The excavation in progress this year suggested from the very beginning that the human presence on the acropolis of Selinunte is several millennia older than previously assumed. In fact, below the first level of the Greek settlement, under a natural deposit more than a metre deep, pottery shards of the Early Bronze Age were discovered, as well as evidence of a Mesolithic stone industry (about 8000-6500 BC).

The discovery was announced today by archaeologist Clemente Marconi who, together with Rosalia Pumo, leads the teams of archaeologists from New York University and the State University of Milan who are carrying out important excavations at the Archaeological Park of Selinunte. 

Remains of animals and fragments of coal were also found in association with the first level of the Greek presence in the area, which will be analyzed by radiocarbon.

"The excavations confirm that the layer in which the spears were found stuck in the ground at the end of the last campaign corresponds to the oldest level of Greek occupation in our area. The discovery of numerous animal bones and charcoal should make it possible to date this layer with a certain degree of precision, thanks to the radiocarbon analyses that we will undertake in the coming weeks. At present, the layer is dated, based on the pottery and its position in the stratigraphic sequence, to the founding phase of the Greek settlement. Below this first level of Greek occupation the earth is clean, with no trace of an indigenous level from the Early Iron Age. This year's results, like those from the last ten years' excavations in the southern sector of the large urban sanctuary, suggest that when Selinunte was founded, the site had been uninhabited for many centuries."

The focus of the archaeologists' investigations will be on the period prior to the foundation of Selinunte by the Megarians in 650 BC in order to reconstruct the history of the territory in its entirety. In this context the foundations of Temple C were uncovered.

"It's an exciting finding and I see that the foundations are a bit below ground level. This will allow us to date with certainty the start of temple's construction, which is dedicated to Apollo, and which ancient sources date back to 540 BC, while the completion of the structure is said to have taken place in 510 BC."

The excavation campaign will continue in the coming weeks and will focus on the acropolis of the Greek city.

Image credit: La Repubblica
The best part about reading ancient texts that deal with politics is that their wisdom still applies. In almost all cases, wise lessons in politics that were true in ancient Hellas are still true today.  I want to give an example today, and I am sure you know who this is directed at. Sir, I am done with your antics. At least parents and kids get to see each other again.

"The truth is that because you live without fear day-to-day and there is no conspiring against one another, you think imagine your ‘allies’ to live the same way. Because you are deluded by whatever is presented in speeches you are mistaken in these matters or because you yield to pity, you do not not realize you are being dangerously weak for yourselves and for some favor to your allies.

You do not examine the fact that the power you hold is a tyranny and that those who are dominated by you are conspiring against you and are ruled unwillingly and that these people obey you not because they might please you by being harmed but because you are superior to them by strength rather than because of their goodwill.

The most terrible thing of all is  if nothing which seems right to us is established firmly—if we will not acknowledge that a state which has worse laws which are unbendable is stronger than a state with noble laws which are weakly administered, that ignorance accompanied by discipline is more effective than cleverness with liberality, and that lesser people can inhabit states much more efficiently than intelligent ones.

Smart people always want to show they are wiser than the laws and to be preeminent in discussions about the public good, as if there are no more important things where they could clarify their opinions—and because of this they most often ruin their states. The other group of people, on the other hand, because they distrust their own intelligence, think that it is acceptable to be less learned than the laws and less capable to criticize an argument than the one who speaks well. But because they are more fair and balanced judges, instead of prosecutors, they do well in most cases. For this reason, then, it is right that we too, when we are not carried away by the cleverness and the contest of intelligence, do not act to advise our majority against our own opinion."
[Thucydides, 3.37]
Last month, the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, unveiled a cache of antiquities seized from a Roman property developer. The objects, which include two Hellenic vases as well as a bull’s and a horse’s head, both in terracotta, are worth €900,000, the Carabinieri’s cultural protection squad says. The collector from whom they were seized now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicola Candido told The Art Newspaper in an email. But when The Art Newspaper sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity.

Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. One specialist who asked not to be named said: 

"I cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity."

Another described the bull and horse heads as "crude copies," while a third said that "both the vases are suspect, as well as the larger terracottas, but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best." The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred.

