Pottery making in ancient Hellas was a male-dominated profession, but about 3000 years ago, one woman from the island of Crete broke the mold to become the only known female master ceramicist in antiquity. The finding, based on a lengthy biomechanical analysis of her skeletal remains, sheds light on the elevated roles played by women in at least some parts of the classical world.


The master potter, who lived to be about 45 or 50, was buried in the city of Eleutherna on the slopes of Mount Ida, the legendary birthplace of Zeus. Ornate pottery in nearby graves suggests she lived between 900 B.C.E. and 650 B.C.E., after the fall of the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations (depicted above) and toward the end of the so-called Greek Dark Ages.

On closer examination of her bones, archaeologists noticed some intriguing details: Compared with other women at the Orthi Petra burial site, she was unusually muscular, especially on the right side of her body. She had also worn out the cartilage in her knee and hip joints, which would have made moving a painful, bone-scraping affair.

Curious as to what repetitive, lifelong motions would have led to that kind of wear, the researchers began to analyze the biomechanics behind the different professions of ancient women, pantomiming the motions with a human skeletal model and observing which muscles were involved. They tried clothes washing, bread baking, harvesting, and loom weaving—nothing panned out. Expanding their search beyond traditional female roles, they tried throwing pottery.

As luck would have it, the daughter of a modern-day master ceramicist—and a potter in her own right—just minutes from Eleutherna agreed to model for the scientists. Analyzing her muscles as she worked, they were convinced that her profession was a match for their ancient artisan. Constantly flexing her leg to turn the kick wheel would have worn out her joints; repeatedly leaning to one side of the spinning clay to shape and sculpt it would have developed the muscles on that side of her body, the researchers reported at a May conference on Crete.

Her lifetime devotion to the craft likely meant she was a master, the researchers say, blazing a trail for female ceramicists that continues on the island today.
A unique pile of more than a thousand seal impressions featuring Hellenic Gods, symbols and erotica has been found in an underground closet carved into the bedrock of the biblical town of Maresha. The seals date to the city’s final and most fruitful incarnation, the Hellenistic period, predating its final devastation. The inscription on one of the seals is from 145 B.C.E., the archaeologists believe. It’s impossible at this point to say when the earliest seal is from, but the latest has to be around 107 B.C.E. because the city was destroyed at that time, the archaeologists suggest.


Letter writers in ancient times used seals they hoped would guarantee that nobody but the addressee read their precious papyrus. Or at least, if the seal was broken, the addressee would know that privacy had been violated. What the archaeologists found in Maresha was evidently a collection of papyri that somebody had stored in the ancient equivalent of a safe. The papyri themselves had long since decayed. It need not have been a vast library. Ian Stern of Archaeological Seminars Institute and associate of Hebrew Union College explains: 

"A single papyrus could have up to six seals on it."

No other explanation leaps to mind for about 1,020 seal impressions from different sources, laying on the floor of a space too small for people to stand in. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Coin Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority:

"The space can be compared with a small safe behind my clothing closet. This was a safe room where the most valuable documents were deposited."

The floor of this “closet” had been heavily plastered, and many of the seal impressions have plaster stuck to them. Given that all were made of unfired clay and are friable in the extreme, we may never know what they show.  Cleaning tiny unbaked clay items of the crud of centuries is a painstaking task that will take a very long time. Meanwhile we can say that most of the impressions were only about a centimeter (less than half an inch) in diameter. We can also say that they seem to be almost entirely Greek in type, say Ariel and Stern.

 The impressions feature portraits of both humans and deities: Castor and Pollux, Athena, Apollo and Aphrodite, symbols such as cornucopia, animals — and erotica, as can be seen in two of the 300 impressions studied so far. A few also sport names or letters in Greek. Future chemical analysis of the plaster and dust in this Hellenistic-era proto-safe may attest to the origin of the seals, Stern tells Haaretz:

"They could have come from around the corner, or from many places in world."

Cleaning the fragile impressions will take a long time, and meanwhile, the archaeologists have some speculation about who owned them. Ariel suspects that the closet-cave hewn from the soft limestone bedrock had belonged to a wealthy estate owner, who like all the elite at the time, inclined toward Hellenistic culture. Jewish tombs have been found (elsewhere) from the Hellenistic era, with inscriptions in Greek.

"Maresha was limited during the First Temple Period. The city expanded off the tell and into a lower city — which is where the thousands of subterranean complexes were built — only during the Hellenistic period."

The archive was not unique. About 30 such have been discovered around the Hellenistic world, Ariel said — but in Israel, it’s only the second to be found — and the first, discovered about 20 years ago in the north of the country at Tel Kedesh, was more closely connected to Phoenician culture.

One more fun titbit: During their excavation, crawling heroically through the subterranean complex, they discovered seven untouched rooms, and did a quickie survey. They found some Roman-era lamps in there and a casserole dish, and noted that some of the walls had been broken through. It seems that during the Roman period, either people crept into the tunnels and hid there from persecutors for a time. Or they were robbing it and left their casserole dish behind, as robbers do.
We're adding a new festival to our PAT line-up: the Demokratia. This festival celebrates the blessings of democratic government, constitutional law and freedom of speech. Because of our current political climate, we thought it was time to bring it back. We will hold the ritual on 12 Boedromion, which is 22 September, at the usual 10 am EDT.


