Monday, March 25, 2013

More tombs discovered at Vergina

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The number of Macedonian built tombs discovered at the necropolis of Vergina (ancient Aegae) continues to rise, and details of three impressive tombs were revealed by Dr. Angeliki Kottaridi (Director of the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) this month. It is hoped that these tombs and other recently discovered funerary monuments might lead to a better understanding of the evolution of Macedonian tombs. These particular tombs are part of a cluster discovered near the Town Hall of Vergina, in an area of the necropolis with burials from the 6th and 5th centuries BC.
Cist tomb
One is a large, stone-built cist grave that survives almost completely up to its original height. It is decorated with blue and red painted bands and with the characteristic stone platform that marks the position of the funerary couch and the urn on its southern side. Another tomb, located to the south has been mostly destroyed.
North of these two tombs was found a very impressive monument. The tomb, surviving up to around the middle of its original height (estimated to reach 4.5 metres), consists of a chamber measuring 7 metres by 5 metres with the stone ceiling supported by two Ionic columns on high square bases. Two engaged half-columns in each wall, and ‘quarter’ columns in each corner provided architectural decoration but no actual supporting function.

Hypostyle tomb

A fallen capital gave some clue to the decoration of the tomb. It was covered with white plaster, and its scrolls highlighted with blue and the centre in red. In style it mimics a type known from mid 5th century BC monuments. The opening, framed by two semi-columns, is located in the middle of the north (long) side and would have been reached via a monumental stairway. This opening was directly opposite the platform for the funerary bed and urn. The plan is unprecedented in Macedonian Tombs discovered to date. It is thought to date to the 5th century, and would therefore be one of the earlier stone built tombs in Macedonia.
Human and animal remains
It is also remarkable that a large quantity of human and animal remains were found in this tomb. Archaeologists have counted fifteen horses, several dogs, a dozen adults, several infants and toddlers. The position and condition of the remains suggests that they were thrown into the already looted grave after death a considerable time after its original use. In amongst these remains were sherds of pottery, tiles, pieces of a marble funerary stele and a lead curse. These were all within the same archaeological context and this, on the basis of the pottery and a bronze coin, is probably connected to the destruction of Aegae after King Perseus’ defeat by the Romans at the battle of Pydna in 168 BC and the fall of the Macedonian Kingdom.
All of the tombs had been looted in antiquity, and this destruction can probably be linked to King Pyrrhus’ Gaulish mercenaries overrunning the royal necropolis of Aegae in 276 BC as reported by Diodorus.
However, traces from the funerary pyres were found during the excavation, and some spectacular finds were made including a relief in gold, perhaps from a shield, depicting two warriors fighting a duel that was found in the cist grave. A golden acorn from a wreath was also found in the cist grave, further suggesting that the deceased was a man.
Gold shield decoration?
The hypostyle tomb produced pieces of a cuirass in the form of scales, and a number of golden discs carved with the characteristic Macedonian ‘sun-burst’ also survived the looting.
Between the hypostyle tomb and the cist grave, the archaeologists also found a 15 metre long floor surface paved with pebbles, and fragments of white and coloured wall plaster. This clearly indicates that the walls of this building were removed for secondary use. The function of the building may be discerned from the discovery of fragments of alabaster unguentariums and a bronze tinned plate, suggestive of cult or ritual activity, while a coin of Perdikkas II (454-413 BC), gives a terminus post quem for the destruction or dismantling of the building. Fragments of a large sculpted floral motif with spiral shoots, buds and acanthus leaves, probably an antefix were probably from a funerary monument, while the stratigraphy indicates that there have been three or four more tombs within this particular cluster.
The necropolis at Aegae covers a wide area and includes many different types of burials and tombs, including of course the 'royal' tombs of Philip II and Alexander IV.

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