"The bull and horse heads do look dubious. The value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine."

The suggested price is "vastly over-exaggerated," another expert agreed. In the case of the vase on the far right, "The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought." But he noted: "This could be resolved with a thermoluminescence test, which I would hope the Carabinieri would do before prosecuting the owner of the collection."

John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said:

"The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?'

In response to our questions, Candido said the Carabinieri had consulted art history experts with Italy’s Ministry of Culture, and that scientific analysis of the works is taking place. The €900,000 valuation is based on prices for similar antiquities which have been sold, he said.
A brush fire in central Greece has helped authorities discover a hoard of illegally excavated antiquities. The Greek culture ministry said Friday that firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze found about 200 artifacts, some as much as 2,800 years old, in plastic bags hidden under bushes.

The discovery was made Thursday in the countryside between the villages of Livanates and Megaplatanos, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Athens. A ministry statement said most of the pottery and metal objects were unharmed by the fire, while some bore traces of smoke.

Authorities are trying to establish who excavated and hid the artefacts, some of which had been cleaned and undergone basic repairs on the spot. Under Greek law, all ancient artefacts found in the country are state property.

For images of the finds, go here.
For the second PAT ritual of the month, Elaion would like to present to you the rituals for the Skiraphoria. The Skira(phoria) was celebrated mainly by women, perhaps to contrast the Greater Dionysia celebrated mostly by men, but we have created a separate ritual for men which excludes portions of the festival but does allow them to participate. Will you join us on June 26th at 10 AM EDT?

The Skira, or Skiraphoria was celebrated over a three day period and we have few details about it. What we do know is that the Skira is most likely a fertility festival, mostly of the earth so that a good harvest was ensured for the following year, which started a little more than half a month later. Demeter was certainly honored during the festival, as well as her daughter Kore, as the Goddess of spring growth. Yet, many other deities are tied to the harvest and the success of the nation in some way, especially in Athens from where most of the surviving material originated. There, Athena Skiras and Poseidon Pater also had a role to play.

What we know of the rites is that a gathering left Athens on the day of the Skira, and another delegation left Eleusis. At Skiron, a precinct on the road to Eleusis, stood a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Skiras, Poseidon Pater, Demeter and Kore. Here, the two delegations met, and the priests and priestesses of all Theoi involved interacted in some way; Plutarch mentions that one of the three 'sacred plowings' of the Athenians took place at this time. It is, perhaps, possible that at this time, the priestesses of Athena and the priests Poseidon made amends with the priestesses of Demeter and Kore--there was bad blood between them for, as Apollodorus reminds us:

"Athena, therefore, called the city Athens after herself, and Poseidon in hot anger flooded the Thriasian plain and laid Attica under the sea." [3.14.1]

The Thriasian plain is where Eleusis is located, and it would have been entirely flooded during this episode. Perhaps the Athenian deities ritually made amends for this during the Skira? Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, during the reign of Erechtheus in Athens, war broke out against the Eleusinians, who were assisted by Eumolpus, whose mother was Khione, daughter of Boreas, and whose father was said to be Poseidon Himself. Eumolpus attacked Ahens because, as he put it, that land belonged to his father. Could the rituals of the Skira be penance for this war as well, where Poseidon (and Athena) 'rode out' to meet Demeter and Kore in the middle for a rite that would settle their grievances?

The details of the procession to the Skiron and the subsequent ritual are largely lost to us. Although debated by certain scholars, it seems that those in the procession--or perhaps only the priests and priestesses--carried umbrella-type canopies over their heads which were of a bright white color. It is possible that this was only one large canopy per group, and it was held over the heads of the priests and priestesses by others in the procession. The canopy was or were called 'skiron' as well. Of the sanctuary itself, we know very little besides its location and deities. It is, however, said to have been the place where the first sowing took place, tying the Skira rituals back in with the purpose of fertility.

