The Sarakenos Cave in Kopais, Boeotia

The Sarakenos Cave does not present as a common case despite it being a site where evidence of Neolithic use is preserved, in common with many Greek caves. Beyond household purposes (housing livestock, storage, occasional habitation, shelter, processing of raw materials), identified from the remains of numerous ceramic containers, chipped stone tools, weaving accessories, animal bones and food remains, a large assemblage of figurines depicting humans have come to light. The presence of figurines within the Neolithic contexts of the cave is not at all unusual, but Sarakenos is a rare site because the figurines in marble and clay number many hundreds, maybe even more, spanning across more than one period of occupation and exhibiting a variety of features, depicting the face and clothes.

While there are indications that symbolic practices took place in the domestic contexts of Neolithic houses, the question of whether rituals were practiced in caves has so far engendered only very cautious or theoretical responses, whether affirming they did take place or refuting that they did. This stems from the noted lack of material evidence in the cave deposits, which would allow some discrimination of the daily or domestic activities from those votive in nature. This distinction is particularly difficult given that the everyday life in the cave (for example, meal preparation) may accommodate symbolic practices and rituals. In some preliminary publications, we however support that the Sarakenos Cave does provide the Neolithic researcher with valuable data hitherto elusive: the structured deposition of human representations, although they may not have served as accessories to worship nor deified figures, and the meanings they had for the people using the cave in this way remain unknown to us. Nevertheless, they do confirm that a standardised offertory practice occurred with regards to the implementation of the operation, the nature of the objects deposited, which involved figurines at least, the use of the cave, and the long-term time span that the custom was practiced as a tradition.


Research project by the Ephorate of Paleoanthropology-Speleology (1994-2000) and the University of the Aegean (since 2000) under the direction of Prof. A. Sampson.

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A. Sampson & S. Katsarou, The symbolic aspect of the Middle and Late Neolithic use of Sarakenos cave. In: Proceedings of 5th International Congress of Boeotian Studies, Thebes, September 16-19, 2005.