Excavation of Antiquities of Corinthia in the Mycenaean cemetery at Aidonia

The Mycenaean cemetery at Aidonia, near Nemea, was excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service between 1978-80 and again in 1986. Unfortunately, at the time of excavation, it transpired that over ten of the eighteen tombs uncovered had already been looted of their contents, probably only a short time previously. Nevertheless, over two hundred pots and figurines were recovered and the finds from the unplundered tombs provide unique insights into Mycenaean burial ritual, with evidence of sacrificed horses and broken kylikes. In one pit, overlooked by the looters, a secondary burial was discovered accompanied by an impressive collection of jewellery which included three gold signet rings (Krystalli-Votsi 1996).

In April 1993 an important collection of Mycenaean jewellery was offered for sale by auction at the Michael Ward Gallery in New York. Comparison of the Michael Ward material with that excavated in Aidonia revealed such similarities of iconography and technique that an origin in the looted tombs of Aidonia was, if not certain, then at least highly probable, and in May of the same year the Greek Government sued for its return.

The two sides in the dispute settled out of court in December 1993, thus avoiding a costly court case, and the Ward Gallery donated the objects to the Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage, a cultural foundation based in Washington, which subsequently returned the material to Greece in 1996. This book is a good quality, well-illustrated catalogue of the Aidonia material and also provides an account of its identification and recovery.

In returning the material to a non-profit making organization Michael Ward was able to to claim a tax deduction of an undisclosed but very possibly, given the collection's original $1.5 million price tag, substantial sum (Herscher 1998, 811). While the US taxpayer continues (probably unknowingly) to underwrite the illicit trade in antiquities, legitimate academic institutions have in recent years been starved of tax dollars - a situation nothing short of scandalous.

The recovered Aidonia artefacts have now joined the excavation finds on display in the Nemea Museum. The contexts of the plundered tombs have been destroyed, lost forever, but the forthcoming report of the Aidonia excavations, which will contain full descriptions of the intact tombs and their contents, will nevertheless be an important document for all students of Mycenaean Greece.

The cemetery contains almost exclusively chamber tombs, which is completely dug into the bedrock and consist of three parts: the street, a long corridor leading from the ground surface at the mouth, the underground entrance that is, through which one enters the tomb chamber. The chamber tombs are used throughout the duration of the Mycenaean period (p. 1600 / 1550-1100 BC) and are often organized into separate groups-clusters. Similarly grow and the tombs of Aidonia, grouped into three clusters, the upper, middle and lower part of the hill, two of which were investigated this year. In the tomb of the midblock, whose roof had collapsed, burying a primary and a significant number disposing excelled, kterismenes mainly pottery and figurines. The tomb of the lower stand repeatedly used, apart from the Mycenaean era, the Geometric and Archaic period and afterwards. Despite the long-term use, in the tomb chamber that was maintained undisturbed pit early Mycenaean period (p. 1600/1550 - 1550/1450 BC), which among others included burial kterismeni with bronze weapons and other prestige objects.
The entire study will enrich the knowledge Aidonia early Mycenaean, relations position with Mycenae and the burial practices in the northeast Peloponnese. In the same area, excavation revealed one Late graves cluster, documenting an additional period for use of the space.

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