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The Ten Best Ancient Greek Archaeological Discoveries of 2021

Archaeology
Amphorae from shipwrecks dating back to the Classical era of Greece were discovered off Kasos in 2021. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Archaeologists working under the auspices of Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports announced a spectacular discovery in January, which proved to be only one of many such fantastic ancient Greek archaeological discoveries in 2021.

Amphorae from Kasos shipwrecks

What they instantly called “ancient treasures,” consisting of amphorae from Spain and what is now Tunisia were unearthed in two shipwrecks off the coast of Kasos, near Crete.

A total of four shipwrecks from different eras were found last fall, but only in January of 2021 did researchers find the amphorae, which prove that Kasos’ trade networks during the Roman era stretched far into the western Mediterranean.

The ships they once were carried on sank sometime in the second or third centuries AD; incredibly, archaeologists were able to prove that the amphorae held oil produced in Guadalquivir, Spain.

Speaking with Greece’s public broadcaster ERT, expedition co-leader Xanthis Argyris stated “This is the first time we (have found) amphorae from Spain and North Africa, which probably transported oil to Rhodes or the coasts of Asia Minor.”

Another shipwreck contained amphorae dating back to Greece’s classical era, around the fifth century B.C. The Ministry stated that the finds proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kasos was a “crossroads of civilizations.”

Five Marble Heads of Statues found in ancient Greek city of Knidos

Knidos
The goddess Tyche is portrayed in a statue that was unearthed this week in the ancient Greek city of Knidos. Credit: Screenshot from NTV

Archaeologists’ ongoing excavations in the ancient Greek city of Knidos, located in what is now southwestern Turkey, unearthed five stunningly beautiful heads of Greek and Roman statues earlier this week. Made of marble, the statues were sculpted in the Hellenistic and Roman era of the ancient Greek city and are believed to be approximately 2,000 years old.

Undoubtedly, they are some of the most spectacular ancient Greek archaeological finds of  2021.

Archaeologists working the site stated to Hurriyet on Sunday that the female head represented the Goddess Tyche, who was known as the protector of cities during the Hellenistic and Roman eras. The other four heads depict males.

The city of Knidos (Cnidus), so rich in ancient Greek culture, was also the site of the Temple of Aphrodite at Knidos, as well as the “Lion of Knidos,” the statue of a recumbent lion, which is now on display at the British Museum, as well as the famous Knidos Sundial.

Bronze bull figurine may have been part of sacrifice at ancient Olympia

bronze bull ancient Olympia
The bronze bull figurine found at Olympia. Credit: AMNA

An archaeologist stumbled upon a small bronze figurine of a bull at ancient Olympia during a routine inspection at the site in March, marking another incredible archaeological find of 2021.

Not expecting to make any large discoveries, the group of scientists and archaeologists from Greece’s Culture Ministry were in the middle of surveying the site after a series of rainstorms hit the area.

Amazingly, archaeologist Zaharoula Leventouri spotted a tiny horn jutting out from the moist soil near the temple of Zeus during the inspection, and stopped to carefully remove the soil from the area.

Leventouri eventually uncovered a tiny bronze bull, which, after further examination, was dated back to Greece’s Geometric period, which was from 1000 BC to 700 BC. experts at the Greek Ministry of Culture, who later determined that it had most likely been a gift dedicated to Zeus at his temple at the ancient site of Olympia.

Specialists also analyzed a soil sample taken from the spot where the bull was found, and discovered that the figure was likely part of a sacrifice, as there was strong evidence of burnt sediment and other charred material in the sample.

Buildings dating back to 10th century BC unearthed on Lesvos

Lesvos
The ancient fortification of Antissa on the Greek island of Lesvos. Credit: Ephorate of Antiquities of Lesvos

On the Greek island of Lesvos, three buildings that are of particular interest to archaeologists were brought to light in July of 2021 during the ongoing excavation of the castle of Agioi Theodoroi, which has been identified as ancient Antissa.

The dig, headed up by the Lesvos Ephorate of Antiquities, uncovered an arched building from the seventh century BC. A great deal of painted and grey and black pottery and two earlier rectangular buildings of the 8th and 10th centuries BC were also unearthed as part of the dig.

This excavation find is of special significance as it confirms the historical continuity from the Late Bronze Age of Greece (1600-1100 BC) to the so called Dark Ages (11th-9th century BC) which mark the movements of tribes such the Aeolians to the island of Lesvos.

The Castle of Agioi Theodoroi (also called Ovriokastro today) is situated on the peninsula of ancient Antissa, west of Molyvos and east of the coastal settlement of Gavathas.

2,500 year-old Temple of Aphrodite Found in Turkey

Archaeology
Artifacts found at the site of a 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to Aphrodite near the ancient city of Smyrna in Turkey. Credit: Twitter/EHA News

A 2,500-year-old temple of Aphrodite was unearthed in January 2021 by a team of Turkish archaeologists at a dig in the Urla-Cesme peninsula of western Turkey.

The ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, was located just outside of the city of Izmir, or Smyrna.

The first remnants of this temple were discovered in 2016 after archaeologists began to conduct extensive searches over a large area measuring 1,600 square meters (17,220 square feet) in the province.

