Category Archives: GREECE

In Search of The Lost Testament of Alexander the Great: Excavating Homeric Heroes

In Search of The Lost Testament of Alexander the Great: Excavating Homeric Heroes

The ancient city of Aegae in Greece, where the royal tombs are located, dates back to the 7th century BCE; it became Macedonia’s first capital after it was conglomerated from a collection of villages into a city in the 5th century BCE. Aegae was eventually supplanted by a new capital at Pella in the 4th century BCE but retained its status as the spiritual home and burial ground of the Macedonian kings.

Aegae Becomes Lost to History

Both settlements were partially destroyed by Rome in 168 BCE following the Battle of Pydna when Macedonia was finally defeated, and a landslide which buried the older capital in the 1st century, after which it was uninhabited.

The name ‘Aegae’ ceased to be used and its history was grazed over by goats and sheep and survived in oral legend only, while papyri and faded vellums told of a former city of kings. Only a nearby early Christian basilica built from the stones of the ancient ruins marked the forgotten location.

In the 1920s, on what had once been the southeast side of the Macedonian royal palace, Greek refugees from the Euxine Pontus region of Asia Minor founded the village of Vergina, and the still unidentified fallen stones were used as masonry in the new houses.

Supervised excavations at what turned out to be the founding city of the Argead (otherwise, Temenid) dynasty go back to the 1860s when a dig by French archaeologist, Léon Heuzey, sponsored by Napoleon III, revealed a Macedonian tomb next to the village of Palatitsia, ‘the small palaces’, a name that hinted tantalizingly at its former significance, though it was erroneously thought to be the site of the ancient city of Valla. In the 1930s, Konstantinos Romaios, a professor of archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, revealed a further tomb, but as Albert Olmstead’s above despondent summation affirms, as late as 1948 archaeologists still had not pinpointed the location of Aegae.

Royal Macedonian Burial Mound in Vergina.

Between 1958 and 1975 excavations in the area were extended by Georgios Bakalakis and Fotis Petsas, the antiquities curator (from 1955-1965). Professor Manolis Andronikos, a pupil of Romaios, eventually became convinced the so-called Great Tumulus, Megali Toumba, must house the tombs of the Macedonian kings.

But it was the British historian, Nicholas Hammond, who first voiced the idea (in fact in 1968) that the ancient ruins lying between Vergina and Palatitsia (rather than those at the town of Edessa) were in fact the lost city of Aegae, a contention that was not immediately accepted.

The City of Kings is Found

After initial disappointment in 1977 when shafts were sunk through the center of the mound (where remains of a stoa and/or cenotaph tumulus might have nevertheless been found) with some 60,000 cubic feet (1699 cubic meters) of earth removed, and while preparing an access ramp on the southeast perimeter for works planned the following season, Andronikos stumbled across gold, literally: two royal tombs were finally revealed.

Tombs I and II had originally been buried together under a single low tumulus with Tomb II at its center; Tomb III, close by, was discovered the following year. Andronikos was exposing what is now referred to as the ‘royal burial cluster of Philip II’, Alexander’s father.

A model of the tomb of Philip II.

The precious articles found within suggested to Andronikos that in the ‘monumental death chamber’ of Tomb II, ‘laid on an elaborate gold and ivory deathbed wearing his precious golden oak wreath’ – which features 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns – King Philip II had been ‘surrendered, like a new Heracles, to the funeral pyre’.

For the flesh-boned cremation (the evidence lies in the color, warping and minute forms of bone fractures) which took place soon after its occupant’s death (distinct from ‘dry-boned’ which takes place long after death when flesh has rotted away) revealed traces of gold droplets, a clue that the king was placed on the pyre wearing his crown. A more recent analysis suggests that in the holokautoma, the total incineration, his body was wrapped in an asbestos shroud to help separate the bones from the pyre debris.

Within the Great Tumulus of Aegae, Andronikos discovered some ‘forty-seven complete or nearly complete stelae’ [commemorative stone slabs] representing commoners’ graves dating back to the second half of the 4th century BCE. Since his death in 1992, the Eucleia and Cybele sanctuaries, the acropolis and vast necropolis with graves dating mostly to the Early Iron Age (1,000-700 BCE), and the northeast gate, have all been revealed, along with the royal palace, which is now considered to be the largest building in classical Greece.

Occupying 41,259 square feet (3833 sq. m.), it is three times the size of the Athenian Parthenon. Archaeologists have unearthed the fortress walls, more cemeteries with more sanctuaries and over 1,000 identified graves in total, besides the burial clusters of royal women and earlier Temenid kings (clusters ‘B’ and ‘C’), including the Heuzey and Bella clusters closer to Palatitsia. All in all, some 500 tumuli have been exposed covering over 900 hectares between Vergina and Palatitsia and they reveal the extent of the ancient city, which, with its suburbs, covered some 6,500 hectares.

The Death of Philip II

Having survived numerous battles, skirmishes, city sieges and hostile alliances against him, Philip’s death was sudden and unexpected. Intending to show the Greek world his impressive enhanced religious capital at Aegae with its revolutionary palace design that would have been visible from afar as visitors crossed the plains below, and when entering its older amphitheater at which the tragedies of the resident Euripides must have once been heard, Philip was stabbed at the wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra, in 336 BCE.

It was nothing short of a ‘spectacular, world-shaking event’. Unearthing in 1977 what is thought by many to be his tomb was no less dramatic and it has since been dubbed the ‘discovery of the century’.

