When is a pyramid not a pyramid?
It has certainly caught archeologists’ attention. And researchers admit it is pyramid-shaped. But as Michael Boyd, a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge warns, “The island is naturally pyramid-shaped, […] one should not refer to the island as a pyramid — a pyramid is a completely artificial construction.”
Dhaskalio, an island in the Agean Sea was thought for some time to be a lost Greek pyramid, hidden undersea until global climate change made the waters recede. And who knows, maybe it is? It seems to have the right shape.
When scientists began excavating some four years ago, they decided it wasn’t man-made. But in the last twelve months, the island has managed to offer up some fascinating and intriguing discoveries that have those same scientists scratching their heads. For while the pyramid shape may have occurred naturally, that doesn’t mean the civilization who inhabited the island didn’t leave a significant mark there. For example, they created six, broad six-meter “steps” around it, over 1000 meters of terraces. And researchers have found numerous evidence of an urban settlement, including buildings, walls, stairways, and even a drainage system. The complex, which would have been built in the Bronze Age, around 4600 years ago, was covered inside and out with marble.
The marble itself represents an enormous engineering project since the closest source of the stone would have been six miles away by sea, on the island of Naxos. Given the size of Bronze Age boats, and the amount it’s estimated they could have carried, the Greeks who built this site would have had to make at least 3500 voyages, traveling in total some 45,000 miles, an astonishing feat.
In and around the “pyramid”, archeologists have made a number of other important finds. Among these are casts that were used to create tools, daggers, and axes. In addition, they have uncovered some 1500 white discs, and 700 pebbles, all apparently imported and all apparently part of some religious offering. Marble statues have begun to be unearthed. And on the shore nearest to the island, lie some 1000 marble figurines that were apparently broken as part of another religious ritual.
A civilization among many
The civilization at Dhaskalio is estimated to have thrived for over four hundred years. Such a collection of architecture and artifacts seems almost impossible 4600 years ago, and yet the complex was apparently built within 100 years of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid at Giza, two other seemingly impossible feats of engineering. The great empires of Mesopotamia were coming into existence at just this time and the cities of the Indus Valley.
The discovery of Dhaskalio confirms what many scientists had already begun to believe: that the Bronze Age world was far more developed and interconnected than previously known. The rise of these significant cultures certainly depended on the discovery of metal-working and the ability to make metal tools. But for metalworking to have become so widespread so quickly, these various groups must have extensive contact with one another, conducted large-scale trade, shared religious and political connections.
While archeologists did have some idea of the range of these connections, though, nothing like such a culture was known to have existed in Greece during this time period. The pyramid at Dhaskalio, whether man-made or man-shaped, certainly connects the site to similar shapes in Egypt. These same shapes were found on the island of Crete, where classical Greek civilization was previously thought to have begun. This culture is older than Crete though. Could it be that this island is a missing link between the two? Could it be that Greek civilization began on Dhaskalio before moving to Crete and eventually the mainland?
But will we ever truly know?
Man-made or not, the island of Dhaskalio certainly raises fascinating questions. How did these people pull off such amazing feats with primitive tools? How is it that they chose a naturally occurring form that happened to resemble the Egyptians who lived some 500 miles away? Archeologists work every day to answer some of those questions through painstaking work.
There are other approaches to understanding the past though. Dhaskalio, for instance, will surely join the face on Mars as a hot topic of debate on a certain History Channel show that airs on Friday nights. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…