In semi-recent archeological news, a couple of interesting things happened. I hadn't gotten around to writing about them, so lets double up: today's post is on a marble sculpture head of--presumably--Artemis that has been uncovered in the ancient city of Alabanda, and the snake goddess plaque discovered in Athens, which may actually represent Demeter.

The first find was done in at an archeological excavation near the temple of Apollon at Alabanda. Alabanda, today is located in Cine Aydin, Turkey. Cine is located a hundred kilometers east of Kusadasi, and was located in the provice of Caria in ancient times. The dig started in July and ended on December 20th. The head of the excavation team was Suat Ateşlier, from the Aydın Adnan Menderes University Archeology department.

Ateşlier reports that many interesting finds were recovered at the site, including a the doors of the ancient city of Alabanda, walls from the Byzantine era and, as Ateşlier puts it:

"We have also found a very valuable sculpture head in the same area. The quality of the sculpture is very good, and it is in very good condition. This is a goddess sculpture."

Experts have identified this head as the Theia Artemis, sister to Apollon. Located during this dig as well, is the location of another temple. It's suspected this temple was built for a Goddess, but who this is, is not yet determined. It seems to me that Artemis is a likely candidate.

Somewhere this year, a team will return to the site to excavate the newly located remainders of the temple, and I for one can't wait to see what they dig up.

Stephanie Pappas of reports on the snake Goddess plaque, which was discovered in 1932 with a heap of gravel and other terracotta fragments in a landfill at what once was the Athenian agora (Athens' main public square). It's old, and painted in three colors--probably one of the firsts to have been painted this way. Who, or what, the plaque portrayed was (and remains) a mystery, although the purpose of the plaque has been clear for a while: like many figurines, plackets and carvings, this was most likely a votive offering to the deity in question.

The resent link to Demeter was made by study researcher Michael Laughy of Washington and Lee University in Virginia. He lists several reasons but freely admits that it's by no means a fact: 
  • Shrines devoted to Demeter and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, show the closest matches to the types of figurines found
  • A shrine to Demeter was built in the seventh century mere minutes-long walk from the Athens agora
  • This sanctuary is the only one where ancient Hellenes are known to have left loom weights and spindle whorls, both of which were found in the Athens fill debris
  • The snake was associated with Demeter, especially in the seventh century, from which this votive stems
The most interesting to me is the question how a good few votive offerings--of humans, chariots, shields, loom weights, portions of spindles and pottery disks, most of which individually could fit in the palm of a hand--ended up being used as gravel for a road to the agora. We know that votives were considered sacred even if they broke. They were buried at the temenos, and kept there, safely within the temple grounds. So what happened?

Laughy is aware of this, too, and can't offer an explanation either. Perhaps, this incarnation of the Theia in question became outdated, or fell from grace. Perhaps there wasn't enough room. Whatever the case, if this snake Goddess plaque does represent Demeter, it would be one of the oldest images ever found of Her.