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Intact bed burial found in northern Greece


A 2100-year-old grave of a woman laid on a bed was discovered under the foundations of a demolished modern residence in Mavropigi, in the municipality of Eordaias, Kozani, in western Macedonia, during the proposed expansion of a lignite mine by the local Public Power Corporation (PPC). It constitutes a find unique to the wider Greek area, said the head of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani, Areti Chondrogianni-Metoki, who is also responsible for the excavation. "Bed legs or parts thereof have been found, bronze ones, and they are the only ones that have survived the test of time, but they are scattered. Until now, not a single bed had been found in situ," Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki points out. 


Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Skeletal remains of women buried in bronze bed, first century BC
[Credit: ANA-MPA]

From the location where the bronze parts of the bed were found and based on the designs made at the museum, Mrs.Chondrogianni and her colleagues tried to reconstruct the way these pieces were bound together and proceeded to produce a miniature. "In our estimation the proposed reconstruction is very close to the original, despite the fact that we are missing the wooden elements, which was based on the preliminary study of the excavation data, bibliographical data and the preserved parts, as well as X-ray and CT scans of the legs."




This particular burial dates back to the Hellenistic period, to the late Hellenistic period, to the 1st century BC, perhaps even to the end of the 2nd century BC. "At this time it was common to place the dead on beds in the region, particularly in Pella and Pieria. But because they were wooden they have decayed and their existence is usually inferred only from the positions of the nails, which are the only remaining items as the wood disintegrates. There are also stone beds, as well as brick beds in Macedonian tombs", explains the archaeologist, describing the find as "important and unique", which also offers many insights into the forms of ancient beds in the area. 


Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Miniature reconstruction of bed [Credit: ANA-MPA]

"This bed belongs to the Hellenistic type. All the evidence points to a local workshop", notes Mrs. Chondrogianni. However, nowhere in the wider area of Mavropigi and the prefecture of Kozani in general, no evidence of similar beds have been found, although hundreds of graves have been excavated. One possible explanation is that while there seems to have been a local workshop for beds, no other beds have been found, because of grave robbing and the ability to recycle the material. "Many copper and iron parts because they are recyclable materials were taken by later generations and melted down."


The rare find confirms that there were valuable objects, meaning wealth and prosperity had grown in the ancient settlement in the region of Mavropigi, perhaps even a royal family, as was the case throughout Western Macedonia at that time, with ancient Aiani being a typical example, where the names of kings of the ancient city are attested.



Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Head of mermaid, decorative plate from bed [Credit: ANA-MPA]

The deceased woman, of high, as it seems, economic and social class, middle-aged, may have belonged to such a royal family - suggested by the golden laurel leaves found on her head, which may have been sewn into a wreath of another material -, but she may also have held some religious authority. Both scenarios are being considered. 




From the study conducted by Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki, it appears that this bed was of lavish construction. "It was the most luxurious and expensive thing a person of the time could have had, which refers us to a person of high economic and social status." The settlement to which the burial belongs is located in ancient Eordia which was one of the four kingdoms of Upper Macedonia, today's Western Macedonia. The capital of this kingdom has not been found. The two fulgrae of the bed are decorated with a mermaid, - the head of the Gorgon - and the upper part of the fulgrae also bore an aquatic bird holding a snake in its mouth. The snake - associated with the God Apollo, who according to mythology killed the snake at Delphi and saved the world.


Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Tall aquatic bird with snake in its beak [Credit: ANA-MPA]

The deceased woman carried in her mouth a gold plate - probably a mouthpiece and ten double gold laurel leaves and they were sewn onto  leather or cloth material - perhaps a veil - or a wreath on her head. On her right hand were found golden threads, as if she had something embroidered on her hand. "All of these appear to have been sewn somewhere, perhaps on the clothing the deceased was wearing or on some cloth with which she was covered," Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki notes. The woman also had a bone needle and a stone bead and was crowned with four clay myrrh pots, a clay amphora, a glass myrrh pot.


The laurel leaves again refer to Apollo because it is the sacred plant, his emblem, while in Mavropigi a ruined sanctuary of Apollo and a votive column have been found, which confirms its existence. "The archaeologist Maria Akamatis, who studied some fulgra from Pella where there were laurel leaves, departs from the connection of the depicted figure with the god Apollo, based on its other characteristics, and associates it with descent from a royal lineage", says the head of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani, adding that "with the evidence we have so far, we have not concluded whether it is a woman of a royal family or a person with religious authority. There is evidence of both. She was certainly an eminent woman who had power and the luxury of the bed alone leaves no doubt." 


Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Gold laurel leaf pair from headdress [Credit: ANA-MPA]

Regarding the possibility that the woman had religious authority, Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki notes that "it was common in ancient Greece to assign luxurious beds to the sanctuaries. The ancient Greeks used more simple, humble beds, mainly wooden ones. This 'smells' of luxury. Luxury refers either to royalty or to a sanctuary and because there is evidence of a sanctuary at Mavropigi, neither scenario can be ruled out."



The bones of the woman have been transferred to the laboratories of the Archaeological Museum of Aiani and through the anthropological study the sex, age and even the cause of death will be determined. The aim of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani is to make a real reconstruction of the bed, to be exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Aiani for "the whole world to see", Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki said.


Intact bed burial found in northern Greece
Hellenistic pottery found in the grave [Credit: ANA-MPA]

In 2020, the remains of another farmhouse were excavated in a parcel of land on the outskirts of the modern community of Mavropigi, which dates back to the Hellenistic period (3rd-1st century BC). It is a makeshift structure, including a basement section. A similar structure was found at another location in Mavropigi in 2018. It appears that in the area, at Mavropigi, and further north (at Perdika), there was a custom of constructing makeshift, utilitarian buildings, of the hut type, with a basement or semi-basement area. In the same place there is a pit with finds from the late Bronze Age (1600 BC - 1100 BC), i.e. the Mycenaean period, which shows the use of the site in this period as well.


In another location, findings of the Hellenistic period and the early Iron Age (1100 BC-700 BC) were found. Settlement remains and a cemetery of these two periods were excavated. The cemetery contained 40 graves dating from 1100 BC to the Hellenistic period, "i.e. it has a long period of use, with a gap during classical times", Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki adds. The dead were covered with clay vessels, jewellery and weapons. Women wore bronze jewellery, and in one case a gold-plated ring. The men carried their weapons. The tombs are pit tombs, except for one cist and two stone tombs, and many of the pit tombs were marked with a stone.


Mrs. Chondrogianni-Metoki presented these finds in the framework of the 33rd Scientific Meeting on the Archaeological Project in Macedonia and Thrace (AEMTH).


Source: Makedonia [trsl. TANN; April 28, 2021]



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