A bust of Philip II of Macedon.

Philip’s funeral had been overseen by a grief-stricken, or perhaps a quietly elated, king-in-the-waiting, Alexander the Great. His bones appear to have been washed in emulation of the rites described in Homer’s Iliad in which Achilles’ remains were similarly prepared before being steeped in wine and oil.

After cremation, the bones were carefully collected and placed in the twenty-four-carat gold chest or larnax weighing 11 kilograms (24.25 lbs.), in a similar manner to the burial rites of Hector and Patroclus, and they were possibly covered in a soft purple cloth. However, the discovery of traces of the rare mineral huntite and Tyrian purple (porphyra) hint that Philip may in fact have been cremated in an elaborate funeral mask.

The gold larnax found in the main chamber, which contained the cremated bones.

The remains of bones and trappings of four horses have been found in what appears to have been a purifactory fire above the cornice. Along with two swords and a sarissa (pike), they were left to decay in a (now collapsed) mud brick structure above the tomb. Some scholars believe the remains include the mounts of Philip’s assassins and/or his famous chariot horses.

Once again, this would have followed the funerary rites Homer described for Patroclus. The Macedonian burial tradition, clearly following a heroic template, may have influenced Plato when he was writing his Laws which outlined the ideal burial in an idealized state.

Grave Goods of a Warrior King

What are believed by some scholars to be Philip’s remarkable funerary possessions provide a testament to a warrior king: a sword in a scabbard and a short sword, six spears and pikes of different lengths, two pairs of greaves, a throat-protecting gorget besides the aforementioned ceremonial shield (‘completely unsuitable to ward off the blows of battle’, according to Andronikos), body armor and the impressive once-plumed iron helmet.

The weaponry is representative of a soldier who fought in both the Macedonian cavalry and infantry regiments. In front of the sarcophagus in the main chamber were found the remains of a wooden couch decorated with five (of fourteen finally recovered) chryselephantine miniature relief figures thought (by some) to represent the family of Philip II.

Winthrop Lindsay Adams insightfully stated back in 1980 that the contents of the antechamber of Tomb II are ‘crucial to identification of the king in the main chamber’. And the contents are fascinating; they include a Scythian gold gorytos, the distinct two-part quiver that traditionally held arrows (seventy-four were found) often poison-tipped and unleashed by a compact powerful Scythian compound bow.

This is suggestive of a warrior woman whose identity we probe further in the epilogue. The gorytos, along with the exquisite items retrieved from the main chamber of Tomb II, are now on display in the Archaeological Museum at Vergina; the gold wreaths and the diadem have been described as the most beautiful pieces of jewelry of the ancient world.

The Scythian gorytos (quiver) and a pair of ornate greaves were photographed as they were found lying in the antechamber.

Unravelling Identities

Osteoarcheological studies on the bones of the two individuals from Tomb II, one of the longest and tallest of the chamber tombs at Aegae, have led to conflicting conclusions, as the press release made clear. But as Antikas’ 2014 report points out, the ‘…remains had been studied insufficiently and/or misinterpreted, causing debates among archaeologists and anthropologists for over three decades.’

Fortunately, the last thirty years have witnessed significant advances in bioarcheology. Working on behalf of the Aristotle University Vergina Excavation, Prof. Antikas explains that from 2009 to 2014 osteological and physiochemical analyses backed by CT and XRF scans (X-ray-computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy and X-ray fluorescence) have provided new theories regarding age, gender, paleopathology and morphological changes to the bones which are now catalogued by 4,500 photos.

Although the new investigations employed the latest tools in the science of physical anthropology that the earlier examinations of teams had not benefitted from in the 1980s, the technology has not yet put an end to the debate. In 2008, and prior to the highly scientific post-mortem by Antikas’ team in 2014, the Greek historian, Dr. Miltiades Hatzopoulos, summarized the background to the previous research: ‘The issue has been obscured by precipitate announcements, the quest for publicity, political agendas and petty rivalries…’ The summation sounds remarkably like the motives of the agenda-driven historians who gave us Alexander’s story.

Yet the Great Tumulus at Aegae, built from layers of clay, soil and rock, and thrown up by unknown hands laboring under a still-unnamed king, seems to have protected some of its finest secrets from historians and looters, both from the marauding Gauls and the invading Romans, who carted everything they could back to Italy following Macedonia’s defeat.

No doubt there is much more still to be discovered; the recent excavations at the Kasta Hill polyandreion (communal tomb) at Amphipolis some 100 miles (160 km) from Vergina and the newly unearthed tombs at Pella and Katerini, remind us we have only unearthed a fragment of classical Macedonia, and, we suggest, no more than fragments of the story of Alexander himself.

‘Folded’ iron sword found in a Roman soldier’s grave was part of a pagan ritual

‘Folded’ iron sword found in a Roman soldier’s grave was part of a pagan ritual

Archaeologists in Greece have discovered a 1,600-year-old iron sword that was folded in a ritual “killing” before being interred in the grave of a soldier who served in the Roman imperial army.

This iron sword was folded in a ritual “killing” before it was buried with a soldier about 1,600 years ago.

The discovery of the folded sword was “astonishing,” because the soldier was buried in an early church, but folded sword was part of a known pagan ritual, said project co-researcher Errikos Maniotis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Byzantine Archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

Although this soldier, who was likely a mercenary, may have “embraced the Roman way of life and the Christian religion, he hadn’t abandoned his roots,” Maniotis told  in an email.

