Hellenikon yields ancient
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
pleasant surprise awaited Kaza and her assistants, Maria Gioni and Ioanna
Moutafi, just outside the Olympic Airways building where the family enclosure
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".
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.
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,
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.
NEWS , 05/09/2003, page: A37
Article code: C13030A371
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