In 2015, the Greek Ministry of Culture announced the long-awaited results of the analysis on the bones found inside the 4th century BC tomb uncovered in Amphipolis in northern Greece. The news was quite unexpected – the bones belonged to not one, but five individuals, pointing to the likelihood that it is a family tomb. However, their has been a setback in their analysis since then. What’s next for the Amphipolis tomb and the remains that were found within?
The tomb is located within Kasta Hill in what was once the ancient city of Amphipolis, conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 BC. Experts have known about the existence of the burial mound in Amphipolis, located about 100 km (62.14 miles) northeast of Thessaloniki, since the 1960s, but work only began in earnest there in 2012, when archaeologists discovered that Kasta Hill had been surrounded by a nearly 500-meter (1640.42 ft.) wall made from marble. It was only in 2015 that they discovered the incredible chambers decorated with marble sphinxes and caryatids, an intricate mosaic floor, and a limestone sarcophagus containing hundreds of bone fragments.
Amphipolis Tomb by Greektoys.org (update) on Sketchfab.
According to the Ministry’s Press Release , archaeologists recovered a total of 550 bone fragments, both crushed and intact, including a skull in good condition. After a meticulous process of piecing the fragments together, scientists identified 157 complete bones.
Following the macroscopic study of bone material, which was undertaken by a multidisciplinary team from the Universities of Aristotle and Democritus, researchers were able to determine that the minimum number of individuals is five – a woman aged around 60 years, two men aged 35-45 years, a newborn infant, and the cremated remains of another individual of unknown age and gender. In addition, they found a number of animal bones, most likely belonging to a horse.
Person 1: Female, approximately 60 years Scientists were able to identify person 1 as female based on the pelvic bones, the bones of the skull, the mandible, and the morphological features of the bones. Age was determined based on the loss of posterior teeth, degenerative lesions, particularly in the spine, and the presence of metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis and frontal hyperostosis. Her height is estimated at 157 cm (5.15 ft.)
Most of the bones found can be attributed to the female, and they were located approximately 1 meter (3.28 ft.) above the floor of the cist.
Bones belonging to the 60-year-old female in the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Ministry of Culture
Persons 2 and 3: Two men, 35 to 45 years Two of the individuals identified are known to have been men, one around 35 years of age, and the other closer to 45 years of age. The younger of the two men, whose height is estimated at 168 cm (5.51 ft.), bears traces of cut marks on the left upper thoracic spine, two sides and cervical vertebra. His injuries are consistent with violent injury caused by a sharp instrument, such as a knife, which apparently caused his death (no healing indications could be distinguished.)
The slightly older man, whose bones were found higher than the first man, measures around 162 cm (5.31 ft.) in height and has evidence of a fully healed fracture in his right radius, close to the right wrist. Both men show degenerative osteoarthritis and spondylitis.
Cut marks were found in multiple places in the bones of person 2 in the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Ministry of Culture
Person 4: Newborn infant The fourth individual identified was a newborn infant, whose sex could not be determined. The determination of age was made based on the length and width of the left humerus and left mandible.
Bones found in the Amphipolis tomb belonging to newborn infant. Credit: Ministry of Culture
Person 5: Cremated individual of unknown age and sex The fifth person is represented by only a few burnt fragments. While age and sex cannot be determined, the bones are believed to belong to an adult individual.
Person 5 bones (Amphipolis tomb) that have undergone the influence of high temperature, after burning. Credit: Ministry of Culture
The scientific team planned to continue to carry out in-depth studies of the bones, including DNA analysis, to obtain more detailed information about the individuals including their diet, their affinity and place of origin, whether they grew up in Amphipolis or had moved from elsewhere, when they were buried/cremated, and whether the individuals are related to each other. The hope was that the results would enable the researchers to piece together the social and historical context and finally determine the identity of the individuals buried inside this incredibly important funerary monument.
However, an update on the research project shows that three and a half years after the fascinating discovery in 2015, the work has come to a standstill. A lack of funding for the project has raised some eyebrows on the current government’s views on the archaeological site. Currently the human remains are being stored in the Amphipolis Museum. They’ve been there ever since the initial macroscopic analysis was completed.
Despite the obstacle in discovering more about the people who were buried inside, there is movement at the Amphipolis tomb. In fact, heavy restoration work has been underway to have the site ready to open to the public in 2020 .
Top Image: Marble sphinx and limestone sarcophagus found at Amphipolis. Source: Greek Ministry of Culture
By April Holloway