Archaeologists Stumble Upon Marble Statue of Greek God in Ancient Sewer

The 2,000-year-old statue, which likely depicts Hermes, is a monumental discovery for Bulgaria

Hermes statue
The well-preserved statue is nearly seven feet tall. Dobrin Kashavelov / AFP via Getty Images

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have unearthed a marble statue that may depict Hermes, the Greek messenger god. It was found in an ancient sewer, where it appears to have been buried for some 2,000 years.

The statue, which is nearly seven feet tall, is in “very good condition,” Lyudmil Vagalinski, the scientific director of the excavation, tells Reuters’ Spasiyana Sergieva. The head is particularly well-preserved, though “there are a few fractures on the hands,” he adds.

The researchers found the statue last week during routine excavations in southwestern Bulgaria, near the Greek border, according to the New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg. After stumbling across its marble foot, the team carefully uncovered the rest of its body.

“We found it by accident,” Vagalinski tells the Times. “It was amazing. A whole statue appeared in front of us.”

The site was once part of the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica, which was founded by the Macedonian king Philip II in the fourth century B.C.E. and later conquered by Rome. The city began to decline following two devastating earthquakes in 388 and 425 C.E., which destroyed most of its infrastructure. By around 500 C.E., it was abandoned.

Statue with team
Lyudmil Vagalinski and his team pose beside the newly discovered statue. Dobrin Kashavelov / AFP via Getty Images

Vagalinski’s team thinks residents placed the statue in the sewer following the 388 earthquake. Christianity had recently become the Roman Empire’s official religion; as such, pagan artifacts were a frequent target.

“Everything pagan was forbidden,” Vagalinski tells Reuters. While residents of Heraclea Sintica may have “joined the new ideology,” they also appear to have “[taken] care of their old deities.”

Efforts are now underway to safely remove the statue from the sewer, reports the History Blog. A special structure will use a crane to lift the heavy sculpture and bring it to the History Museum in Petrich. Following restoration and conservation work, the statue will go on display.

“It is rare and exciting to find an almost perfectly intact statue, and especially one of such apparently high quality,” Elizabeth Marlowe, the director of the museum studies program at Colgate University who was not involved in the excavation, tells the Times.

Marlowe adds that the discovery could provide historians with valuable clues about the city, which is not a widely known ancient site. “This has the potential to greatly enrich our understanding of the local culture of this region,” she says.

In a statement on social media, Vagalinski cautions against jumping to conclusions, noting that the team still has a lot of work to do. Still, he thinks the statue is among the best-preserved discoveries of its kind in Bulgaria.

It’s been a good year for archaeological discoveries in the region. Last month, archaeologists on the Greek island of Crete reported a mysterious 4,000-year-old structure that belonged to the Minoans. In January, researchers announced the discovery of a 1,600-year-old Roman-era wine shop in the ancient city of Sicyon, in what is now southern Greece.

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