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Cyrene, Libya

1969, 1971

Director: Donald White

Excavation of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone. Cyrene Photo Archive.

The Kelsey Museum undertook two seasons of excavation in Cyrene under the direction of Donald White. The excavations actually took place outside the city walls across a steep wadi from Cyrene at the sanctuary of Demeter. Survey and clearance showed that the sanctuary was built on at least four major terraces constructed in cut stone against the south slope of the wadi. Surveys in the sanctuary's environs brought to light a narrow staircase leading down the cliff face on the city side, with bridge foundations at the wadi bottom, indicating the route for worshippers to enter the lower terrace from some point in the southern wall of the city. In his preliminary description of the archaeological work in progress, Dr. White described the excavation as follows:

The 1969 excavations established an Hellenistic construction date for the principal walled remains of the upper two terraces, with evidence for some later repairs. They also indicated that the final collapse and abandonment of the sanctuary was brought about by the disastrous earthquake of AD 262. In 1971 fresh evidence was found for the destruction of the Hellenistic precinct at the west end of the Third Terrace, when the courses of Hellenistic masonry were found neatly tumbled over in their original order. Both the 1969 and 1971 seasons brought to light marble and limestone statue dedications, trapped amidst earthquake debris or building blocks, some broken architectural members and chunks of plain floor mosaic. Of the 13 nearly life-size or life-size statues to be recovered since 1969, two represent seated female figures, three male subjects, and the remainder female figures, most of which probably depicted mortal subjects. All seem either late Hellenistic or Imperial in date. Other significant sculptural finds include the left half of a male velate head depicting a member of the Julio-Claudian family, the lower half of what may be the head of Persephone, the portrait heads of an infant girl (Hadrianic), a girl of perhaps 16 (late Hellenistic, early Imperial), and a bearded man (Imperial). These are supplemented by several fragmentary inscriptions of early Imperial date, one identifying a statue erected in honor of Octavia, sister of Augustus, and another the sculptor Artists Tabalbios.

However, the bulk of the finds belong to phases of the sanctuary predating the Hellenistic walls. The fifth century BC is represented mainly by locally fabricated terracotta votive figurines, imported Attic pottery and locally struck silver coinage. The sixth century is richly documented by large quantities of imported wares from Athens, Corinth, Laconia, Chios, Rhodes, Crete, and East Greece, all reduced to small sherds by the time of their ritual abandonment. Other archaic finds include several fragments of tridacna shells, carved gems, terracotta figurines, local silver coins, and silver jewelry. Thus far no epigraphic or sculptural finds have been made belonging to the sixth or fifth centuries.

The 1971 season brought to light two phases of wall construction which are contemporary with the archaic votives. Both are located inside the later walled remains of the Fourth Terrace. The earliest consists of rubble walls set on bedrock forming sections of small rooms. Since the earliest votives date to around 600 BC these walls cannot be far from that date. The second set of walls consists of pseudoisidomic masonry, laid up with a narrow gap between the upright members. Thus far around 25 m of an east–west wall built with this masonry have been uncovered, running parallel to the main Rear Wall of the Fourth Terrace. On analogy with other archaic buildings, mainly of East Greek derivation, this stage of the sanctuary may be dated to around 525 BC