I am visiting the Archaeological Museum at Ioulida, the capital of the Cycladic island of Kea/Tzia, on a cool day of July.
The breeze enters from the open windows and agitates shadows swimming against the light blue of the walls under the recurring drum from a shutter banging against a wall. I am the only visitor with the exception of a young man who passes silently as a ghost, and disappears.
Standing or dancing the Daughters of Kea are female figures in upright position. Their reflections on the glass of the showcases look longer as their skirts reach the soil, they also bear girdles. Some of them wear heavy garlands or necklaces, while their breasts are heavy, exposed. Their arms are mutilated at various lengths or cut from the shoulder; the missed hands would have reached around the waist.
Only two of the women have heads on their shoulders, and faces; the hair form a crown above the forehead of the tallest and a long braid is evident at her back, like in some of her ‘sisters’. Once they were coloured.
The terracotta itself brings to mind the land of the temple that has been their home forcenturies, at the site of Ayia Irini. This peninsula and the bay of Ayios Nicolaos turn red at the sunset.
The Archaeological site behind the fence waits patiently, serene and silent, when the gaze of the people will turn to this side of the bay. Then it will be open to be visited regularly by guided tours and archaeologists that would enhance our knowledge of the past, our sensation about life and identity. Until this day, busy coffee shops, bars and restaurants at the marina of Vourkari and the nearby Ayia Irini monopolize the attention of visitors and locals.
Back at the Museum
Ι take photos. I am about to leave, I return. I don’t know what creates this effect on me; I am restless, yet stuck to stare. On the faces, on the lips of the two Daughters of Kea and Ayia Irini or Agia Eirini who still keep their heads on their shoulders the ‘archaic smile’ has survived intact.
The fragments that were found in the area of the temple at the Archaeological site of Ayia Irini/Agia Eirini were supposed to form 40 το 50 statues. In the showcases there are not more than a dozen.
The statues do not look the same, in height or in the made. Their height ranges from 60 cm to the physical of a woman. Probably they were not made at the same time or by the same ceramists.
The Daughters of Kea represent goddesses, priestesses, worshipers or votaries?
It is not clear whether they had been offered to the temple or they were participating in rituals taking place in the temple until it was destroyed around 1450 B.C. at the end of the Late Cycladic ΙΙ Period (prehistoric).
Whatever the function or faith they served, these survivors deserve to have a name, let’s call them ‘the Daughters of Kea’.
John L. Caskey and Myriam Caskey : two names to remember
The terracotta female statues from the temple of the prehistoric site of Ayia Irini are housed at the 2nd floor of the Archaeological Museum of Kea. The statues were reconstructed from fragments discovered in excavations that had been carried out by the University of Cincinnati under the direction of John L. Caskey the years 1960-1976.
The Archaeological Museum of Kea was founded in the ‘70s and has been renovated the years 1997-2002. The terracotta female statues are housed at the second floor of the museum. Before visiting please check the opening hours.
“The most striking findings is a multitude of broken terracotta statues with full skirts and girdles, garments known from the Minoan statuettes of divinities and murals from Thira (Santorini). They were found in the destruction layer of the temple of 1,450 B.C. Some pieces derive from statues of natural size; nothing similar in size has been found until now in the Aegean”.
“With their arms on the waist or slightly lower, they seem like dancing, and could be taken for worshiping a deity, or representing deities themselves. Very few heads have been found. Maybe they were used in ancient times as objects of worship, as confirmed by the head found in a temple of the end of geometrical times, which was positioned on the floor in a clay pot ring. Apparently it was used as a worship statue”.
my translation from the article of Caskey Myriam, “Prehistoric Times”, at newspaper KATHIMERINI, EPTA MERES, Sunday 8th JULY 2001, ‘The island of Kea’, pages 6-7.
Ayia Irini at the bay of Ayios Nikolaos, Kea island, Greece
It is one of the most important settlements of the Aegean Sea; its duration from the Bronze Age until the end of Mycenaean (approx. 3000-1100 B.C.).
At the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, a settlement was established on a small peninsula at the bay of Ayios/Agios Nikolaos. The settlement was named by the church of Ayia Irini/Agia Eirini adjacent to the site.
