Ritual clue to mystery figurines
It is like an ancient jigsaw puzzle with no solution - thousands of deliberately broken figurines, none of which fit together.
Evidence of a Bronze Age ritual in which beautiful figurines were crafted then deliberately broken has been unearthed by researchers.
Archaeologists believe that the mysterious rite took place about 4,500 years ago on the Aegean island of Keros, recently excavated by the Cambridge-Keros project.
Led by Professor Colin Renfrew from the University of Cambridge, the team found a single piece of each smashed statuette had been taken to Keros and buried in shallow pits.
It was originally thought the island may have been an ancient burial site trashed by looters. But, following decades of research, a more surprising story has emerged.
Prof Renfrew said: "As I studied the marble materials, I realised that nearly all of the breakages seemed to be ancient and not the result of the looting. They had been deliberately broken before burial."
Later studies found the fragments were deposited over a 500-year period.
Prof Renfrew said: "The strangest finding of all was that hardly any of the fragments of the 500-odd figurines and 2,500 marble vessels joined together.
"This was a very interesting discovery. The only conclusion we could come to was that these special materials were broken on other islands and single pieces of each figurine, bowl or pot were brought by generations of Cycladic islanders to Keros."
He speculates that the objects were used repeatedly in rituals in the home islands, perhaps carried in processions in much the same way that icons are paraded today in Greek villages.