Back in 2013, archaeologists at the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology discovered a flurry of ceramic fragments in what was possibly the ancient version of a dump, accompanied by other discarded items like pottery bits, burnt animal bones and remnants of organic matter like grapes and chickpeas. The odd discovery was made at Porphyreon, corresponding to the present-day town of Jieh in Lebanon, with the ceramic pieces being assessed and found to be around 2,400-years old. And now the researchers have managed to restore many of these fragments into what constitutes four sculptural female heads boasting impressive levels of craftsmanship.
Among these, one of the well-preserved specimens, measuring 9-inches by 6-inches, was found to be embellished with a particular reddish-hued paint. Interestingly enough, this sculptural head also depicts what is known as a stephane, an ancient headband-like apparel worn by upper class Greek women. Additionally, the researchers also located three separate holes at the top section of the piece, which suggests that these items were probably hung as decorative artworks on the wall. Such features are also accompanied by curious elements, like the presence of fingerprints on the surface – possibly left behind inadvertently by the original artist.
Now as for the cultural identification of these ceramic heads, researchers have discerned the influence of a few different ancient factional traits, including Greek, Phoenician and even Egyptian. Pertaining to the latter, the experts have identified the representation of the renowned Wadjet amulet (that resembles an eye, symbolizing God’s protection) along the upper torso of one of the sculptural pieces. Suffice it to say, in spite of its ancient Egyptian origin, other cultures, especially in the Levant region, did adopt the Wadjet symbol into their own indigenous religious beliefs.
Beyond just the cultural scope, the question remains – who were these females depicted by the ceramic artworks? Now considering that these pieces were used for a long time as wall decorations (and discarded only when the walls were destroyed), researchers have hypothesized that the sculptures may have represented female deities of the region. But the experts have also admitted that their hypothesis shouldn’t be viewed as a theory, due to lack of accompanying inscriptions or visual identifiers.
In any case, as for the complementary historical side of affairs, the researchers have determined that the clay used for crafting these statuettes originated from Tyre, an ancient city (in what is now modern Lebanon) famous for its far-flung commercial pursuits around the Mediterranean. During circa 5th century BC (corresponding to the date of these sculptural pieces), the region, including both Porphyreon and Tyre, was ruled by the Achaemenid Persian Empire.
Source: LiveScience / Images Credit (except last image): Adam Oleśiak/The Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology Archive