Amphipolis Press Conference: Archaeologists reveal new secrets of ancient tomb at Kasta Hill
The Greek archaeological and research team who have spent the past few months excavating the enormous tomb of Amphipolis in northern Greece, have given their first complete presentation of the excavation results at the Ministry of Culture in Athens, revealing new fascinating information about this monumental discovery.
Kasta Hill lies 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 100km 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 wall made from marble.
Damage to the marble wall
Lead archaeologist Katerina Peristeri has now revealed that only 80 meters worth of marble has been recovered from the 500-meter perimeter, as much of it had been plundered in the past, with some of it being used to make roads and dams, and other pieces taken for the construction of local buildings and houses. Parts of an old crane were also found, probably once used to lift the marble from the wall. In the early 1900s, another tragedy had occurred – the British Army, who had been posted to the region in 1915, attempted to take much of the marble, as well as the Lion of Amphipolis statue back to Britain. They were stopped by an attack from the Bulgarians and Austrians, and pieces of marble were left scattered in a 5 kilometer radius around Kasta Hill.
Left: The Kasta Hill burial mound. Source: Amfipoli News. Right: The 500-meter long wall made from marble and limestone surrounds the enormous burial mound. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Earlier this year, archaeologists discovered a path and 13 steps leading down from the surrounding wall. It was then that they uncovered a limestone wall protecting and concealing the entrance of the tomb of Amphipolis. Behind the wall, archaeologists revealed two marble sphinxes, both headless and missing their wings, but these were recovered during excavations. Bit by bit, the grand tomb began revealing the secrets that had lain hidden for 2,300 years. "We knew we had to return there and solve the mystery of the hill," said Peristeri in yesterday’s press conference.
Outside the tomb, researchers discovered the engraved Greek letters “E” and “A”, which architect Michael Lefantzis said are typical of that specific era. He also stressed that the letters are not name initials, they are related to the construction work of the era.
Looting and vandalism
New research has revealed that the vast tomb had been open to the public in antiquity, leading to looting and damage by the invading Romans. Sealing walls at the tomb were constructed during the Roman era to keep vandals and looters away, but much damage had already been done. This has made it difficult to immediately identify the owner of the tomb, as many artifacts that would been buried alongside the individual, and would have helped with identification, are missing.
“It is certain there was damage and plundering in ancient times as it was a large monument that people could visit,” said Peristeri.
Two marble sphinxes guard the entrance to the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture.
Discoveries inside the tomb chambers
In the first chamber of the tomb, archaeologists made a major discovery – two beautifully carved marble caryatids (sculpted female figures serving as architectural supports taking the place of a column or a pillar), measuring 3.7 meters in height, including the base. The caryatids are wearing a sleeved tunic and earrings, and feature long, curly hair covering their shoulders. The right arm of the western caryatid and the left arm of the eastern one are both outstretched, as if to symbolically stop anyone attempting to enter the grave. The face of one of the sculptures survives almost intact, while the other one is missing. Archaeologists have now been able to determine that the face was damaged when a beam fell down from the chamber ceiling in the past.
The caryatids. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
As they entered the second chamber of the tomb, more spectacles awaited – a magnificent mosaic which covers the entire floor area and depicting a well-known scene. The mural shows the abduction of Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter and goddess of agriculture and fertility, by Hades/Pluto. A mural representing the exact same scene was discovered in the tomb of Philip II, Alexander the Great's father.
Amphipolis mosaic depicting the abduction of Persefonis. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Coins and pottery
Archaeologists have now revealed that they had also found coins and pottery inside the chambers, dating back to between the 4 th and 2 nd centuries BC, along with two marble shields that are believed to have been part of the lion sculpture that once stood at the top of Kasta Hill. Some of the coins show the face of Alexander the Great.
The burial vault
In the third chamber, archaeologists found a hidden vault in the floor that had been sealed with limestone. It contained human remains inside a sarcophagus. The skeleton had once been inside a wooden coffin (now disintegrated), which had been sealed with iron and bronze nails. Bone and glass decorative elements and skeletal remains were found both within and outside the limestone sarcophagus.
The limestone burial vault. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
The remains are now being examined by experts and results may not be available for several months yet. Peristeri said that the identity of the skeleton is still unknown, but certainly belongs to an important figure.
"We have no clear clues on the identity of the buried person based on the sculpture of the Lion which stood on top of the hill and the other architectural finds,” said Lefantzis. “We do know that the dead was a prominent figure...In my opinion he was a warrior."
While Peristeri appears to be hedging her bets on a Macedonian General of Alexander the Great’s army, due to the lion that once stood atop the burial mound, she also referred to the fact that in the past, the burial mound was known to locals as “The Tomb of the Queen”.
Nevertheless, Peristeri refused to be drawn into a debate on the possible identity of the skeleton found inside the tomb at the press conference. "I cannot tell who was buried or not buried at the tomb. Be patient and our search will give you answers," she concluded.
Geophysical scans of Kasta Hill have revealed that there may be much more lying hidden within the enormous burial mound, and archaeologists have announced that more excavations may begin in the near future.
Featured Image: Amphipolis Tomb by Greektoys.org (update) on Sketchfab.