Unfinished Marble Lion's Head Water Spout Unearthed in Ancient Greek City of Selinunte, Sicily

The unfinished lion-head sima [Credit: Selinuntprojekt Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Marc Klauß/Leah Schiebel]

A recent archaeological excavation in Sicily led by Professor Dr. Jon Albers of Ruhr University Bochum uncovered a remarkable artifact—a marble lion's head, located on a street near the ancient eastern harbor of Selinunte.

This intricately carved lion's head was designed to serve as a rainwater drainage element on the roof of a temple, commonly referred to as a "sima."

Measuring an impressive 60 centimeters in height, this lion's head stands out as significantly larger than similar findings in the region. What adds to its uniqueness is the rarity and value of the material used—marble. Remarkably well-preserved, this particular lion's head remains unfinished.

The unfinished lion-head sima [Credit: Selinuntprojekt Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Marc Klauß/Leah Schiebel]
Unfinished Marble Lion's Head Water Spout Unearthed in Ancient Greek City of Selinunte, Sicily 1

Professor Jon Albers explains, "We cannot yet determine whether it was intended for the well-known Temple E in Selinunte or possibly another temple that remains undiscovered." Nonetheless, this discovery offers valuable insights into the trade relationships and technical expertise of the ancient Selinunte residents. Historically, only nine temples featuring marble lion simas have been identified.

A sima, as found here, is an architectural element placed at the top of a temple roof. Its function was to collect and redirect rainwater, and it often featured decorative lion head-shaped spouts. While these decorations were primarily crafted from terracotta during the 6th century BC, stone simas, such as this marble example, began to emerge during the 5th century BC.

Well-known examples of this early architectural feature include the Temple of Heracles in Agrigento and the Temple of Victory in Himera, both made from high-quality local limestone. These temples featured simas of around 70 centimeters in height.

The recently discovered sima from Selinunte measures about 60 centimeters in height, making it notably larger than other regional simas. Its material, marble, was a rare and valuable import to western Greece, likely from the Greek islands, notably Paros. Professor Jon Albers notes, "In total, only nine temples from the 5th century BC in all of southern Italy and Sicily are known to have had a marble sima."

The site of the discovery is located on a street in the immediate vicinity of the ancient eastern harbour of Selinunte [Credit: Selinuntprojekt Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Marc Klauß/Leah Schiebel]
Unfinished Marble Lion's Head Water Spout Unearthed in Ancient Greek City of Selinunte, Sicily 2

Professor Albers concludes, "The newly found sima from Selinunte cannot be associated with any of these temples and is, therefore, part of a tenth temple featuring a marble roof." The intended temple for this sima, whether Temple E in Selinunte or another unidentified structure, remains uncertain as the sima appears to have been left unfinished.

Despite the sima's excellent state of preservation compared to other roofs with lion's head spouts, the distinctive water outlet has not yet been incorporated, and the lion's mane on the rear is absent. The decoration at the top of the plate remains incomplete.

This unique find provides invaluable insights into the manufacturing processes of such architectural components, shedding light on ancient construction techniques.

Moreover, given its location in the harbor zone near the workshop district of Selinunte, this discovery offers further understanding of the city's trade connections and the technical prowess of its ancient inhabitants.

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