The sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia was cleared between 1948 and 1962 under the direction of John Papadimitriou. Prior to this, the only excavation carried out was the clearance of three Mycenaean chamber tombs in 1894 under B. Staïs. The sanctuary is located at the foot of the Ayios Georgios hill, on top of which a prehistoric settlement existed from 3500 to 1300 BC. Several houses from this settlement have been found, along with the chamber tombs that Staïs excavated. Many vases and figurines were also found on the surface of the hill (also referred to as the akropolis). Expensive grave offerings were recovered from within the tombs, as well as a skeleton that apparently had a fishing net thrown over it, which suggests that the livelihood of the town may have centered on the sea. The settlement was abandoned before the end of the Bronze Age, and as a result the sanctuary was the only human development on the site during the Classical period. The sanctuary first came into use during the eighth century BC then was abandoned in the third century BC when it was destroyed by a flood of the River Erasinos. The only building activity on the site since then (aside from the modern reconstruction of part of the stoa and the construction of a museum for the site) was the construction of a Christian basilica in the sixth century AD.
An Athenian decree from the third century BC that orders the site to be inspected lists the buildings at the site, and thus gives archaeologists an idea of what to be looking for. Among those buildings named are a temple, a parthenon, an amphipoleion, a gymnasium (athletic field), a palaestra (wrestling school), and stables. The temple has been uncovered, as has a stoa that dominates the site and therefore is very likely to be one of the structures mentioned epigraphically. Other structures uncovered are a bridge, a sacred spring, a shrine, and several rooms that were probably once inside a cave. The parthenon and an "Old Temple" are repeatedly referred to in fourth century BC inscriptions on the Athenian Akropolis. There is considerable debate over where these are located on the site, but it is agreed that they are to be found among the temple, the stoa, the shrine, and the rooms within these buildings. Inventories of garments dedicated at Brauron mention three statues that the garments were draped over. These statues have not been discovered but may explain the division of the cella of the temple into three sections.
By far the largest building uncovered at Brauron is the ninety-six-foot-long, three-winged Doric stoa constructed in the fifth century BC. Most of the stoa was constructed out of sandstone quarried only a few hundred yards away, as was most of the sanctuary. This sandstone is easy to work but is not particularly attractive. The stoa's stylobate, capitals, and metopes were made of marble. The surviving foundations on the north, east, and west sides define the outlines colonnaded wings, while a retaining wall for the Temple of Artemis bounded the stoa at the southwest. It seems that only the north wing was actually completed, while the east and west colonnades never rose above the foundations. Based on its architecture and an inscription, the stoa appears to have been built in 420 BC. An inscription found inside the stoa states that it is the parthenon of the arktoi, the girls who participated in the cult activities at the site. The stoa has been preserved well enough in mud that much of the north colonnade has been reconstructed from the original materials.
The north wing serves as a model for what the rest of the temple would have looked like had it been built. The north colonnade consisted of eleven Doric columns, each twelve feet high. This is the only fifth century stoa for which the column height is precisely known. The column proportions are similar to those of the Hephaisteion in Athens. Many inscribed bases have been found inside the portico. Although the stylobate has been disturbed due to settling on the eastern side, it appears to have had refinements similar to those of the Parthenon, in that it curved upward very slightly toward the center rather than being perfectly horizontal. Such a refinement was relatively rare in the fifth century BC. The frieze and possibly also the architrave are higher in relation to the lower column diameter than they are on most stoas. The columns are thicker at the corners. While most colonnades had columns sitting in the center of every other stylobate block, the columns of the stoa at Brauron rest on every other joint between blocks.
The intercolumniations are longer than those in most temples of the period. For the first time we know of in an extensive colonnade, each intercolumniation accommodated three metopes at the frieze level instead of the usual two. This, in combination with the intended length of the stoa, affected the treatment of the reentrant angle in the frieze. The intercolumniations at the ends are twelve centimeters longer than the rest so that a half-triglyph could be placed at the corner. Because this was an early attempt at wider column spacing, the lengthening of these intercolumniations was only a quarter of what it needed to be, and the metopes at the corners were significantly shortened in order to compensate. Because of these irregularities, mutules and viae were left out, and the cornice is Ionic.
The stoa at Brauron and the south stoa of the Athenian Agora are the earliest known stoas to have rooms in the back. There are six identical rooms along the north wing of the stoa at Brauron and, less well preserved, four along the west wing, each about eighteen feet by eighteen feet. Indications of the furnishings of these rooms are most abundant at the eastern end of the north wing. Holes in their floors indicate that they held eleven beds or couches along their walls. These would have been about five feet long, and therefore could have accommodated sleeping children or served as their dining couches. They had wooden feet that were secured in cuttings with lead. In front of the beds were seven sandstone tables covered with marble plaques. A few base blocks of these tables still survive. The doors to these rooms faced the inside of the stoa and were displaced off-axis to the east to accommodate the couch configuration. The marble threshold to the easternmost doorway still has a bronze pivot for double doors as well as several bronze projections for keeping these doors shut. Al,ong the northern margin of the portico just to the south of these rooms are rows of bases. These held inscriptions and relief sculptures dedicated to Artemis as well as a few statues of children, most of which were portraits of young girls holding symbolic objects such as birds or fruit. These were put up in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. Because of the groups of beds as well as the nearby statues of children, it has been suggested that the arktoi slept in the rooms of the stoa's north wing. The counter-argument is that they were used as dining rooms, as they resemble the dining rooms in other Classical sanctuaries.
