Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis

It’s been almost a month since our last major post on the excavations at Amphipolis (Amphipolis Tomb Possibly Looted in Antiquity? I am Officially Confused!) and nearly as long since we speculated on who (if anyone) might be eventually found in the tomb (Thinking Out Loud About the Amphipolis Tomb ~ The Rogueclassicist Speculates). School has finally settled down a bit (although the internet has been out for the past few days, or this might have come out earlier), so we finally get a chance to check on the progress of the dig (plenty!) and consider how our working hypothesis about the possible occupant of the tomb is working out. This post will be long and photo-heavy, so give it time to load!

We’ll begin with some photos from August 26, which show something I had long wondered about … the mosaic floors (photos via the Ministry of Culture):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

For an awkwardly-worded English report on same: Amphipolis: Pebbled floor came to light (Protothema … tip o’ the pileus to ‘J’ for sending that) along.

Although they need a bit of cleaning, obviously, it is interesting that the second one appears to be in the same sort of style (although on a smaller scale?) as the House of Dionysus at Pella, which dates to the last quarter of the fourth century (via Wikipedia):

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

 

About the same time, we began getting our first speculations in English of people other than Alexander who might be in the tomb. From LiveScience, e.g.:

Michalis Tiverios, an archaeology professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, told AFP a more likely candidate could be Nearchus, one of Alexander’s admirals, who lived in Amphipolis.

At the end of August, archaeologists had cleared the first chamber behind the ‘sphinxes’ and were assessing construction techniques and what needed to be done. (Ministry of Culture Press Release). They had also found yet another style of mosaic floor (white stones set in a red matrix … source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

 

Meanwhile, the Greek Television Station ENA flew a helicopter over the site which nicely demostrates how HUGE this thing actually is:

We also began to hear about the ‘circus-like’ atmosphere the archaeologists had to contend with by this point … from  Greek Reporter comes an excerpt:

An official source, who has knowledge of the tomb’s excavation progress, claims that the archaeologists and crew cannot do their job as their mobile phones keep ringing and they have to fend off TV cameras and microphones shoved in their faces every day. They receive calls from politicians and journalists who are eager to know when they will go inside the tomb and what they expect to find there. Also, they have to answer speculations, wishes, and wild conspiracy theories. They even have to answer to technical details such as what kind of cameras they use to look inside the tomb without demolishing the protective wall. And all this while the initial excavation is still in progress!

At the same time, crowds of people gather all day long around the site that looks more and more like a community fair. Eager tourists and locals rush to see the media’s new archaeological Disneyland first, while the smoke from the souvlaki and hot dogs grills fills the air. Under the five-meter lion’s imposing gaze, a vendor from nearby village Strymoniko is selling peanuts, a way to survive in crisis-hit Greece.

We also had our first (in English) OpEd piece on how politicized the discovery was becoming … an excerpt from Kathimerini:

[...] It is not hard to imagine the impact of such a discovery if we take a look at the existing evidence. It is a known fact that Greece has long been at odds with Israel over who can claim the lead in nationalized and politicized archaeology, often in a way that is an affront to the scientific community. Let us take the findings of excavations in northern Greece, for example, constantly cited to suit political circumstances and often acting as ambassadors of national policy: The findings and their interpretation are used to prove the primal Greekness of the Macedonians and once and for all silence our unmentionable neighbors to the north who, surrendered to their own obsessive national policy, are seeking control over parts if not all of our Macedonian heritage.

Now, the ancient relics of Amphipolis are once more being linked to the name dispute and being used for petty political interests. They are being presented by the state and by many representatives of the media as the final confirmation of Macedonia’s Greekness, even though as a country we have staunchly supported this fact for the past 20 years. We have also heard it said that the findings at the tomb have steeled the morale of disheartened Greeks. First of all, with so many surpluses about, surely the Greeks are no longer disheartened. And second, if our morale has sunk to such a low (despite the Parthenon, Olympia, Delphi, Knossos and Vergina) that it needs a tomb to be revived, then there is much more we need to be worried about.

