March 03, 2006

Bronze Age artists from Thera had advanced knowledge of geometry

A group of Greek researchers has studied spiral designs from the Aegean island of Thera which was home to a Bronze Age civilization related to the Minoan civilization of Crete. Spirals are mathematical curves which are described by specific formulas. It is however possible to create a spiral-like design even if someone has no knowledge of geometry. The researchers have shown that the Theran spirals follow very closely the geometrical spiral described by Archimedes, the Greek mathematician of the Hellenistic age, who lived more than 1,000 years after the demise of the Theran civilization. According to the researchers (subscription may be required):
Some spirals, such as the ones found on snail shells, are common in nature. And others can be easily made by unwinding a thread around a central peg. But the Archimedes' spiral is not like either of these. "Seemingly it does not exist in nature," the researchers say.

"This is the earliest time that such advanced geometric figures have been spotted," says Papaodysseus. "The next such figures appear only 1,300 years later." The team report their work in the journal Archaeometry
Such a close match between the mathematically described spirals and the ones found in Thera is not possible by chance alone; someone who drew a spiral by freehand would simply not be able to match the mathematical form so closely. Therefore, it is likely that the Theran artists used a mechanical technique which made use of mathematics to produce these very precise decorative motifs.

Archaeometry, Volume 48, Number 1, February 2006, pp. 97-114(18)


C. Papaodysseus et al.


This paper studies a set of wall-paintings of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1650bc) initially decorating the internal walls of the third floor of the edifice called `Xeste 3', excavated at Akrotiri, Thera, whose restoration is now in progress. It deals with the methods used for the drawing of the geometrical figures appearing in these wall-paintings. It is demonstrated that most of the depicted configurations correspond with accuracy to geometrical prototypes such as linear spirals and canonical polygons. It is pointed out that the steady lines of the figures, their remarkable repeatability, the precision of the geometrical shapes and their even distribution in the wall-paintings indicate a very distinctive use of the `Xeste 3' third floor, which is now investigated.


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