updated 9/30/2005 3:16:59 PM ET 2005-09-30T19:16:59

The life-sized marble statues of two ancient Greek goddesses have emerged during excavations of a 5,000-year-old town on the island of Crete, archaeologists said Friday.

The works, representing the goddesses Athena and Hera, date to between the second and fourth centuries — during the period of Roman rule in Greece — and originally decorated the Roman theater in the town of Gortyn, archaeologist Anna Micheli from the Italian School of Archaeology told The Associated Press.

“They are in very good condition,” she said, adding that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera — long-suffering wife of Zeus, the philandering king of gods — was headless.

“But we hope to find the head in the surrounding area,” Micheli said.

Standing six feet high with their bases, the works were discovered Tuesday by a team of Italian and Greek archaeologists excavating the ruined theater of Gortyn, about 27 miles south of Iraklion in central Crete.

Micheli said the goddesses were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake around A.D. 367 that destroyed the theater and much of the town.

The statues fell off the stage, and were found just in front of their original position, she said.

“This is one of the rare cases when such works are discovered in the building where they initially stood,” she added.

Hopes are high that other parts of the theater’s sculptural decoration will emerge during future excavations.

“Digging has stopped due to the finds, but we suspect there may be more statues in the area,” she said.

Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete, was first inhabited around 3000 B.C., and was a flourishing Minoan town between 1600-1100 B.C. It prospered during classical and Roman times, and was destroyed by an Arab invasion in A.D. 824.

Greek mythology has it that the town witnessed one of Zeus’ many affairs — with the princess Europa whom the god, disguised as a bull, abducted from Lebanon. Europe was named after Europa, who conceived her first son with Zeus under a plane tree in Gortyn.

The Italian School of Archaeology has been digging at the site since the early 20th century, in cooperation with Greek state archaeologists. So far, excavations have revealed fortifications, temples, baths, a stadium and an early church of St. Titus, who preached Christianity in Gortyn.

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