Greek “Surgeons of History”- Excavating a Lost Empire

Day by day accounts of the important excavations at Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece, from Ephilant – two weeks of posts made at Politicalword.org – for more updates follow the “Absolute Thread of Randomness” on our forum Politicalworld.org

13.8.2014

Exciting times for archaeologists in Greece.

An excavation in Αμφίπολη (Amphipolis, Serres, Macedonia) has gripped the nation, with the possibilities being outlined as “exceptional” by the head archaeologist Katerina Peristeri, who describes this as potentially more important than the Ακρόπολη (Acropolis). The site is a huge tomb, surrounded by a 497 meter long marble wall. So far, a 4.5 meter wide road leading to the tomb has been uncovered, as have two enormous statues of sphinxes guarding the road. The tomb has been dated between 300 and 325 BC, which is the time the great Macedonian king Alexander the Great died. Although he was killed in Babylon and later buried in Egypt, his final resting place was never disclosed.

The dig begun in 1960, when a 5.2 meter high sculpture of a lion was unearthed outside the tomb. It then got side-tracked when a huge settlement, dating back to 3000 BC was uncovered. Meanwhile, the lion got restored and the dig around the area where the lion was found resumed.

And then, they found the wall…When the wall, made from Thassian marble, was discovered, they knew they had something really big on their hands. The sheer size of the tomb makes this a painstakingly slow job , but Peristeri says it is worth it to remove the soil grain by grain, because they are finding an enormous amount of things while doing this. She has rightfully resisted calls to go in with mechanical equipment and go to the centre to find who is buried there. She expects to be able to enter the actual burial chamber by the end of the month. The danger is that the roof may collapse, as it is not in the best of shape. So re-enforcements are built as they go along, after they removed everything that may hold clues as to what may be hidden further down the 4.5 m wide road. Then we will know if this is indeed, as speculated, the tomb of Alexander the Great. It is also being speculated that this could be the tomb of his wife and son, who were both murdered after his death. I think Katerina Peristeri may suffer be a good few sleepless nights before that time arrives…


20.8.2014    The archaeologists digging in Amphipolis are getting ready to enter the tomb. They have now cleared the two sphinxes guarding the entrance and have decided not to move them, for among other reasons the fact that these boys weigh 1.5 ton each and there is little wiggle room to lift them out.

Katerina Peristeri said yesterday that they have now uncovered 13 steps and reached the wall separating the tomb from the outside world, and they will begin removing this today. They have brought in a specialist mining-architect to help construct a support for the roof to ensure it does not collapse. Katerina Peristeri was visibly excited at the prospect of entering this tomb, and expressed the hope that the tomb would be intact and not looted. “That would be the ideal situation. If the roof has not caved in and the tomb has not been looted, we will find everything intact inside, then the personal items buried with whoever rests in there will tell us a lot more about who he/she/they are. We still have no idea, other than the carbon dating giving us a date of 325 – 320 BC and it being important person(s) due to the sheer size of the tomb. The sphinxes indicate some link to ancient Egypt, but we don’t know anything more just yet. An intact chamber will tell us everything we need to know.” This date range has given rise to serious speculation that this might just be the last resting place of Alexander the Great, and has prompted the archaeologists to request, and get round-the clock police protection for the site as they fear modern looters might just take their changes. Certain people in FYROM are already using the situation to once again stir trouble and demand that all the contents be transferred to their country as they are the only legitimate heirs of Alexander and other claptrap.
Comment: The sheer quality of that sculpture is awesome, no matter who or when made it. I wonder when that chap lost his head ? It does not look as though it would have fitted under the vault, suggesting that it may have been moved into that position from elsewhere.

“Is there another one, facing him ?” C. Flower

There is indeed another sphinx opposite this guy, they are about 2 meters apart.

You can just see his paws sticking out from behind the outer wall. from there it’s 13 steps down, and another wall, which the archaeologists assume seals the tomb. The job is painstakingly slow, they expect to be ready to start taking the other wall down in about 2 weeks. It must be nerve wrecking for those involved in this.

The head is indeed missing, but as far as I know they have one, ir bits of one, and it would seem like the sphinx is looking head down, a bit like a vulture… Restoration is not going to be easy, they reckon it will take up to 3 years.

20.8.2014 (later)  So, here they are, in half their glory

The archaeologists have confirmed that the wings and pieces of the head have been found on the site, leading some to believe that the tomb was raided at some stage, or at least vandalized. Now begins the painstaking part of removing the rest of the wall. The entrance to the tomb is apparently underneath the sphinxes and not, as first thought, behind them. This could speed things up a little. They have meanwhile also found traces of red and blue paint on and around the sphinxes, and an intact black and white mosaic with rhombus shapes ( a rhombus is basically a square pushed out of shape). They have also determined that the sphinxes were made by the same person(s) who made the lion, and they are indeed of exquisite craftsmanship.
The wings were found in the same area where a huge portion of the meanwhile restored lion was found. Archaeologists now believe that the lion originally stood on top of the mount, but was pulled down by raiders at some stage. Others say he may have been dislodged by an earthquake.
23.8.2014     This is getting seriously exciting now.

