Sphinxes Emerge From Huge Ancient Greek Tomb
The seated, wingless sphinxes were likely placed there to guard the large burial site. Continue reading →
Two headless sphinxes emerged from a massive burial site in northern Greece as archaeologists began removing large stones from the tomb's sealing wall.
The headless, wingless 4.8-foot-high sphinxes each weigh about 1.5 tons and bear traces of red coloring on their feet. They would have been 6.5 feet high with their heads, the Greek Culture Ministry said in a statement.
The statues are believed to have been placed there to guard the burial, which is the largest tomb ever uncovered in Greece.
The tomb dates back to around 325-300 B.C., at the end of the reign of warrior-king Alexander the Great. It lies in the ancient city of Amphipolis, in Greece's northeastern Macedonia region about 65 miles from the country's second-biggest city, Thessaloniki.
The city, an Athenian colony, was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father, in 357 B.C.
Prominent generals and admirals of Alexander had links with Amphipolis. It's here that Alexander's wife Roxana and his son Alexander IV were killed in 311 B.C. on the orders of his successor, King Cassander.
Archaeologists began excavating the site, a huge mound complex, in 2012. They revealed a circular tomb measuring 1,600 feet across which featured a 10-foot high perimeter wall. This was built of marble brought from the island of Thassos.
The burial complex site was possibly built by Dinocrates, a famous architect of the time and a close friend of Alexander. It is 10 times larger than the tomb of Alexander's father, Philip II, which was discovered in Vergina, central Macedonia, in the 1970s.
A wide path leads to the tomb whose entrance is guarded by the two sphinx statues.
"Pieces of the sphinx's wings were found at the site, allowing for a full restoration," the Greek Ministry of Culture said.
"Part of the back of the statue of the Lion of Amphipolis was also unearthed at the site," the statement said.
Work led by Katerina Peristeri, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, proved the impressive 16-foot-tall marble lion statue which now stands on a pedestal three miles from the excavation site, once crowned the monumental tomb.
Much of the tomb was demolished during the Roman occupation of Greece, and several marble blocks were reused to stabilize the banks of the river Strymon. It was right on the river bed that the 4th century B.C. lion and other marble blocks were found in 1912 by the Greek army.
According to the Culture Ministry, the sphinxes and the lion, both in Thassos marble, appear to be have been crafted in the same workshop.
"The seated sphinxes - as opposed to the lying sphinxes in Egyptian art - are unusual," classical archaeologist Dorothy King wrote in her blog.
"The closest parallel I can think of are those from the Hecatomnid Androns at Labraunda, about a quarter of a century earlier," she said.
Those bearded Hecatomnid figures reflected Persian royal iconography, King noted.
Behind the sphinx guarded entrance, the archaeologists found a mosaic floor featuring black and white rhombus shapes.
What lies behind the entrance remains a mystery. A geophysical survey carried out last year indicates the interior of the tomb consists of three rooms.
Peristeri's team hopes to fully explore the burial by the end of the month to determine who was laid to rest there.
Archaeologists have debunked speculation that the body of Alexander the Great lies in the tomb. Alexander, the overlord of an empire stretching from Greece to India, died at Babylon, now in central Iraq, in June of 323 B.C. - just before his 33rd birthday.
His elusive tomb is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the ancient world.
History has it that after Alexander died in Babylon, his body, en route to Macedon, was hijacked by Ptolemy and taken to Egypt. The sarcophagus of the warrior king was then moved from Memphis to Alexandria, the capital of his kingdom, and there it remained until late Antiquity.
By the fourth century A.D., the tomb's location was no longer known.
At the moment, the leading theory is that a senior general of Alexander's army was buried in the imposing tomb at Amphipolis.
But what if the Lion Tomb was indeed built for Alexander?
"If Alexander was on his way to being buried in Macedonia when Ptolemy pinched his body ... to me that suggests that there was a tomb that had been or was being prepared for him in Macedonia," King wrote.
Image: The headless sphinxes carved from Thassos marble guard the tomb's entrance. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport.
