The red painted Middle Neolithic vases from the Cave of Cyclops in the northern Sporades

A group of deep pots with red painted canvas and weaving-inspired motifs from the Cave of Cyclops on the island of Youra, north Aegean, excavated by A. Sampson, has been the focus of a long study, including my thesis. The pots are partly preserved, were found in a dark humid area of the deep cave’s interior, next to a small water reservoir, and are dated to the Middle Neolithic period (about 5800-5600 BC). Together with admiration for the Neolithic potter’s technical expertise, who had achieved a high level of accuracy regarding the decoration motifs and their syntax, a series of questions arise: may the prehistoric islanders have depicted those complicated motifs from weaved prototypes and what would these patterns mean for them? Who brought those impressive vases to the cave, where from, and why? What is the possible association between the use of those pots and the particular area in the cave where they were deposited?

This project has taught me that in archaeology we learn more by asking questions and that answers are utopic. What do ‘ceramic style’, ‘identity’ and ‘function’ actually mean concerning the Cyclops pottery?

I have supposed that these vases have been transported to the island of Youra and finally the cave by boat from the neighboring island of Kyra-Panagia where older research had discovered an open settlement of the same date and similar pottery. I believe that, although painted, Cyclops’ vases were made for some practical use too, but that their contents have been very special to justify such investment. I am still working on the idea that these vessels may have been transported to the cave as part of some symbolic act. Who were the actors and what symbolism did they carry? Could the ceramic patterns identify with a particular social group? Is it possible that the immediate evocation of weaving and embroidery on these certain motifs suggest that this group was in a particular way associated with those crafts? Whatever the explanation, the Cyclops red-painted pots are meaningful materialities, contextually specified within a certain social and personal sphere in their Middle Neolithic past, but also re-interpreted within a contemporary biography which is expanding and reassessed, as is obvious by comparing my subsequent papers.


Excavation by the Ephorate of Paleoanthropology-Speleology of the Ministry of Culture (1992-1995) under the direction of Prof. A. Sampson.

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2011, in print

S. Katsarou-Tzeveleki, The Middle Neolithic pattern-painted ware from the Cave of Cyclops, Northern Aegean: Deconstructing older theories. In: Ε. Papadopoulou & V. Chryssikopoulos (ed.). Fetschrift to Prof. Athanassios Papadopoulos. Göteborg. Paul Atsroms Forlag.


P. Quinn, P. Day, V. Kilikoglou, E. Faber, S. Katsarou-Tzeveleki & A. Sampson, Keeping an eye on your pots: The provenance of Neolithic ceramics from the Cave of the Cyclops, Youra, Greece, Journal of Archeological Science 37, pp. 1042-1052.


S. Katsarou-Tzeveleki, Cave of Cyclops, Youra: contribution of the painted pottery to the discussion on Middle Neolithic symbolisms. In: Α. Mazarakis-Ainian (ed.), Archaeological Meeting of Thessaly and Central Greece 2 (2006). Proceedings of a Scientific Conference (Volos, March, 16-19, 2006), vol I, pp. 53-59. Volos. University of Thessaly & Ministry of Culture.


S. Katsarou-Τzeveleki, Early Neolithic weavers paint. Youra red painted patterns as markers of local group’s identity. In: A. Sampson (ed.), The Cave of Cyclops on the Island of Youra, Greece. Mesolithic and Neolithic Networks in the Northern Aegean Basin. Vol. Ι: Intra-Site Analysis, Local Industries and Regional Site Distribution, pp. 69-110. Philadelphia. Institute for the Aegean Prehistory Academic Press.


S. Katsarou-Tzeveleki, Middle Neolithic decorated vases in the cave of Cyclops. In: A. Sampson (ed.), Τhe Prehistory of the Aegean Basin. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, pp. 126-136. Athens. Editions Atrapos.


3rd Symposium on Cave Archaeology, Geology and Palaeontology, Athens, October 17-19, 2003 (Organizer: Hellenic Speleological Society & Hellenic Federation of Speleology).

Paper: S. Katsarou & A. Sampson, Cave of Cyclope on Youra: Impressive finds reward effort demanding mission.


S. Katsarou, Red-on-white painted pottery from the early Middle Neolithic levels of the cave of Cyclope. In: A. Sampson (ed.), Archaeological Research in the Northern Sporades, pp. 11-31. Alonessos. Society of Peparethian Studies & Municipality of Alonessos.