As the wall is carefully dismantled, this is what is emerging from behind it

We are looking at distinct Ionic architecture, which is beginning to reveal frescos in red blue and black. It is painstakingly slow, and Katerina Peristeri estimates it will take another month or so before they have the entrance cleared. She has now also barred all the politicians from the site, and told them to read the briefings she gives to the ministry and the press every day if they are indeed that interested… Peristeri is becoming a serious celebrity here, and every politician seems to think it vital for their career to have a picture taken of themselves with the woman. The head archaeologist also poured cold water on the ministers daft idea of organized tours to the ongoing excavations. Nobody is allowed anywhere near the site without her permission, and that is extended to her team only. She briefs the press on a daily basis, supplies the images, but will not let anybody near the actual entrance.
This morning she excitedly announced that they have unearthed all the pieces of the wings of the sphinxes and now have the complete wings in their possession.
Amazing to see the colour and decoration. We are so used to seeing Greek architecture bleached white with age and wear and tear. The crispness and quality of the carving too – having been protected from the elements.

“Wow, loving the reports from the Amphipolis dig, exciting stuff!” Sidewinder

26.8.2014  Getting there, slowly but surely..

And while the archaeologists, who describe themselves as “the surgeons of history” meticulously remove all the earth from the entrance, many theories about the origin and content of the tomb are being offered. Including of course the necessary conspiracy theories accusing every traditional “enemy” of the country of having looted the tomb at some stage…
What the whole thing has done is it has galvanized the people to take the right kind of pride in their heritage. Another major site, the ancient city of Messene, is currently being threatened by an enormous wild-fire which is being fanned by strong winds and high temperatures. It is getting that tricky that the government has ordered the evacuation of a number of villages, fearing that the fire-fighters will not be able to contain the fire before it gets there. Apart from the villages, the site of the city of Messene is also being threatened by the same wild fire. Last year this would not have raised an eyebrow anywhere, people just lost all interest in everything and anything thanks to the economic/political situation in the country. This year, it’s different. The head archaeologist in Amphipolis, Katerina Peristeri, has really managed to capture the imagination of the Greeks, and rally them around not just the project, but their heritage in general. Her daily reports are absolutely breath taking, and the enthusiasm she has generated is contagious. As soon as news spread about the fire and the potential damage to the villages and Messene, literally hundreds of volunteers from all over the place gathered in Messene and started helping the fire fighters clearing bush, digging fire trenches, evacuating the old people etc. So far, the fire has destroyed some 2000 acres of land, but it has been diverted away from 3 of the villages and the latest reports say that with the help of the volunteers and 6 airplanes the fires have been brought under control.


Katerina Peristeri has more news for us…

They have now entered the antechamber and are facing another wall.

The hole at the top left of this wall is large enough for a full grown man to go through, which has again fuelled speculation that the tomb may have been raided at some stage. Meanwhile, a few more details have been released. As commented on by C. Flower, the quality of the sculptures is incredible.

Other items have really raised the fever regarding who is buried here…

 

Today we learned that the architecture of the tomb, the wall, and some of the other items still under examination (mosaic floors etc) strongly indicate that the tomb was designed by Dinocrates, the architect who was responsible for the design and construction of Alexandria, and personal friend of Alexander the Great.

1.9.2014    Today we got the news that the antechamber has been accessed, and after some cleaning up a white and red marble floor was literally unearthed.

According to Katerina Peristeri the antechamber is in “excellent condition” and the marble floor is of “superb quality and craftsmanship”. This discovery has now slowed down the process of getting to the actual tomb itself, with could conceivably consist of a number of rooms, giving the size of the tomb.
2.9.2014   Painstakingly slow, the archaeologists are finding their way in to the tomb and reveal exquisite craftsmanship in the process.


They now know of 3 chambers behind the sealing wall, created by traverse diaphragmic walls. It turns out that not just the sealing wall had a top stone missing, but each of the traverse walls has a similar “flaw”, making the archaeologists think that this was not the work of grave robbers, but part of the construction.

Each of the chambers has been filled with large quantities of earth which must be removed literally trowel by trowel…At the same time, reinforcements must be constructed to allow the walls to remain upright under the increasing pressure from the earth on the other side.


Preliminary inspection of the walls in the antechamber have revealed a fresco with traces of blue colouring.
This video gives you a very good idea of the size of the Amphipolis tomb, and why the archaeologists are so excited about this…

Ephilant 4 Sept 2014

For more updates, visit our forum, Politicalworld.org

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