Throughout their work surveying the enormous plot of land, archaeologists have found a wealth of artifacts left by the region’s ancient residents. The objects above were unearthed at the site during January, 2021.

In total, remnants from 35 settlements from the prehistoric period, 16 of which are from the Late Neolithic period, have been unearthed in the province of western Turkey.

Byzantine Era Wine Press, buildings with stunning mosaics of Greek gods unearthed in Israel

israel byzantine greek winepresses
A wine-drinking contest between Dionysus and Heracles is portrayed in a mosaic uncovered during a 2021 archaeological dig in Israel.. Credit: Zvika Tzuk/National Parks Authority of Israel

One of the most remarkable archaeological finds this past year was doubtless the enormous winepress complex from Byzantine times unearthed in the Galilee region of Israel.

Excavations in Zippori National Park, Israel, revealed a series of Byzantine-era winepresses and buildings, one of which has a mosaic depicting what appears to be a wine-drinking contest between the Greek gods Dionysus and Heracles.

The site inside the National Park has many well-preserved mosaics, many of which are found in the structure known as the “House of Dionysus.” One mosaic depicts the life of Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine with scenes of celebration, including music, drinking and dancing.

The area of Zippori was home to many diverse cultures in the 4th to the 7th centuries, including a mixed pagan, Christian and Jewish community.

Gold Coin showing Emperor, site of Christ’s crucifixion found in Israel

Byzantine era coin
A Byzantine era coin showing Emperor Heraclius, just discovered near Tel Aviv, Israel. Credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority

A Byzantine-era coin showing Emperor Heraclius on one side and Golgotha, the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on the other — along with another complete winepress — was unearthed in August, 2021 outside Tel Aviv, Israel.

Both the 1,400-year-old currency and the wine press, which has mosaics on its floor, date back to the Byzantine period in Israel.

The 1,500-year-old settlement in which they were unearthed is located in what is now the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Ha-Sharon.

The Times of Israel states that the coin was minted in either 638 or 639 AD during the reign of Byzantine emperor Heraclius. One side, shown above, depicts the emperor and his two sons.

The reverse side of the coin contains not only a representation of the hill of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion of Christ, but also an inscription, believed to be the name of the coin’s owner.

“Christ born of Mary” inscription on Byzantine-era church lintel

Byzantine lintel
A Greek inscription saying “Christ, Born of Mary” was found on the stone lintel of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era church in Israel this year. Credit: Israeli Antiquities Authority

In January, which  proved to be a banner month in Greek-related archaeology, researchers uncovered a 1,500-year-old Christian blessing in the form of an inscription on a church lintel. The inscription begins with the words “Christ, born of Mary,” according to archaeologists working under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Written in Greek, the Christian inscription was once on a lintel at the top of a door frame which was art of an entryway to a church, located in what is now Taiba, a village in Israel’s northern Jezreel Valley.

The church was constructed during Byzantine times in the late fifth century A.D. Archaeologists also discovered that the church, which had been previously completely unknown to them, contained mosaic floors with geometric designs.

Gate of the Temple of Zeus, Magnesia, Asia Minor

Zeus Temple
The Gate to the Temple of Zeus was located in September of this year by archaeologists digging in Magnesia, Turkey. Credit: Twitter/Hurriyet

The ancient Greek city of Magnesia in Asia Minor, now part of Turkey’s Aydin province, was once home to a spectacular stadium, temples and other monuments; in September of 2021 it gave up another of its ancient treasures, the gate to a temple dedicated to Zeus.

Turkish archaeologists, who have been excavating Magnesia for decades, rediscovered the temple’s gate recently, after the Temple was first discovered in the 1890s by a German archaeologist, who reburied much of what he found. The site is not far from another temple, dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was already uncovered as well.

The entrance gate for the Temple of Zeus was unearthed as part of ongoing excavations that continue in the Ortaklar area, led by Associate Professor Gorkem Kokdemir from Ankara University.

Two Kouros figures at Temple of Zeus Lepsynos, Asia Minor

Kouros
A Kouros, or figure of a boy, believed to have been sculpted 2,500 years ago, was found at the site of the Temple of Zeus in Lepsynos, Turkey in July of 2021. Credit: Facebook/Ioannis Georgopoulos

In July of 2021, archaeologists uncovered two 2,500-year-old marble statues and an inscription at the Temple of Zeus Lepsinos, one of the best-preserved Roman temples in all of Asia Minor. Constructed in the second century AD, the temple is located in the ancient city of Euromos.

Abuzer Kızıl, head of the excavation committee, told reporters from the Anadolu Agency that the sculptures were uncovered completely unexpectedly during restoration efforts, adding that they  comprised “very important links of the missing Archaic sculpture of the Carian region,” adding that his team had also found an inscription dating back to the Hellenistic era.

The kouros sculptures are of boys, created during Greece’s Archaic period.

Kızıl stated “One of the two kouroi unearthed at Euromos is naked, the other is wearing armour and a short chiton. The armour is made of leather and it is remarkable that both statues have a lion in their hands. Iconographically, the lion holds great significance… and is likely associated with the god Apollo.”

 

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