Media reports and the blogosphere are fueling speculation that the remains of a woman found in a massive tomb in northern Greece may belong to Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias, who was executed when she was about 60 years old.
The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports reported last week that the remains of five individuals have been found in the burial chamber of the elaborate tomb beneath what is known as Kasta Hill in the ancient city of Amphipolis. Archaeologists excavating the site have dated the tomb to the final quarter of the fourth century B.C., around the time of Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C. (See “Behind Tomb Connected to Alexander the Great, Intrigue Worthy of ‘Game of Thrones.’”)
But the discovery has failed to settle the issue of whether the monument may have belonged to a family member or close associate of the famous Macedonian conqueror. And many historians are dismissing the rampant hypothesizing as a distracting parlor game. (See “Who’s Buried in Largest Tomb in Northern Greece? New Finds Raise Intrigue.”)
“We have so far an elaborate monument that’s partially damaged and vandalized,” points out Frank L. Holt, a University of Houston professor who has written several books on Alexander the Great. “It contained bones and cremains of persons unknown who may have nothing to do with the original structure or with each other.
“The chronology remains uncertain,” he says. “The royal status of the bodies, and of the building, cannot yet be verified. Why the headlong rush to judgment?’
Women and Men, Old and Young, Buried and Burned
From the 550 pieces of human bone recovered from the burial chamber, researchers have so far identified a woman over 60 years old, two men between the ages of 35 and 45, a newborn infant of unknown gender, and a very small set of cremated remains that most likely belonged to an adult of unknown age and gender.
About a quarter (157) of the remains are intact enough to allow researchers to eventually identify the gender, age, and height of the individuals, while the rest are fragments of vertebrae and other skeletal remains. An unknown number of animal remains, including bones of horses or donkeys, were also found in the chamber.
Complicating interpretation of the remains is the fact that none of the bodies were found in their original burial places, and no significant burial objects have been reported found.