The festival included sacrifices to Zeus Agoraios, Athena Agoraia (literally "Zeus and Athene of the low place") and to the Goddess Themis.  Images of Zeus and Athena were paraded in the agora, the lower city below the Acropolis ("High Place"). Themis, one of the Titans, is Goddess of divine law--the primal, unwritten laws governing human conduct which were first established by the gods of heaven. She was believed to have issued these edicts to mankind through the great oracle of Delphoi over which she presided alongside the God Apollon.  Clearly, the establishment of democracy in Athens was seen as a divine gift of Themis, especially, as well as Zeus (her father) and Athena.

Today, we use the term demokratia to mean a direct democracy, as opposed to our more familiar modern invention, representative democracy. The demokratia was first begun in Athens around 500 BCE. In such a government, citizens’ (no women or slaves) votes were counted directly. By the same token, in a true demokratia, each citizen is also directly responsible for the various duties of keeping the society running. That is, every voting citizen is expected to participate in some way, in the functioning of the necessary social services, governance, and so on.

Will you join us in honoring the Gods who guard our democracy? You can find the ritual here and join the community page here.
Sorry, I'm swamped again! Let me leave you with this fable by Babrius, which feels very fitting at the moment!

Babrius (Βάβριος, Bábrios), also known as Babrias (Βαβρίας) or Gabrias (Γαβρίας), was the author of a collection of Greek fables, many of which are known today as Aesop's Fables. Practically nothing is known of him. He is supposed to have been a Hellenized Roman (Living in the second century AD), whose original name may have been Valerius. He lived in the East, probably in Syria, where the fables seem first to have gained popularity. There is no mention of Babrius in ancient writers before the beginning of the 3rd century AD. As appears from surviving papyrus fragments, his work is to be dated before c. 200 AD (and probably not much earlier, for his language and style seem to show that he belonged to that period).


A super fat dog and a wolf once met
Who was asking him where he was fed
To become a dog so big and filled with grease.
“It is a rich man” he said, “who is feeding me”.
“But,” asked the wolf, “why is your neck so bare?”
“there’s an iron collar which wears my skin there,
A collar which my feeder forged and placed.”
The wolf laughed at him and said to his face:
“I say this kind of luxury can go to heck,
The kind of life where iron wears down my neck.”
[Fable 100]
Greek archaeologists expressed their concern on Monday over the abandonment by the state of the site of the mid-5th century BC Temple of Artemis Agrotera, which they described as “one of the most historically important archaeological sites in the center of Athens.”


In a press release titled “A monument in danger,” the Association of Greek Archaeologists says that despite numerous decisions published by the Central Archaeological Council since 1964 for the immediate expropriation of the land it stands on and the surrounding properties and the protection and promotion of the site, no action has ever been taken.

"The political responsibilities of successive political leaderships, are obvious. This unacceptable and disgraceful situation ... that was created under pressure from private interests is not only endangering the archaeological site itself, but also violates the law."

Archaeologists said the site forms an archaeological unity with the neighbouring Temple of Olympian Zeus and authorities must therefore initiate expropriation procedures, complete the excavations and necessary studies and return it to the public as an open archaeological site.

The temple was converted into an Early Christian church in the mid-5th century AD. the first excavations on the site were conducted in 1897 by the Archaeological Society of Athens.
A 2,000-year-old statue of the Aphrodite, one of a batch of antiquities stolen from a museum storeroom on the resort island of Santorini, has been recovered from traffickers in a car trunk.


The 80-centimeter (31-inch) marble work was found Tuesday, together with two more ancient stone artefacts believed to have been illegally excavated, in a car stopped in a parking lot in the southern seaside town of Loutraki.

Police arrested a 46-year-old Greek man in the car, who was allegedly seeking to sell the three pieces for a total €350,000 ($400,000). Another two Greek men have been identified as suspected accomplices, a police statement said, adding that the crackdown followed a tipoff.

According to the statement by police, the director of the Santorini museum confirmed that the Aphrodite statue, which dates to the 2nd or 1st centuries BC, was stolen from the storeroom.

Earlier this year, a watchman at the Santorini museum and another suspect were arrested for allegedly stealing antiquities from the storage area, and about 20 pottery and stone artifacts — many dating to the 17th century BC — were recovered.

No inventory of other missing artifacts was published, and it was unclear how many were stolen.
Police said the other two artefacts found in the car trunk were a cylindrical marble box and a 3rd century AD stone relief plaque depicting one of the labors of Herakles — the mythical hero's fight with the Hydra monster.

Greece's rich ancient heritage frequently falls prey to antiquities smugglers, with scores of arrests recorded every year. But thefts from museums are rare.
Police in Greece are questioning two women, both Bulgarian nationals, suspected of squirting or dabbing oil on artefacts in at least two museums in a ritual the suspects said was dictated by Bible teachings.


The stains, which Greek media reports said had appeared on items such as icons, marble columns and inscribed tablets displayed at the Christian and Byzantine Museum in July, had befuddled authorities. Some smears also appeared at the Benaki Museum about a month later.

But on Sunday, a clerk at the National Historical Museum at Old Parliament House in Athens alerted guards when a woman showed up with a companion with what appeared to be an oily hand.

"I noticed that one of the ladies had a greasy hand ... I alerted the guards and drew their attention to it."

According to Greece’s state run Athens News Agency, the suspects told police they thought the oil had healing properties and that, they said, dousing relics was dictated by the Bible. They had a bottle in their possession when they were arrested. Both told police they had no intention of causing any damage while one said she was a member of a religious group, judicial sources said on Monday.

The women, who spent a short time in detention before being released, face misdemeanor charges under Greek law. The two museums said at the time they were investigating the incidents but have not commented publicly since then.