As testified from the pottery, the island of Kea had trade links with the mainland and other Greek islands. Here, as in other islands of the Cyclades, lead and copper deposits contributed to the prosperity.
Following a period when the site was abandoned, sometime after the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (ca.2000/1900 BC) the settlement of Ayia Irini/Agia Eirini arose over the ruins of the Early Cycladic establishment. The first fortification wall was built. On the east side of the settlement a temple was built which was going to keep modifying for over 1000 years. The Late Bronze Age (1600-1100) was the most affluent phase of the settlement. Apart from the mainland Greece, the influence on pottery, on the trade (the lead weights) show Kea in the commercial network of the Minoans.
The central part of the village was occupied by house A, a building consisting of 24 apartments and 2 underground floors at some sections. The buildings were separated by narrow roads and below them extended elaborate drainage.
The temple was of the most important buildings of the settlement with the longest history. The temple was used until the Late Bronze Age. From findings, we can assume a cult of Bacchus in the temple of Kea before the geometric era. This settlement was destroyed in 1450 B.C., 50 years after the eruption of the volcano at Thira (Santorini). Though the settlement has not regained its old glory, the site of the temple retains its importance and accepts votaries even in Hellenistic times.
- 1.The article of Miriam E. Caskey
- KEA, History and antiquities, Ministry of Culture, Archaeological Receipts Fund, edition 2002
Written by the archaeologist Miriam Ervin Caskey: ΚΕOS II, The Temple at Ayia Irini, Part. I. , American School of Classical Studies, Volume II edition (November 21, 1971) http://goo.gl/iy3oF8 http://goo.gl/KP14hv
“The author describes the discovery and construction of the statutes and then presents a catalogue of the fragments in detail and fully illustrated. Five stratigraphic sections accompany the tables of find spots. The fragments are divided into nine groups according to form and construction, followed by five groups of unassigned fragments (heads, torsos, skirts, arms, various). The life-size Mycenaean statue, constructed in a more familiar coil technique used for pithoi, is catalogued separately. At the end is a group of terracotta feet (Late Minoan IA or earlier), found outside the temple and originally complete in themselves”.
While these female statues remain mysterious and relatively unknown, the Kouros of Kea enjoys a great fame. A remarkable sculpture of the archaic period (530 B.C.), Kouros was excavated at the site of the ancient town of Korissos, above the current settlement of Korissia (the port). It is exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Its image is traveling around the world.
Kouros of Kea is travelling to the States: if my information is correct, the statue of Kouros will be exposed from spring 2013 to autumn 2014 in the Exhibition “The Greeks from the Agamemnon to Alexander the Great”. The exhibition comprises 564 works from Greek Museums and focuses on the representation of the Greek face over the centuries from the 6,000 B.C. until the 2nd century B.C.
Archaeological Museum of Kea,
Ministry of Culture, A’Ephorate of Prehistoric & Classical Antiquities
opening Hours: Tuesday -Saturday 8:00 -15:00
closed on Sunday, Monday & Holidays
for further reading:
1.International Dictionary of Historic Places, Vol.3, Southern Europe, page.375 http://goo.gl/TWxCO2
2.The Temple at Ayia Irini: Mythology and Archaeology, by Robert Eisner http://grbs.library.duke.edu/article/viewFile/9541/4509
this post is a revision of the initial one first published August 8, 2012
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more about the island of Kea/Tzia:
Walking the trail to the ancient Karthea,
Take a walk in the unseen side of the island of Kea, from the Byzantine times,
Rewarding Stops at Chora or Ioulida,
To the Lighthouse of Saint Nicolas
more about archaeology, around Mediterranean sea:
Athens hosts ‘Princesses’ of Mediterranean at the Museum of Cycladic Art
Honoured to see MIXANI TOU XRONOU referring to this blog post of urban travel tales as one of its sources for their relevant article; they have reposted my photos too. Thank you for including the link. For readers of Greek: http://www.mixanitouxronou.com.cy/arxaiotita/o-grifos-me-tis-diasimes-kores-tis-tzias-entopistikan-sta-eripia-proistorikou-ikismou-pou-isopedose-katastrofikos-sismos-diethete-ochyrosi-archontiki-katikia-ke-iero-vinteo-drone/