According to archaeologists, humankind began to settle in the Cycladic islands at the start of the Late Neolithic Period, which began approximately 5,300 years ago. The oldest known settlement in the Cyclades has been found on the islet of Saliagos, which lies some 500 metres from the village of Antiparos. It has a length of 100 metres (north to south) and a width of 50 metres (east to west). However, because during the Neolithic Period the sea level was at least six metres lower than it is today, Saliagos was then a low peninsula on the isthmus linking Paros and Antiparos.
In 1961, Nikolaos Zafeiropoulos, superintendent of antiquities, became the first to discover traces of the settlement of Saliagos; more findings came to light following the work carried out by British archaeologists John Evans and Colin Renfrew in 1964. The settlement, which covers the entire island and dates to at least the end of the 5th millennium BC approximately, was composed of rectangular dwellings with stone foundations, surrounded by a wall. The task of constructing a defensive wall demands a coordinated collective effort—a fact that proves that in the Cyclades they had already initiated the process that would lead to the foundation of cities during the Early Bronze Age. The inhabitants of the island fashioned their tools and arrowheads from obsidian. It seems, in fact, that the processing of obsidian took place to a much greater extent than that which local needs could account for; based on this information, archaeologists have concluded that the settlement of Saliagos constituted a centre for the processing of and trade in obsidian from Milos. Its inhabitants were also involved in fishing, livestock-raising, the cultivation of cereals, pottery-making and basket-weaving. Spoons made out of mussels, several hoes and other tools made out of bones, vases and figurines have also been found on the islet. Most of the vases unearthed on Saliagos resemble fruit bowls. They are made of dark clay and have a white linear decoration, are open, with an outline that is straight, curved or angled, and have a flat base or, more often, a tall support. Among the figurines found at Saliagos is ‘The Fat Lady of Saliagos,’ the oldest marble figurine discovered to date in the Cyclades. Some of these artefacts can be admired at the Archaeological Museum of Paros. These findings indicate that, even though the Neolithic civilization of the Cyclades presents similarities with its contemporaries—especially that of the Peloponnese—, it exhibits a distinct character in its art.
Unfortunately, few other sites of the so-called ‘Saliagos Civilization’ have survived. Very little is known about both the society and the religious beliefs of these people, or about their origin.
Later, during Early Bronze Age, the Cycladic civilization acquired a much more intense insular character. The 3rd millennium BC witnessed the beginning of the great development of civilization on Paros, Antiparos, and also Despotiko. In 1883, the British archaeologist Bent and the Swann brothers were the first to discover graves on Antiparos, dating to the period 3000-2500 BC, in digs that took place in the areas of Apantima, Soros and Petalides. Findings from these excavations are on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Christos Tsountas also carried out digs on Despotiko, discovering two Protocycladic cemeteries in the areas of Livadi and Zoumbaria, and noting the remains of a prehistoric settlement in the area of Heiromyli. He argued that during the 3rd millennium BC, the inhabitants of these two islands lived in small settlements found relatively far from one other. The Greek Archaeological Service conducted more recent research on the islet, in 1959, under Nikolaos Zafeiropoulos, superintendent of antiquities. The research confirmed the size of the Protocycladic settlements and, in addition, brought to light archaeological remains of Archaic and Roman years. A Doric-order temple of white marble, dating to the Historic period, was discovered in the area of Mandra and studied in 1980. Despite all of this, to date the existing data concerning the inhabitation of Despotiko during the Historic period is minimal. For this reason, the discovered sections of a kouros and a half-completed marble head of a small statuette belonging to the third quarter of the 6th century BC—already on display at the Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art in Athens—are of great importance.