Palaio Faliro (Paleon Faliron or Παλαιόν Φάληρον) can be roughly translated to ‘Old Phalerum’, and as such this coastal suburb served as the ancient port of Athens before the development of the port of Piraeus in 5th century BC. However other than seas and trades, Faliro is also known for its extensive network of ancient graves that is estimated to contain around 1,500 skeletons. Their dates pertain to the period between 8th-5th century BC, and thus hold direct archaeological value that could mirror the rise of Athens as a powerful Greek city-state. But this time around beyond identifying cultural developments, researchers (from the Faliro Bioarchaeological Project) have also come across grisly evidences inside the cemetery compound – with the discovery of skeletons being shackled and deposited in mass graves.
These odd specimens were found to be shackled behind their backs and unceremoniously interred en masse in a group of 12 individuals. So the question naturally arises – why were they shackled? Now historically there are very rare evidences of such shackled deaths from the ancient times. Then-contemporary cultural norms usually equated the nature of being shackled to some rigorous punishment. The possibility also arises that a group of slaves were given the death sentence, and then buried in an intentionally deviant manner. In any case, the evidence of such a grisly practice does allude to the dark times when Athens had still not become the (self-proclaimed) bastion of civilized endeavors and politics. So from a historical perspective, this discovery might shed some light into the potential political (or societal) upheaval the city-state had to face before the emergence of a democratic scope.
It should be noted that archaeologists have also come across other kinds of burials in the Faliro cemetery. Intriguingly enough, almost one-third of the occupants comprise the remains of children who were interred inside large jars. Most other occupants were buried in simple pit graves, while around a tiny five percent appears to have been cremated. And as usual, the grave complex also catered to the rich and the elite of society – as is evident from the ostentatious burial of an individual inside a large boat that had been used as a coffin.
Suffice it to say, the Faliro Bioarchaeological Project researchers are still in the process of accumulating and analyzing the various clues and tokens that are spread across the ancient Greek cemetery ground that could attest to the rise and evolution of Athens as a powerful city-state. Furthermore, these experts are looking forth to compile a comprehensive database (and an accompanying website) that would allow other researchers from around the globe to access their discoveries and assessments. This in turn could set the tone for more technological involvement (like ancient DNA and isotope analyses) in the project, thus hinting at the possible solving of the Faliro mysteries in the near future.
Source: GreekReporter / All Images Credit: Ministry of Culture, Greece