Alexander’s Tomb In … Southern Illinois???

I don’t know which is more stupid … this claim or the fact that a news organization would actually give it any attention at all (to say nothing of a county board of some sort). From the CarmiTimes:

An Iuka man who believes the lost Tomb of Alexander the Great may be located in extreme southeastern Marion County encouraged a county board committee Tuesday night to pursue development of the site a tourist attraction.

Harry Hubbard presented artifacts he said were earlier looted and sold from the underground cave, WJBD Radio reported, along with a number of books and maps that he said confirm the location of the cave.

“The county could be rolling in revenues coming in from the outside,” he told the committee. “Any country in the world would love to have this repository within their boundaries… and it can be exploited.”

Hubbard said he believes gold and riches are still buried in the cave, even after what he calculated was the removal of over five thousand pieces and over $6 million in gold.

The brief report includes this link to a longer story, which I won’t bother to excerpt except this paragraph, which is probably all you need to know:

Hubbard has translated three European based languages on some of the artifacts, confirming the remains are not from American Indians. He believes as many as 50-thousand Europeans fled during the Roman Empire and arrived in the area by coming up the Mississippi River and then followed the Ohio River and Wabash River before traveling up the Skillet Fork to an area where he believes the cave is located.

… photos of some of the ‘artifacts’ are also there, for what they’re worth (not much …) and it’s probably some charitable divinity which is preventing WordPress from allowing me to post the last image there, which has the caption “Hubbard says this rock contains an ancient Latin language that shows the stone is from someone of European descent.” No word on whether Hubbard knows of the, er, non-Roman origins of Alexander. Besides, we know that Alexander’s tomb is in Gevgelija … no, I meant Australia … no, it’s over here, behind the couch …

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander the Great’s Tomb … In Australia?

When I first read this I had to double check the calendar and make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day … it wasn’t, but apparently it was a very slow news day for the ABC folks … or perhaps it was a very busy day for something so freakin’ bizarre to make it past the editors’ desks … whatever the case, my mailbox is being filled with this thing and the incipit should be enough … gentlemen (and ladies), start your gag reflexes:

Alexander the Great, whose tomb has been missing for nearly 2,000 years, could be buried in Broome in Western Australia, a Perth man says.

Macedonian-born Tim Tutungis told ABC Kimberley that he first heard the ‘Broomer’ from his old mate, Lou Batalis.

“We just got onto the subject of Alexander The Great’s tomb, and he said, ‘They’ll never ever find it, no matter where they look, because Alexander the Great is buried in Broome, in Western Australia’,” Mr Tutungis said.

“Approximately 50 years ago, some guy went into a cave in Broome and he saw some inscriptions in there and they looked like ancient Greek.

“He reported it to the government, then the government went and saw it and they confirmed there were some inscriptions there.

“They went to the Greek community and they asked the community, ‘Is there anyone here who can read ancient Greek?’

“Naturally Louis Batalis put his hand up and said, ‘Yes, I went to school in Egypt, I got educated, I can read it’. So they took him up there and he defined the inscriptions as saying, in ancient Greek, ‘Alexander the Great’.

“The government did say to him at that time, ‘You didn’t see this, OK, this never happened’.”

I don’t know what’s more bizarre here: that a Macedonian’s bona fides for reading ancient Greek is that he went to school in Egypt or the implication that the Australian government is involved in some sort of coverup of the ‘true’ location of Alexander’s burial … Oh what the heck, here’s the conclusion to the piece (I’ve skipped the bit where they give some traditional “stories” about what happened to Alexander’s body):

Mr Tutungis says he is 99 per cent convinced Mr Batalis told him the truth, because people “have looked everywhere” for Alexander’s grave, to no avail.

He says his friend is a very old man now and has virtually lost his memory, and others who heard the story had dismissed it.

But he says Mr Batalis was “a man of substance” who was very educated, and the story stuck with him.

“I drew my own conclusion because the war of the Macedonians ended up in India and I assumed that some of the soldiers went back to Macedonia on foot,” Mr Tutungis said.

“Some of the soldiers must have caught a ship. Why can’t we say that Alexander did catch a ship; they lost their way in the treacherous ways up there.

“Look where India is, look where Broome is; a ship could easily get wrecked in Broome.”

Mr Tutungis says a new documentary suggests that when the war ended, Alexander the Great ordered thousands of ships to built.

He takes that as further evidence to support his theory and has written to a detective from Scotland Yard who is looking for Alexander’s grave.

“Nobody ever, ever suspected that Alexander could have died in Broome,” he said.

