The term ‘Island Marble’ was coined by G. R. Lepsius in 1890. In a first flush of enthusiasm for the recently developed technique of cutting thin sections of rocks for microscopic examination, he claimed to distinguish various Attic and other marbles of mainland Greece, Parian and Naxian marble, and a residual category, ‘Inselmarmor’.
Obviously the ability to determine the place of origin of the raw material, by examination of a specimen of marble, would be of very great value to the archaeologist. With a long series of Classical sculptures from Greece, Lepsius claimed to do this, and became the first of a line of scholars describing marble as ‘Pentelic’, ‘Hymettan’, ‘Parian’, ‘Naxian’, or ‘Island’, usually on the sole basis of visual examination. Prehistorians also have sought to identify as Cycladic figurines and other objects of marble found in contexts outside the Cyclades, purely on the grounds of the material used.
The geological basis for such an identification seems today highly doubtful, and since the question is of considerable relevance to Cycladic prehistory, as well as of more general interest in later periods, we decided to make a systematic, if limited, study of the problem.