Necklace representing Isis and Horus, 1050–900 BCE, Faience
Archaeological Museum of Eretria, Evia
The traditional historical narrative of the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces has Greece falling into a four- to five-hundred year Dark Age – an era in which so few archaeological remains exist, and little to no writing, that there is little to illuminate it. The lack of large-scale palatial structures, writing systems, and high-status objects in the record led historians to conclude that this period, from around 1200 to 750 BCE, must have been characterised by centuries of economic, political, and social depression. The inhabitants of Greece, perhaps due to the pressure produced by waves of invaders, were seen as turning to a nomadic lifestyle, living in temporary settlements without the social and artistic structures – trade, bureaucracy, art and architecture – which had distinguished Mycenaean Greece.
Then, in 1980, everything changed.
The object above is one of many finds discovered at the archaeological site of Lefkandi on the island of Evia (ancient Euboea), just off the northern coast of Attica in Greece. It was uncovered by a group of Anglo-Greek archaeologists who excavated the site from 1980 on, along with a tomb complex containing the cremated remains of a man, contained in a bronze amphora; a woman buried and adorned with jewellery; and four horses – as well as an entire settlement which, remarkably, showed evidence of constant occupation from the Mycenaean period right through the so-called Dark Ages.
What's special about this necklace – and what it represents about the site of Lefkandi as a whole – is the remarkable evidence it portrays of both continuous artistic practices, and continued trade, throughout the 12th to 8th centuries BCE on the island of Evia. The necklace, made of faience (a type of glazed ceramic ware we came across earlier), is made up of 53 consecutive oblong beads representing seated, lion-headed figures, while the central (and largest) figures depict the Egyptian goddess Isis with her son, Horus. Excavated along with other precious objects imported from Cyprus and Phoenicia (the modern Levant), and likely itself an import from the island of Cyprus, it provides an important testimony to the fact that Lefkandi, at least, remained a flourishing urban culture throughout the 'Dark Ages', trading across the Mediterranean and investing in art and jewellery. Objects like this one continue to challenge our conception of the Dark Ages in Greece – suggesting that it was, in fact, a far richer period with many more historical secrets to reveal than previously thought.