Friday, December 18, 2009

One of the 2009 Archaeological Top Ten Discoveries

I visited Archaeology magazine online the other day and checked out its list of the top ten archaeological discoveries in 2009 (stretched to 15, which is great because that means it was a fabulous year for significant finds). (Image of necklace slide courtesy of Prof. N. Ch. Stampolidis - presumably from the noted burial. Are these females? What is it they are wearing on their heads? Are those headdresses of some sort [they remind me of a fool's cap!], or braids in some sort of serpentine hair style? The workmanship of the piece is exquisite.) One of the top ten was something I missed - not sure how that happened but it's a significant find: Iron Age Priestesses - Eleutherna, Crete Volume 63 Number 1, January/February 2010 by Eti Bonn-Muller The discovery of a powerful female bloodline--uninterrupted for nearly 200 years--in the Iron Age necropolis of Orthi Petra at Eleutherna is illuminating the role of women in the so-called "Dark Ages" of Greece. Last summer, the remains of four females, ranging in age from about seven to seventy, were excavated in an eighth-century b.c. monumental funerary building. Its floor was covered with thin strips of gold, once affixed to burial garments, and the women were surrounded by bronze vessels and figurines, and jewelry made of gold, silver, glass, ivory, and semiprecious stones imported from Asia Minor, the Near East, and North Africa. Other artifacts from the tomb--including a possible stone altar, ritual bronze saws and knives, and a rare glass phiale for pouring libations--suggest these women played an important role in Eleutherna's religious life. Dig director Nicholas Stampolidis of the University of Crete believes the oldest one was a high priestess interred with her protégés. Adelphi University forensic anthropologist Anagnostis Agelarakis has found all four women shared a genetic dental trait. Further research is expected to confirm they were related to a dozen women unearthed nearby last year, each of whom also had the trait. The other women were buried in three connected pithoi (large ceramic jars) containing equally luxurious grave goods, though without ritual implements. "This time period is erroneously called the Dark Ages," says Agelarakis. "The finds show that these women were aristocratic. Their social standing was superlative. I mean, the phiale alone--it must have been sent from a 'prince' of Mesopotamia! And their matrilineage was not ruptured for two centuries. I don't think it was dark at all." © 2009 by the Archaeological Institute of America
The article didn't say - were the four females buried at different times, or where they buried together all at once? If they were buried all at once, is there evidence from which to determine they all died in some common disaster or possibly from an epidemic? Or, is this grim evidence of human sacrifice? I searched online under several different topics and could only locate one article which I believe to be about the same discovery, but it is confusing, because it only mentions three women - actually one woman and "two adolescents:" From the Straits Time (Singapore) Aug 29, 2009 Rare ancient jewels found ATHENS - ARCHAEOLOGISTS on the Greek island of Crete have unearthed the 2,900-year-old tomb of three women buried with jewels of surprisingly advanced skill, culture officials said on Friday. The tomb in the ancient town of Eleutherna, near the modern city of Rethymno in northern Crete, held gold necklaces and medallions decorated with lion heads and the forms of ancient gods, excavation supervisor Nikos Stambolidis said. 'The jewels are of a style that appeared in the Hellenistic Era (many centuries later),' said Stambolidis, director of the Cycladic Museum in Athens. 'We had no knowledge that this level of craft existed earlier,' he told AFP. The elaborate nature of the tomb indicates that its three occupants, two of whom were adolescents, were likely priestesses or princesses. A number of offerings including scarabs, amber seals and earthenware were also found in the burial chamber which was two metres high. The town of Eleutherna is believed to have reached its peak in the Geometric Era around 3,000 years ago. Excavation in the last 25 years has so far yielded over 500 items of clay, metal and ivory including sculptures, tools and weapons. One of the most prized sculptures of the Louvre Museum in Paris, a limestone female statue called the Lady of Auxerre, is believed to have come from Eleutherna. -- AFP
In reading this account, I get the impression that the three (four?) were all buried together, but that doesn't preclude the possibility that bodies were added to the original tomb over time. So - I was curious. Who is the Lady of Auxerre housed in the Lourve? I didn't recall hearing about her before. And how the heck did she end up in the Lourve as "one of its most prized sculptures?" Some background information on the Lady of Auxerre statue: (From the Archaeological Institute of America, article on Site Preservation): [T]he Dame d’Auxerre [was]was purchased in 1895 by a theater manager from the northern French town that gives this female image its name. No sure information about its provenance was known, though the piece was quickly recognized as a masterwork of the seventh century B.C. style of Greek art known as Daedalic. But where is this statue from? The bottom line is that the specific