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Aphrodite of Milos  

Obsidian

(8th – 2nd millennium BC and Roman period)

Obsidian pebble

Obsidian is a volcanic stone, black or grey, hard and sharp as glass. It emanates from the fast and abrupt freezing of volcanic substance as it reaches the surface of the earth.
 
It was named after Obsidus who first observed the stone in Ethiopia.
 
The two main obsidian quarries of Milos were located in the regions Nychia (Nails), at the entry of port and in Demenagaki at the south-eastern part of the island.
 
Obsidian was used during the Mesolithic period for the construction of tools, blades and weapons. Under a special polishing process it could become very sharp and was thus considered a semi-precious stone.

At that period, when the metals were not yet known, it was considered a precious stone.  Even after the introduction of the metals, which were still very expensive, the exploitation of obsidian continued to thrive for a long time.
 
Archaeological findings of the period indicate that obsidian was exported to the Aegean islands, Crete, Peloponnesus, Thessaly and the Asia Minor, and its trade was extended even up to Romania and Russia.
 
In the cavern Fragthi of Peloponnesus, the layer in which the Melian obsidian was found is dated since the 8th or 7th mil. BC, while remains found in the palaces of Crete date since the 7th mil. BC.
 
The origin of mining can be established with absolute certainty through an analysis of the chemical constitution of obsidian remains. It has therefore been recognized that the exploitation and trade of Melian obsidian had already begun since the Mesolithic period.
 
But there is no archaeological evidence of the Mesolithic period in any part of Milos. Since in Fragthi, the layers containing the Melian obsidian were interlaced with remains of tuna fish, it has been assumed that fishermen chasing flocks of tuna in Milos, discovered obsidian accidentally. They were initially travelling from Peloponnesus for the excavation and trade of the obsidian and only later on they permanently settled the island.

The quarry at Demenagaki

During the 3rd millennium BC the settlement of Phylakopi was established on the NE of the island, close by the sea. Phylakopi became the trade centre of obsidian, the so appreciated stone that brought commercial activity, and economic blossoming and contributed to the development of one of the oldest civilizations of Europe, which coincided with the flourish of Minoan Crete.
 
Even today flakes and blades of obsidian can be found at the ruins of the prehistoric town of Phylakopi, both in the fields and on the surrounding hills.
 
Obsidian was not processed in the area of Phylakopi but at the areas of excavation. Obsidian pebbles and flakes accumulated in big quantities in the areas of Demenagaki and Nychia, indicate points of procurement, production and sorting (In Demenagaki an extent of 20 sq. m. with a thickness of roughly 1 m., at Nychia an extent of 10-15 sq. m. and thickness of 0,30 m.)


Obsidian edges may become sharper than the finest steel blades.  Obsidian was thus used for the construction of blades with sharp edges to serve as knives, scrapers and razors, arrowheads and spears, axes, saws and mattocks.
 
During the Roman period, obsidian was employed in the manufacture of mosaics, mirrors and other decorative objects.

Around 1100 BC the use of obsidian was discontinued because of the increasing popularity of the metals and it has been used only periodically thereafter.

The quarry at Nychia

The city of Phylakopi, that due to the obsidian had thrived for over 2 millennia and had created a superior civilization, keeping pace first with the Minoans of Crete and later with the Mycenaeans of Continental Greece, was abandoned. The obsidian trade had ceased.
 
Today obsidian has become a collector’s item. Milos however, continuously supplies the world with an abundance of other minerals.


   
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