By John Leonard
A fresh trove of ancient evidence attesting to the long, rich history of the region of Pella in northern Greece has been uncovered during recent archaeological excavations at the vast cemetery site of Archontiko, Pella.
Archaeologists Anastasia and Pavlos Chrysostomou, of the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, report that another 37 burials dating from the late Iron Age to the early Hellenistic period (circa 650-280 BC) have been exposed during the 2010 season, according to a statement released by the Culture Ministry on September 20, 2010.
Investigation of the 20-hectare cemetery site, located 5 km west of Classical-Hellenistic Pella -- the capital of ancient Macedonia from circa 410 BC, has been ongoing since at least the summer of 2000, when the first warrior burials containing gold-decorated armor, weapons, and many other high-status funerary gifts were discovered. To date, with only about 5 percent of the site excavated, a total of 1,004 graves have already been found, including 259 from the Late Iron Age, 475 from the Archaic period, 262 from Classical and early Hellenistic times, and eight of unknown date.
Archontiko contains the cremated and inhumed remains of men, women and children buried with diverse collections of grave goods that indicate Macedonian culture had already attained a high level of development some two centuries before the time of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
Of the latest 37 graves to be opened, six belong to the Late Iron Age (circa 650-580 BC) and contained a variety of ceramic vases and metal objects. Thirty-one burials date to the Classical and Hellenistic periods (5th-3rd century BC). Sixteen of these graves belonged to well-to-do Macedonian men and women buried with distinctive assemblages of personal and precious items. Men were laid to rest with iron weapons (spearheads and knives), metal jewelry (fibulae, rings), gilded bronze wreaths of myrtle, iron strigils, bronze coins and ceramic vessels. Women were buried with metal jewelry (earrings, mouth coverings, necklaces, fibulae, buckles, rings), gilded bronze wreaths of myrtle, bronze coins, glass and ceramic vessels, ceramic busts and figurines, and knucklebones. Women of particularly high status had their graves adorned with iron knives, metal jewelry (diadem strips, mouth coverings, earrings, fibulae, rings, bracelets), amber beads, ceramic figurines and busts, and especially bronze, ceramic, faience and glass vessels. The remains of one young female, who had been cremated, were discovered in a ceramic box (pyxis) beside gold, silver and iron jewelry, a gold mouthpiece, and a unique miniature glass amphora intended for perfume.
Particularly remarkable are the graves of nine male warriors, including one that dates to circa 650 BC. This dead man, buried in a manner worthy of a celebrated hero, was interred with a bronze helmet adorned with gold strips; iron weapons (a sword with a gold-covered handle, two spearheads, four knives); a golden ring; a golden mouthpiece; gold hand coverings decorated with impressed spirals and gorgons; gold shoe covers decorated with golden strands; gold strips that once adorned the funeral shroud; three iron fibulae (one with gold on its head); iron models of a two-wheeled farm cart, furniture and roasting spits; and numerous other objects including molded ceramic vessels that depict a ram and a seated figure of Hades. With the excavators noting that this latest ceremonial helmet is the 404th helmet to have been found at Archontiko in Pella, it seems the site still has many secrets and rich details to tell about ancient Macedonian life and death.