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"Terracotta kernos from the "Cycladic period (ca. 2000 BC), found at "Melos
In this votive plaque depicting elements of the "Eleusinian Mysteries, a female figure (top center of rectangular portion) wears a kernos on her head

In the "typology of ancient Greek pottery, the kernos (Greek κέρνος or κέρχνος, plural kernoi) is a pottery ring or stone tray to which are attached several small vessels for holding offerings. Its unusual design is described in literary sources, which also list the ritual ingredients it might contain.[1] The kernos was used primarily in the cults of "Demeter and "Kore, and of "Cybele and "Attis.[2]

The Greek term is sometimes applied to similar compound vessels from other cultures found in the "Mediterranean, the "Levant, "Mesopotamia, and "South Asia.[3]

Literary description[edit]

"Athenaeus preserves an ancient description of the kernos as

The kernos was carried in procession at the "Eleusinian Mysteries atop the head of a priestess, as can be found depicted in art. A lamp was sometimes placed in the middle of a stationary kernos.[5]


  1. ^ Jacquelyn Collins-Clinton, A Late Antique Shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa (Brill, 1976), pp. 29 –30 online.
  2. ^ Phillippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, English translation 2004), passim.
  3. ^ Excavations at Mohenjo Daro, Pakistan: The Pottery (University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1986), p. 226 online.
  4. ^ "Athenaeus 11.478c = Polemon, frg. 88 Preller; English translation from Homer A. Thompson, Hellenistic Pottery and Terracottas (American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1987), p. 448 online.
  5. ^ The verb kernophorein means "to bear the kernos"; the noun for this is kernophoria; Stephanos Xanthoudides, "Cretan Kernoi," Annual of the British School at Athens 12 (1906), p. 9.

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