By focusing on one type of Greek archaeology — the Kouros statues and similar — and examining the evolution within the type, a basic chronology presents itself. Archaeologists study artifacts, such as Greek sculpture, for similar attributes that allow them to group the artifacts into types. Both among types and within one type there may be an evolution of attributes that archaeologists can use to place artifacts into a relative chronology (Renfrew and Bahn 2018:111). This understanding of which attributes unite a type and which have evolved over time provide insight into where a type fits within a larger timeline.
The New York Kouros (Figure 1) and Kroisos (Figure 2) are two examples within the the Kouros type. Both share a frontal orientation and similar stance of one foot in front of the other with evenly distributed weight. They are nude male youth, larger than life and highly stylized. Their hair is in unnaturally linear braids and their muscle is largely denoted by lines and partitioning of the body. However, the Kroisos’s hair falls with the curve of its neck and shoulders, and its abdominal muscles and knee caps are semi-realistically modeled. By contrast the New York Kouros’s hair comes down in a straight sheath and its muscle exists primarily as faint lines across the chest and winged bulges above the knees. Kroisos’s progression towards naturalization indicates that it was created after the New York Kouros.
A third sculptural example, Polykleitos’s Doryphoros (Figure 3), differentiates itself from the Kouroi most notably though contrapposto, “bearing the weight on one straight leg, while the other is bent” (Museum of Art and Archaeology [MAA] 2019:1) which is “counterbalanced by the arms, one of which is flexed while the other hangs relaxed by the side” (MAA 2019:1). This more realistic posture causes the Doryphoros to begin to blend into a new type, but it still shares many attributes with the Kouroi. It remains a young nude male with a partitioned body structure evident most clearly in the distinct curve at the hips and in the overly stylized abdominal muscles.
Studying these ancient artifacts through an archaeological lens allows them to be categorized together and placed into a larger historical context. Because of the distinctive features that define the Kouroi, the Doryphoros, and other similar sculpture, it is evident that they belong to a specific period of Greek history. Initially artist “were presenting images to be read, not compared with life” (Rumy 2000:53) as inspired by the purposefulness of Egyptian sculpture (Rumy 2000:53). Later works within the type, such as the Doryphoros, are increasingly interested in an accurate representation of the human body making them bleed into a new period (MAA 2019:1). This evolution from Egyptian-inspired sculpture to more natural attributes indicates that the type follows the Greek Orientalizing Period and precedes the Classical Greek Period, placing the sculptural type in the Greek Archaic Period from 650 to 480 BCE (Rumy 2000:52).
2000 Anatomy and the art of Archaic Greece. The Anatomical Record 261(2):50-56.
Museum of Art and Archaeology University of Missouri 2019 Doryphoros. Electronic document, https://maa.missouri.edu/gallery/doryphoros, accessed September 22, 209
Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn
2018 Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice with 303 Illustrations. Fourth ed. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.
A discussion of the differences between Kouros statues and Egyptian sculpture and the tools that made realism possible
The Study of Ancient Sculpture
A discussion of other ways to analyze and gain meaning from Greek sculpture