Saturday, January 23, 2016

Horse skeleton complete with hooves discovered in Archaic cemetery in Faliro, Attica

Construction works for the new Cultural Centre of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in the Athenian neighbourhood of Faliro have revealed a large ancient necropolis. The cemetery was part of Phalerum, the main port of Ancient Athens before the port of Piraeus was developed in the 5th century BC, and small sections of the cemetery were excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service at the beginning of the last century.
Photo: Stavros Niarchos Foundation 
Over the past few years more than one thousand burials have been excavated in the cemetery, which was in use for almost three centuries, from the late 8th to the early 5th C BC. Most of the burials are pit graves, but there are also many pot burials of infants and young children and some cremations. The necropolis is also notable for its animal burials, including the interment of four complete horses. Last week the Head Archaeologist of the site, Stella Chrysoulaki, announced to the Central Archaeological Council the discovery of an unusually well-preserved horse skeleton.

The exceptional aspect of the skeleton is that it is in such a good state of preservation that it has its hooves. This level of preservation, plus the fact that are four horse skeletons, provides a rare opportunity for zoo-archaeologists to research the breeds and the evolution of the species.
Photo: Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The necropolis at Faliro has brought to light other unusual discoveries including two skeletons found with their hands clasped together, who were possibly a couple. This indicated that they may have died at the same time, since rigor mortis had not set in at the time of the joining of the hands.

The necropolis continues to shed light on daily life – and death – in Attica in the Archaic Period. The majority of grave goods were ceramic and all known styles are represented including Late Geometric, Protoattic, and Black-figure. Most of the ceramics were produced in Attica as might be expected, while the high number of Corinthian imports shows the dominance of Corinthian pottery and their export trade at the time. A number of the excavated pots were imports from eastern Greece and Euboea and this is indicative of the commercial network of Attica in the Archaic period.

A preliminary study of the burials and the humans remains indicates that there was not, at this stage, a wide social inequality, but also shows a high rate of infant mortality and incidences of pathological conditions which would suggest arduous daily work. Interestingly, the burials do not follow the same orientation, and even the positioning of the dead within the graves varies significantly across the cemetery.
Photo: Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The finds from the excavations are currently undergoing study and further investigation, but some of them will eventually be on display in a museum in a specially built museum in the Cultural Centre.

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