Theban dig yields rich finds

Archaeologists in Thebes have uncovered important building remains and artifacts from the ancient city that lies under the center of the modern town, including nearly 400 intact vases, the Culture Ministry said yesterday. Excavations that started in February on a private plot close to the ancient Electran Gate revealed finds dating from the third millennium BC to late Byzantine times. Here and there, the eras mingled, as was the case with late medieval walls into which sixth-century BC architectural fragments, sculpture, ceramics and even bronze vessels had been built. One of the most interesting discoveries was what is believed to have been a huge ancient altar on which the carcasses of animals sacrificed to a god were burnt. Worshippers also dedicated terracotta vases which were deposited among the ashes. Archaeologists excavated a deep layer of ash – which, in parts, was over 2.5 meters deep – containing large quantities of charred bones and pottery dating to Geometric and Archaic times (eighth to late sixth centuries BC). A total of 380 intact ceramic vessels were recovered, while archaeologists are optimistic that the great number of broken pieces found among the ashes can be pieced together to produce more complete pots. The find is being tentatively associated with the Altar of Spondios Apollo (Apollo of the Ashes) which was described by the ancient writer Pausanias as standing close to the Electran Gate. Furthermore, remains of a late Archaic temple were located at the other end of the plot. Among the architectural remains, a number of bronze vessels and statuettes – including some of Herakles, the mythical Theban-born hero – were found. This could mark the site where ancient Thebans believed the house where Herakles grew up stood.