Athenian 'Snake Goddess' gets new identity
|A mysterious "snake goddess" found in Athens is painted on a plaque with a molded face [Credit: Athenian Agora Excavations]|
The catch, however, is that the snake goddess isn't originally from the agora. The gravel and figurine fragments were fill material, brought in from an unknown second location to build a path or road in the seventh century B.C.
"Not only is our snake goddess unidentified, but she's homeless," said study researcher Michael Laughy of Washington and Lee University in Virginia. "She got mixed up in that road gravel, presumably obtained near the site of her original shrine."
Along with the snake goddess plaque, the road fill contains small terracotta figurines, or votives, of humans, chariots, shields, loom weights, portions of spindles and pottery disks, most of which individually could fit in the palm of a hand. The terracotta figurines were used during this time period as offerings at the sanctuaries of gods and goddesses, Laughy told LiveScience after presenting his findings here at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.
|The deposit was first discovered in 1932 during excavations of the agora [Credit: Athenian Agora Excavations]|
Tracing the source of this fill is a difficult task. Previously, archaeologists have assumed the figurines originated from the worship of the dead, linking the items found in Athens to ones found at a Bronze Age tomb outside the city. But the items at that tomb don't match all those found in the Athens agora, Laughy said.
More Likely, according to Laughy's analysis, the snake-flanked woman is both a representation of and an offering to a goddess. Votive deposits from the shrines of goddesses include pottery disks, terracotta horses, plaques and shields, as well as female figurines. These votives match the finds uncovered in Athens.
|Small human figurines made of terracotta found in the agora deposit [Credit: Athenian Agora Excavations]|
Demeter is a strong candidate, as there was a shrine built in her name in the seventh century mere minutes-long walk from the Athens agora, he said. It's the only sanctuary where ancient Greeks are known to have left loom weights and spindle whorls, which are disks that weigh down spindles used for spinning thread and which are found in the Athens fill debris. What's more, Laughy said, the spot was graded in the seventh century, which could have produced a debris pile that was then carted away to make paths in the agora.
Finally, the goddess' serpentine companions also point to Demeter, who was particularly associated with snake iconography, Laughy said.
"Snakes and Demeter are happy together in imagery in the seventh century," he said.
Laughy warned that the evidence linking the snake goddess and Demeter is circumstantial. However, he said, the evidence is strong that the woman is not a figure associated with death, but a goddess. If she were Demeter, the snake goddess plaque would be one of the oldest images ever found of that particular deity.
Either way, the snake goddess is "striking," Laughy said. It's one of the earliest multicolor paintings found in Athens
"It's an amazing piece of work," he said.
Author: Stephanie Pappas | Source: LiveScience [January 08, 2013]