Two to four Athenian maidens were chosen for the service of the Goddess and lived on the Acropolis for one year. Between the ages of seven and eleven, they were selected from among the noble families. All were called Arrephoroi.
The Athenians wore characteristic golden hair ornaments (Philostratus, Imagines, II, 17, 6) that became sacred only after the servants of the Goddess put them on (Harpocration, s.v., arrephorein).
It was this same Arrephoroi, who, imitating the daughters of Cecrops but less curious than they, carried the basket with the unknown contents out of the fortress into the Sanctuary on the north slope of the Acropolis.(AVM 83)
Supposedly neither they nor the priestess herself to whom they turned over the basket knew what it contained or what they brought back as they returned to that other Sanctuary on the Acropolis. But the rite becomes intelligible through the story which the Arrephoroi were told to keep them from opening the basket. (AVM 83)
The Arrephoroi had to do something similar to what the daughters of Cecrops did: before the great festival they had to remove something from the fortress which corresponded to the newly born divine child. The time of their doing this is given by Pausanias as the night before the "festival".(AVM 83)
Two virgin girls live not far from the Temple of Athena of the City; the Athenians call them the Bearers. For a certain time they have their living from the Goddess; and when the festival comes round they have to perform certain ceremonies during the night. They carry on their heads what Athena's priestess gives them to carry, and neither she who gives it nor they who carry it know what it is she gives them. In the city, not far from Aphrodite-in-the-Gardens in an enclosed place with a natural entrance to an underground descent; this is where the virgin girls go down. They leave down there what they were carrying, and take another thing and bring it back covered up. They are then sent away, and other virgin girls are brought to the acropolis instead of them. (1.27.4)
During the night preceding the Panathenaia there took place the mysterious basket-carrying (an Arrephoria), two servants leave with a locked basket. They left the Acropolis via an underground stairway which led northwest into the Aglaureion. The maidens, however, had to bend from this path eastward, and there they came upon the sacred precinct of "Aphrodite in the Garden". The cavern was a sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros and full of cultic monuments to both of these Deities, among them stone phalluses and representations of the divine child Eros. After the maidens had returned to the sanctuary of the virgin Athena, carrying another and again mysterious burden, they were removed from service and others were chosen to replace them. (AVM 85)
(On the basis of everything we have presented here,) we must assume that) the basket contained symbolic objects which at least on the way down, signified the divine child.Perhaps on the way down it was a serpent figure; it was said explicitly that Erichthonios was a serpent. On the way back up, the basket could hold differently shaped cakes, i.e., those of which it was said that had been baked for the basket-carrying maidens, from the Arrephoroi: the anastaoi, whose name indicates a phallic shape. Perhaps the servants were given these when they were removed from service after having been initiated into future motherhood through the mysteries which they carried. (AVM 86)
The story was told to these girls (when they entered into the secret rite of the Arrephoroi. (AVM 57)
These small servants of the Goddess were all dressed in white and wearing golden ornaments (AVM 58)
The three daughters of Cecrops functioned as examples for the conduct of the later Arrephoroi (AVM 57)
In the midst of the serving girls belongs the priestess, the actual representative of the Goddess herself. The function of this threesome is expressly declared (Scholia on Euripides, Hecuba I 5): the priestess of Athena Polias has two assistants, one of them called Trapezo ("she who brings the table") and the other Kosmo ("she who sets the table") (AVM 58)
The Athenians decorated and handled their newly born children in accordance with this example. When they gave the infants a serpentine golden necklace and placed them in round baskets, as Euripides tells in Ion, the practice represented a repetition of what happened to the divine child on the Acropolis (Euripides, Ion, 19-27). That child was guarded by serpents, but it was also represented as having the form of a serpent or serpentine feet. (AVM 82)
(According to Pausanias (Paus. 1.18.2),) Pandrosos obeyed Athena's command, but her two sisters, overcome by curiosity, opened the chest.