Wednesday 17 March 2010

Athens: Buried in a haste...

Ancient texts, combined with cutting-edge and innovative technology explain and date the find.
An image of panic, expressed with an unheard-of treatment of the dead, the stacking of the dead in a pit.
Αγγείο που φέρει πρωτότυπη παράσταση δύο παιδιών που παίζουν, κρατώντας ιμάντες, στην άκρη των οποίων είναι δεμένο ένα αντικείμενο σαν τόπι
Vase with an original scene showing two children playing: they are holding straps at the end of which a ball-like object is tied.

These dead, the anonymous, simple inhabitants of Athens, who did not enjoy the care of their dearest and nearest, the polis collected them and buried them. They are the ones who, abandoned, lie dead on the streets and in the sanctuaries. The city decides to make a public funeral, quickly and in a cursory manner, at the edge of the main cemetery, at Kerameikos. A burial which, maybe for the first time, did not aim at honouring the dead, but at the protection of public health".

An archaeological presentation does not usually provoke emotions, as it speaks of things belonging to the distant past. However, the presentation by Efi Baziotopoulou-Valavani at the Archaeological Society of Athens contained many touching descriptions of the so-called "Plague Grave" which was uncovered at the Kerameikos.

The ancient texts, combined with modern archaeological techniques and ground breaking interdisciplinary methods, gave the dating and the explanation for the grave that was found on the edge of the ancient cemetery by mrs Baziotopoulou-Valavani and mrs Drakotou-Tsirigoti. It is a grave for the dead of the plague that struck Athens during the early years of the Peloponnesian War. A scientific team including Manolis Papagrigorakis, Philippos Synodinos and Christos Giapitzakis, examined the teeth of the deceased and discovered that typhoid fever was a cause of the plague of Athens, either exclusively or combined with another, still unknown, epidemic element.

"The first burials appeared on the eastern arc of the pit at a depth of 4.30 meters. Immediately below these, with no interposed earth, a second layer of dead was found, with no certain orientation. The discovery of stacked layers of dead continued, with the bodies buried randomly, with a tendency to be placed in the centre of the pit towards the edges. It is interesting that 8 burials in vases with no offerings of infants were placed among the dead of the uppermost layer? These small children were buried as in vases, covered with large bits of unpainted amphoras, a burial practice that differentiated them from the rest of the dead".

"The last speletons followed the outline of the pit, and covered every empty space, so that some were placed in a slanting position, almost standing or bent over" said mrs. Baziotopoulou-Valavani. "It is probable that in the centre the dead were stacked one on top of the other, creating a human hill, which was, of course covered by a mound of earth. The burial of an estimated 130-150 men, women and children was completed with cursory funeral honours".

The grave goods of this mass grave are few compared with the number of the dead, appraximately 30. Among them part of a chous , a usual offering for infant burials, with a representation of a child sitting in a little cart. The face of the little driver has deep eyes, a pronounced nose and a strong chin. A second chous bears the original scene of two children playing, holding straps, at the end of which a ball-like object is tied. The children probably swirled the strap to launch the ball to a distance. Two small matleser dogs at the bottom of the scene, participate in the game.

15 white lekythoi were found in the mass grave.

Source: Angeliki Kotti, Ethnos, 02.03.2010.

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