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Funeral pyres from eighth century BC found in ancient Greek city of Gela in Sicily


The ancient Greek colony of Gela, founded in 689-688 BC, is a veritable mine of information regarding its more remote past. In recent days, this information has been coming in almost non-stop, as if the city had decided to tell its story without any reservations.


Funeral pyres from eighth century BC found in ancient Greek city of Gela in Sicily
Credit: Superintendence of Caltanissetta

The latest discovery, which seems to date back to the eighth century BC, was made in a private yard, during the course of the demolition of a building for a new construction, on the promenade Federico II, a few hundred metres from the archaeological area of Bosco Littorio, which houses the remains of the emporium of the Archaic Age of the colony of Gela.




Overseeing the excavations was archaeologist Daniela Vullo of the Superintendence of Caltanissetta and the archaeological director Carla Guzzonewas, whose job it is to monitor private construction sites in a city that was once an important Greek colony.


It was the archaeologist Gianluca CalĂ  who discovered, under the layer of the seventh century BC, more ancient archaeological traces. Three earthen structures were found, inside of which was preserved a layer of ash, charred wood and fragments of human bones, that have been tentatively dated to the eighth century BC. 


Funeral pyres from eighth century BC found in ancient Greek city of Gela in Sicily
Credit: Superintendence of Caltanissetta

One of these was used for the funeral ceremony of an infant of a few months old, judging by the size of the remains of the skull and a small horn-shaped pendant found among the ashes. Also visible are the holes in the ground for the installation of the wooden pyre, on which the body of the deceased was laid for the funeral ceremony. The second burial contains the remains of at least one adult, while the third is still being excavated.




The uniqueness of the discovery lies in the importance of the ceremony that was intended to purify the soul of the deceased and accompany it in the kingdom of Hades, god of the dead. The importance of this ceremony is expressed in many forms, from the representation of the pyres on painted ceramics, to theatrical representations, and finally in writings. 


Indeed, with regard to written sources, Homer in the Iliad, for example, places considerable emphasis on the funeral ceremony of the heroes in his poem. Thanks to the wealth of details concerning the funeral ceremony of Patroclus, we know that the funeral for the ancient Greeks was a very important moment for the relatives and crucial for the deceased. At stake was the salvation of his soul and the transit from this world to the world of the dead, which would only happen if all the steps of the ceremony were conducted properly.


Funeral pyres from eighth century BC found in ancient Greek city of Gela in Sicily
Credit: Superintendence of Caltanissetta

From the washing of the body, to the lamentations of the women, to the banquet in the memory of the deceased, continuing with the procession that accompanied the body of the deceased to the place where his or her mortal remains would be turned into ash at the burial: everything had to take place following the strict canons of tradition, or the deceased would not have reached Hades and would have remained wandering in the form of an evil spirit.




The finding at Gela represents only one of these steps, the most significant perhaps, but not the last. After the fire, in fact, the ashes and bones, which withstood the flames, were collected in a funerary container and transported to the tomb that would hold them forever.


Moreover, if it is confirmed that the burials date back to the eighth century BC, then this would be these the oldest cremation site in the Greek history of Gela. But this is as yet to be scientifically corroborated.


For the time being, the focus is on the excavation in progress.


Author: Vera Martinez | Source: ArcheoMedia [trsl. TANN; December 04, 2020]



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1 comment :

  1. Wow, that's interesting. I'd have thought they probably just died in a fire.

    ReplyDelete


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