The religious site at Isthmia was of course dedicated to Posidon, the god of the sea and not without some reason. The site straddles and controls the paths from the south to the isthmus and along with Corinth itself two and a half hours to the west it effectively controls all access to the Peloponnese. The southern edge of the isthmus is just 15 minutes’ walk away while the harbour of Kenchreae is one hour to the south.
Excavations were conducted from 1952 onwards. It is one of the locations of the four great Panhellenic Games (Delphi, excavated by the French and Olympia by the Germans were both excavated before the end of the 19th Century, Nemea and Isthmia were both excavated in the last half of the 20th Century by the American School). The finds of the excavations from the fifties and subsequent re-examinations form the main part of the museum’s exhibition, although the finds from sites such as Kenchreae and Almyrae are no less interesting and the finds from Kenchreae are what give the museum its unique nature in terms of the materials on show.
The kouros part was found at Isthmia in October 1959 by members of the University of Chicago digging at the site under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies. The piece was found at a depth of 18.70 m. in the Large Circular Pit.
The fragmentary nature of the find and the fact that the pit contained all sorts of finds spanning many centuries has allowed classical scholars free reign to try to date the statue on stylistic grounds alone. This, coupled with the relative paucity of Kouros finds in the Peloponnese, the soft material used (and the constraints this imposes on diagnostic indicators) makes it an interesting case.
Next up, back to the Bronze Age:
Moving on to Kenchreae, the star of the show…
Kenchreae is one of the harbours around the Isthmus of Corinth. For some it is famous for the haircut of St. Paul (dude, srsly?), for others it is known for the amazing underwater excavations of the American school in the sixties. The reason for underwater excavations is the earthquake which struck in 375 and caused the land to sink a few feet, thereby burying buildings in the water of the harbour. How’s that for a funky terminus ante quem? Underwater excavations usually means that we get a whole bunch of stuff turning up which would normally have rotted away. When it sits underwater, there is a great chance that a site’s perishable materials will be buried in anoxic mud and will not rot, but remain for the archaeologist to find. And so we have it… the so called temple of Isis, looking remarkably like a village church in floorplan, revealed a whole lot of funky finds in materials we don’t normally encounter.
Speaking of inlays and decorative bits, the ivories above depict cupids doing everyday tasks. To me the worksmanship and subject look very much like later medieval ivories with almost identical theme. This is the sort of thing that if I had seen it without the context, I would have dated totally wrong... as such it is very much good fun.
One final but uber-funky wooden find from the so-called Temple of Isis is these wooden doors:
Another great find from the so-called Temple of Isis were the packing crates with the glass panels depicting scenes from a seaside city... These were stacked in groups around the walls of the main area of the temple, presumably either for installation or for transhipment elsewhere and most likely originated from an Alexandrian workshop. They date to the period immediately before the earthquake that led to their burial and subsequent preservation.