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A baked clay theater mask that was discovered among the grave goods provides information about the people whose bodies were buried in the chamber.

Striking Grave Goods Begin to Shed Light on Hellenistic Life in Turkey

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A burial chamber had been discovered near the city of Aydin, Turkey, located in the southwestern part of the country. Aydin is a famous location for very well preserved archaeological sites. It bears the traces of civilizations dating back 7,000 years and is one of the most important ancient parts of this region. There are 22 registered ancient sites found in Aydın.

According to the Milliyet.com.tr, the burial chamber has been discovered near the archaeological site of Tralles (Tiral/ Tralleis), one of the most important ancient cities of what is now Turkey. The team of 10 archaeologists led by the director of the Aydın Museum, Yılmaz Akkan, discovered a collection of exceptional unlooted antiquities.

Inside the burial chamber where three coffins and unique grave goods were found.

Inside the burial chamber where three coffins and unique grave goods were found. ( Milliyet)

The artifacts found around the coffins offer information about the professions and /or hobbies of the people who were buried there. A unique clay mask discovered in a grave, amongst many other objects, suggests that it belonged to people who were interested in theater or perhaps could have been actors. Aydın Culture and Tourism Director Nuri Aktakka told the DailySabah:

"We discovered three coffins in a rectangle vault. The bones that we unearthed were damaged; however, the burial gifts that we discovered in the vault were a huge finding. So far, the archaeologists have listed and registered a total of 37 objects excavated from the burial chamber. Among these objects, cremation boxes, teardrop bottles and oil lambs stand out. A baked clay mask that was discovered among the burial gifts is perhaps one of the most important pieces to be discovered. The mask provides information about the people whose bodies were buried in the chamber."

Some of the grave goods found in the burial chamber

Some of the grave goods found in the burial chamber. ( SABAH)

The most mysterious part of the discovery is that no other masks have been unearthed in other excavations conducted in Aydın. The artifacts are dated to the early Hellenistic period of the Roman Empire. Until now, there is no information about the total number of human remains at the site.

Currently police officers are monitoring the archaeological site to protect the burial chamber, as well as the artifacts it holds, from looters. The priceless artifacts will become a part of the collection in the Aydın Museum. The researchers hope that future analysis will bring new information on the cultural life of this area. The future fate of the excavation site will be decided by the Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board.

The chamber is dated at 2000 years old, and sheds light on the cultural life of this period. According to Aktakka , the city has been an important settlement for mankind since the beginning of its existence. The city of Tralles is located only 1 km (0.62 miles) from Aydın and was founded by the Argives and Trallians before becoming a part of the Persian Empire.

The geographer Strabo is one of the oldest sources on the city, and mentions its existence around the 4th century BC. It was a convent for a time under the Roman Republic, and was finally taken by rebels during the Mirhridatic War. During the reign of Ceasar Augustus, Tralles was damaged by the powers of nature and war, and was rebuilt and renamed as Caesarea.

The city was famous for its great architecture, closeness to many theaters (in Miletus, Nysa on the Maeander, etc.), and strategic location. It appears to have been a place where citizens liked to enjoy life, and celebrated ancient arts and theater. In later times, the city gave the world one of the two architects of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul), Anthemius of Tralles , who was born there.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. ( CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

The recent discovery of the unique grave has been made during the works of rebuilding the city of Aydin following the earthquake in 2012. Many parts of the ancient site have been lost. On February 2014, Aktakka told Hurriyet Daily News :

“A structure which formed the entrance gate of the gymnasium building, and which became the symbol of Aydın, suffered the heaviest damage due to earthquakes. As part of a project, it will be strengthened and illuminated so that it will even be seen from the entrance of the city. Also, restorations have been continuing to revive a columned road that was discovered in Tralleis. The ancient city will become a place worth a visit within a year.”

After two years, archaeologists are still working in Tralles and the city still holds many secrets which could help researchers to understand the life and culture of this ancient place.

Ruins at the Tralles site in Turkey.

Ruins at the Tralles site in Turkey. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

Featured Image: A baked clay theater mask that was discovered among the grave goods provides information about the people whose bodies were buried in the chamber. Source: Daily Sabah

By Natalia Klimczak

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