Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Otis Norcross Fund

Mycenaean pottery ring. Although the provenance of this cult vessel, called a kernos, is unknown, it probably originated in Cyprus, where kernoi are most numerous. Similar kernoi have been found in Israel at Beth Shean, Beth Shemesh, Megiddo, and elsewhere. The pictured kernos dates to the last phase of Mycenaean culture, about 1200 B.C. Kernoi are hollow rings, decorated with small vessels, fruits, animals and birds. This one is decorated with a bull’s head and miniature vases and bowls, all common symbols of fertility.

Although no one knows for sure how a kernos was used, probably during the course of a religious ritual some liquid was poured into the hollow ring (perhaps through one of the objects on the ring), shaken up, and then poured out.