A 2500 Years Old Crime Is Investigated In Greece

A hundred chained skeletons were unearthed in a necropolis of Athens. Archaeologists try to solve the secret of their execution.

Who were they and why were they killed? In Athens, an investigation was opened after the discovery of a hundred skeletons showing signs of a violent death that occurred more than 2,500 years ago. The scene of the crime: a vast necropolis used from the 8th to the 5th century BC. AD in the seaside resort of Phalère, the ancient port of the Greek city. There are no monuments or epigraphs, as in the other Athenian cemetery of the Ceramics, but simple tombs dug in a sandy soil.

Obviously, victims of „political execution“

Archaeologists have uncovered since 2012 strange skeletons. With their hands tied, in the back or on the belly, their feet sometimes hobbled, some of them even rested on the ground as the ultimate outrage. The findings culminated in the spring of 2016 with the opening of a tomb containing the remains of 80 chained men , a discovery „unrivaled“ in Greece , according to archaeologist Stella Chrysoulaki.

Young and well-fed, according to the first indications of their teeth, they were lined up in three rows, some on their backs, others on their stomachs, fifty-two of them stretched out with their arms raised. When they were finished with a blow on the skull, they were obviously victims of a „political execution“, which could be dated, according to two pots found in the tomb, from 675 to 650 years BC., explains Mrs. Chrysoulaki.

This period is that of the formation of the city-state and the transition to democracy, against a backdrop of strong political turmoil, tensions between tyrants, aristocrats and working classes, „says the bioarchaeologist Eleanna Prevedorou, who conducts the investigation „Forensic“ on these ancient deaths at the American School of Art.

Cylon’s supporters?

According to an hypothesis contemplated by the archaeologists, based on the accounts of the ancient authors Herodotus and Thucydides, the deceased could be the supporters of the aristocrat and ex-Olympic champion Cylon, massacred by the powerful rival clan of the Alcméonides after a failed attempt of Impose a tyranny. To try to solve the case, „we will use roughly all the methods made famous by the television series of forensics,“ says Panayotis Karkanas, director of the ultra-modern laboratory Malcom Wiener hosted by the American School .

Skeletons against ‘fake news’

In a corner, a skeleton with arms twisted in the back, testifies to the ancient violence, far removed from the idealized representations of Greek classicism: it could be a „captive of war, a criminal or a slave revolted“, explains Mrs Prevedorou. Ten of the „80 Chains“ must join him in the laboratory by the autumn, their companions of misfortune remaining on the spot for a future exhibition of their last residence, within the cultural center Niarchos du Phalère.

Even the seemingly unrelated dead, including the hundreds of toddlers found in funerary jars, will be able to talk about their lifestyles, their illnesses, shedding more light on the archaic Athens, Karkanas points out.

Working closer to man and his natural environment, bioarchaeology is irreplaceable to retrace the everyday life of antique characters. Written and monumental sources, in any case rarer for the archaic period, bear witness mainly to the history of the „elites and victors“. To refer to them only to decipher the past, it would be like „relying today only on newspapers to know what is happening in the world,“ he adds.