The Skira was celebrated over a three day period, but when this procession took place is unclear. To bring fertility, the women abstained from intercourse on these days, and to this end they ate garlic to keep the men away. We also know that during the Skira, offerings were thrown into the sacred caves of Demeter located in a cliff at Eleusis: cakes shaped like snakes and phalluses, and very real piglets. These became the Thesmoi--'things laid down'--that were removed in the Thesmophoria. The piglets were fertility symbols but also related to the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades, because it is said that when Hades opened a chasm to swallow up Persephone--the caves of Demeter--a swineherd called Eubouleus was grazing his pigs and they were swallowed up in the chasm as well.

For the men, there was a race in which they carried vine-branches from the sanctuary of Dionysos to the temple of Athena Skiras. The winner was given the Fivefold Cup, or 'pentaploa', containing wine, honey, cheese, some corn and olive oil. Only the winner was allowed to pour libations to Athena from the cup, and ask Her to bless these fruits of the season.

For these rites, we will honor Demeter, Kore, Athena, and Poseidon. The female version of the rite which includes Demeter and Kore as well as the Thesmoi, and that of the men has sacrifices to Poseidon, Athena, and Demeter. We also encourage the men to perform some sort of athletic feat afterwards to honour Athena.

The PAT ritual will take place on the 26th of June, at the usual 10 am EDT. The rituals can be found here for the women, and here for the men. We look forward to your participation and if you would like to discuss the rite or festival with others, feel free to join us on Facebook on the event page. We hope you will join us!
A short warning today, from Bacchylides's, Processionals

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”
[fr. 11-12]
Among the J. Paul Getty Museum’s most treasured items is a bronze Hellenic statue of a young man, his weight shifted onto his right leg, his head crowned with an olive wreath—the prize bestowed on victorious athletes in ancient Greece. The aptly named “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was discovered in the Adriatic Sea by Italian fishermen in 1964, and purchased by the Getty in 1977. But this month, as Naomi Rea reports for Artnet News, an Italian magistrate ruled that the museum must return the precious relic to Italy.

The magistrate, Giacomo Gasparini, rejected Getty’s appeal against an order of confiscation that was issued by an Italian court in 2010 and upheld by another Italian court in 2012. Ron Hartwig, a spokesperson for the J. Paul Getty Trust, said in a statement that the organization “disappointed in the ruling, but we will continue to defend our legal right to the statue.”

“Statue of a Victorious Youth” dates to sometime between 300 and 100 BC. According to Sopan Deb of the New York Times, the work is believed to have been inspired by, or even created by Lysippus, the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great. Very few life-size Hellenic bronzes survive today, and so the statue “provides much information on the technology of ancient bronze casting,” the Getty Museum explains on its website. Experts think that the Romans, who collected many Hellenic works of art, tried to take the bronze across the Adriatic, but the ship carrying the statue sank.

Centuries after the bronze plunged to the bottom of the Adriatic, the fishermen who found the statue brought it to the Italian city of Fano. They did not notify customs authorities about the discovery, according to Rea of Artnet, and sold the work to an antiquities dealer. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said, the Getty Museum Board of Trustees bought the bronze in the United Kingdom for $3.95 million. (The Los Angeles Times editorial board supports the Getty keeping the statue.) Today, the bronze is housed in the Getty Villa, a campus of the Getty Museum devoted to ancient Hellenic and Roman art.

In 1989, the Italian government asked the Getty to return “Statue of a Victorious Youth,” and the fight over the bronze has been ongoing ever since. A 1939 Italian law stipulates that Italy can lay claim to any antiquity discovered on its territory, but the Getty has argued that the law does not apply in this case because the statue was discovered in international waters.

“Moreover, the statue is not part of Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage,” Hartwig, the spokesman for the Getty Trust, said in his statement. “Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.”

The Getty has, in the past, repatriated artifacts that were acquired under suspect circumstances. In 2007, the Getty Trust agreed to return more than 40 items to Greece and Italy after questions arose about their provenance, including a statue said to be of the goddess Aphrodite that the museum had purchased for a then-record $18 million. But museum officials maintain that “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was acquired legally, after “extensive review of applicable laws, previous investigations of dealers and a statement by the senior Italian official in charge of export licenses for cultural property who said Italy had no claim on the statue,” according to the L.A. Times’ editorial board.

In the wake of the most recent ruling, the Getty says that it plans to file an appeal with the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest judicial authority.