The identity of the skeleton found in the mysterious, richly decorated tomb in Amphipolis in northern Greece will be revealed next month, the Greek Ministry of Culture said.
According to the statement, macroscopic study of the bones, conducted by universities in Thessaloniki and Thrace, will provide answers on the individual’s sex, age and height.
Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri unearthed the human remains last month. The skeleton was found scattered within and outside a box-shaped limestone grave placed at about 5.3 feet beneath the floor of the the tomb’s third chamber.
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The finding was the last chapter of an extraordinary archaeological exploration that winded through huge decapitated sphinxes, walls guarded by colossal caryatids (female statues that serve as architectural support) and floors decorated with stunning mosaics.
The ministry dismissed as “unfounded” some leaks on the Internet and Greek websites about the identity of the individual buried at the massive tomb — about a third of a mile in circumference — dating back to Alexander the Great’s reign in the late 4th century B.C.
Indeed, citing “exclusive information,” the Amfipoli News website wrote the skeleton belongs to a 54-year-old woman. This would mean that the tomb’s occupant is most likely Olympias, Alexander the Great’s mother.
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According to Andrew Chugg, author of “The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great” and the first scholar who suggested Olympias as the tomb occupant, the Greek ministry statement “does not actually contradict the leak that the skeleton belongs to a woman aged 54.”
“It does suggest that an examination of the skeleton has taken place and that there are results to report, because the ministry could not otherwise be certain that it would have results to announce in January as it has promised,” Chugg told Discovery News.
A princess from the Epirus region in the northwest of the Greek peninsula, Olympias played a key role in the power struggle that followed the deaths his husband Philip II and her son Alexander the Great.
Her effort to establish her grandson Alexander IV as the sole king of an enormous empire prompted her enemy Cassander to orchestrate her execution in 316 B.C.
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Speculation abounds over who was buried in the colossal mound. Names made in the heated guessing game include Androsthenes, Laomedon and Nearchus, Alexander’s admirals, battlefield general Hephaestion, who was Alexander’s closest friend since childhood, and even Cassander, who killed Alexander’s wife Roxana and his son Alexander IV to succeed the Macedonian king.
The Culture Ministry specified that investigation on the mysterious skeleton is part of a broader research program, which includes the analysis of about 300 skeletons, coming from the area of Amphipolis and covering the period from 1000 BC to 200 B.C.
The project is expected to last 20 months.
Image: the tomb entrance at Amphipolis. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture