The history of Aegean civilisation is driven by trade, and the first commodity ever to be traded on a large scale among its islands was obsidian from Milos, used for making tools, weapons and knives by the first human in habitants of the area. As the prehistory of the islands is revealed by archaeologists, obsidian from Milos—whose particular purity can be recognised by eye and its proenance verified scientifically—is found at the oldest, low est level, across the whole area. Well before 6000 bc it is found widely from Thasos to Rhodes , and from Skopelos to Crete and Egypt: evidence furthermore shows its occurrence on the Peloponnese as early as the end of the 10th millennium bc a fact with not inconsiderable significance for our understanding of early navigation in these island waters. The roads of history all lead back to Milos, just as the marine trade routes, precariously plied by small prehistoric craft, led back to its sheltered volcanic harbours. It is moving to look at the piles of obsidian pieces left behind by the first workshops of Aegean history on Nychia Hill, and to realise that one is witnessing the origins of human commerce in the Island world.
Obsidian is a super-hard glass which forms in particular volcanic circumstances. The whole fascinating mineralogy of Milos is the result of a long and tormented history of major volcanic activity, giving rise today to hot vapours and springs as well as impressive colours and forms in the island’s constantly varying landscape and shores. Some of the strangest inlets, beaches and rock outcrops in the Aegean are to be found on Milos, as well as some of its rarest minerals. The Stone Age commerce of obsidian which began on the island has a modern successor in the massive industrial exploitation and commerce of its earths today, which find their way into the brake linings of our cars, the oil-drills of the Persian Gulf, and the building materials, cosmetics, fertilisers and pharmaceuticals we use all over the world. It is an immense trade and it has left its mark on Milos in many ways.
Milos is a busy, working island, as well as a tourist destination, with the population nearly all concentrated in the north. The south and west, by contrast, are a wild and largely empty landscape, offering open, exhilarating vistas from all angles across the island and its waters. Nothing can substitute for seeing the coasts of Milos from a small boat however: its brilliantly coloured beaches create translucent opal waters, its caves and sculpted spires of volcanic rock, can only satisfactorily be appreciated from the water, and in the summer it is not hard to find or arrange a cai―que to tour the shores and cliffs, and to visit the many, often abandoned, mine installations. Apart from its important industrial archaeology, Milos has a number of interesting churches—Aghia Triada by the port in Adamas, and the remote Panaghia tou Kipou, built over the baptistery of a 5th century basilica; also from Early Christian times, there is the most important and extensive complex of catacombs in Greece, above the harbour at Klima. The island’s ancient archaeology is of great importance, with one of the richest Bronze Age settlements in the Aegean at Phylakopi on the north coast, and the remains of the ancient city of Melos, overlook the entrance into to the island’s magnificent, central caldera-bay. In the area of its Hellenistic gymnasium was unearthed what was to become one of the most famous statues of antiquity—the Venus de Milo. It is appropriate that the statue, now in Paris, should be of Aphrodite, who was given the golden apple of Discord in the contest of the goddesses. The apple, ‘το μῆλον’, was the symbol of the island used on its coins; and it was presented to the goddess of love by none other than Paris.
Milos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.