Compromise between an ancient necropolis and an ultra modern Cultural Center reached in Athens

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Compromise between an ancient necropolis and an ultra modern Cultural Center reached in AthensThe mass burial of 79 skeletons, some of which are in chains and bear signs of violent death, is a rare and extraordinary find. Photo Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

Greece's Central Archaeological Council (KAS) approved of a "compromise plan" to construct an underground shelter in order to permanently protect and display the Archaic-era skeletons discovered during the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in coastal Athens.

The temporary removal of the ancient mass grave of 79 young men with shackles around their wrists and dating from the 7th century BC is seen as a compromise between calls for the bones to be removed from the location and those who want the site to remain intact pending further investigation.

The former point to exposure to the elements, with experts stressing that the remains have sustained significant damage since their discovery in 2016 as a result of the weather and soil conditions at the seaside location. 

According to the plan, the necropolis will be removed in blocks that will be returned once the site has been investigated and secured.

The skeletons are believed to be the executed supporters of a failed ancient coup and were located in an ancient necropolis, or possibly a rubbish site outside the city's walls, at a depth of only two and a half meters from the surface. The bodies were placed next to each other, with many of the skeletons still bound with rudimentary ancient handcuffs.

One of the more remarkable facts about the site is that archaeologists cited a 25-year period for the burial, pinpointed by two clay wine jugs were unearthed during the excavation and dated to between 650 and 625 BC, a period related to the so-called Cylonian Affair, a failed attempt to seize Athens’ reins by Athenian noble and former Olympic athlete Cylon and his followers.

Based on archaeological evidence, the individuals buried there, also known as ”desmotes” (prisoners, captives) had been men who were on the wrong side of a huge struggle between Aristocrats and Tyrants in seventh-century BC Athens.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) in coastal Athens. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: John Karakatsanis

 

During the time of their absence, a new museum will be erected at the site to honor these ancient Athenians who suffered a tragic and painful death during an especially turbulent and violent era between political rivals in the city-state.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has already donated five million euros for the construction of the museum, which will be designed by world-acclaimed architect Renzo Piano, who has designed the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris among many other monumental buildings.

According to the Central Archaeological Council, the ultimate goal is that this sensational and extremely important archaeological find should become a visitable site. The idea is that, once conditions are right, the three groups of graves will be covered by the construction of a simple and plain underground shell that will blend tastefully with the surrounding landscape of the SNFCC Esplanade and provide the right microclimate, in accordance with environmental requirements.

The project will be extremely architecturally simple and plain and will seek to instill a sense that visitors are descending down into a resting place for the dead, not entering another "tourist attraction".

 

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