An ancient temple used by cult followers of a Greek goddess has been found in western Turkey.
A team of Turkish researchers uncovered the 2,500-year-old temple honoring Aphrodite — the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, passion and procreation — above ground on the Urla-Çeşme peninsula, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported earlier this month.
The team found a piece of a statue depicting a woman and a figure of a terracotta female head in the remains of the temple, which dates to the fifth century B.C. Around the temple is an inscription that reads, "This is the sacred area," research leader Elif Koparal, an archaeologist at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Turkey, told the Hürriyet Daily News.
From the findings, Koparal and her team deduced that the ruins were the remains of a temple dedicated to Aphrodite and that there must have been a cult devoted to her in the region. "Aphrodite was a very common cult at that time," Koparal said.
Early Greek poet Hesiod wrote that Aphrodite was born from the white foam produced by the severed genital of Uranus, the personification of heaven, after his son Cronus threw them into the sea, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Although also worshipped as a goddess of the sea and even war, Aphrodite was primarily associated with love and fertility. Prostitutes considered Aphrodite their patron, and her public cult was very popular in ancient Greece.
The peninsula in present-day western Turkey where the temple was found is known for the ancient settlements and archaeological surveys that have been taking place there since 2006, according to the Hürriyet Daily News. In an "exciting find," Koparal and her team first discovered traces of the temple back in 2016, she told the Hürriyet Daily News.
"It is not common to find a temple during a surface survey," Koparal said. Surface surveys involve walking over the ground while recording, mapping and collecting artifacts encountered, according to the University of Michigan.
By searching an area of about 17,200 square feet (1,600 square meters) in this way, the team has found 35 prehistoric human settlements, including 16 dating to the Neolithic age, according to Anadolu Agency. Koparal told the agency that, thanks to this analysis, a significant social and economic network was discovered.
The temple and the rest of the historical sites will need to be protected from modern-day treasure hunters and urbanization. Koparal said the team is cooperating with the local people to help guard these archaeological treasures.
Originally published on Live Science.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.