The sound you hear is the minds of hundreds of rogueclassicism readers’ minds boggling …

Aristotelian Skepticism: Is It Really His Tomb?

One of the things you get used to when you’re blogging things about the ancient world is that whenever there is some significant date for some significant ancient figure coming up, you can pretty much be sure that there will be some major — and usually ill-supported — discovery tied somehow to that event. Most commonly, e.g., the Easter season will bring claims about the discovery of ossuaries with Jesus or Mary’s name on them, or nails from the crucifixion being found, or the Shroud of Turin being proven authentic, yadda yadda yadda. In this case, 2016 marks the 2400th anniversary of the birth of Aristotle and there currently is the annual Aristotle World Congress going on at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. So if there’s going to be a major discovery announced about Aristotle, the smart money would suggest this year at this conference would be the best bet.

And so it was only moderately surprising when yesterday afternoon, my Greek press newsfeed started a trickle of news about the purported discovery of Aristotle’s tomb at Stagira. The first Greek coverage that popped in my box actually was pretty informative:

Culling (via google Translate) the information, we were told:

  • a Hellenistic structure was found in Stagira back in 1996 which had been incorporated into a later Byzantine structure
  • archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis presented a paper at the above-mentioned conference, citing a ‘convergence’ of archaeological and literary evidence
  • then again, he’s quoted as saying “Δεν έχουμε αποδείξεις αλλά ισχυρότατες ενδείξεις – φθάνουν σχεδόν στη βεβαιότητα.” (no definite proof … hmmm)
  • coins dating from the time of Alexander helped to date the structure
  • there is also mention of ‘royal pottery’ roof tiles
  • literary sources include “manuscript 257 of the Bibliotheca Marciana and an Arabic biography of Aristotle”
  • according to the literary sources:
    • after his death at Chalcis (322), the people of Stagira brought his ashes back in a bronze urn
    • they were placed in an above-ground tomb in the city, and an altar was placed next to it
    • the place was called the Aristoteleion
    • an annual festival/competition was established called Aristoteleia

Interestingly, subsequent Greek press coverage scaled back the coverage markedly, but did repeat the mention of the lack of convincing evidence. See, e.g., the Skai coverage, which includes:

Αν και δεν υπάρχουν αδιάσειστες αποδείξεις ότι πρόκειται για τον τάφο του Αριστοτέλη, πολυετείς έρευνες έχουν δώσει πληθώρα ισχυρών ενδείξεων ότι το μνημείο ταυτίζεται πλέον με τον σταγειρίτη φιλόσοφο.

AP was first with the English coverage and clearly they didn’t think much of the story. They came out with a very brief item with very sparse information about the actual find. As seen in the Stamford Advocate, there were only two paragraphs of interest, really:

Konstantinos Sismanidis concedes that he has “no proof but just strong indications” to back up his theory, presented Thursday at a conference marking the 2,400th anniversary of the philosopher’s birth.

[…] Sismanidis said the structure unearthed in the ruins of Stageira, 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Thessaloniki, was once a public monument where Aristotle was honored after his death. No human remains were found there.

… there was also mention of “medieval references” about Aristotle’s remains being transferred to Stagira.

Then Greek Reporter was on the case, and their written report includes this useful video with a reconstruction of the ‘tomb’, which looks nothing at all like a tomb and for most of us I suspect the initial reaction is that is a Byzantine structure:

More photos can be found in the accompanying news article:

As coverage continued to pour in over the course of the day yesterday, I found it very interesting that nothing had appeared on the Greek Ministry of Culture site yet. All of the press coverage included the line about Sismanidis saying he had ‘no definite proof’ but the story was spreading. The Guardian’s coverage added a titillating bit of detail:

The claim was welcomed by Greece’s culture ministry; a senior aide to the minister, Aristides Baltas, said the academic community was awaiting further details.

“A team of independent archaeologists with no connection to a particular school or department have been working at the site,” the official told the Guardian. “What we know is that their excavation has been meticulous and we await further details with great anticipation.”

So Sismanidis is not actually affiliated with a university. That’s usually an alarm bell for me but it does appear he is somehow associated with the 16th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, so maybe that alarm bell should be silenced.

