The Project

SCIP is a diachronic survey of the very smallest of the Aegean islands, offering contributions to the long-term history and archaeology of the Cyclades, to the maritime history of the Mediterranean, and to comparative island archaeology. While all target islands are presently uninhabited, such places would have played a variety of roles at different points in the past. In the initial colonization of the Aegean Basin, tiny islands provided important “stepping stones” on the way to more sizable landforms. Small islands also served as cemeteries, maritime strongholds, sanctuaries, hideaways for pirates, or “goat islands.” Yet only a handful of such places in the Aegean have ever been studied archaeologically. SCIP aims to document the landscapes of several of these islands using multi-disciplinary survey techniques, and to situate them in their wider regional context, from the earliest evidence of human presence until the present.

Background and Goals

The earliest human activity known in the Cyclades is from the Middle Paleolithic period. Permanent populations appeared in the Neolithic, and activity increased considerably in the Early Bronze Age. The prehistory of the Cyclades is well documented, and the historical periods of Classical, medieval, and later times have received a good deal of scholarly attention as well. The smallest islands of the Cyclades, however, have been largely under-theorized. Some provided crucial stopover points between Anatolia and the Greek mainland, others between the northern Aegean and Crete. More habitual movements within this resource-poor region were equally important, as communities relied on a variety of microenvironments to sustain themselves.

There is a long tradition of island archaeology in the Aegean. We have good examples of regional overviews involving multi-island theaters, detailed surveys within islands, and even comprehensive surveys of entire islands (for example, Antikythera and Keros). SCIP aims to expand this tradition through a comparative survey of several small islands side-by-side.

A broader concern is to develop an archaeology of uninhabited spaces and in-between places. Most of these islands are too small to sustain permanent populations. This is precisely what made them attractive, however, for a number of the uses to which they were put. Goat islands (tragonisia) kept animals contained and away from rustlers. Cemeteries separated the world of the dead from the living and created a physical crossing from the latter to the former (e.g., Delos and Rhenia). Strongholds, stopovers, pirate hideaways, and refuges were deliberately marginal, though their in-between locations made them strategic (especially in the Venetian period). Survey archaeology has traditionally aimed to identify and document the history of human settlement across a continuous landscape. This project proposes an archaeology of non-settlement and incidental use, distributed across minuscule but resonant places of human activity, which will also be a meaningful methodological and theoretical contribution to island archaeology outside of the Aegean.

Methods and Scope

About 100 islands throughout the Cyclades have been identified and analyzed using WorldView-3 satellite imagery, obtained through a DigitalGlobe Foundation Imagery Grant. All are presently uninhabited and the vast majority are under 1 sq km in size (avg. size 0.43 sq km). Based on this initial analysis and background research, we selected the northern and central Cyclades to do a detailed study. This includes the islets around and between Paros and Antiparos; Serifos, Sifnos, and Kythnos; and Mykonos, Syros, Tinos, and Andros. The first group, surveyed in 2019, comprises of the small islands in the vicinity of Paros, a major hub of settlement, also famous for its marble production. In 2020, the project expanded to include the islets in the Bay of Naousa (Paros) and north and south of Antiparos. In 2021, we turned to the the Western Cyclades and Syros.

Target islands of the Small Cycladic Islands Project

Each individual island was the subject of a thorough, efficient survey, usually taking one or two days. In practical terms, this means traveling by boat to each islet to conduct a thorough and efficient archaeological prospection.

Fieldwalkers carefully inspected the ground surface for archaeologically significant materials, counting and collecting artifacts. The team also documented archaeological features, including buildings, quarries, cisterns, and fortifications. The team also records detailed notes on the geology, soil, geomorphology, and landforms of each island. This program works in tandem with our remote sensing work, allowing us to identify soil, vegetation, and archaeological signatures on the ground that will help us study such landscapes elsewhere.

Fieldwalking on Panteronisi

A further component of this project is explicitly sensory. Panoramic photos are taken and annotated on each island, in order to document visual relationships between places. This on-the-ground documentation can then be compared to more top-down methods of spatial analysis. In order to better understand the seascapes or islandscapes through which past people would have moved, routes through the islands are carefully mapped, and approaches to specific islands recorded with a variety of media.

