A small clay figurine that archaeologists suggest depicts a goddess has been uncovered in Bavaria, Germany. It is incomplete but the features of the face – eyes, ears, lips, nose, and even chin – have been carefully sculpted. There are a series of holes on either side of the head, possibly representing a headdress with metal rings that has been associated with women.
The find, which measures 19cm in height, was made during excavations ahead of a road construction project in Mönchstockheim. Archaeologists unearthed the figurine in a prehistoric gully near a Hallstatt period settlement occupied in the 8th-6th century BC. Hallstatt, named after its Austrian type-site, describes a material culture that spread across much of central and western Europe between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age. It is possible that the Iron Age residents of this settlement drew water from this gully, which also yielded fragments of Hallstatt period ceramic vessels, glass, and tools made out of bone.
Stefanie Berg, from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation, said, ‘Figures of this type made of clay are known, for example, from the western Black Sea region and date back to the 5th millennium BC. However, the other finds point to a much younger dating of the statuette. All of this leaves a lot of room for future interpretation.’
One interpretation is that the figurine is a water deity. The ceramics had not been smoothed by flowing water and so are thought to have been deliberately deposited at the site, rather than washing up there. The aquatic setting (with lime deposits also suggesting that there was once a spring close by) and the seemingly deliberate presence of these finds here raise the possibility that the figurine was part of a ritual offering associated with the vital resource of water and perhaps represented a goddess.
Also recovered from the ditch was a clay stamp with an unusual design of concentric wavy squares. The pattern curves inwards, which makes it suitable for pressing designs into organic materials. Researchers at the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation have tested this out using a replica to successfully decorate dough before baking bread.