We have also heard that the discoveries at Amphipolis are contributing to the improvement of Greece’s international image – ergo, they may boost tourism. If the government really had such a high regard of archaeology, then why is it cutting back funding to the extent of causing major operational problems at excavations, sites and museums?

After much shoring up/stability work, on September 7 we got our first set of photos showing the Karyatids which ‘womanned’ the entrance to the next  chamber (source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

kary2

Ministry of Culture

kary3

Ministry of Culture

kary4

Ministry of Culture

kary5

Ministry of Culture

 

Incredibly nice pieces and enough to spark a major interest (finally) on the part of the English world press. What I found particularly interesting was that the Karyatids were missing their arms (I’ll be returning to that below, although see Dorothy King’s post on the Karyatids). According to the Telegraph’s brief coverage:

[...] “The structure of the second entrance with the Caryatids is an important finding, which supports the view that it is a prominent monument of great importance,” the ministry said.

The face of one of the Caryatids is missing, while both figures have one hand outstretched in a symbolic move to push away anyone who would try to violate the tomb. [...]

A better bit of coverage came from Dorothy King, whose post puts the Karyatids in context very nicely: The Amphipolis Caryatids

Edith Hall has also provided some useful background to Karyatids: CARYATIDS IN A (WAL)NUT SHELL

 

A couple days later, the Ministry release a really nice little reconstruction sort of thing showing where the finds to this point came from:

 

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Then, on September 11, we were given the ‘full reveal’ of the Karyatids (source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

kary7

Ministry of Culture

kary8

Ministry of Culture

 

The wall behind the Karyatids revealed a very nice (it seems) Ionic doorway:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

I’ve never seen three ‘nested’ blocks before, but I’m sure it’s not uncommon. In any event, after that came another domed chamber, which wasn’t filled with as much sandy soil as the previous two; the photos aren’t overly exciting, but can be viewed here. More shoring up was in order. Today’s press release added more details on work to be done, but also included some more photos of the Karyatids, which stand 2.27 m. tall and still bear traces of paint (source).

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

karyb

Ministry of Culture

karyc

Ministry of Culture

karyd

Ministry of Culture

We should note that Dr Olga Palagia has been long suggesting that the tomb actually dates to Roman times and contains the bodies of those who fell at the battle of Phillipi, a few centuries later than the current date. Her views haven’t been much presented in the English press, but she did give a full interview to a Greek newspaper: Όλγα Παλαγγιά: Το μνημείο της Αμφίπολης χρονολογείται στη Ρωμαϊκή εποχή (September 16). For what it’s worth, the English media seem to be unwilling to name Dr Palagia, e.g., from Kathimerini:

The archaeologist leading the dig at Ancient Amphipolis insists that the tomb at Kasta Hill she and her colleagues are searching was built in the late 4th century BC.

“I firmly believe that this monument is from the last quarter of the 4th century BC and we have all the proof for this,” said Katerina Peristeri on Thursday.

“It is futile for other archaeologists to come out and talk about it being from the Roman era or anything else.”

Archaeologists entered the third chamber of the tomb, which has been linked to Alexander the Great, last Friday.

I’m sure we’ll be getting some major news next week. Until then, you can peruse a piece from Greek Reporter which nicely sums up all the speculation about who might be in the tomb:

While evidence shows that archaeologists are one step away from uncovering the “big secret” of Amphipolis, Greece, people are speculating on who is buried under Casta hill. Archaeologists and other world experts have supported different theories on who is the important ‘tenant’ of the Casta Hill. See the most popular ones below:

Olympias

Mother of Alexander the Great, wife of Philip II, king of Macedon, and daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus. Cassander had her murdered by stoning in 316 BC. (Read full story)

Androsthenes, Laomedon and Nearchus

Alexander the Great’s three admirals are closely connected to Amphipolis. Androsthenes and Laomedon were born there while Nearchus was either born or exiled in Amphipolis.

Cassander

Son of Antipater, did not follow Alexander’s army in Asia. He stayed with his father in Macedonia and used to fight with Polyperchon but eventually allied with him, when he killed Alexander’s son, Heracles. In 311 BC, he killed Alexander’s second son and successor, Alexander IV, along with his mother Roxana. He died of edema in 279 BC.

Polyperchon

He served under Philip and Alexander. He returned to Greece from Asia in 324 BC -after the death of Alexander- and was appointed regent of Macedon by Antipater in place of the latter’s son, Cassander.

Philip II of Macedon

Some do not believe that the tomb of king Philip was located in Vergina. Meanwhile, others claim that ancient Greeks might have built a second monument in Amphipolis to commemorate the king.

Heracles

Son of Alexander who was murdered with his mother, Barsine.

Alexander IV

The twelve-year-old son of Alexander and Roxana who was murdered along with his mother by Cassander. If his grave is located in Vergina, then it is possible that someone buried him and disposed of his mother’s corpse.

Alexander the Great

Alexander sailed from Amphipolis to Asia. However, it is almost certain that his tomb is located in Alexandria, since people such as Julius Caesar have visited his burial site. Some, however, insist that his bones were moved to Amphipolis by Olympias, while others argue that it is a cenotaph “waiting” to receive him, or a second monument in his honor.

Cenotaph or Memorial

This view is supported by the various influences on the monument’s construction as well as its size.

Hephaestion

General of Alexander’s army. Professor Theodoros Mavrogiannis believes that the Casta hill tomb belongs to Hephaestion and claims that the tomb was built in 325 BC by order of Alexander himself.

Roxana

The wife of Alexander became the mother of his son in 323 BC after Alexander had died. Roxana fled to Epirus in order to be saved by his descendants, and later went to Amphipolis, where she was murdered by Cassander in 310 BC.

Antigonus Monophthalmus

General of Alexander’s army, was proclaimed king in 306 BC and demanded that Cassander gives him Macedon. He died eighty-one years old and was buried with royal honors.

Philip Arrhidaeus

Son of king Philip. After Alexander’s death, he was proclaimed king by the Macedonian army as Philip III of Macedon. He was killed by soldiers who defected against Olympias. His bones were transported by Cassander to Aegae.

For my part, I continue to cling to my hypothesis that the tomb was intended for Alexander, but when his body was hijacked and sent to Alexandria by Ptolemy, the tomb itself was sealed up within a few years as it really could not have been used by someone else without political implications. The more I see missing parts of sculpture, e.g., heads of ‘sphinxes’, arms of Karyatids, that don’t seem to be broken off (the arms of the Karyatids don’t look like they were actually attached) — with the caveat that their existence/finding may not be reported in the press — the more I think this tomb was unfinished. Perhaps as well, parts were removed to ensure that it was considered unfinished and, therefore, empty.

That said, I find Olga Palagia’s theory interesting, but would really like to hear more details from both sides on what is being used to establish the date of the tomb. That the mosaic floor in one part of the tomb stylistically matches something from Pella is probably important in this regard. There must also be ceramics in the soil being removed; there might also possibly be organic matter which can be given the C14 treatment.

Finally, by way of ‘conclusion’ we should also note that Dorothy King has penned a number of blogposts answering ongoing questions about the tomb along the way:

Wooden Toilet Seat from Vindolanda

From a Vindolanda Trust press release:

Finding something that you can relate to is always a special moment on an archaeological dig. At Vindolanda this is a common occurrence, a site where the special qualities lie not only in the discovery of gold and silver or artefacts which relate to the military might of the Roman Army but also of everyday ordinary items which nearly 2000 years later become extraordinary to the modern day visitors, volunteers and archaeologists alike. Personal letters, worn shoes, baby booties, socks, combs, jewellery, tools and textiles are just some of the items preserved in a remarkable condition that provide you with a unique window into the lives of people stationed at this most northern outpost of the Roman Empire.

Now archaeologists have another piece of this very personal human hoard at Vindolanda, a wooden latrine (toilet) seat, was discovered by the Director of Excavations, Dr Andrew Birley, in the deep pre-hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda. Although this wooden seat is not as grand as a marble or stone toilet bench, it would be far more comfortable to sit on in the cool climate of Britannia. The seat has clearly been well used and was decommissioned from its original purpose and discarded amongst the rubbish left behind in the final fort at the site before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the early second century.

