Shining Treasures From Greece's 'Dark Age' Come To Light

In the small Greek village of Kalapodi, German archaeologists have excavated one of the primary Greek sanctuaries of the ancient world: the Oracle of Abai.

Delphi, Temple of Apollo (Alun Salt)
Delphi, Temple of Apollo (Alun Salt)
Berthold Seewald

"The Persians did everything in the desert," wrote Herodotus. This included the Phocian City of Abai (in modern day Greece), which contained "a large temple of Apollo … as well as an oracle." Unlike the famous Oracle of Delphi, which Apollo himself allegedly protected by throwing rocks at its attackers, the oracle of Abai went up in flames.

Perhaps this is why the oracle of Abai was largely forgotten, even though Herodotus mentioned it alongside the famous shrines of Delphi and Dodona in Epirus. For centuries, the ruins near the small village of Kalapodi in central Greece have been associated with Abai, but their exact history have long remained shrouded in mystery.

Excavations conducted on-site since 2004 by an international team of archaeologists led by Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, director of the Athens branch of the German Archaeological Institute, have now confirmed what specialists long suspected. Niemeier's team has brought this sacred place to light, and archaeologists are raving about their findings.

The two new temples of Kalapodi provide opportunities for historical discovery that many of the other great sanctuaries in Greece no longer offer. In Olympia and Delphi, major excavations were made more than a century ago. Conducted without the proper discipline and methods, the dig-ins overlooked or under-analyzed some of the smallest layers, shards, and plant seeds. The fact that Kalapodi was discovered so late means that the team of archeologists will be able to use the latest methods available, and that the errors of the past will not be repeated.

Monuments of hatred for all time

The excavations conducted thus far show that the people of Abai did not build over the southern part of the temple. The sacred buildings razed by the Persians were, according to the 2nd century Greek geographer Pausanias, left "for all time as monuments of hatred" – namely, the hatred of the Persians.

Although the excavation, which is sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, is still in progress, preliminary discoveries show that underneath Abai's approximately 480 temples rests a series of earlier structures dating back to the Mycenaean palatial period (before 1200 BC). These discoveries indicate that Kalapodi might be a key to unlocking the secrets of the "Dark Ages," which came after the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and before the beginning of classical antiquity.

In an older, Late Geometric temple (c. 800 BC), the archeologists were surprised to uncover a wall painting – depicting a battle scene – whose author applied a technique often seen in the frescoed Mycenaean palaces that have survived the ages.

For the Phocians, who inhabited a region not particularly blessed by nature, the temple and oracle of Abai were of paramount importance. Surrounding enemies – the Thessalians in the north and the Thebians in the east – posed a constant threat; in the south, Delphi, although on Phocian ground, had gained its independence and was protected by its own community. The people that came to the oracle of Abai were thus a major source of revenue for the region.

The excavations being conducted at Kalapodi are now starting to prove just how lucrative the oracle was. Archaeologists have found numerous votive offerings made of metal, bronze jewelry, and ceramics. A bronze bowl coming from a late Hittite principality of northern Syria, and bearing a particularly intricate relief pattern, demonstrates the international status that the oracle of Abai had in the Archaic Period (8th century). Food residue and ash found inside it are a testament to the temple's ritual meals.

Finds from the site allow Niemeier and his team to prove that they have indeed uncovered the Apollonian Oracle of Abai. Within the temple, they found the inscription, "dedicated to Apollo." In a nearby modern-day Christian chapel, a re-appropriated stone reads: "The people of Abai have honored Emperor Constantine."

According to Pausanias, Abai was also held in great esteem by the Romans. In the 2nd century AD, Emperor Hadrian built a smaller temple alongside the main northern building. Some of the bronze votive offerings found there were gifts from the people of Abai.

Within the geometric temple, excavators have found a treasure of 12 iron swords, three lances, a shield boss of bronze, a bow and a robe of nobility. It would seem that the local people were not stingy at all when it came to honoring their god.

That the Phocians were very proud of their military might was long ago noted by Herodotus. After they successfully defeated the Thessalian knights in the 6th century, they extended the northern temple of Kalapodi and filled it with splendid spoils of the war, such as 2,000 shields taken from the slain Thessalians after the battle.

This, as well as the many other spectacular discoveries being made in Kalapodi, suggest that in the Mycenaean civilization's dark ages, times may not have been so dark after all.

Read the original article in German.

photo - Alun Salt

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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