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by Archaeology Newsroom

Burials in ancient Athens

Since it is not possible for us to examine in a single article the ancient burials throughout Greece in antiquity, we will limit our study to Athens, one of the most lively centres of Greece. The Mycenaean settlement of Athens was built on the Acropolis hill and its cemetery lay at its foot to the west. The graves of the Athenian cemetery have the form and shape of a pit or chamber with vaulted graves, a kind unique to this site, as nothing similar has been found in the rest of Attica. During the Iron Age, the corpses were cremated and the ashes, placed in a vase, were buried in the grave along with the offerings. Kerameikos becomes the burial area in the early geometric age, while another cemetery of the same period has been located at Nea Ionia, Attica. The graves containing the ashes of the dead were cyclical pits with a smaller trench in the centre, properly dug so as to accept the cinerary vase. The mouth of this vase was closed either by a slab or shard or by a smaller vase. The famous Dipylon vases, named after the site where they were found (Dipylon of Kerameikos) date from the Geometric Age. The iconic representations of this period led the specialists to the conclusion that the death ritual consisted of the exposure of the dead and the funeral, the lamentation and probably the procession, accompanied by dances. The peaking of funerary art is one of the characteristics of the archaic period. Many of the surviving monuments are works of celebrated contemporary artists. However, in the late 6th century BC a decline in this art is obvious, a phenomenon explained by the political and economic situation. During the archaic period the burning of the dead becomes more frequent as opposed to burial. The corpses are cremated in a grave that is up to two meters deep. The information on the Classic era, both excavational and literary, is ample. The inner side of the grave is covered by a layer of mortar; a sarcophagus containing the corpse or its ashes is placed in the grave. Various indicative signs such as statues, funerary stelae, stone or ceramic vases etc. stand on the grave.