The 2019 Field Season

In 2019 SCIP surveyed 10 small islands surrounding Paros and Antiparos, using Piso Livadi as a home port. The work of the project began at Dryonisi, across from the town of Dryos, Paros, in the vicinity of which prehistoric and other antiquities have been recorded.

The next target area was the Panteronisia island group between Paros and Antiparos, a popular destination for boaters. This group includes the islands of Panteronisi, Tigani, and Glaropounta. The number of finds here was much lower than on other islands, though Tigani does have an impressive sandstone quarry.

A sandstone quarry on Tigani

The final phase of the field season focused on the island group northeast of Paros, including Evriokastro, Gaidouronisi, and Filizi. While Evriokastro and Filizi were previously documented in surveys by Rubensohn, Schilardi, and Vionis, the more detailed work carried out by SCIP led to new discoveries.

Aerial photo of Filizi

In sum, several new sites were documented for the first time, and our understanding of previously known sites was refined. More detailed information about the nature of activity in all of these islands will come from further study.

The 2020 Field Season

In July of 2020, SCIP carried out a short, three-week field season with team members based in Greece (the COVID-19 pandemic made international travel largely impossible). The project began with the survey of Strongylo, located south of the islands of Antiparos and Despotiko. As the largest island in the survey area, this took some time, though it yielded a wide range of diachronic results.

On the way to Strongylo, on the boat “Sargos” with first mate Poseidonas

Week 2 focused on the islets north of Antiparos, including Aghios Spiridon, Firo, Diplo, and Magrines, as well as a revisitation of Saliagos, well known for its Neolithic remains.

Surveying on Firo, with Paros in the background

In the final week of the field season we returned to Paros to survey the islets of the Bay of Naousa, many of which were inhabited as part of the 1770-1774 Russian occupation of the area, which left a substantial material signature on these islets.

The survey team checks their finds on Oikonomou, in the Bay of Naousa, Paros

The 2021 Field Season

The team began the 2021 field season of SCIP on Kythnos, which we used as a base to carry out two weeks of fieldwork on several islets around Kythnos (Aghios Loukas, Aghios Ioannis Eleimon, Zogaki, Kalo Livadi and Piperi) and Serifos (Serifopoula and Vous). All of these yielded a range of material, some more than others. The more remote islands of Serifopoula and Piperi had exceptionally interesting finds, in spite of their remoteness, suggesting that these were important waypoints in wider Aegean networks.

Piperi, with Serifopoula, Sifnos, Vous, and Serifos in the background (from left to right)

For the third week of the project we moved to Platys Gialos, on Sifnos, from which we carried out a survey of Kitriani (or Kypriani), best known for the church of Panaghia Kypriani and as a historical haunt for pirates.

Church of Panaghia Kypriani, on Kitriani, with the bay of Platys Gialos, Sifnos, in the background

The final phase of the project consisted of fieldwork and study on several islets surrounding Syros. Near the port of Ermoupoli, we surveyed Didimi (sometimes called Gaidouronisi or Pharos, for the famous lighthouse on top), Strongylo, and Aspro. On the western side of Syros, we worked on the small islets in the Bay of Foinikas (Schoinonisi, Strongylo, Diakoftis, Psathonisi, and Alatonisi) and to the north of Kini (Delfini and Varvarousa).

View of the Bay of Foinikas from Schoinonisi

The 2022 Field Season

In 2022 the Small Cycladic Islands Project carried out archaeological surface surveys on several islands in the Milos-Kimolos Group. These include the islets of Mikri Akradia and Paximadi, near Milos, and Aghios Efstathios, Prasonisi, and Manolonisi, near Kimolos. In addition to these very small islets, the project also carried out a comprehensive survey of Polyaigos, the largest uninhabited island in the Aegean (c. 18 sq km). This field season was the start of a new three-year program of fieldwork.

The view from Polyaigos to the small islets of Aghios Georgios, Manolonisi, and Aghios Efstathios (left to right), with Milos and Kimolos in the background.

The islets surveyed in 2022 revealed an eclectic history of human activity from prehistory to the present. Findings on the small islands surveyed around Milos and Kimolos followed patterns previously documented by SCIP on other small islands around the Cyclades: a variety of long-term and incidental occupation that was not consistent across different islands or time periods. Evidence for intense occupation on Polyaigos was documented in many parts of the island, from prehistory to the very recent past.

Polyaigos at dawn, as seen from the Afentakeio Foundation on Kimolos