Dr Birley commented on the find ‘there is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before and this discovery is wonderful….’ Andrew went on to say ‘We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat. As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found. It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable. Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate – their drains often contain astonishing artefacts. Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy’. Discoveries at Vindolanda from latrines have included a baby boot, coins, a betrothal medallion, and a bronze lamp.

Archaeologists now need to find a ‘spongia’ the natural sponge on a stick which Romans used instead of toilet paper, and with over 100 years of archaeology remaining and the unique conditions for the preservation of such organic finds a discovery may just be possible.

The wooden seat will take up to 18 months to conserve and once this process is complete the artefact will be put on display at the Roman Army Museum.

… and the photo, of course:

Vindolanda Trust

Vindolanda Trust

I’m sure there are plenty of us who have visited the site of an ancient Roman latrine and shuddered at the thought of sitting on that cold, cold, stone. I’d suspect this would be a thing — like napkins at dinner parties — which someone would bring with them to the loo. Probably a ‘luxury item’ as well. I wonder if it had a special word in Latin …

Amphipolis Tomb Possibly Looted in Antiquity? I am Officially Confused!

In my precaffeinated minutes this a.m. I was jarred awake by a typically hyperbolating Daily Mail headline proclaiming: Game over for Greece’s mystery grave: Tomb raiders plundered site in antiquity – dashing hopes of finding artefacts dating back to Alexander the Great’s reign. Inter alia, a number of times the mantra was repeated, but here’s one excerpt:

[...] Experts had partially investigated the antechamber of the tomb at the Kasta Tumulus site near ancient Amphipolis in Macedonia, Greece, and uncovered a marble wall concealing one or more inner chambers.

They said that a hole in the decorated wall and signs of forced entry indicate it was plundered, but excavations will continue for weeks to make sure. [...]

Now before I deal with the (actually reasonably good evidence) for the claim, I want to sort of ‘run through’ the course of the excavation (with photos from the Ministry of Culture, in the order they’ve appeared at their site), which led me to ask some questions about this tomb that I hope someone can answer. First, here’s an early image that made the rounds of various press agencies, which shows the first revelation of the “sphinxes”. I want folks to notice that the outer wall is ‘continuous’. We can also clearly see the archway with the “sphinxes” and a wall that was built in front of them.

B4A5710B79E42A072E36AD2217248724

The blocks in front were removed …

Ministry of Culture photo

Ministry of Culture photo

… and we were presented with a photo of the “sphinxes” … notice there is much dirt behind them. Some of us were idly speculating that there was  a hole of some sort behind the “sphinx” on the right, but in hindsight it struck me that there really wasn’t enough room for someone to get behind the “sphinx” to dig like that.

Ministry of Culture photo

Ministry of Culture photo

Next, they began clearing the ‘entrance’ to the tomb and we heard, inter alia, of a mosaic pavement, but alas, we never did see a photo of same. This would suggest that they had cleared right to the ‘floor’ of the entrance, but I’m not sure that is the case. The photos from the entrance clearing did reveal some nice (painted) details, however. Ecce the initial views (we posted these already):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

And now:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Then they were inside the vestibule:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

This photo gives an idea of the soil filling the vestible (i.e. in the space behind the “sphinxes”. There clearly was a lot to be removed:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

There’s a photo of the dirt having been cleared from behind the “sphinxes”:

Ministry of culture

Ministry of culture

Looking through that you can possible see a trace of the photo that’s causing “disappointment”:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

If you look in the upper left, you’ll see the small (40cm x 60cm, according to various reports) hole which possibly provided access to the inside. You can also see the level of the dirt inside and — I’m assuming, from the white shading there –the level the dirt was at. The hole (if it is a hole going all the way through) is large enough for a small person to get through. But how did they get in to dig that hole? The vestibule has a barrel-vaulted stone roof, it appears, so something horizontal from the front? It really doesn’t make sense to me. If it was plundered in antiquity, I doubt they went ‘through the front door’.