The soldier’s burial is the latest finding at the site of a three-aisled paleochristian basilica dating from the fifth century. The basilica was discovered in 2010, during excavation ahead of the construction of a subway track, which prompted researchers to call the ancient building the Sintrivani basilica, after the Sintrivani metro station. The station is in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, which was an important metropolis during Roman times. 

The basilica was built over an even older place of worship; a fourth-century chapel, which might be the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki, Maniotis said.

The individual’s burial in the ancient basilica.

In the seventh century, the church was damaged and only poorly renovated before it was eventually abandoned in the eighth or ninth century, Maniotis said. During recent excavations, archeologists found seven graves that had been sealed inside. Some of the graves contained two deceased individuals, but didn’t have any artifacts.

However, an arch-shaped grave contained the remains of an individual who had been buried with weapons, including a bent spatha — a type of long, straight sword from the late Roman period (A.D. 250-450).

“Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,” Maniotis said. “Thus, we may say that the deceased, taking also into consideration the importance of the burial location, was a high-ranking officer of the Roman army.”

The individual was buried with the folded sword, a shield-boss and a spearhead.

The archaeologists still have to study the individual. “We don’t know anything about his profile: age of death, cause of death, possible wounds that he might have from the wars he fought, etc.,” Maniotis said.

However, they were intrigued by his folded sword and other weapons, which included a shield-boss (the circular center of a shield) and spearhead. 

So far, the folded sword is the most revealing feature in the grave. “Such findings are extremely rare in an urban landscape,” Maniotis said. “Folded swords are usually excavated in sites in Northern Europe,” including in places used by the Celts, he said.

This custom was also observed in ancient Greece and much later by the Vikings, but “it seems that Romans didn’t practice it, let alone when the new religion, Christianity, dominated, due to the fact that this ritual [was] considered to be pagan,” Maniotis said.

The bent sword is a clue that the soldier was a “Romanized Goth or from any other Germanic tribe who served as a mercenary (foederatus) in the imperial Roman forces,” Maniotis wrote in the email.

The Latin word “foederatus” comes from “foedus,” a term describing a “treaty of mutual assistance between Rome and another nation,” Maniotis noted.

“This treaty allowed the Germanic tribes to serve in the Roman Army as mercenaries, providing them with money, land and titles. [But] sometimes these foederati turned against the Romans.”

The archaeological team recently found ancient coins at the site, so they plan to use these, as well as the style of the sword’s pommel, or the knob on the handle, to figure out when this soldier lived, Maniotis noted.

“The soldier’s armament [weapons] will shed light to the impact that the presence of the community of foreign mercenaries had in the city of Thessaloniki, the second greatest city, since the fall of Rome and after Constantinople, in the Eastern Roman Empire.”

Mosaic and cemetery

The discovery of the ancient basilica has revealed other ancient artifacts. Archaeologists led by Melina Paisidou, an associate professor of archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, have also excavated the building’s beautiful mosaic floor, Maniotis said.

The mosaic shows a vine with birds on its stalks, including the mythical phoenix with a halo that has 13 rays at its center. Only seven other depicted birds have survived, but the archaeological team posits that there were originally 12 birds, and that the mosaic is likely an allegorical representation of Christ and the 12 apostles, Maniotis said.

This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization

This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization

They had been digging for days, shaded from the Greek sun by a square of green tarpaulin slung between olive trees. The archaeologists used picks to break the cream-colored clay, baked as hard as rock, until what began as a cluster of stones just visible in the dirt became four walls in a neat rectangle, sinking down into the earth.

The warrior was buried in an olive grove outside the acropolis of Pylos. Though archaeologist Carl Blegen explored the olive grove in the 1960s, he did not find anything.

Little more than the occasional animal bone, however, came from the soil itself. On the morning of May 28, 2015, the sun gave way to an unseasonable drizzle. The pair digging that day, Flint Dibble and Alison Fields, waited for the rain to clear, then stepped down into their meter-deep hole and got to work. Dibble looked at Fields. “It’s got to be soon,” he said.

The season had not started well. The archaeologists were part of a group of close to three dozen researchers digging near the ancient Palace of Nestor, on a hilltop near Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece. The palace was built in the Bronze Age by the Mycenaeans—the heroes described in Homer’s epic poems—and was first excavated in the 1930s.

The dig’s leaders, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, had hoped to excavate in a currant field just downslope from the palace, but Greek bureaucracy and a lawyers’ strike kept them from obtaining the necessary permits. So they settled, disappointed, on a neighboring olive grove.

They cleared the land of weeds and snakes and selected a few spots to investigate, including three stones that appeared to form a corner. As the trench around the stones sank deeper, the researchers allowed themselves to grow eager: The shaft’s dimensions, two meters by one meter, suggested a grave, and Mycenaean burials are famous for their breathtakingly rich contents, able to reveal volumes about the culture that produced them.

Still, there was no proof that this structure was even ancient, the archaeologists reminded themselves, and it might simply be a small cellar or shed.

Dibble was clearing earth from around a large stone slab when his pick hit something hard and the monotony of the clay was broken by a vivid flash of green: bronze.

The pair immediately put down their picks, and after placing an excited call to Davis and Stocker they began to carefully sweep up the soil and dust. They knew they were standing atop something substantial, but even then they did not imagine just how rich the discovery would turn out to be.“It was amazing,” says Stocker, a small woman in her 50s with dangling earrings and blue-gray eyes. “People had been walking across this field for three-and-a-half-thousand years.”

