The Early Bronze Age in the Aegean

Towards the end of the fourth millennium BC, profound cultural and social changes took place in the Aegean, signalling the end of the Neolithic way of life.

The most important development was undoubtedly the introduction of metallurgy from the Near East. The use of metals substantially improved the quality of the tool kit in almost all sectors of activity (farming, tree-felling, architecture, shipbuilding, etc.) and enabled the production of more effective bronze weapons that altered the nature of warfare.

Other changes observed in this period include the introduction of new crops, such as the olive and the grapevine, the rapid increase in maritime contacts, and widening trade networks. 

Improved living conditions led to population growth, which is reflected as early as 2700-2500 BC by the emergence of proto-urban settlements (Poliochni, Thermi, Troy, Manika, Aigina, Lerna). Several of these settlements, such as Troy and Poliochni, were established at strategic points controlling important sea routes and were fortified with mighty walls, perhaps in response to conflicts between communities over access to metal sources and trade networks. The importance of bronze as a symbol of wealth and status, as well as the growth of trade and craft specialization, contributed to the appearance of more complex social organization. Social differentiation is particularly visible in the mortuary practices of Crete and the Greek Mainland, such as the construction of large tombs for multiple burials and the presence of extravagant grave goods.
Within this environment, four distinct contemporaneous “cultures” developed in the Aegean region: the Early Minoan culture on Crete, the Early Helladic culture on the Greek Mainland, the Early Cycladic culture  on the islands of the Cyclades, and the Early Bronze Age culture of the Northeast Aegean islands, which was strongly influenced by the coastal regions of Asia Minor. Among these cultures, the one that thrived on the small and arid Cycladic islands holds a special place. Thanks to their strategic position in the central Aegean and their mineral resources (marble, obsidian, etc.), these islands enjoyed a privileged role in trade and became a crossroads and melting pot of diverse cultural influences.
Around 2300 BC, there were upheavals throughout the Aegean, except on Crete. Several settlements were abandoned, others were hastily fortified and maritime trade diminished. Moreover, the appearance of new burial habits as well as new architectural and pottery types has been interpreted by some researchers to suggest the arrival of new population groups in the Aegean region. The reasons for these disturbances are not clear, but they may be associated with conflicts over access to copper and tin (essential for the production of bronze, more durable than either), new methods of warfare due to the use of metal weapons, and demographic pressures caused by the increase in population and the concentration of large numbers of people in urban centres. Whatever the reasons, during the final phase of the period (Early Cycladic III, 2300-2000 BC) the character of Early Cycladic culture changed and arts such as marble sculpting began to decline, disappearing altogether by the end of the 3rd millennium BC.