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This bronze vessel was one of many Macedonian treasures missed by looters at Ahlada, near Florina, in Macedonia    Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

A Wealth of Macedonian Treasures Overlooked By Looters

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Archaeologists at a Macedonian graveyard in Greece have been ecstatic to find that graverobbers had far from cleaned out the ancient resting place. The burial ground was looted in ancient times and later but the robbers did not steal everything of value, leaving treasures of gold, silver and bronze for the architects to uncover. After years of searching, experts have been able to find many historic treasures, including a rare gold mask at the site. The finds are of immense importance as they are revealing insights about society and warfare in Ancient Greece.

A Lightly Looted Necropolis

The archaeologists were working at a site in Ahlada, near Florina, in Macedonia, in north-western Greece. According to the Greek Reporter the finds were made in a “a vast ancient cemetery”. The graveyard is believed to date back to at least the 6 th century BC, but many of the graves come from different time periods. The cemetery is associated with the ancient Macedonians who lived in the area.

A warrior’s grave with Bronze helmet and other grave goods. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

A warrior’s grave with Bronze helmet and other grave goods. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

This burial site had been looted by grave robbers in antiquity and in later times.  The theft of antiquities is not just a modern problem but has a long history. It is not known how many graves were opened and how many priceless artifacts were stolen in the past. Many believed that the site had no more treasures, but there were a large number of burials that had been missed by the robbers. This meant that the archaeologists “managed to uncover a number of artifacts that must have been overlooked by the robbers” report Neoskosmos.

Previously some 1,100 graves had been identified at the site in Ahlada. However, after the latest finds another 200 burials with skeletons and often grave goods have been identified. Why these burials were missed by ancient looters is not known. These graves have been left  miraculously undisturbed for centuries. In the newly discovered graves, the archaeologists were amazed at the riches that they found.

A tomb with figurines and bronze vessels. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

A tomb with figurines and bronze vessels. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Macedonian Treasures of Warrior Aristocracy

The Greek Culture Ministry announced in a statement that the “most impressive finds came from the graves of warriors who died in the 6th century BC and were members of a powerful military aristocracy” reports Ekathimerini.com. As members of the elite, they would have been buried with valuable grave goods, as was the custom, in this era. Among the items that were recovered from the graves was a “valuable face mask , made specially for funerals” reports Phys.org. The funerary mask was made from beaten gold and must have belonged to someone who was very powerful and had a high status in the local society.

One rich grave contained a gold funerary mask, silver forks and gold rings. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

One rich grave contained a gold funerary mask, silver forks and gold rings. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Many of the warriors appear to have been buried with their weapons and their armor. In some of the graves were found parts of weapons such as iron spear points and fragments of swords blades. The archaeologists also unearthed four helmets made from bronze, with cheekpieces and some bronze ‘greaves’, that would have protected the lower legs of the warriors.

Ancient funerary practices

The team also found a bronze urn, which is remarkably well-preserved. It has a skilfully crafted handle in the form of a hand, but the other handle is missing. Some fragments of figurines were also found in some of the graves. According to the Greek Reporter , the team also discovered ‘an iron model of a farm cart’. Some of these items may have been related to ancient funerary practices.

Tomb with figurines and other grave goods. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

Tomb with figurines and other grave goods. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

The finds are extraordinary because they offer an insight into society in what was ancient Macedonia.  They can help researchers to better understand the funerary practices at the time and even something about the culture’s beliefs. The finds can also help them to understand the warrior-elite who once dominated this part of the world. Work is continuing at the vast burial ground and it is hoped that more valuable grave goods, can be unearthed.

Top image: This bronze vessel was one of many Macedonian treasures missed by looters at Ahlada, near Florina, in Macedonia    Source: Greek Ministry of Culture

By Ed Whelan

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