Yet remarkably little is known of the beginnings of Mycenaean culture. The Pylos grave, with its wealth of undisturbed burial objects and, at its bottom, a largely intact skeleton, offers a nearly unprecedented window into this time—and what it reveals is calling into question our most basic ideas about the roots of Western civilization.

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, discovered the warrior’s grave.

In The Iliad, Homer tells of how Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, led a fleet of a thousand ships to besiege the city of Troy. Classical Greeks (and Romans, who traced their heritage to the Trojan hero Aeneas) accepted the stories in The Iliad and The Odyssey as a part of their national histories, but in later centuries scholars insisted that the epic battles fought between the Trojan and Mycenaean kingdoms were nothing more than myth and romantic fantasy. Before the eighth century B.C., archaeologists argued, societies on the Greek mainland were scattered and disorganized.

Today, Blegen’s work at Pylos is continued by Stocker and Davis (his official title is the Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology). Davis walks with me to the hilltop, and we pause to enjoy the gorgeous view of olive groves and cypress trees rolling down to a jewel-blue sea.

Davis has white-blond hair, freckles and a dry sense of humor, and he is steeped in the history of the place: Alongside Stocker, he has been working in this area for 25 years. As we look out to sea, he points out the island of Sphacteria, where the Athenians beat the Spartans during a fifth-century B.C. battle of the Peloponnesian War.

Behind us, Nestor’s palace is surrounded by flowering oleander trees and is covered with an impressive new metal roof, completed just in time for the site’s reopening to the public in June 2016 after a three-year, multimillion-euro restoration. The roof’s graceful white curves protect the ruins from the elements, while a raised walkway allows visitors to admire the floor plan.

The stone walls of the palace now rise just a meter from the ground, but it was originally a vast two-story complex, built around 1450 B.C., that covered more than 15,000 square feet and was visible for miles. Visitors would have passed through an open courtyard into a large throne room, Davis explains, with a central hearth for offerings and decorated with elaborately painted scenes including lions, griffins and a bard playing a lyre.

The Linear B tablets found by Blegen, deciphered in the 1950s, revealed that the palace was an administrative center that supported more than 50,000 people in an area covering all of modern-day Messenia in western Greece. Davis points out storerooms and pantries in which thousands of unused ceramic wine cups were found, as well as workshops for the production of leather and perfumed oils.

This era, extending until the construction of palaces at Pylos, Mycenae and elsewhere, is known to scholars as the “shaft grave period” (after the graves that Schliemann discovered). Cynthia Shelmerdine, a classicist and renowned scholar of Mycenaean society at the University of Texas at Austin, describes this period as “the moment the door opens.”

It is, she says, “the start of elites coming together to form something beyond just a minor chiefdom, the very beginning of what leads to the palatial civilization only a hundred years later.” From this first awakening, “it really takes a very short time for them to leap into full statehood and become great kings on a par with the Hittite emperor. It was a remarkable thing to happen.”

Yet partly as a result of the building of the palaces themselves, atop the razed mansions of early Mycenaeans, very little is known of the people and culture that gave birth to them. You can’t just tear up the plaster floors to see what’s underneath, Davis explains. The tholos itself went out of use around the time the palace was built. Whoever the first leaders here were, Davis and Stocker had assumed, they were buried in this plundered tomb. Until, less than a hundred yards from the tholos, the researchers found the warrior grave.

Aerial view of the warrior’s grave
The later site of 14th-century B.C. Nestor’s Palace
A bronze sword with a gold-coated hilt was among 1,500 items buried with Pylos’ “griffin warrior.”
Today known as Voidokilia, the omega-shaped cove at “sandy Pylos” is where Homer recounted that Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, was welcomed by Nestor while searching for his father.
Bull sacrifice was practiced by the Mycenaeans at Pylos, as recounted in The Odyssey. The autumn olive harvest is an ancient ritual that survives today.
The tholos tomb at Pylos

Davis and Stocker disagree on where they were when they received Dibble’s call from the dig site. Stocker remembers they were at the team’s workshop. Davis thinks they were at the local museum. Dibble recalls that they were in line at the bank. Whichever it was, they rushed to the site and, Stocker says, “basically never left.”

About a week in, Davis was excavating behind the stone slab. “I’ve found gold,” he said calmly. Stocker thought he was teasing, but he turned around with a golden bead in his palm. It was the first in a flood of small, precious items: beads; a tiny gold birdcage pendant; intricately carved gold rings; and several gold and silver cups.

“Then things changed,” says Stocker. Aware of the high risk of looting, she organized round-the-clock security, and, apart from the Ministry of Culture and the site’s head guard, the archaeologists agreed to tell no one about the more valuable finds. They excavated in pairs, always with one person on watch, ready to cover precious items if someone approached.

The largest ring discovered was made of multiple finely soldered gold sheets.

And yet it was impossible not to feel elated, too. “There were days when 150 beads were coming out—gold, amethyst, carnelian,” says Davis. “There were days when there was one seal stone after another, with beautiful images. It was like, Oh my god, what will come next?!” Beyond the pure thrill of uncovering such exquisite items, the researchers knew that the complex finds represented an unprecedented opportunity to piece together this moment in history, promising insights into everything from religious iconography to local manufacturing techniques.

The discovery of a golden cup, as lovely as the day it was made, proved an emotional moment. “How could you not be moved?” says Stocker. “It’s the passion of looking at a beautiful piece of art or listening to a piece of music. There’s a human element. If you forget that, it becomes an exercise in removing things from the ground.”

