Quirks & Quarks

Mass grave from ancient Athens could be executed rebels

80 skeletons found with shackled hands could be the captured and executed followers of Cylon, who led a coup in Athens 2600 years ago
Some of the 80 shackled skeletons that might be Cylon's captured and executed rebel army (Courtesy Ephorate of West Attica, Piraeus and Islands, Yiannis Asvestas, @All rights reserved))

If you enjoy Game of Thrones, with its betrayals and bloody deaths, you'll love this story: It's about a nobleman — a great athlete and warrior — who launches a treasonous coup. His rebellion fails and he flees. Eighty of his followers don't escape. They're captured, executed and buried in a mass grave.

But this isn't a TV drama. This is real history, recorded by the ancient Greek historians Thucydides and Herodotus. They tell the story of a nobleman named Cylon who attempted to violently overthrow the infant democracy of Athens 2,600 years ago.

Overview of the Phaleron cemetary outside the old city walls of Athens, where the shackled skeletons were found. (Courtesy Ephorate of West Attica, Piraeus and Islands, Ministry of Culture, Greece)
And now we may have hard evidence for this massacre, beyond those historic tales. Last year archeologists found a mass grave near the old port of Athens. And they're spending this summer gathering evidence that could prove that this grave is the final resting place of Cylon's army. Bioarchaeologist Dr. Eleanna Prevedorou is a member of the team. She's in the School for Human Evolution and Social Change and the Center for Bioarchaeological Research at Arizona State University and also Resident Fellow at the Wiener Laboratory for Archaeological Science at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

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