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Asunto: Hallazgos en el aeropuerto de Atenas
Fecha:Miercoles, 17 de Septiembre, 2003  19:13:28 (+0200)
Autor:José Luis Santos <joseluis>


Hellenikon yields ancient graves
Excavations at the former Athens airport have revealed 150 graves and afamily enclosure with marble funerary stelae dating back to the 4th century BC 
4th-century BC stele depicts a farewell scene involving a seated woman, shown in the photo, and a standing man 
AN ANCIENT cemetery boasting 150 graves and an ornate family enclosure decorated with sculptures has come to light at the old Athens airport at Hellenikon.
The former Olympic Airways maintenance station where the graves are located, is currently being turned into a tram depot - yet another Olympics-related project. With the dig running parallel to - and at a stone's throw from - the worksite's frenzied rhythms, evidence from inscriptions found at the adjacent open-air space where the family enclosure (peribolos) was uncovered, point to the cemetery's belonging to the ancient district (deme) of Euonymon.
The dig, headed by archaeologist Dina Kaza of the 2nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, started in August 2002 and is still in process. "It is not possible to stick to schedules when it comes to excavation work," she said.
Kaza conducted a preliminary survey of the area as early as 1997. The Athens Polytechnic was then studying the airport's conversion into a metropolitan park. "At the Agia Paraskevi church I came across a marble sarcophagus, which had been reused in 1890 for the burial of several local people," she says.
Proof as to the archaeological interest of the surrounding area - "an agricultural region known as Hassani prior to the airport's construction"- is found further back in time. "19th-century travellers had spotted here densely arranged grave tumuli, funeral sculptures and architectural fragments," Kaza offered. The archaeologist believes that the airport's creation and its subsequent expansion in the '60s caused great damage to the remains. "In 1961 the well-known family enclosure at Hellenikon [the entire area was named after the finds' origin] had to be transferred bit by bit to the grounds of the Civil Aviation Authority (YPA)."
Relief sculptures found at the Hellenikon family enclosure. The stelae show (bottom - top) a farewell scene, a floral composition and a naked young man 
The dig which preceded the construction of the tram depot brought to light about 150 richly furnished graves of different types dating from the 7th to the 4th centuries BC. Pottery vases, clay figurines as well as iron and bronze daggers were the main funerary gifts retrieved from the graves. Three large bronze vessels contained bone remnants. The artefacts have been transferred to the Piraeus Archaeological Museum, where the 2nd Ephorate's storage area is, to undergo restoration work.
After the removable objects were taken away, the graves were covered with a protective fabric and gravel to allow the tram's rails to be built on top of them.
But a pleasant surprise awaited Kaza and her assistants, Maria Gioni and Ioanna Moutafi, just outside the Olympic Airways building where the family enclosure was unearthed.
Excavations yielded two funerary stelae in marble with relief sculptures. "One is a farewell scene, depicting a standing man, a seated woman and a female servant in between," Kaza said, "while the other shows the headless torso of a naked young man. The youth's head has also been found but his facial features were missing".
The finds, all dating back to the second half of the 4th century BC, have survived almost intact. Kaza pointed to the antiquities' rarity. "Similar finds have been spotted sporadically, and in fragments, in Greece and around the world. But after the Kerameikos digs [a century ago] it is extremely rare for relief sculptures of this kind to be found almost in their entirety and unlooted". The enclosure was constructed by a prosperous family in honour of its deceased members. "Sculptures of the kind were costly and called for a certain affluence," Kaza explained.
Once adorning the family enclosure's facade, the sculptures fell to the ground, "possibly during an earthquake". The high concentration of gravel in the soil that embraced the sculptures suggests the passing of a torrent, which is encouraging in relation to new finds. "The torrent's waters carried away marble fragments, some of which we have already recovered," Kaza said. "We hope that by removing this material from the torrent's bed we will come across new finds, possibly heads".
Future plans
The precious stelae are currently being restored at the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus. "They are significant finds, worthy of showcasing," said Kaza. And this is the joint long-term plan proposed by the mayors of Hellenikon, Alimos, Glyfada and Argyroupoli. "Following the end of the 2004 Olympics, and once it is decided what will become of the former airport, the four municipalities will request the sculptures' restitution in the form of a museum". Copies will be placed in the archaeological site, which will be preserved without being affected in the least by the tram's construction works.  
ATHENS NEWS , 05/09/2003, page: A37
Article code: C13030A371

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