Researchers have unearthed two statuettes depicting Demeter, along with fragments of an embossed vase inside a unique cistern at Aigai Ancient City in the Yuntdağı region of Manisa, western Turkey. The excavation was led by Professor Dr. Yusuf Sezgin, head of the Department of Archaeology at Manisa Celal Bayar University.
Aigai, also known as Aigaiai, boasts a rich history dating back to the 8th century BCE and is located near the Köseler neighborhood of Yunt Mountain in the Yunus Emre district of Manisa.
Unlike typical Hellenic settlements, Aigai was founded on Mount Yunt, adding a unique dimension to its historical significance. The city experienced its golden age under the Attalid dynasty, ruling from nearby Pergamon in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.
The recent excavation in Aigai, specifically in the area designated as the ‘Athena Sacred Site,’ led to the discovery of a cistern structure near the roadside, presenting unexpected findings.
Professor Yusuf Sezgin explained, “The cistern we excavated this year is notably different from others in both its form and the artifacts found inside. Typically, we don’t find such figurines within cisterns. Particularly intriguing was the presence of a small statue depicting the goddess Demeter, recognizable from mythology, deliberately placed or laid there.”
What makes this discovery extraordinary is not only the unique placement of a Demeter figurine but the subsequent revelation of another statuette of the goddess within the same cistern. Additionally, fragments of an embossed vase, featuring sheaves of wheat associated with Demeter, were uncovered. The cistern’s location near the Athena Sanctuary, approximately 50-60 meters away, suggests a potential link to festivals dedicated to Demeter, a theory supported by the abundance of figurines found inside.
Professor Sezgin emphasized the significance of Demeter, the Greek goddess of earth and fertility, in ancient rural cities like Aigai, where agriculture was particularly challenging. “In rural ancient cities like Aigai, she is one of the most significant goddesses. Considering how challenging farming was in rural areas, Demeter held substantial importance. Hence, there is a profound cult dedicated to Demeter in Aigai.”
While festivals for gods and goddesses were common in ancient times, the discovery of a cistern near the sanctuary of Athena in Aigai, presumably used for rituals, adds a unique dimension to the understanding of these ceremonies.
Professor Sezgin acknowledged the significance of this cistern, stating, “We have never encountered so many figures in any cistern before. It is not possible to say anything clearly, but we think it is probably a cistern associated with the goddess Demeter or her festivals.” The cistern’s role in hosting rituals and festivals dedicated to Demeter provides valuable information about the cultural and religious practices of ancient Aigai.