A 100-foot temple for Artemis
For the fourth consecutive year, a team of Swiss and Greek archaeologists worked at the heart of the sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia (Greece), where a temple is steadily revealing its secrets. Architectural features, exotic objects and traces of the ancient origins of the cult are among last summer’s most striking discoveries.
An Archaic temple with symbolic dimensions
The 2023 campaign at the sanctuary of Artemis at Amarynthos (Euboea, Greece) allowed the complete excavation of the remains of a temple dating to the 7th c. BC. The building held a number of surprises for the archaeologists: its floor-plan was apsidal, which is quite unusual for this period, while its size was larger than originally anticipated. In fact, its length reached 34m, which corresponds to 100 feet in the Greek metric system: this “perfect” measurement is encountered on other monuments of the same period.
Sacrifices inside the temple?
Another surprising discovery were the hearths or altars found inside the temple rather than outside, as was often the case in Greek sanctuaries. On these stone platforms, the sacrificial fire consumed the portions of the animal victims offered to the gods. Thick layers of ash, rich in calcined bones, bear witness to this. The smoke from the sacrifices probably escaped through openings in the building’s roof.
The research team
The excavation brought together more than 50 archaeologists, curators, specialists and students from Switzerland, Greece and other countries. The research project at Amarynthos is a collaboration between the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea. It is co-directed by Sylvian Fachard, director of the ESAG and Professor at the University of Lausanne, and Dr Angeliki G. Simosi, Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Piraeus and the Islands, who served as Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea until December 2022. The fieldwork was carried out under the joint direction of Tobias Krapf and Tamara Saggini (ESAG), and Olga Kyriazi (Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea).
Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece (ESAG)
The ESAG is the only permanent Swiss archaeological mission outside Switzerland. As an inter-university training and research institution, the ESAG encourages the next generation of academics. Every year, students from Swiss universities have the opportunity to take part in fieldwork and museum activities.
Much like the previous years, this summer’s excavations brought to light a large number of offerings: vases, weapons, jewelry, etc. Several exotic objects stood out, including a finely chiseled ivory head with Egyptian features. Unrecognizable when it was first unearthed, it has been meticulously restored to reveal the quality of its workmanship
The long history of the sanctuary
As the excavations continue, the history of the sanctuary becomes clearer. Traces of fire suggest that the “100-foot” temple was partially destroyed by fire in the second half of the 6th c. BC; it was temporarily restored with mud-brick walls, before being entirely replaced by a new building at the end of the century.
Deep trial trenches also revealed remains from earlier periods: a building that could date to the 9th or 8th c. BC, several bronze animal figurines of the same period, as well as a terracotta bull’s head from the late Bronze Age. While the exploration of these ancient levels is still in its early stages, the discoveries made until now already seem to confirm that the cult of Artemis at Amarynthos finds its roots in the site’s prehistory.
The sanctuary lies at the foot of a hill occupied already during the Bronze Age. Excavations on its slopes have revealed imposing walls, which were probably part of a fortification system built during the 3rd mill. BC. The existence of Amarynthos in the Mycenaean period (second half of the 2nd mill. BC) is also attested in the archives of the Mycenaean palace at Thebes, in neighbouring Boeotia. The remains of prehistoric Amarynthos, still visible when the sanctuary was developed, certainly contributed to the attractiveness of the site: there was enough here to fuel tales of a heroic past, such as those of Homer, to which the Greeks of the time aspired.
The sanctuary in the ancient landscape
In parallel with the excavations, an extensive survey is carried out in the region of Amarynthos. Archaeologists are seeking to understand how the sanctuary was integrated into the ancient landscape, through the study of the natural environment, the distribution of settlements, agricultural areas, cemeteries, quarries, as well as the communications network. The latter included a “Sacred Way” linking the sanctuary of Amarynthos to the ancient city of Eretria.
After the excavation
After several years of intense fieldwork and a series of spectacular discoveries, the time has come to make use of the data collected. An international team of specialists is contributing to this stage of the research. Archaeozoologists and archaeobotanists, identifying thousands of bone fragments and plant remains, experts analyzing the layers removed during the excavation under the microscope, pottery specialists, architects, etc.: the investigation of Artemis is now continuing in the laboratory.
ARTEMIS, THE LOST TEMPLE
The documentary “Artémis, le temple perdu”, directed by Sébastien Reichenbach, produced by Climage Audiovisuel, in co-production with RTS, ARTE and ESAG, is available on Play RTS for a limited period of time.
The film retraces the discovery of the sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia at Amarynthos, one of the most spectacular archaeological finds made in Greece in 30 years.