Fragments of Ancient Life

From jewelry to gilded weapons, a sampling of the buried artifacts researchers are using to fill in the details about the social currents in Greece at the time the griffin warrior lived

Like any momentous archaeological find, the griffin warrior’s grave has two stories to tell. One is the individual story of this man—who he was, when he lived, what role he played in local events. The other story is broader—what he tells us about the larger world and the crucial shifts in power taking place at that moment in history.

Analyses of the skeleton show that this 30-something dignitary stood around five-and-a-half feet, tall for a man of his time. Combs found in the grave imply that he had long hair. And a recent computerized facial reconstruction based on the warrior’s skull, created by Lynne Schepartz and Tobias Houlton, physical anthropologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, shows a broad, determined face with close-set eyes and a prominent jaw. Davis and Stocker are also planning DNA tests and isotope analyses that they hope will provide information about his ethnic and geographic origins.

And this has been the scholarly consensus ever since: The Mycenaeans, now thought to have sacked Knossos at around the time they built their mainland palaces and established their language and administrative system on Crete, were the true ancestors of Europe.

Significantly, weapons had been placed on the left side of the warrior’s body while rings and seal stones were on the right, suggesting that they were arranged with intent, not simply thrown in. The representational artwork featured on the rings also had direct connections to actual buried objects.

“One of the gold rings has a goddess standing on top of a mountain with a staff that seems to be crowned by a horned bull’s head,” says Davis. “We found a bull’s head staff in the grave.” Another ring shows a goddess sitting on a throne, looking at herself in the mirror. “We have a mirror.” Davis and Stocker do not believe that all this is a coincidence. “We think that objects were chosen to interact with the iconography of the rings.”

Horns, which symbolize authority, appear on this bronze bull’s head and three gold rings.

In their view, the arrangement of objects in the grave provides the first real evidence that the mainland elite were experts in Minoan ideas and customs, who understood very well the symbolic meaning of the products they acquired. “The grave shows these are not just knuckle-scraping, Neanderthal Mycenaeans who were completely bowled over by the very existence of Minoan culture,” says Bennet. “They know what these objects are.”

“I think we should all care about that,” says Shelmerdine. “It resonates today, when you have factions that want to throw everybody out [of their countries]. I don’t think the Mycenaeans would have gotten anywhere if they hadn’t been able to reach beyond their shores.”

GREEK FARMER STUMBLES ONTO 3,400-YEAR-OLD TOMB HIDDEN BELOW HIS OLIVE GROVE

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

If you live in an environment where ancient cultures flourish, you often slip into fascinating bits of long-forgotten history. That’s what happened to one Greek farmer living in Crete, not far from the town of Ierapetra.

When the ground below him started to give way, the farmer parked his truck under some olive trees on his property. After the farmer moved his vehicle to a safer place, he saw a four-foot hole opening in the ground. He realized that this was not an ordinary hole when he looked inside.

The hole in the ground led to a Minoan Bronze Age tomb.

The farmer called archaeologists from the Ministry of Heritage to investigate, and began excavating an ancient Minoan grave, carved into the soft limestone pillar, which had been hidden for thousands of years.

Two adult Minoans had been set in high-embossed clay reefs called “larnakes,” common in the Minoan culture of the Bronze Age. These, in turn, were surrounded by funerary vases which indicated that the men had a high status.

The ancient chamber tomb was entirely intact and undamaged by looters.

The tomb was about 13 feet in length and eight feet deep, divided into three chambers that would have been accessed via a vertical tunnel that was sealed with clay after the tomb’s occupants were laid to rest. One larnax was found in the northernmost chamber, with a number of funerary vessels scattered around it.

The chamber at the southern end of the tomb held the other larnax coffin, along with 14 amphorae and a bowl. The tomb was estimated to be about 3,400 years old, and was preserved in near-perfect condition, making it a valuable find.

Two Minoan men were buried in the Crete tomb roughly 3,400 years ago

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist, wrote for Forbes that the ornamentation on the artifacts found in the tomb suggest that its inhabitants were men of wealth. The fanciest tombs from the same period, however, had massive domed walls in a “beehive” style, which this tomb doesn’t, so they probably weren’t among the wealthiest.

The find dates from the Late Minoan Period, sometimes called the Late Palace Period. In the earlier part of that era, Minoan civilization was very rich, with impressive ceramics and art, but by the later part of the period there is an apparent decline in wealth and prestige, according to Killgrove.

It’s believed that the civilization was weakened by a combination of natural disasters, including a tsunami triggered by an earthquake, and the eruption of a nearby volcano. This made it easier for foreigners to come in and destroy the palaces.

Locals don’t anticipate the discovery of any more tombs of this type, but the area is known to be the home of a number of antiquities, and a great deal of them have been found by coincidence, as with this find.

The Deputy Mayor of Local Communities, Agrarian and Tourism of Ierapetra pointed out that the tomb had never been found by thieves, and went on to say that it would probably have remained undiscovered forever, except for the broken irrigation pipe that was responsible for the softened and eroded soil in the farmer’s olive grove.

He went on to say how pleased they were with having the tomb to further enrich their understanding of their ancient culture and history, and that the tomb was proof for those historians who didn’t think that there had been Minoans in that part of Crete.

Previously, it had been thought that the Minoans only settled in the lowlands and plains of the island, not in the mountains that surround Ierapetra, although there was an excavation in 2012 that uncovered a Minoan mansion in the same area.

