Archaeologists in Athens uncover 2,500-year-old Greek mystery by CSI tests

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Archaeologists in Athens uncover 2,500-year-old Greek mystery by CSI testsCSI: Crime Scene Investigation tests will be used to uncover what happened regarding 1,500 skeletons dating back to between the eighth and fifth century BC

Archaeologists in Athens believe they may have discovered some of the remains of an army raised by nobleman Cylon — the first recorded Olympic champion — who tried to take over the city of Athens and install himself as its sole ruler 2,500 years ago.

Athenian and Greek historians Thucydides and Herodotus, wrote about the coup and described how Cylon enticed an army of followers to enter the city and lay siege to the Athens Acropolis.

They were ultimately defeated, but Cylon managed to escape.

Now archaeologists in Athens believe they may have unearthed some of the remains of Cylon’s army in a mass grave in Faliron, about four miles south of central Athens.

Site project director Stella Chrysoulaki told reporters that the discovery of the 80 skeletons of men is “unprecedented” since the men, young and well-fed, were located lying in the unmarked grave in three rows, some on their backs while others were tossed facedown on their stomachs.

All of the men had their hands tied in iron chains and at least 52 of them had their hands tied above their heads. They died from blows to the head, victims of a “political execution” that dates back to between 675 and 650 BC according to pieces of pottery unearthed in the grave, Chrysoulaki revealed.

“We are going to use, roughly speaking, the methods made famous by television series on forensics crime science,” noted Panagiotis Karkanas, laboratory director and geoarchaeologist at the Malcolm H. Wiener Laboratory at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation tests

His team, though technically not crime scene investigators, will apply similar high-tech methods utilisizing some of the same tools.

They will conduct a battery of tests — particularly gene, radiographic and isotopic analyses — to uncover the mysteries hidden inside each skull and skeleton fragment.

Bioarchaeological scientists use forensic research, such as DNA profiling, to investigate and eventually reveal how humans lived and died by examining skeletons.

Probably the most popular of these TV series, CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", which chronicles the cases of an elite team of police forensics investigators, has used the shorthand CSI to describe the technology the agents use.

Most of the recorded ancient history on Athens and Greek life describes the "elite and the victors," Karkanas added.

But to rely solely on those testimonies to understand the past would be like "reading newspapers today to find out what's going on in the world right now".

One of the largest excavation sites

The mass grave was uncovered in spring last year in one of the largest excavation sites Greece has ever unearthed.

Though the site was found a century ago, large-scale excavation of the complex only began in 2012, when archaeologists discovered a large cemetery containing over 1,500 skeletons dating back to between the eighth and fifth century BC.

At the time, Athens was just being formed and the city was transitioning towards a democracy, Eleanna Prevedorou, a bioarchaeological researcher on the project, explained.

She is a bioarchaeological researcher on the project, which will see high-tech methods deployed akin to those seen on TV shows such as 'CSI' to examine the skeletons.

And it was happening "against a backdrop of political turmoil, tensions between tyrants, aristocrats and the working class," she added.

One of the skeletons was found with his arms twisted behind his back and may have been a "prisoner of war, a criminal or a runaway slave," according to her.

Many of the skeletons found were in unmarked graves, sometimes in sandy holes barely big enough to hold a body. Others were buried in open pits, placed on funeral pyres and in jars, the preferred coffins at the time for infants and small children.

Whatever evidence the archaelogists collect will give them an idea of how old the men were, whether they were related, where they came from, how healthy they were, and where they stood on the socioeconomic ladder of the times.

But unlike crime dramas on TV, where investigators always uncover very fast exactly how and why the crime took place, this cold case will likely not be resolved for a period of approximately five to seven years.

The researchers will have to find out why they were tied, how they died or how they were killed, why they were buried together, what relation they had with each other, where they come from, if they were Greeks or foreigners, if they were Athenians, if they were slaves of prisoners of war and why they were killed, answering to as many questions as possible. After answering all these questions, archaeologists will be able to draw conclusions about life in Athens in the period between the 8th and the 5th century BC.

More than 1,500 skeletons

The mass grave was uncovered in spring last year in one of the largest excavation sites Greece has ever organized. It is the largest and most extensive necropolis of the ancient world, among the most important antiquities found ever.

Though the site was first discovered a century ago, large-scale excavation of the complex only began in 2012, when archaeologists discovered a large cemetery containing over 1,500 skeletons dating back to between the eighth and fifth century BC.

More than 100 of them bore the marks of a violent death and other small-scale excavations since then have yielded other treasures, including the group of men believed to be part of Cylon's army.

According to researchers, the cemetery measures about 4,000 square metres (372 square feet) and all 1,500 skeletons will eventually be taken to the laboratory's facilities for proper study.

At least 10 of the 80 men unearthed are headed to the lab later this year, while the rest will stay as part of an upcoming exposition on the excavation site.

Even the nonviolent deaths, or deaths without noted reference—notably the hundreds of children's remains discovered in jars—have a story to tell, Karkanas said.

The bones could reveal the children's lifestyles and diseases, shedding more light on ancient Athenian culture and history.

The skeletons are carefully preserved and guarded in the premises of the American School of Classical Studies in central Athens. Researchers have started the study of hundreds of thousands of bones.

The colossal project that will cost about one million euros is funded by American and Greek individuals.

Read more here

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinations Greek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report

Photo Source: Greek Culture Ministry

Source: afp/physorg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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