A skeleton has emerged from the Alexander the Great-era tomb in Amphipolis in northern Greece, according to a news announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture on Wednesday.
At least one archaeologist has suggested that the remains, if male, could belong to Hephaestion, a close friend and possible lover of Alexander the Great -- or someone like him.
Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri found the human remains in a box-shaped grave. The 10.6 by 5.1-foot limestone burial was found at about 5.3 feet beneath the floor of the third chamber in the massive tomb site.
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Within the limestone grave, the archaeologists unearthed the remains of a wooden coffin, along with iron and copper nails, bone and glass fragments - most likely decorative elements of the coffin.
"Parts of the skeleton were found scattered within and outside of the grave. Obviously, an anthropological investigation will be carried on the remains," the Greek ministry of culture said in a statement.
According to Dorothy King, a classical archaeologist not involved in the excavation, the fact that the bones were found in and out of the sarcophagus, suggests the tomb was looted.
However, she noted the finding points to the deceased being someone uniquely important.
"A burial like this in a sarcophagus, a whole body rather than a box with ashes, is unusual in Macedonia," King told Discovery News.
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According to the scholar, most people who died abroad were buried in foreign land and only very important people like Alexander and Hephaestion, Alexander the Great's close friend and possible lover, were embalmed to be returned.
"I think that if the bones are male, they are most likely to be those of someone like Hephaestion," King wrote in her blog.
"The remains show that the sarcophagus was very elaborate and made of precious materials, as the sources say his funerary cortege was," she added.
Hephaestion was a Macedonian nobleman and a battlefield general in the army of Alexander and was Alexander's closest friend since childhood. The two were tutored under Aristotle.
Although more than one historian has suggested that the handsome Hephaestion had a physical relationship with his emperor, no contemporary source states that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers.
Yet, according to Guy MacLean Rogers, professor of history at Wellesley College and the author of "Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness," modern sexual categories like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual did not exist at the time.
"In ancient Greece, acting upon a desire (sent by the god Eros) for another man or woman, simply did not lock any man or woman into a sexual camp," Rogers wrote.
Whatever the nature of their relationship, when Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in western Iran in October 324 B.C., Alexander mourned his loss by shaving his own hair, not eating for days, executing Hephaestion's doctor, and commissioning an expensive funeral pyre.
Alexander himself would die eight months later.
Image: The limestone grave and a reconstruction of its location in the massive burial. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture