The Attic Owl Skyphos from Most na Soči

During a protected archaeological investigation that took place in 2001 in Most na Soči, the Tolmin Museum examined 31 late-Iron-Age graves on the left bank of the river Idrijca. Of these, the grave that stood out in terms of the wealth of grave goods, as well as the size of the grave pit and the urn, was the grave discovered first. The grave dates back to the mid-5th century BC and was covered with a heavy slab of marlstone sized more than 1x1 metre. The grave pit was dug into sterile clay and surrounded by vertically positioned marls. A sixty-centimetre high, partially preserved clay container – a pithos – decorated with horizontal raised bands and painted with a black resin coating, was laid in it. A large quantity of burnt human bones and charcoal was found on the bottom of the urn, and above the burnt remains, there was a certosa fibula, two bronze snake-type fibulae with a large disc on the bow and an extraordinary iron knife handle made of bone, ending in the form of a snake head created with filigree-like precision. A footed goblet-like cup, painted with red-and-black bands, was added next to the deceased just below the grave slab. Lying next to it was an almost entirely preserved Greek ceramic wine-cup, a skyphos, which is an exceptional find deserving of being presented in more detail.

The main shape-related feature of this type of container is a combination of horizontal and vertical handles. Like most imported earthenware it was made on a potter's wheel, using the Greek red-figure technique, and coated with a dark-grey varnish. The cup has a flanged base and a body whose entire surface is decorated with a scene featuring an owl, which is surrounded by two olive branches on both sides. The owl is a central figure, with its head facing the viewer, while its body is turned to the left. The scene is repeated on both sides of the cup. The four-leaf olive branches surround the owl from the left and right sides.

The owl-related symbolism in itself is very interesting; in Greek mythology, the owl is both a patron of cemeteries and of the city of Athens, as well as the sacred bird that traditionally represents or accompanies goddess Athena. The olive tree is a tree that likewise symbolises peace, reconciliation, purification, fertility or victory, and is, like the owl, also dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena.

Together with the two handles, the cup measures 15.8 cm and is 8.7 cm in height. In the territory of Slovenia, this is a one-of-a-kind find and the closest similar finds have been found in the area of ​​the Lower Po Valley. Similar "owls skyphoi" were made in Greece, as well as in southern Italy and Etruria, and can also be found throughout the Mediterranean Basin, from Georgia, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus to North Africa, Spain, southern France, Corsica, and Sicily.

Such goods made it to the area of ​​the South-Eastern Alps, where the Early-Iron-Age Hallstatt culture was present during the time of the Greek culture. The valuable Greek and Italic containers travelled along the sea routes to the last Greek stops on the western coast of the Adriatic Sea (Spina, Adria by the river Po Delta), from where they travelled overland to the interior of the continent. They can be interpreted as a commercial product or as a gift of visitors and travellers from the lands of the classical world.

The exceptional find of this iconic cup – the Attica owl skyphos from Most na Soči – is on display in the permanent archaeological collection of the Tolmin Museum on the first floor of the Coronini Mansion.

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