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The Early Bronze age sanctuary Koryfi t'Aroniou

In the south-east of Naxos, about three kilometres north of the bay of Pánormos with the small Early Bronze age acropolis Korfári ton Amygdalión, there is a small site from the same period, which is interpreted as a sanctuary. It is located on a steep, roughly conical hill about 80 metres high called Koryfí t’Aronioú. Only a few remains of walls and buildings have survived. The most important artefacts found here are several stone slabs with carved depictions of people, animals and boats, which are now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Apíranthos. It is (if the interpretation is correct) the only known sanctuary of the Cycladic culture, apart from the important “marine” sanctuary on Kéros.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
On this steep, cone-shaped hill lie the remains of a small Early Bronze age sanctuary, invisible from below.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
The building complex is surrounded by several walls, which probably originally formed a defence system. Here is the entrance.

The small building complex was excavated by the Greek archaeologist Chr. Doumas (as was the acropolis of Pánormos). It dates from the last phase of the Early Bronze age (Cycladic culture), i.e. from around 2,300 BC, as can be seen from the construction method and the pottery found. This makes it the same age as the small acropolis at Pánormos, a small fortification with about twenty tiny rooms to which the local inhabitants could retreat in the event of a pirate attack. It seems likely that the buildings at Koryfí t’Aronioú served as a lookout to monitor the sea towards the north-east, which could not be seen from Pánormos. Like the acropolis in Pánormos, it is located on a low hill, close to the sea and the cultivated coastal area, but is constructed in such a way that it is hardly to be seen from the sea. The complex is surrounded by walls; nevertheless, like the acropolis of Pánormos, it does not seem suitable for holding off a serious assault, but rather seems to have served as a hiding place and retreat point in the event of brief pirate attack.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
The site offers a wide view across the sea as far as Moutsoúna. It can be assumed that the sea area to the north-east was monitored from here so that the inhabitants of the settlement in Pánormos further south could be warned in good time if suspicious ships were approaching.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
View to the south-east with the island of Kéros in the background; two of the complex’s small buildings can be seen in the foreground.

During the excavations, many shards of utility pottery (dishes, storage jars, etc.) were found, as well as some stone slabs used for grinding grain and numerous obsidian fragments. These finds show that there were people living long-term at the site.

The most remarkable building in the complex is an elliptical house built against a small, slightly hollowed-out rock, which is interpreted as a sanctuary. It is interesting to note that there is also an elliptical building near the acropolis of Pánormos, which was used as a mitátos (stone shepherd’s dwelling) in more recent times, but is most likely built on ancient Bronze Age foundations: as far as I know, these two structures are the only elliptical buildings on the whole of Naxos – certainly no coincidence (near Pánormos exists also a small round mitátos, likewise unique)!

The most significant artefacts found at Koryfí t’Aronioú, which prompted the excavation in the first place, are a total of ten slate and marble slabs with engraved images that were inserted into the modern walls of the complex. They depict people and animals (probably deer, cattle and goats) and boats in a very simple manner. Some of the scenes are probably depictions of a hunt (animals and people, one with a bow), another seems to show people dancing, two panels show boats, one with two people and one with a goat-like animal being loaded onto a boat by a person. With their very high stern, the boats resemble the ship depictions on some clay “Cycladic pans” from the Early Bronze age.

The unique and interesting images were discovered and interpreted by Michalis Bardanis, a mathematician from Apíranthos, who tirelessly collected ancient and prehistoric artefacts found by the farmers and shepherds of Apíranthos and founded the Archaeological Museum of Apíranthos, where they are exhibited. They are probably “votive tablets” with which the users of the Cycladic sanctuary asked for success in hunting, for example; or maybe they are just simple sketches that record the typical activities of the population.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
On the highest point of the hill stands a small recent stone house (mitáto), which served as a storehouse for the local shepherd; the associated building where the shepherds lived is located on the south side of the hill, sheltered from the wind. Remains of the Early Bronze age complex can be seen in front of and next to the recent mitátos.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
The area at the top of the hill consists of several terraces separated by walls, on which grain were cultivated in more recent times. In the background on the left the remains of the buildings, which probably served as a sanctuary, are visible.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
This roughly elliptical building is attached to the rock on the left, which has been carved out a little. The floor of the building was covered with slabs; the entrance is in the foreground.

Koryfí t'Aronioú, Panormos Naxos
Here you can see the round wall of the building; inside, a small area of the room is separated by a second wall. The walls leaned slightly inwards in the typical manner of stone houses, so that the open space was reduced towards the top and the roof could be covered by large stone slabs.

continue: The Archaeological Museum in Apiranthos

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verwendete Literatur: Χρήστος Ντούμας, Κορφή τ’Αρωνιού, in: Αρχαιολογικό Δελτίο, Τόμος 20, Αθήναι, 1966

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