The 5,000-year-old Pavlopetri, Greece, is considered to be the oldest submerged Lost city in the world

The 5,000-year-old Pavlopetri, Greece, is considered to be the oldest submerged Lost city in the world

The city of Pavlopetri, underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, Greece, is about 5,000 years old, and one of the oldest submerged Lost city (oldest in Mediterranean sea). 

The name Pavlopetri (“Paul’s and Peter’s”, or “Paul’s stone”) is the modern name for the islet and beach, apparently named for the two Christian saints that are celebrated together; the ancient name or names are unknown.

Discovered in 1967 by Nicholas Flemming and mapped in 1968 by a team of archaeologists from Cambridge, Pavlopetri is located between the Pavlopetri islet across the Elafonisos village and the Pounta coast.

The coast, the archaeological site as well as the islet and the surrounding sea area are within the region of the Elafonisos Municipality, the old “Onou Gnathos” peninsula (according to Pausanias). It is unique in having an almost complete town plan, including streets, buildings, and tombs.

Originally, the ruins were dated to the Mycenaean period, 1600–1100 BC but later studies showed an older occupation date starting no later than 2800 BC, so it also includes early Bronze Age middle Minoan and transitional material.

 It is now believed that the town was submerged around 1000 BC  by the first of three earthquakes that the area suffered. The area never re-emerged, so it was neither built-over nor disrupted by agriculture.

Although eroded over the centuries, the town layout is as it was thousands of years ago. The site is under threat of damage by boats dragging anchors, as well as by tourists and souvenir hunters.

Overview of Pavlopetri.

The fieldwork of 2022was largely to map the site. It is the first submerged town digitally surveyed in three dimensions.Sonar mapping techniques developed by military and oil prospecting organisations have aided recent work.

The city has at least 15 buildings submerged in 3 to 4 metres (9.8–13.1 ft) of water. The newest discoveries in 2009 alone cover 9,000 m2 (2.2 acres).

Position of Pavlopetri.

As of October 2009, four more fieldwork sessions are planned, also in collaboration with the Greek government as a joint project. Those sessions will do excavations.

Also working alongside the archaeologists (from the University of Nottingham) are a team from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, who aim to take underwater archaeology into the 21st century.

They have developed several unique robots to survey the site in various ways. One of the results of the survey was to establish that the town was the centre of a thriving textile industry (from the many loom weights found in the site). Also many large pitharis pots (from Crete) were excavated, also indicating a major trading port.

Archaeologists Hunting For Cleopatra’s Tomb Uncover a “Geometric Miracle” Tunnel

Archaeologists Hunting For Cleopatra’s Tomb Uncover a “Geometric Miracle” Tunnel

The tunnel beneath the temple at Taposiris Magna.

Underneath a temple in the ancient ruined city of Taposiris Magna on the Egyptian coast, archaeologists have uncovered a vast, spectacular tunnel that experts are referring to as a “geometric miracle”.

During ongoing excavations and exploration of the temple, Kathleen Martinez of the University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and colleagues uncovered the structure 13 meters (43 feet) below the ground. The 2-meter tall tunnel had been hewn through an incredible 1,305 meters (4,281 feet) of sandstone.

Its design, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, is remarkably similar to the 1,036-meter Tunnel of Eupalinos – a 6th century BCE aqueduct on the Greek island of Samos. Often referred to as a marvel of engineering, the conduit was unprecedented in design and construction in its day.

While the Taposiris Magna tunnel isn’t without equal, its engineering is nonetheless just as impressive.

The tunnel resembles another, older tunnel from ancient Greece that was used to transport water.

Parts of the Taposiris Magna tunnel are submerged in water, though putting aside its resemblance to the Eupalinos Tunnel, its purpose is currently unknown.

Martinez, who has been working in Taposiris Magna since 2022 in search of the lost tomb of Cleopatra VII, believes that the tunnel could be a promising lead. Previously, the excavations have yielded clues that seem to point to the famous queen and the last of the Ptolemies.

Taposiris Magna was founded around 280 BCE by Ptolemy II, the son of Alexander the Great’s renowned general and one of Cleopatra’s forebears (she herself ruled from 51 BCE until her death by suicide in 30 BCE).

The temple, the team believes, was dedicated to the god Osiris and his queen, the goddess Isis – the deity with whom Cleopatra courted a strong association. Coins bearing the names and likenesses of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great have been found there, as well as figurines of Isis.

The tunnel is hewn from the Egyptian bedrock.

Burial shafts containing Greco-Roman burials have also been found in the temple. It’s possible that – if they’re to be found there at all – Cleopatra and her husband Mark Antony may have been interred in similar tombs.

It’s too early to tell if the new tunnel could lead to these long-lost tombs, but future work could yield more information.

The next stage will be exploring the nearby Mediterranean sea. Between 320 and 1303 CE, a series of earthquakes hit the coast, causing part of the temple to collapse and be swallowed by the waves.

In addition, excavations had previously revealed a network of tunnels stretching from Lake Mariout to the Mediterranean.

Alabaster heads were also found at the temple site.

Whether or not the tombs are found, a thorough excavation of these ruins could tell us more about the mysterious ancient city. The tunnel has already yielded some treasures: pieces of pottery, and a rectangular block of limestone.

As then-Minister for Antiquities Zahi Hawass said 13 years ago, “If we discover the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century. If we did not discover the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, we made major discoveries here, inside the temple and outside the temple.”

2,200-YEAR-OLD STUNNING MOSAIC IN ANCIENT GREEK CITY OF ZEUGMA

2,200-Year-Old Stunning Mosaic In Ancient Greek City Of Zeugma

In the ancient Greek town of Zeugma, it actually located in Turkey, three new mosaics have been discovered.