March 1, 2012
-- This tomb, carved out of rock, could be "directly connected to Jesus' first followers, those who knew him personally, and to Jesus himself," according to researchers. Located beneath a modern condominium complex less than two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem, this first-century burial, now named "patio tomb," is only 200 feet away from a second tomb, dubbed the "Jesus Family Tomb." Lying beneath a garden area in the same condominium complex, the burial was discovered in 1980. It contained 10 ossuaries, six of them inscribed with names associated with Jesus and his family. Critics dismissed the synchronicity of names as mere coincidence. "The object of our investigation was to determine whether the 'patio tomb,' still intact, might contain names or other evidence that would provide for us further data that might conceivably shed light on the adjacent 'garden tomb' with its intriguing cluster of names," James D. Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote in a preliminary report published online in the "The Bible and Interpretation" website. He investigated the "patio tomb" with documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici.
Photo: Jacobovici at the entrance of the sealed "patio tomb"
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In 2010, Tabor and Jacobovici entered the sealed tomb without actually opening it. They had obtained a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to explore it through a minimally invasive procedure. Using 8-inch, custom-made diamond tooth drills, the team drilled two holes into the basement floor above the burial. A robotic arm was custom made so that it could be introduced into the tomb through the holes. The robotic arm not only had a main camera mounted on its tip, but a snake camera with a light that could extend about 4 feet beyond the main probe "to allow filming of several of the ossuaries that were deep in the recesses of the niches," said Tabor. The camera also had the capability of shooting laser beams to obtain micro-centimeter measurements.
Photo: Robotic arm
The probe was successful and the researchers were able to reach all areas of the tomb. Typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 B.C. until 70 A.D, the tomb had a single central square chamber with a very shallow "standing pit" area. It contained nine carved burial niches with skeletal remains and several limestone ossuaries, or bone boxes.
Photo: Map of the tomb
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One ossuary was finely carved with a decoration which the researchers believe is "a clear image of a fish, complete with tail, fins, and scales." According to Tabor, it has "a stick-like human figure with an over-sized head coming out of its mouth." He interpreted the drawing as a representation of the biblical story of Jonah and the "big fish." In the earliest gospel materials, the "sign of Jonah," as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection. "As Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights, but emerged alive, Jesus would likewise emerge from the tomb/death," wrote Tabor. Jonah images only appear in the third and fourth centuries A.D., but never earlier, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals. In this view, the fish would represent the oldest Christian art ever discovered, predating the earliest Christian symbol in the catacombs of Rome by at least 200 years. It would also represent the first archeological evidence related to faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead -- "presumably by his contemporary 1st-century followers," said Tabor.
Image: CGI enhanced image of Jonah and the Big Fish
Another finely decorated ossuary contained an intriguing four-word Greek inscription. There are several ways to read the inscription, but according to Tabor, almost all of them have to do with resurrection, some linking directly to Jesus. The most likely readings are: "The Divine Jehovah raises up from (the dead)" or "The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place" or "God, Jehovah, Raise up! Raise up!" or "Lord, Jesus, Rise up! Rise up!" "We are dealing here with a family or clan that is bold enough to write out the holy name of God in a tomb, with a declaration about 'raising up' or resurrection -- something totally unparalleled in any of the 900 tombs from the period known in Jerusalem," wrote Tabor.
Photo: The unique four-line Greek inscription
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According to Tabor, the family buried in the tomb was undoubtedly Jewish. Apart from the Greek epitaph and fish image, "the style of the tomb, the ornamentation of the ossuaries, and everything else about it is nothing out of the ordinary," he said. Yet, taken together, the fish image and the inscription represents the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus' resurrection, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates the New Testament gospels, and the oldest Christian art ever discovered. "We are convinced that the best explanation for these unusual epigraphic features is its proximity to the Jesus family tomb," wrote Talbot. "What we apparently have is a family connected to the Jesus movement who reaches beyond the standard burial norms of the Jewish culture of the period to express itself individually in these unique ways," he said.
Photo: Complete Findings from the Patio Tomb
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