Then again, and this is why I have questions, why is this vestibule filled to the top with dirt?  Is this a typical Macedonian practice (I honestly don’t know).  Or was this done later in antiquity, perhaps around the time of the ‘beheading of the sphinxes’? Even then, however, why was it all blocked off with those massive blocks? Done at the time of burial or later in antiquity? If at the time of burial, wouldn’t they have used better dressed stones? And when/why did they fill the space between the blocks and the “sphinxes” with dirt? Was all this meant to be ‘hidden’ or was it once open for passers by to see?

Folks wondering about the ‘latest’ can turn to this a.m.’s Greek version of Kathimerini, where it is revealed that the next few days will be spent protecting the paint and shoring up walls and the like:

… and here are the Ministry Press Releases whence came the above photos (they have other titles, but the MoC’s website has things set up somewhat unconventionally and it’s an incredibly slow site to access):

Some of our previous coverage:

August 21 at Amphipolis ~ From the Ministry of Culture

HUGE tip o’ the pileus to Peggy Ringa (on facebook) for pointing me to the Ministry’s press releases. Here’s today’s activity in Greek (skinny to follow):

Συνεχίζονται οι ανασκαφικές εργασίες στο ταφικό μνημείο, στον Τύμβο Καστά από την ΚΗ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων, στην Αμφίπολη. Σήμερα, απομακρύνθηκαν, με άκρα προσοχή, χώματα τα οποία βρίσκονταν στο διάκενο και πίσω από τα αγάλματα των Σφιγγών, σε βάθος περίπου, δυο μέτρων , και σε πλάτος ανάλογο της εισόδου του τάφου, ήτοι 4.50 μ. ´Ετσι, προχώρησε, στο μεγαλύτερο τμήμα της η αποχωμάτωση του εσωρραχίου της θόλου.

Ταυτόχρονα, συνεχίστηκε η αφαίρεση πέντε λιθόπλινθων , από την έκτη σειρά του τοίχου σφράγισης, με τη βοήθεια μηχανικού μέσου . Μετά την απομάκρυνσή τους, αποκαλύφθηκε κάτω από τη βάση των Σφιγγών, το ανώτερο τμήμα του μαρμάρινου θυρώματος.
Καλύπτεται με fresco σε μίμηση ιωνικού επιστυλίου. Φέρει διακόσμηση με
κόκκινο, μπλε και μαύρο χρώμα. Αμέσως, κάτω από το ιωνικό επιστύλιο, αποκαλύφθηκαν δυο ιωνικά επίκρανα των παραστάδων της θύρας, επίσης επικαλυπτόμενα με fresco και επιζωγραφισμένα με τα ίδια χρώματα. Οι εργασίες θα συνεχιστούν αύριο με προτεραιότητα την στερέωση και συντήρηση των σημερινών ευρημάτων.

The skinny is they cleared a bit behind the sphinxes and below the architrave they’re sitting on. There are some really nice ionic pilasters revealed, with easily visible traces of red paint (as well as black). Here’s a photo (click for larger). They’ve also found a doorway:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

… and another:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Folks who follow me on twitter know I was asking this this afternoon and I want to put it out there to the blog audience too: how do we know these are sphinxes when they don’t have heads? They might be griffons/gryphons/griffins (choose your spelling).

Quick Amphipolis Update: Significant Fragments

Quickly reading (or more properly, google translating) some of the Greek press this a.m., it appears some significant finds were made yesterday as they cleared the door. The skinny: the sphinxes are made of marble from Thassos, archaeologists found the detached  wing of one of them, and perhaps even more important, a bit of the back of the Lion of Amphipolis were also found. Here’s the brief bit from News247 which mentions all this:

Η πλήρης αποκάλυψη των μαρμάρινων Σφιγγών που βρέθηκαν στον Τύμβο Καστά στην Αμφίπολη, η εύρεση τμήματος από τη ράχη του Λέοντος, καθώς και μικρού τμήματος της ανωδομής του μνημείου, είναι τα νέα δεδομένα από τις ανασκαφές που διεξάγει η ΚΗ΄ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων στην περιοχή, σύμφωνα με ανακοίνωση του υπουργείου Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού.

… and here’s the sphinxes … Ministry of Culture photo:

Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr

Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr

Photo via: Αμφίπολη: Εντυπωσιάζουν οι Σφίγγες στην είσοδο του αρχαίου τάφου (in.gr)

 

UPDATE (a few hours later): an excerpt from eKathimerini’s coverage:

[...]

The two sphinxes, which apart from being headless also have broken wings, are believed to have been crafted “by the same hands” as those which made a 16-foot-tall marble lion which is thought to have sat atop the burial site, archaeologists working on the dig told Kathimerini.

The sphinxes, each weighing around 1.5 tons and with traces of red coloring on their feet, will not be removed from the entrance to the tomb as archaeologists clear away stones and earth to gain access.

The sphinxes are 1.45 meters high and would have been 2 meters high with their heads, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.

Pieces of the sphinxes’ wings were found on the site, as was a large section of the back of the lion sculpture, archaeologists said.

Experts working on the excavation were also examining a section of the tomb wall which bears traces of red and blue coloring, in two shades. A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

Technical work began on Monday at the tomb to avert any structural damage as archaeologists attempt to enter the tomb and discover what lies inside.

Some experts believe the site has been raided in the past but archaeologists cannot yet confirm this. [...]

… I wonder if the mosaic is a pebble mosaic or proper tesserae …

Augustan Stables to be Reburied?

From the Telegraph … skipping a bit:

Now, to mark the two millennia since his death in 14AD, a successful exhibition has been staged in Rome and Paris, while on Rome’s Palatine Hill newly restored rooms at Augustus’ house and elaborate frescoes in a dining area will go on display for the first time.

But at a large excavated site off Via Giulia, in the heart of the city, workers will start covering the remains of Augustus’s marbled stables with waterproof cloths, ready for reburial, left for future generations to rediscover.

Described as “extremely important” by Rome’s archaeological authority when they were first found in 2009 by a firm excavating to build an underground car park, the buildings gave a unique glimpse of how imperial stables were built, adding to shreds of information provided by digs at Roman military camps and mosaics found in North Africa.

Graffiti on the walls boasting of victories in races at the Circus Maximus provided a fascinating insight into the four racing teams that shared the stables and divided the fierce loyalties of Roman race fans.

In 2011, archaeologists celebrated when it was announced the stables would be preserved and open to visits, only for city officials to cancel the plans this year due to budget cuts.

Cataloguing discoveries before burying them is standard practice “when there are no funds to guarantee the work needed to safeguard the finds,” said Federica Galloni, a culture minister official.

Experts believe that once reburied, artefacts and remains do not risk erosion by the elements or the thefts they might endure if left exposed and unprotected, and can be re-excavated when funding permits.

The fate of the stables and Augustus’s mausoleum contrasts with other monuments in the city which have benefited from a new trend for restoration work paid for by Italian fashion companies. Shoe maker Tod’s is sponsoring a clean-up of the Colosseum while Fendi is funding repairs to the Trevi Fountain.

Officials have said the city of Rome did seek a sponsor to help restore Augustus’ mausoleum in time for the 2014 celebrations, but found no takers.

With just two million of a required four million euros available, work will now be finished in 2016.

Meanwhile, yards from the mausoleum, Augustus’s excavated and restored Ara Pacis – or “temple to peace” – is in much better shape and now hosting an exhibition devoted to the emperor. After it was discovered buried beneath a cinema in central Rome, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini decided in 1937 to excavate the temple at all costs in time to celebrate Augustus’ 2000th birthday.

Sparing no expense, experts dug down to retrieve the monument using innovative techniques to freeze the foundations beneath the cinema to ensure the modern building did not collapse.

History unearthed – and reburied

Reinterring ancient sites to protect them from the elements and thieves rather than leaving them exposed is becoming more frequent as funds for archaeology become a luxury in cash strapped economies like Italy and Greece.

An important thermal bath dating to the first century AD reign of the Roman emperor Titus, discovered close to the Colosseum in Rome in the 1990s, has been reburied until money is found for its preservation.

On the outskirts of Rome, experts are campaigning for cash to save from reinterring the stunning tomb of Marcus Nonius Macinus, the Roman general whose 2nd century AD campaigning helped inspire Russell Crowe’s Gladiator.

In Greece, an early Christian basilica, discovered in 2010 during the construction of an underground railway in Thessaloniki was reportedly reburied.

Not sure how I missed this discovery back in 2009. Back in 2008 we read of an impending restoration of the Circus (Circus to be Restored!), and shortly thereafter, about some entrepreneur’s plans to bring chariot racing back to the venue (Chariot Racing in Rome Redux), but then all we heard were tales of a beach soccer tournament therein (Beach Soccer in the Circus Maximus?).

The so-called ‘Gladiator Tomb’ has been its own saga … ecce:

… so apparently the campaign on that score is continuing. Hopefully publicity will bring a sponsor out of the woodwork …

 

Brace Yourselves: News From Amphipolis is Coming …

There has been quite the buzz about ‘that tomb’ at Amphipolis over the past couple of days and what has made it to the press — both on the English side and the Greek — is somewhat confusing. To a very large extent, the coverage is much like that of last year’s (  Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that), which I encourage everyone to read to get the full back story of this. The skinny, however, is that the tomb was found originally a year and a half ago and ongoing speculation (in the media, not from the archaeologists involved, it appeared) was tying the tomb possibly to Roxane and/or Alexander IV, and even Alexander the Great was mentioned. Yesterday, there were a flurry of reports, none of which added anything new (with one exception, which we will get to) but suggested ‘something’ was happening. Today, according to assorted news reports, Greek Prime Minister Samaras visited the site and was given a tour, but again, we don’t really hear much of use to us. Here are Samaras’ comments according to eKathimerini:

Archaeologists digging at Ancient Amphipolis in Central Macedonia, northern Greece, are poised to make an “exceptionally important find,” according to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who visited the site on Tuesday.

“It is certain that we are looking at an exceptionally important find,” he said after being guided around the Kasta Hill by archaeologist Katerina Peristeri.

“The land of Macedonia continues to move and surprise us, revealing from deep within its unique treasures, which combine to form the unique mosaic of Greek history of which all Greeks are very proud,” he added. [...]

“The main question the excavation will answer is regarding the identity of who has been buried here,” said Samaras.[...]

Outside of that, nothing new. The AP coverage (via the Washington Post), however, includes this indirect statement:

Samaras said a broad road led to the tomb, while the entrance was flanked by two carved sphinxes — mythical creatures that blend human, bird and lion characteristics. It was unclear how far archaeologists have reached.

Not sure how the archaeologists feel about the Prime Minister announcing their find, if it was indeed found as stated. Whatever the case, it was this claim of an entrance with sphinxes which was giving me hesitations about the coverage and the indirect statement above doesn’t really help. That said, to its credit, Greek Reporter includes a Youtube video which is basically a slideshow that appears to show that an entrance has indeed been found:

If it is the entrance, it’s covered with tarps and we really can’t see any sphinxes (sphinges?).

Turning to the Greek (in Greek) coverage, the hints were there yesterday that there is a major find here. Newsbomb.gr was one of the outlets which said that police/the army had been brought in to guard the site: Σπουδαία αρχαιολογική ανακάλυψη στην Αρχαία Αμφίπολη Σερρών … I wonder if they stayed after Samaras left.

In any event, I found it somewhat unusual that the Greek press was really being silent on this one (none were mentioning the sphinxes) and was suspicious, of course. Here’s a smattering of the coverage, most of which just repeats the same stuff as is found in Kathimerini‘s Greek (and English) coverage.

Then, in a very timely manner, @Tzzz21 on twitter (who gets many tips o’ the pileus for feeding me much of the coverage) just sent a link to an item in News 247 which included this picture (as well as the slideshow mentioned above):

via News 247

To which I can only say: WOW! We now anxiously await to hear from the archaeologists.

 

UPDATE (literally seconds later): @Tzzz21 sent in a link with a pile more photos:

… to which we can several more wows … we’ll obviously be monitoring this one

 

UPDATE II (a few hours later): definitely read Dorothy King’s post on this for additional details (including answers to some questions I had about the sphinxes!): Let’s Talk About Amphipolis …(Dorothy King’s PhDiva)