Phaleron, port of Athens in classical times, boasts one of the largest cemeteries ever excavated in Greece, containing more than 1500 skeletons from 8th-5th centuries BC. Two mass burials discovered at Phaleron include people who were tossed face-down into a pit, their hands shackled behind their backs.
Excavations by the Greek Archaeological Service began nearly a century ago, with a discovery a mass grave of people with hands joined by metal handcuffs – named “the captives of Phaleron”. The shackled skeletons, easily the most compelling remains from Phaleron, have received researchers’ attention for decades, as they are among the very few instances of shackled deaths in the ancient world and could indicate punishment, slavery, or a death sentence.
There is significant variation in how people were buried at Phaleron. Most were interred in simple pit graves, but nearly one-third are infants and children in large jars, about 5% are cremations complete with funeral pyres, and there are a few stone-lined cist graves.
Now, a team of scientists has taken on the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project with bioarchaeologist Jane Buikstra, founding director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research at Arizona State University, and geoarchaeologist Panagiotis Karkanas, director of the Wiener Laboratory at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in order to curate the skeletons and reveal details about that critical time in ancient Greek history, just before the rise of the city-state.