an Ionic column capital possibly from archaic times, and two fragments of a table support ending in a lion’s foot.

Fragments of archaic vases from the region of the sanctuary (photo: MOCAS)

 

An open clay vessel was found in the south aisle in contact with the Presbytery partition. Two surviving fragmentary inscriptions were found in the narthex, one in the stoichedon style of the early 4th century BC the other engraved on tabula ansata, of the 1st century AD, commemorating either Emperor Vespasian or Domitian.

View of the sanctuary apse with part of the layer of fragmented vessels from the consecration case under the paved floor (photo: MOCAS)

 

A synthronon with a bishop’s throne is formed in the apse. Important finds were also uncovered from the Iero Vima movable and immovable equipment:  a small marble column,  a marble circular table, part of an iron cross, a bronze cantharus shaped oil lamp with chain of the second half of the 6th c.-early 7th c. and a long-stemmed lead cup with engraved decoration.

Two fragments of the marble table support (photo: MOCAS)

 

Α layer of fragmented Early Byzantine vessels were unearthed from underneath the apse’s damaged floor: small stout pots with a keel shaped outline, dating probably to the 5th century, the funnel-shaped rim of a circular amphora of the Late Roman Amphora 2 type, but mainly numerous fragments from the bodies of cylindrical amphorae of the Late Roman Amphora 1 type with grooved decoration dating mainly to the 6th and early 7th century, which seem to determine the terminus ante quem of the basilica’s construction.

Basilica’s south aisle. ‟Case” with marble spolia (the table support among them) and a large clay basin in situ (photo: MOCAS)


Beneath this layer and on the church’s longitudinal axis, a small rectangular carving was unearthed in the natural rock in the form of a case covered by a slab. This is obviously the church’s consecration case since inside it was discovered a tubular lead object whose content is now being investigated. The basilica had been functioning until the 7th century at least, but its later use cannot be ruled out.

Volute of an Ionic column capital from the east end of the basilica’s north aisle (photo: MOCAS)

 

Excavations on the islet were carried out this year from June 24 to August 3. The excavation program is carried out by the University of Thessaly, headed by Professor of Classical Archaeology Alexandros Mazarakis Ainian, in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades, headed by Dr. Dimitris Athanasoulis. The excavations are funded by the University of Thessaly, the Secretariat General for the Aegean and Island Policy and Athanasios Martinos.

Marble lid with cross from the east end of the basilica’s north aisle (photo: MOCAS)

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