The mosaics dating from the 2nd century BC are exceptionally well preserved, but they’re still as beautiful as the first day.

In addition, in Dacia (presumably Romania) there are two ancient cities named Zeugma and one in modern Gaziantep province of Turkey.

It was considered one of the largest trading centers in the Eastern Roman Empire in Turkey and prospered till the third century when it was completely destroyed and then struck by an earthquake by a Sassanid king

However, to this day, Zeugma yields a trove of archaeological wonders with 2000-3000 houses in remarkably good condition. Excavations started in 2022 and have continued to this day.

The fact that the city was destroyed and then also hit by rubble created a sort of rubble barrier, which protected it from future treasure hunters or building material scavengers.

2,200-Year-Old Stunning Mosaic In Ancient Greek City Of Zeugma

To make things even more interesting, Zeugma was completely underwater until recently, when a project to excavate the area received funding from a number of sources, and the past could finally be uncovered.

There are still many things left to be found in Zeugma, but for now, these mosaics look simply superb. Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin and the head of the excavations, Professor Kutalmış Görkay uncovered them at a press conference.

“There are still unexcavated areas. There are rock-carved houses here. We have reached one of these houses and the house includes six spaces. We have also unearthed three new mosaics in this year’s excavations,” he said.

Görkay emphasizes that now, the project will reach its most important stage – conservation. Indeed, modern archaeology is not about finding things, it’s about preserving them for the future, and understanding the different aspects of ancient life.

“From now on, we will work on restoration and conservation. We plan to establish a temporary roof for long-term protection. We estimate that the ancient city has 2,000-3,000 houses. Twenty-five of them remain underwater.

Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin visited the site of some 2,000-year-old mosaics on Sunday in the ancient city of Zeugma in southeast Turkey and walked on them in high-heeled shoes.

However, while they are talking about preservation, the mayor and chief archaeologist don’t seem to really care about it that much.

They displayed extreme carelessness as mayor of Gaziantep and her staff amounted to 13 people who stepped on the 2,000-year-old mosaics that measure up to 10 square meters in size.

That’s right, while they are talking about the importance of preserving these finds, they are actually walking on 2,200-year-old mosaics.

THE THEOPETRA CAVE AND THE OLDEST HUMAN CONSTRUCTION IN THE WORLD

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World


The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site situated in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly. As a result of the archaeological excavations that have taken place over the years, it has been revealed that the Theopetra cave was inhabited by human beings as early as 130,000 years ago.

In addition, evidence of human habitation in the Theopetra Cave can be dated without interruption from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period.

This is significant, as it allows archaeologists to have a better understanding of the prehistoric period in Greece.

Excavations at the Theopetra cave began in 1987 under the direction of N. Kyparissi-Apostolika.

The Theopetra Cave is located on the north-eastern slope of a limestone hill, some 100 m (330 feet above the valley), overlooking the remote village of Theopetra, and the river Lethaios, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows nearby.

According to geologists, the limestone hill was formed between 137 and 65 million years ago, corresponding to the Upper Cretaceous period. Based on archaeological evidence, human beings have only begun to occupy the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period, i.e. around 130,000 years ago.

The cave is located on the slopes of a limestone hill overlooking Theopetra village.

The cave itself has been described as roughly quadrilateral in shape with narrow niches on its edge and covers an area of around 500 sq meters (5380 sq ft). The Theopetra Cave has a wide aperture, which enables the light to penetrate easily into the interior of the cave.

The archaeological excavation of the Theopetra Cave began in 1987 and continued up until 2022. This project was directed by Dr Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika, who served as the head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleography when the excavations were being carried out.

It may be mentioned that when the archaeological work was first conducted, the Theopetra Cave was being used by local shepherds as a temporary shelter in which they would keep their flocks.

It may be added that the Theopetra Cave was the first cave in Thessaly to have been archaeologically excavated, and also the only one in Greece to have a continuous sequence of deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period.

This is significant, as it has allowed archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic way of life in mainland Greece.

Several interesting discoveries have been made through the archaeological study of the Theopetra Cave. One of these, for instance, pertains to the climate in the area when the cave was being occupied.

By conducting micro-morphological analysis on the sediment samples collected from each archaeological layer, archaeologists were able to determine that there had been hot and cold spells during the cave’s occupation. As a result of these changes in the climate, the cave’s population also fluctuated accordingly.

Another fascinating find from the Theopetra Cave is the remains of a stone wall that once partially closed off the entrance of the cave. These remains were discovered in 2022 and using a relatively new method of dating known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, scientists were able to date this wall to around 23000 years old.

The age of this wall, which coincides with the last glacial age, has led researchers to suggest that the wall had been built by the inhabitants of the cave to protect them from the cold outside. It has been claimed that this is the oldest known man-made structure in Greece, and possibly even in the world.

A year before this incredible discovery was made, it was announced that a trial of at least three hominid footprints that were imprinted onto the cave’s soft earthen floor had been uncovered.

Based on the shape and size of the footprints, it has been speculated that they were made by several Neanderthal children, aged between two and four years old, who had lived in the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period.

In 2022, the Theopetra Cave was officially opened to the public, though it was closed temporarily a year later, as the remains of the stone wall were discovered that year.

Although the archaeological site was later re-opened, it was closed once again in 2022 and remains so due to safety reasons, i.e. the risk of landslides occurring.

