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Eleutherna, the heart of Crete

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Author Topic: Eleutherna, the heart of Crete  (Read 190 times)
Athena King
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Posts: 30

« on: September 29, 2013, 09:31:21 pm »

The Homeric-era cemetery

The archaeologist and I walk downhill to the shelter. Nikos Stampolidis knows every rock and tree here like the back of his hand. After all, it was one of the first digs he ever participated in and he was not yet 30 years old when he started.

“The broader area of the Eleutherna excavation was separated into three zones. The first picks went to archaeologists Petros Themelis and Thanasis Kalpaxis. I took the zone west of the hill on which the acropolis stood. I had observed that the earth there had a grayish tint unlike the yellow earth in other parts. This often occurs because of rotten leaves, but it could also be attributed to ash from wood fires. The first dig we made revealed finds just a few inches beneath the surface. It was the crematorium. We proved that the ancients used to burn their dead in this spot. We also found that the locals had used a lot of material from the site to build the terraces along the hills,” Stampolidis explains.
“Do you need luck in archaeology?” I ask.

“Of course. But in which sense? As the piece that completes knowledge. Manolis Andronikos knew where to look for for Vergina, but he was lucky in finding a grave that was intact,” says the professor.

We are now standing on a necropolis that dates back to Homeric times, unique in the Mediterranean region. You cannot but feel awed. We see the burial sites, some consisting of large ceramic coffins, funerary monuments and a fascinating maze that goes deep underground, revealing the different chronological periods during which the cemetery was used.

“Once the excavation is finished, we will make special cases to house the bones of the dead that are now being examined by anthropologists. They belong here, not in the storage room of some museum. Who am I to disturb their peace?” asks Stampolidis.

The archaeologist moves between the graves, talking about some of the most striking finds he and his team have made. The excavation so far has revealed remains ranging from aristocratic warriors to very simple burials. One of his most touching finds was the grave of a 12-year-old boy, whose dog was buried in a small marked grave right beside him. One of the graves that contained the remains of several women from the same aristocratic family also contained ornate jewelry.

Prisoners of war

The ancient cemetery of Eleutherna also provided the answer to the age-old question that had split Plato and Aristotle – whether the Greeks killed their prisoners of war.

“These were not human sacrifices, but the justice of war, ritualistic revenge,” explains Stampolidis. “Beside the funerary pyre of a prince who died in battle, we found the skeleton of another man who we believe had his elbows tied together behind his back. We also found a knife and a whetting stone nearby. Traces of his skull were later found at the prince’s feet and were singed by the fire, suggesting the sequence of events. He was a prisoner of war who was executed in retribution. One of the workers on the dig told me the story of Stefanoyiannis, a Cretan hero who was executed by the Nazis in World War II. His fellow fighters saw who it was who had killed him and stole into the enemy camp at night, kidnapped the perpetrator and killed him on Stefanoyiannis’s grave in revenge,” Stampolidis explains.

Every burial site has it own fascinating story. After two hours touring the excavations, we headed back to Rethymno, making a brief stop at the museum, which is currently under construction.

In the car, Stampolidis tells me his own story, a kind of epilogue to our tour: “When I first came here as a young man, I told myself that I would dig up all of Eleutherna before I retired. The hill must have heard me and laughed at my plans. Now that I am older, I am better at hearing what the hill has to say.”

The museum is a very impressive structure that resembles a shelter of sorts. It is slated for completion in 2015 and so far only the exterior has been completed. It will contain an exhibition hall for the thousands of finds made at the cemetery and in the city so that visitors can see the pieces of the puzzle that compose this fascinating site.

From its lofty position atop a hill, it affords a wonderful view of the acropolis and the shelter protecting the cemetery, as well as the entire area where Eleutherna once stood and, of course, Mount Psiloreitis.

Plans for the museum include landscaping the surrounding environment and applying some of the latest concepts in museology. The project is moving apace and is expected to be ready on time, while Stampolidis makes certain that, like at the site, every last detail is just right. , Friday September 20, 2013 (11:12)
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"Die glücklichen Sklaven sind die erbittertsten Feinde der Freiheit."

"Happy slaves are the most grim enemies of freedom."

(Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)

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