One of the great statues of antiquity has been connected to its likely birthplace by analysis of its marble.
The Colossus of the Naxians on the Greek island of Delos once stood about 9 metres tall, but is now in pieces. One is at the British Museum in London, while the rest are in Greece. The statue’s name refers to the island of Naxos, which has been a major source of marble since the Greek archaic era from 800 BC to 480 BC – but it isn’t from either of two known quarries of that period.
Instead, the marble has the chemical signature of a deposit in another part of the island, found by Scott Pike at Willamette University in Oregon. He will present his results at a meeting of the Geological Society of America on 11 October.
His interest in the statue dates from the 1990s, when he tried to check the assertion carved on the base that it was made “of one marble”. The British Museum let him take a sample from the right foot, but permission from Greek authorities was difficult to come by.
Pike compared the proportions of stable isotopes of carbon and oxygen in the marble to a database of known Greek quarries. “Marble is metamorphosed limestone,” he says. “The isotopic signature is related to how that limestone formed.” The data suggested the marble of the statue came from somewhere in the south of Naxos.
Recently, Pike got permission to do a geological survey there, and he found a line of hills capped by marble not noted on geological maps. The isotopes in the marble are a good match for the statue.
There was an abandoned quarry as well, but due to its size and the pattern of extractions, Pike doubts that it birthed the Colossus of the Naxians. Because he didn’t have a permit for archaeological sampling, he couldn’t date it. He plans to return with such a permit and a lidar-equipped drone to see if he can find other quarries or the roads and slipways used to transport finished statues.
More on these topics: