Archaeologists have recently made groundbreaking discoveries at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Poseidon at Helike. These remarkable finds shed new light on the history of this once-thriving city and provide invaluable insights into the lives of its inhabitants.
Before we delve into the newly discovered artifacts, let’s take a moment to understand the significance of Helike. Located in Achaea, Greece, this ancient city was once a bustling center of trade and culture. However, in 373 BC, it was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and subsequently submerged into the depths of the sea.
The town had remained hidden in an ancient lagoon until it was rediscovered in 2001. This year’s research was funded by the Region of Western Greece within the framework of the Cultural Development Program Agreement of the Ministry of Culture and the Region.
Unveiling the Treasures
In recent excavations, which took place from May 2 to June 23, 20023, archaeologists have unearthed a plethora of artifacts that offer a glimpse into the daily lives of the Helikeans.
Archeologists uncovered the remains of two more structures near the sanctuary and unearthed additional artifacts that date back even further in time than previous discoveries. Helike, an ancient Greek town part of the Achaean League, was established in the Bronze Age and mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the towns involved in the Trojan War.
It later developed into a prominent Panhellenic religious center due to its worship of Poseidon. The site was renowned throughout the classical world and ranked second to Delphi regarding religious significance.
Several sculptures and statues have also been unearthed – the bronze figurine of an animal, probably a dog, clay chariot wheels, bronze buckles and pins (fittings for clothing), iron weapons, and a golden part of a necklace – shedding light on the religious and mythological beliefs of the Helikeans. These exquisite works of art depict offerings to the gods, suggesting that the site was the renowned place of worship for Helikonian Poseidon. The figurines also indicate that another deity may have been revered at the same sanctuary.
Further analysis of the new findings is expected to reveal the identity of this second deity. According to ancient texts, the city of Helike was obliterated by an earthquake in 372/3 BC, followed by a devastating tsunami that submerged the entire area, wiping out all signs of life. This catastrophe was attributed to the wrath of Poseidon.
The recently excavated arched building of the sanctuary, dated to 710 BC, along with an older altar from 750 BC, provided evidence of the religious use of the site going back even earlier, around 850 BC.
The discovery of these artifacts enriches our understanding of the ancient Greek civilization and poses intriguing questions. What were the daily lives of the Helikeans like? How did they interact with other city-states? What led to the city’s eventual demise?
The fact that despite the fact that the area was threatened by frequent natural disasters in ancient times, it was not abandoned by the residents, who continued to repair the buildings or to build new ones, reflects and certifies their desire but also their anxiety to preserve the place which we believe was the cult center of Helike.
The cult practices included animal sacrifices, mainly goats, sheep, and goats, but also pigs, according to the conclusions of the archaeozoologist Dr. G. Kazantzis, a scientific collaborator of the excavation, who studied the finds.
By meticulously studying these artifacts, archaeologists hope to uncover answers to these perplexing questions, offering us a glimpse into the enigmatic history of Helike and its people.
The recent discoveries at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Helike provide an invaluable opportunity to explore and appreciate the rich cultural heritage that once thrived within its walls. By preserving and studying these artifacts, we can piece together the puzzle of Helike’s past and gain a deeper understanding of our history.
As archaeologists excavate the site, we await further revelations that shed light on this ancient city’s mysteries. The artifacts uncovered so far serve as a testament to the enduring allure of the past and the unwavering dedication of those who strive to unravel its secrets.
Notably, ancient scholars such as Strabo, Eratosthenes, Pausanias, Diodorus of Sicily, and Ovid documented their visits to the site, sailing over the submerged ruins of the town, which remained visible underwater for many centuries until the late Roman era. In the 18th century, the rediscovery of Helike sparked renewed interest, with numerous scholars and travelers contributing their knowledge until the site was ultimately unearthed in 2001 from an ancient lagoon near the village of Rizomylos. The discovery of a destruction layer in 2012 corroborated the accounts in ancient texts that described the catastrophic events. Regular excavations have since been conducted, offering valuable insights into Helike’s life and ultimate demise, from its prehistoric origins to its abandonment.