Grave treasures in Elis

In a rare find in the Peloponnese, archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric cemetery with 25 graves, 100 vases, and jewelry such as stone amulets, beads and necklaces, in Elis. Also found was a clay kiln and other parts of a Hellenistic-era ceramics workshop together with many examples of its products. This is the latest surprise from Elis, which is so rich in treasures. The city held the Olympic Games in antiquity, though the glory nowadays goes to nearby Olympia. The cemetery contains 25 burial chambers with a corridor leading to an opening. Archaeologist Xeni Arapoyianni, head of the Fourth Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, which excavated the site, told Kathimerini the finds were made during a rescue dig carried out before the construction of a prefabricated theater. The site on which they were found was close to the old museum, north of the ancient theater. The excavation uncovered two graves of a type that had been unheard of in the Peloponnese up until a few years ago. All the graves were cut into the sandy soil, and in each of them were successive burials of bodies with their legs drawn up accompanied by vases and jewelry. The ceramic kiln and the Hellenistic workshop with a rich sample of work from the area were two more impressive finds. Why are they considered important? «For their chronological rarity,» explained Arapoyianni. «Cemeteries from that era, the latest stage of the Final Neolithic and the beginnings of the Early Bronze Age, are very rare. «There’s another reason why they are exceptional. They have preserved abundant osteological material in extremely good condition. That means that when the anthropological studies are done, we will have some significant conclusions about the people who lived in the area, such as their customs, what they were like, the illnesses they died of, their diet and their living conditions. In recent years, important information has come from anthropological studies. «The abundance of pots from the era helps establish the date. The material – about 100 pots – has been transferred to Olympia where it is undergoing conservation.» The finds show that this settlement – one of many in Elis – was in contact with other cultures in the Aegean, according to Arapoyianni. The archaeological research continues: «We aren’t sure whether we have exhausted the cemetery,» she said. The graves are not easy to conserve, but the decisions will be made by special committees. It is only the third cemetery of that era after those discovered at Epidaurus and Kalamaki in Achaia. Elis had not had significant excavations, said Arapoyianni. «It is an extensive ancient city, unexploited and unexplored.» The Municipality of Amaliada contributed to funding for the research.