Historical seafarers developed the Mediterranean’s premier recognized sacred pool

On a little island off Sicily’s west coastline, a substantial pool lengthy ago shown the star-studded reflections of the gods.

Experts have extended imagined that an historical rectangular basin, on the island of Motya, served as an artificial interior harbor, or perhaps a dry dock, for Phoenician mariners around 2,550 several years back. Alternatively, the drinking water-crammed composition is the largest regarded sacred pool from the historical Mediterranean entire world, states archaeologist Lorenzo Nigro of Sapienza University of Rome.

Phoenicians, who adopted cultural influences from many Mediterranean societies on their sea travels, put the pool at the center of a religious compound in a port metropolis also dubbed Motya, Nigro reports in the April Antiquity.

The pool and a few nearby temples ended up aligned with the positions of unique stars and constellations on crucial days of the calendar year, this sort of as the summer and winter season solstices, Nigro located. Each and every of those celestial bodies was associated with a particular Phoenician god.

At night time, the reflecting area of the pool, which was a little bit extended and wider than an Olympic-sized swimming pool, was made use of to make astronomical observations by marking stars’ positions with poles, Nigro suspects. Discoveries of a navigation instrument’s pointer in a person temple and the worn statue of an Egyptian god involved with astronomy uncovered in a corner of the pool guidance that likelihood.

It was an archaeologist who explored Motya all around a century ago who to start with explained the significant pool as a harbor that connected to the sea by a channel. A similar harbor had earlier been found at Carthage, a Phoenician town on North Africa’s coast.

But excavations and radiocarbon courting carried out at Motya considering the fact that 2002 by Nigro, doing the job with the Superintendence of Trapani in Sicily and the G. Whitaker Basis in Palermo, have overturned that check out.

“The pool could not have served as a harbor, as it was not related to the sea,” Nigro suggests. He and his workforce quickly drained the basin, demonstrating that it is alternatively fed by organic springs. Only following Greek invaders conquered Motya in a struggle that finished in 396 B.C. was a channel dug from the pool to a close by lagoon, Nigro’s group found.

Phoenicians settled on Motya amongst 800 B.C. and 750 B.C. The sacred pool, which include a pedestal in the heart that initially supported a statue of the Phoenician god Ba’al, was created concerning 550 B.C. and 520 B.C., Nigro says. Two clues proposed that the pedestal had after held a statue of Ba’al. Initial, just after draining the pool, Nigro’s crew located a stone block with the remnants of a significant, sculpted foot at the basin’s edge. And an inscription in a small pit at 1 corner of the pool involves a devotion to Ba’al, a main Phoenician god.

image of a piece of stone with a carving in the shape of toes on the top
A block with a carved foot found on the edge of Motya’s sacred pool likely was part of a statue of a Phoenician god that initially stood on a pedestal at the pool’s center, researchers say.L. Nigro/Antiquity 2022

Gods worshipped by Phoenicians at Motya and elsewhere ended up intently determined with gods of other Mediterranean societies. For instance, Ba’al was a near counterpart of the divine hero Hercules in Greek mythology.

An ability to include other people’s deities into their own faith “was possibly one particular of the keys to Phoenicians’ accomplishment all over the Mediterranean,” suggests archaeologist Susan Sherratt of the College of Sheffield in England, who did not participate in the new examine.

Seafaring traders now called Phoenicians lived in japanese Mediterranean cities established more than 3,000 decades back (SN: 1/25/06). Phoenicians established settlements from Cyprus to Spain’s Atlantic coastline. Some researchers suspect that Phoenicians lacked a unifying cultural or ethnic id.

Nigro disagrees. Phoenicians designed an influential producing method and spoke a typical Semitic language, critical markers of a widespread eastern Mediterranean culture, he contends. As these seafarers settled islands and coastal locations stretching west throughout the Mediterranean, they created hybrid cultures with indigenous teams, Nigro suspects.

Motya excavations show that Phoenician newcomers created a distinctive West Phoenician culture by means of interactions with persons by now dwelling there. Pottery and other artifacts reveal that teams from Greece, Crete and other Mediterranean areas periodically settled on the island commencing as early as all over 4,000 years in the past. Metallic objects and other cultural stays from various stages of Motya’s advancement show influences from all corners of the Mediterranean.

However a great deal stays unknown about political and social existence at Motya, its Phoenician founders oversaw an experiment in cultural tolerance that lasted at minimum 400 years, Nigro states.