findspot is lost and irrecoverable. Comparisons with Cretan sculpture have long been recognized, such as with the seated goddess discovered at Prinias, now in the Herakleion museum. More recently, excavations at the Cretan site of Eleutherna have produced fragments of similar sculptures and the Louvre, where the Dame d’Auxerre has its permanent home, has suggested that the statue was removed from that site in the late 19th century. If the figure is from Crete, then it stands in a long line of sculptural development on the island that is likewise spectacularly illustrated by the three bronze statues – possibly depicting Apollo, Leto and Artemis – excavated at Dreros and also on display in the Herakleion Museum. Further consideration of the Auxerre figure within the long-term history of representations of the human body calls to mind the Neolithic statues scientifically excavated at 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan. It is through comparison with such examples of well-documented ancient sculpture that we can more fully understand both the artistic and cultural significance of an unprovenanced work such as the Dame d’Auxerre. Here is information from the Lourve Museum: Known as the "Lady of Auxerre" Second half of the seventh century BC Eleutherna, Crete(?), Greece Limestone, sculpted in the round and painted H. 75 cm Exchange with the Auxerre Municipal Museum, 1909 Ma 3098Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities Statue of a woman, known as the "Lady of Auxerre" The circumstances surrounding the discovery of this statuette, which was found in the storeroom of the Auxerre museum in 1907, remain unknown. However, it is the finest example of the Daedalic style, which marked the renewal of stone sculpting in the Greek world in the seventh century BC. The U-shaped face, the heavy, stepped hair, and the strict frontality are hallmarks of this style, which takes its name from Daedalus, who is said to have created the first statues in antiquity. Description The Lady of Auxerre, masterpiece of the Daedalic style The circumstances surrounding the discovery of this statuette, which was found in the storeroom of the Auxerre museum in 1907, remain unknown. However, it is the finest example of the Daedalic style, which marked the renewal of stone sculpting in the Greek world in the seventh century BC. The U-shaped face, the heavy, stepped hair, and the strict frontality are hallmarks of this style, which takes its name from Daedalus, who is said to have created the first statues in antiquity. An uncertain identification Since we know nothing about the context in which the statuette was discovered, it is difficult to identify the person depicted or to determine the meaning of the gesture of the right hand. Some think that this is the image of a goddess, considering the many terracotta figurines of Middle Eastern divinities (Astarte in particular) that highlight their sexual attributes. Others see this statue as a simple mortal, the servant of some fertility cult or perhaps the dedicator herself making a gesture of prayer. The revival of stone sculpture in Crete in the Orientalizing period This work is a testament to the intense artistic activity that took place in the eastern regions of the Mediterranean basin during the Orientalizing period. Techniques and decorative motifs originating in Egypt and the Near East were spread by Greek artisans who blended these models with their own traditions. The Auxerre statuette was created in Crete in the seventh century, around 640–620 BC. The work is assigned to Crete because of the type of limestone used as well as similarities of the young woman's costume, gesture, and face with works in bronze, limestone, and clay that have been discovered on the island. Comparison with funerary material excavated at Eleutherna, in northern Crete, suggests that the Lady of Auxerre was found in this necropolis in the late nineteenth century.


Anonymous said...

I too looked for more info on this subject of the related female priestess but it seems the Greek archaeo's are keeping mum on what they have found from fear of looters perhaps.In some parts of the world archaeologists have died to protect their sites and "finds" so I guess this is just more of the same. Maybe if we read greek we could find out more. But it does open up interesting ideas of why this happens in human sociology/cultures/history I have been wondering if the hard wireing of human evolution causes humans to revert from male domination to female when under extream stresses & it just carries on because no one wants to mess with what works until another catastrophie like Alexander The Greats crusifying 500Canannite women on the beach at Ashkelon tears up the older order. Which must have been of great worth to for him to do for some reason that isn't obvious he already had the town. Keep questioning.

Jan said...

I can understand staying quiet in an attempt to protect the site - looting is so rampant these days and, sad to say, it seems one cannot even trust members of one's own crew sometimes.

I know almost nothing about Alexander the Great. The murder of that many women? The little I know about AG doesn't indicate that kind of unnecessary cruelty in a "conquered" land. Didn't he usually marry, have his soldiers marry too, leave some kids behind and then take off for the next hill? A property grab perhaps?

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