Snake Goddess is Demeter?

More from the AIA shindig (and Stephanie Pappas, who clearly is making a name for herself in terms of coverage of archaeology of late):

A mysterious “snake goddess” painted on terracotta and discovered in Athens may actually be Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest.

Once linked to the worship of the dead, the goddess is flanked by two snakes on a slab of terracotta about the size of a piece of notebook paper. She has her hands up above her head, which has given her the nickname “the touchdown goddess” thanks to the resemblance of the pose to a referee’s signal. The goddess is painted in red, yellow and blue-green on a tile, with only her head molded outward in three dimensions. This unusual piece of art was found amid a jumble of gravel and other terracotta fragments in 1932 in what was once the Athenian agora, or public square.

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.” [...]

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.

In particular, shrines devoted to Demeter and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, show the closest matches to the types of figurines found, Laughy said.

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. [...]

…and I suspect I’m not the only one thinking about Minoan snake goddesses right now as well … and I’m now really starting to be bugged by the lack of abstracts the AIA put up for the meeting

Recreating the Vestal Hairstyle

… and here’s yet another item from the AIA (and Stephanie Pappas) and FWIW I believe that during the activities last week, Janet Stephens’ poster on this was making the rounds on Twitter — perhaps a hint to folks to ‘put this stuff out there’. In any event, once again, the incipit:

For the first time, the hairstyle of the Roman Vestal Virgins has been recreated on a modern head.

The Vestals were priestesses who guarded the fire of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, among other sacred tasks. Chosen before puberty and sworn to celibacy, they were free from many of the social rules that limited women in the Roman era. Their braided hairstyle, the sini crenes, symbolized chastity and was known in ancient texts as the oldest hairstyle in Rome.

“These were the six most important women in Rome with the possible exception of the emperor’s wife,” said Janet Stephens, the Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist who unraveled the secrets of the Vestals’ trademark braids. [See Video of the Braiding Process]

Mystery hairstyle

Stephens reported her findings Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle. She first became interested in ancient hairdressing after what she calls an “accidental encounter” with an ancient portrait bust in Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum.

“I said, ‘Oh, that is so cool, I gotta try this at home,'” Stephens told LiveScience. “And it failed miserably.”

The failure spawned seven years of research and a publication in the journal Roman Archaeology on the techniques of Roman Imperial Period hairdressing. The Vestal Virgin style, however, presented particular challenges because the Vestals’ layered headdresses covered much of their hair. In sculptures and other artwork, the details of the Vestals’ braids are often obscured.

“It’s been incredibly elusive trying to figure out how it was made until now, because there were only two artifacts that show the hairstyle in enough detail to tell anything about how the hairstyle was constructed,” Stephens said. [...]

Over the past little while, we seem to have accumulated quite a bit on ancient hairstyles:

… there’s probably a couple more that I’ve missed …

Repurposing a Theatre at Corinth?

Wow … the AIA shindig is getting some good press coverage (primarily by Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience) … the latest coverage relates to the work of Michael MacKinnon (UWinnipeg) who has excavated a pile of cattle bones — a bit out of our period — from a theatre in Corinth. Here’s the incipit:

A metric ton of cattle bones found in an abandoned theater in the ancient city of Corinth may mark years of lavish feasting, a new study finds.

The huge amount of bones — more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) — likely represent only a tenth of those tossed out at the site in Peloponnese, Greece, said study researcher Michael MacKinnon, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg.

“What I think that they’re related to are episodes of big feasting in which the theater was reused to process carcasses of hundreds of cattle,” MacKinnon told LiveScience. He presented his research Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

From theater to butcher shop

A theater may seem an odd place for a butchery operation, MacKinnon said, but this particular structure fell into disuse between A.D. 300 A.D. and A.D. 400. Once the theater was no longer being used for shows, it was a large empty space that could have been easily repurposed, he said.

The cattle bones were unearthed in an excavation directed by Charles Williams of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. They’d been discarded in that spot and rested there until they were found, rather than being dragged to the theater later with other trash, MacKinnon said.

“Some of the skeletal materials were even partially articulated [connected], suggesting bulk processing and discard,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon and his colleagues analyzed and catalogued more than 100,000 individual bones, most cattle with some goat and sheep. The bones of at least 516 individual cows were pulled from the theater. Most were adults, and maturity patterns in the bones and wear patterns on the teeth showed them all to have been culled in the fall or early winter.

“These do not appear to be tired old work cattle, but quality prime stock,” MacKinnon said. [...]

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