A hallway between two of the rooms on the north side led into an open air corridor. This corridor was bounded by a shallow portico along its north side and by small propyla at the east and west ends. A small room at the western end of the north wing may have been for a porter stationed at the west propylon. In the portico to the north of the corridor were racks which may have held clothing that was dedicated to Artemis. About twelve meters to the west of the corridor is a collection of inscriptions, apparently relocated there by Christians.
The third room from the south in the west wing constituted a gate leading into the center of the stoa. A road made from remains of the stoa passes over the foundations of this room and was probably used to remove building material once the site had been abandoned.
On top of the frieze and some of the walls of the stoa sat wall plates. These supported the rafters of a pitched roof. In the north and west wings, the front wall of the rooms supported the peak of the roof, while in the east a ridge beam served this purpose. There were probably battens or planking to hold up the roof tiles.
To the west of the stoa is a thirty-by-thirty-foot bridge crossing the stream that flows from the sacred spring in the southwest corner of the site. This bridge is unique in that it is the only one found on the Greek mainland that was built in the fifth century BC, and in that it was the first to be built by constructing walls parallel to the stream and laying horizontal stone slabs on top of them. The bridge consists of five such walls, on top of which lay slabs that are about three feet long.
The Temple of Artemis
Off the southwest corner of the stoa, on a terrace supported by a retaining wall, sat the Temple of Artemis Brauronia. The temple stood on what Euripides may have meant by the "holy stairs of Brauron" in his play, Iphigenia in Tauris. This retaining wall is well preserved and has steps that lead up past the temple to the church of St. George, which was built in the 6th century AD, reusing some of the original material of the sanctuary. There was probably a pagan altar where the church now stands, especially since one can now detect the foundation of an earlier structure from within the church. The temple was probably built around 500 BC, on top of the remains of an older shrine, as indicated by pottery fragments and the pavement inside the temple. The temple was Doric and measured sixty-six feet by thirty-three and a half feet.
Because the north side of the hill has been cut away to make a roadway, all that remains of the temple are a section of polygonal toichobate and bits of the foundation in the southeast, as well as cuts made into the bedrock for the western side of the foundations. Scattered fragments of poros column drums, geisa, and triglyphs also appear to have belonged to the temple.
Two broken column drums indicate that the eastern side of the temple was distyle or tetrastyle in antis. A cella (closed interior) lay at the center of the temple, with an adyton (inner sanctum) to the west and a prodomos (an open portico, serving as the entrance to the temple) to the east. Two rows of columns divided the cella into three sections. The cella is nearly square, but would have had almost standard proportions if it were combined with the adyton behind it.
Inside the temple, colored reliefs in terracotta, bronze mirrors, and votive jewelry have been excavated. Near the retaining wall several marble steles were found along with the slots in the bedrock that held them. Inscribed on these slabs are lists of offerings to Artemis and Iphigenia as well as the names of the women who made these offerings. During the Peloponnesian War, the offerings were moved to the Athenian Akropolis, where copies of the lists have also been recovered.
The Sacred Spring
Out of the northwest side of the hill that the temple sits on, a spring flows first into a manmade pool, then north toward the Erasinos as a stream. In the basin of the pool and bed of the stream, thousands of objects have been found dating between 700 BC and 480 BC. It appears that all of these were offerings made by women; they include bronze mirrors, rings, gems, scarabs, statuettes, vases, and even objects of bone and wood that were preserved in the mud. The mirrors are considered particularly beautiful, and one has an inscription describing its dedication. The spring was probably the most sacred part of the site until late in the 6th century BC. It was destroyed, along with the temple, in the Persian sack of 480 BC. It is possible that the objects found in the spring were buried there in order to protect them from the Persians.
The Shrine and Adjacent Structures
Uphill from the temple are the foundations of a shrine, or mikron hieron, that was 24.5 feet long and 14.5 feet wide, and further to the southeast lie the remains of several stone and mortar rooms buried by boulders. It appears likely from the positions of the boulders that these rooms were once situated inside a cave. After the cave crashed down on them in the mid-5th century BC, the shrine may have been built in their place. Valuable offerings as well as inscriptions were found amidst the rubble. The shrine or the rooms to the southeast are considered by Papadimitriou to have been the supposed Tomb of Iphigenia, as the tombs of Greek heroes and heroines were often placed inside caves. Barber mentions that the rooms adjacent to the shrine may have been the tombs of priestesses of the temple. Hollinshead argues that the shrine was instead the Old Temple that is alluded to in Athenian inscriptions. Her evidence is the shrine's proximity to the newer temple and the quantity of inscriptions found outside of the shrine, as well as the limited access to the shrine, which would make it well suited for storage.
High-quality Greek sculpture has been preserved in the mud, including a number of votive reliefs and numerous statues and statuettes of children. One relief in particular, known as the "Relief of the Gods," portrays Zeus, Leto, Apollo, and Artemis, and may have been sculpted by Phidias.
Two sections of an aulos, a type of flute, have been found in the bed of the spring. They are made out of bone, fit together, and have a total of six finger holes. The aulos is probably one of a pair of flutes that were played at the same time. The sections have been replicated in brass and experiments have been done that involve adding different lengths of pipe to try to produce a tuned musical scale. These experiments give clues about what the original instrument looked like.
A special series of cult vessels called krateriskoi have been excavated at Brauron. These were used for dedications to Artemis. They depict naked girls running, as well as part of a bear, all perhaps pictorial rendeerings of the Brauronian rituals. A pit containing small votive offerings and Geometric potsherds has also been unearthed.