Which Goddess Lost Her Legs in a Shipwreck? 2,700-Year-Old Terracotta Statue Discovered in Turkish Waters

Which Goddess Lost Her Legs in a Shipwreck? 2,700-Year-Old Terracotta Statue Discovered in Turkish Waters

A team of Turkish archaeologists have announced the fascinating underwater discovery of a large terracotta sculpture of a bare-footed woman wearing a long dress. Could these be Aphrodite’s legs hidden beneath the waters? They say that the statue they found hiding in the sand of the Aegean Sea is a Cypriot goddess and the biggest find in underwater history for their country to date.

The Sculpture Dates to the Archaic Period and is of Ancient Greek Origin

According to archaeologists from the Aegean Research and Application Center (EBAMER) of the Marine Science and Technology Institute at Dokuz Eylül University (DEU), the valuable 2,700-year-old terracotta statue was discovered at a shipwreck site under more than 140 feet (42.67 meters) of water off the coast of southwestern Turkey, and dates to the Archaic Period.

Harun Özdaş, the institute’s Deputy Director and the head of the excavations told Hurriyet Daily News ,

“We found such a big terra-cotta sculpture for the first time on the coasts of our country. Current researches [sic] show that the sea was the most important means of communication among Mediterranean civilizations in the ancient ages. In addition to the researches [sic] so far, the current ones made with the use of technological tools and methods show us that not only products but also opinions and philosophy were exchanged between the civilizations. Mediterranean civilizations progressed throughout ages by leaving traces on the sea. Now, using these traces, we study the civilizations that lived on the coast of our country.”

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Examining the sculpture’s legs underwater.

Examining the sculpture’s legs underwater. ( Dokuz Eylul University, Marine Science and Technology Institute )

The discovery eventually happened after many explorations in the wreckage, since the ceramic sculpture was “hiding” under piles of sand, as Özdaş said :

“When we cleaned its surroundings, we saw the toes of the sculpture. It made us very excited. Then we uncovered the lower part of the body. The goddess sculpture had a dress on it. We know that such sculptures were made of two pieces. This is why we believe that the upper part of the sculpture is in the same place.”

The Statue Represents an Ancient Greek Goddess from Cyprus – (Possibly Aphrodite?)

The ceramic sculpture belongs to a bare-footed woman wearing a long dress and it’s speculated that it depicts an ancient Greek goddess from Cyprus.

Even though it’s too early to say for certain, experts believe that the statue and the wreckage date back to the end of 7th century BC, an era when the ancient Greeks from Megara colonized the specific location and founded Byzantium. Later – during the Byzantine Empire – it became Constantinople, and today it is known as Istanbul.

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If the early impressions expressed by Mr. Harun Özdaş, are correct and the statue indeed belongs to a Cypriot Goddess, then it wouldn’t be inaccurate to speculate that the statue belongs to Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and beauty, which is undoubtedly the most famous Goddess hailing from the lands of Cyprus. According to most mythological accounts, Aphrodite is thought to have been born near her main center of worship, Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, which is why she is sometimes called “Cyprian”, especially in the poetic works of Sappho.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485. ( Public Domain )

Aphrodite’s Rock, on the coast in Paphos, western Cyprus.

Aphrodite’s Rock, on the coast in Paphos, western Cyprus. ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

Valuable Archaeological Information About the Aegean Region

Lastly, Mr. Özdaş added that the conservation work of the statue and other artifacts was being carried out in the Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum laboratory, and further research will follow in order to learn more about the new finds,

“The main load of the wreckage is plates. They scatter around a large field. There are also Cypriot amphoras [sic] in the wreckage. Both these finds and the sculpture indicate that the ship was a Cypriot one. The ship, which traveled from the Mediterranean to the Aegean in the archaic era, gives us important information about the relations between Mediterranean civilizations and the Aegean region.”

Amphora, Cyprus, 1st century BC. On display at the Landesmuseum Württemberg.

Amphora, Cyprus, 1st century BC. On display at the Landesmuseum Württemberg. ( CC BY SA 2.0 fr )

The team will return to the site, with the permission of Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry and the support of the Development Ministry, to look for the rest of the goddess later this year.

Top Image: The legs of a goddess that were discovered underwater near the Turkish coast. Source: Dokuz Eylul University, Marine Science and Technology Institute

By Theodoros Karasavvas