At this point, I was wondering about the tales of the people of Stagira bringing Aristotle’s remains back after his death. This clearly came from some literary source and I was — and continue to be — unclear about the ‘medieval biography’. Some discussion on the Classics International facebook group didn’t really clear it up for me and my brain continued to have issues trying to process the archaeologist’s claims of no certain proof along with claims that the people of Stagira not only brought Aristotle’s ashes back, but established a festival (which festival I couldn’t find any record of). But the coverage continued to build, and some of the more reputable press outlets were adding credibility to the claim:

And so it was with great interest that this morning’s feed from the Greek press brought a very interesting article from To Bema (To Vima?):

Paraphrasing via Google translate again:

  • the item (which seems to be an oped piece on the politics page) shows how the find has already been politicized (and in competition somehow with Amphipolis)
    • perhaps connected with gold mining activities nearby (maybe not)
    • probably connected with competition between Macedonian archaeologists
    • announcement made at a conference where it could not be really questioned as it would if published in a journal (I think that’s the gist)
  • in regards to the interpretation, it all hinges on the claim that the people of Stagira brought Aristotle’s ashes back
  • other archaeologists are looking for a dedicatory inscription of some sort

So … if we’re hanging the identification on claims of a return of ashes, one thing I’d really like to know when this return of ashes is supposed to have happened. I tried to track down assorted biographies of Aristotle and came up empty (which means they’re not readily available on the web, near as I can tell). What also bothers me is the actual claim that he was cremated, which doesn’t strike me as being what he expected to happen after his death. In his will, e.g., which is in Diogenes Laertius, we read provisions for the remains of his wife Pythias:

ὅπου δ᾽ἂν ποιῶνται τὴν ταφήν, ἐνταῦθα καὶ τὰ Πυθιάδος ὀστᾶ ἀνελόνταςθεῖναι, ὥσπερ αὐτὴ προσέταξεν: ἀναθεῖναι δὲ καὶ Νικάνορασωθέντα, ἣν εὐχὴν ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ ηὐξάμην, ζῷα λίθινα τετραπήχη Διὶσωτῆρι καὶ Ἀθηνᾷ σωτείρᾳ ἐν Σταγείροις.”

And wherever they bury me, there the bones of Pythias shall be laid, in accordance with her own instructions. And to commemorate Nicanor’s safe return, as I vowed on his behalf, they shall set up in Stagira stone statues of life size to Zeus and Athena the Saviours.

Not sure if ‘the bones of’ is just an expression, but this sounds more like he expected a an interment situation for Pythias (and by implication, perhaps for himself) rather than cremation — but I might be reading too much into that.

What also continues to bother me is an item in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from May-October of 1892, specifically an article by entitled The Finding of the Tomb of Aristotle by Charles Waldstein. It’s an incredibly chatty piece and will probably remind many of those grad student situations where you were invited to a prof’s house for dinner and he/she regaled you with long (but interesting) tales of their adventures digging somewhere.

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In any event, Waldstein has a good Classical academic pedigree (and, incidentally, was one of the early advocates for excavating Herculaneum) so his claims — which don’t appear to have been accepted — should be taken into account if nothing else. I’ll leave it to you to follow the link above to read the actual article, but just as a tease, here are a couple of the images included in the article:

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Also interesting, was this statue find — which Waldstein actually downplays in the piece:

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Most interesting is mention of an inscription:

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Of course, we do not know of any daughter of Aristotle named Biote, which is probably why this was not accepted as being his tomb. Even so, the final lines of the article are interesting from a nihil novum point of view:

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So whatever has been found at Stagira, there is a long tradition of claiming lack of definite proof, but still making the claim anyway. I suspect the claim made by Sismanidis will be similarly met with skepticism by the scholarly community, unless a rather more tangible connection to Aristotle can be made.

Unlooted Tomb from Aigai/Vergina

I was hoping we’d hear more about this find … from eKathimerini:

An ancient tomb along with burial offerings, allegedly belonging to a man who died around the time of Alexander the Great, has been unearthed at the ancient city of Aigai, in northern Greece.

The archaeologist in charge of the excavation at Aigai, Aggeliki Kottaridi, reported the discovery with a message on her Facebook page. She said that the box-shaped Macedonian tomb had not been looted.

“[This is] a pleasant exception since the Aigai necropolis was brutally looted by Gallic mercenaries of Pyrrhus in 276 BC and we rarely have the chance to find undisturbed burials,” she said.

Kottaridi also posted two images from the tomb, one of them depicting a decorated vessel used to mix wine and water at the symposia.

The photo that accompanies the piece (and is also on a Greek Reporter version) is somewhat curious:

Aggeliki Kottaridi photo (?)
Aggeliki Kottaridi photo (?)

There was some discussion on the Classics list — I’m not sure how serious — that this was a helmet (presumably some sort of pilos type) but this seems to be the gold-plated vessel referred to in the article (that would be an awfully uncomfortable chin strap!). But why is it laying on the floor like this (if unlooted)?