Ar­chae­ol­o­gists go high-tech to solve an­cient cold case

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

ATHENS, Greece — More than 2,500 years ago, an Athe­nian noble­man named Cy­lon — the first recorded Olympic cham­pion — tried to take over the city of Athens and in­stall him­self as its sole ruler.

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

They were de­feated, but Cy­lon man­aged to es­cape.

Now ar­chae­ol­o­gists in Athens be­lieve they may have found some of the re­mains of Cy­lon’s army in a mass grave in Phaleron, six kilo­me­ters south of down­town Athens.

The dis­cov­ery of the 80 skele­tons of men is “un­equaled” in Greece, said site project direc­tor Stella Chrysoulaki.

The men, young and wellfed, were found 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 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 found in the grave.

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

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

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

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

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 only be­gan in 2012, when ar­chae­ol­o­gists dis­cov­ered a large ceme­tery con­tain­ing more than 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.

Other small-scale ex­ca­va­tions since then have un­earthed other treasures, in­clud­ing the group of men be­lieved to be part of Cy­lon’s army.

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

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