School starts tomorrow so I don’t know whether I’ll have time to flesh this out today, but I want to put this suggestion out there. It actually builds on assorted things proposed by plenty of folks but adds something original, I think. Here’s my speculation on the tomb based on recent things:
1. It is not implausible that it was intended for Alexander and would have been started while he was still alive
2. Of course, Alexander ended up getting buried in Alexandria
3. So Amphipolis ends up with this big tomb and no one to put in it; but putting ANYONE other than the intended occupant in that tomb would be making a political statement
4. The latest news from the site suggests there were great efforts made to seal the tomb in an unprecedented way (I’ll be posting on this later today or tomorrow) … so:
5. Rogueclassicist goes out on a limb to suggest the Amphipolis tomb will turn out to be EMPTY (wall decorations might be there); not looted but intentionally not used.
6. The tomb/mound was transformed into a memorial monument of sorts (everyone knew it was there), with the lion put on top as a sort of generic marker of sorts. The ‘sphinxes’ were beheaded when everything was sealed up because they weren’t guarding anything. Perhaps a symbolic ‘deterrent’ for folks who might have been thinking about using the tomb for themselves.
… I’m hoping I’ll be proven wrong in the next few weeks and we’ll have a magnificent, occupied, Macedonian tomb but this is going to be my working hypothesis for the next few days.
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.
The blocks in front were removed …
… 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.
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):
Then they were inside the vestibule:
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:
There’s a photo of the dirt having been cleared from behind the “sphinxes”:
Looking through that you can possible see a trace of the photo that’s causing “disappointment”:
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):
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:
… and another:
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).