2,100-year-old bubedrial of woman lying on bronze ‘mermaid ‘ unearthed in Greece

2,100-year-old burial of woman lying on bronze ‘mermaid bed’ unearthed in Greece

A photo of the burial of a woman lying on a bronze bed. She lived sometime during the first century B.C.

Archaeologists have unearthed the ancient burial of a woman lying on a bronze bed near the city of Kozani in northern Greece. It dates to the first century B.C. 

Depictions of mermaids decorate the posts of the bed. The bed also displays an image of a bird holding a snake in its mouth, a symbol of the ancient Greek god Apollo.

The woman’s head was covered with gold laurel leaves that likely were part of a wreath, Areti Chondrogianni-Metoki, director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani, told Live Science in an email. The wooden portions of the bed have decomposed. 

Gold threads, possibly from embroidery, were found on the woman’s hands, Chondrogianni-Metoki said. Additionally, four clay pots and a glass vessel were buried alongside the remains. No other people were buried with her. 

This image shows how the bed would have looked before the burial. It is made largely of bronze but had some wooden parts that have since decayed away.

Archaeologists are now analyzing the skeleton to determine the woman’s health, age when she died and possible cause of death.

The artifacts found with her suggest that she likely came from a wealthy background, and may have belonged to a royal family.

“We do not know much about the history of this area [during the first century B.C.],” Chondrogianni-Metoki told .

Thousands of years ago, Kozani was near an important city called Mavropigi (the site is now a village) that housed a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, Chondrogianni-Metoki said.

This mermaid head was found on the bed.

Historical records show that during the first century B.C., Roman control and influence in Greece was on the rise. The Romans destroyed the city of Corinth in 146 B.C. and sacked Athens in 86 B.C.

In 48 B.C. a crucial battle in northern Greece known as the Battle of Pharsalus saw the army of Julius Caesar defeat a force led by Pompey; the victory resulted in Caesar becoming the de facto ruler of Rome. 

It’s unclear when exactly in the first century B.C. this woman lived or if she would have witnessed or heard of any of those historic events. The woman’s remains are currently housed at the Archaeological Museum of Aiani in Greece.

 contacted scholars not affiliated with the research for further insights on the discovery, but none were available to offer comment at the time of publication.

The bronze bed burial was found in 2021. In 2022, another bed burial was found in a nearby cemetery that had an elderly man buried on the remains of a bed made of iron and wood. That burial dated to the fourth century B.C.

Her 3,000-Year-Old Bones Showed Unusual Signs of Wear. It Turns Out, She Was a Master Ceramicist

Her 3,000-Year-Old Bones Showed Unusual Signs of Wear. It Turns Out, She Was a Master Ceramicist

Back in 2022, archaeologists at Eleutherna—an ancient city-state located on the Greek island of Crete—discovered a woman’s skeleton that showed unusual signs of wear.

The master female ceramicist likely created large vases, known as pithoi, similar to these

As Michael Price writes for Science magazine, in comparison to the other females at the site, the muscles on the right side of her body were notably developed, while the cartilage on her knee and hip joints was worn away, leaving the bones smooth and ivory-like.

Initial analysis of the woman’s remains, as well as the pottery found in similar graves at the Orthi Petra burial site, indicated that the approximately 45 to 50 year old lived between 900 B.C.. and 650 B.C. By this point in Crete’s history, the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations—rivals best known for the labyrinthine palace complexes that inspired the classic Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the gold mask of Agamemnon, respectively—had long since collapsed, ushering the region into a tumultuous period later dubbed the Greek Dark Ages.

Despite determining these demographic details, researchers were unable to ascertain why the woman’s bones showed such unique signs of wear.

The team, led by Adelphi University anthropologist Anagnostis Agelarakis and site excavator Nikolaos Stampolidis, created digital and physical models that allowed them to judge the physical effects of routine tasks such as spinning wool, planting and harvesting crops, weaving on a loom, and bread baking, but none of the actions yielded a match.

Then, as Cara Giaimo reports for Atlas Obscura, the team chanced upon a master ceramicist who lived near the Eleutherna site. The woman demonstrated how she created her large artisan vases—describing the sets of muscles used and subsequent strain experienced—and provided researchers with a key breakthough in the frustrating case.

Her movements and the physical toll exacted by the process, Giaimo writes, closely mirrored that of her 3,000-year-old predecessor.

“Constantly flexing her leg to turn the kick wheel would have worn out her joints,” Science’s Price notes, while “repeatedly leaning to one side of the spinning clay to shape and sculpt it would have developed the muscles on that side of her body.”

The researchers confirmed their hypothesis with the help of medical imaging and anatomical models, according to Archaeology’s Marley Brown, and concluded the woman must have been a master ceramicist, honing her craft over a lifetime of arduous physical labor.

These findings, which were first reported at a May conference hosted by the Museum of Ancient Eleutherna, mark the first time researchers have identified an expert female ceramicist working in the world of ancient Greece.

It makes sense that such a figure should emerge in Eleutherna, Brown writes, as the city-state has long been associated with powerful women. In fact, archaeologists previously unearthed the graves of four priestesses in the same Orthi Petra site where the master artisan was found.

Agelarakis explains that the find is, therefore, somewhat “unsurprising given the importance and privileged social position of the Eleuthernian matriline.”

In an interview with Atlas Obscura’s Giaimo, Agelarakis states that the team’s research represents.

He concludes, “It signifies that women … held craft specialization roles in antiquity, which I think is very important.”