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Traces of Philip II's death mask identified

Traces of a carbonate mineral called huntite and the dye porphyra (or Tyrian purple) observed on 350 bones and bone fragments from the two golden coffins (larnakes) found in Tomb II at Aigai, Vergina, confirm the notion that the deceased was adorned with an elaborate 'effigy' or mask, which he wore in life as a sign of honour and recognition of his status, and which was placed over his face before the cremation ceremony.

Traces of Philip II's death mask identified

Director of Research and Head of the Laboratory of Archaeometry at the Democritus institute, Giannis Maniatis, who conducted the analysis, believes that these residues are from a mask "of complex design, using laminated fabric that is found for the first time in Macedonia, meticulously crafted from six or seven layers of huntite and porphyra, and which Philip wore during religious ceremonies, possibly as high priest of the Orphic mysteries."

"It was a personal and sacred object that accompanied the deceased and was cremated with him", added Mr. Maniatis.

According to the report, the quantity of the residues discovered cannot have originated from a fabric used to wrap the bones after cremation, as previously supposed, but almost certainly point to a death mask.

Traces of Philip II's death mask identified
Traces of huntite and the dye porphyra found on the bones from the two golden larnakes 
in Tomb II at Vergina, confirm the idea that the deceased was adorned with an 
elaborate death mask [Credit: Ethnos]
Questions remain, however, as to the origin of the mineral huntite used in the mask, which is extremely scarce, said Mr Maniatis.

"Huntite, while extremely scarce, is frequently found together with hydromagnesite, and mixed reserves of these minerals are in fact known in both Greece and Turkey where they are commercially exploited for their fire retardant properties. It melts over a temperature range of about 450–800° C, releasing carbon dioxide and leaving a residue of magnesium and calcium oxides. This would mean that during cremation the mineral melted leaving behind traces of magnesium and calcium oxides."

Skeletal analysis points to Philip II 

An analysis of the skeletons of from Tomb II at Vergina (Aigai) by anthropologist Theodoros Antikas, show most clearly that the deceased are Philip II of Macedon and the daughter of the Scythian king Atheas.

Mr. Antikas said the anthropological analysis of the bones "show that the man suffered from chronic sinusitis, perhaps because of the serious problem to his vision, and bore degenerative changes and indicators suggesting he was aged between 41-49 years and was engaged with equestrian activities. Moreover he had a wound in his left arm, which was mentioned by Demosthenes in his oration On the Crown."

"The characteristics of the female bones", said Mr. Antikas, "exclude women who had previously been suggested, like Cleopatra and Midas, wives of Philip II, or Adea and Eurydice, wives of Philip III Arideos, but supports the view that it is the daughter of the Skythian King Atheas."

Source: Ethnos [October 08, 2014]

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