Visit to an Ancient Greek Tomb
A Visit to an Ancient Tomb Leads to a Modern Surprise
In December 2007, while visiting Ptolemaida, a town where I’d once lived in northern Greece, my friend Nikos invited me to go for a couple of hours to see an archeological site. I could hardly refuse.
The site was but less than 10 kilometers from Ptolemaida and the journey a pleasurable one. We mainly passed by farmers’ fields where, off in the distance power plants that burned lignite, or brown coal as it is often called, exuded vast clouds of steam and smoke married in an off-white color. Within a few minutes we cleft through a small village that had been settled by a group of people known as the Pontiakos.
These were Greeks who’d originally settled around the Black Sea as long ago as the time of Alexander the Great. However, due to the Mongols who settled in what came to be called Turkey, the Pontiakos were forcibly ejected from their longtime home in and made to come back to Greece proper after 1923. As we passed through, there was no one to be seen on the road or near the houses and shops. It was the siesta period of the day, so everyone was undoubtedly resting comfortably in their homes on this chilly Greek afternoon.
Nikos and I drove up into the foothills of the mountain range and soon came to a stop besides an old, dilapidated white building. This building was rectangular and looked as if it’d been build shortly after the Second World War. By the looks of its condition, it might have been lightly bombed, albeit by vandals. Most of the windows in the place were broken or cracked, as were the concrete walls themselves.
Inside was the tomb. It was entirely buried, save for the façade, which was an earthy, light ruddy color, not unlike the soil, which surrounded it, only it was slightly more fleshy-toned. The pediment, the uppermost part of the face of the tomb was unusually rectangular, as opposed to the normal triangular shape, and was only 2/3 intact. The very top of the pediment may have been composed of two pieces, yet if so, the crown was now missing.
The opening in the center was more a window than a door, obviously meant for the deposition of the sarcophagus minus the utilitarian focus -a comfortable exit for the casket-bearers. Flanking this opening were 2 Doric columns on either side, along with a singular, circular seal on each side of the tomb’s opening.
Alas, the reason for the building that protected the tomb showed another form of protection besides that against the elements: graffiti. There were examples of teenage boredom in 2 or 3 places and for this reason I was happy for the barrier to the tomb, though it also excluded our entry.
However, as we could see little else, we decided to go, or so I thought. Nikos climbed over the rusty, decrepit fence that carelessly defended the area and I followed suite, to find that Nikos had walked past his vehicle and was scanning the ground of a somewhat freshly tilled farmer’s field parallel to the road where we’d parked.
“Look here, man” he called, pointing at the ground. All throughout the field were spots of terracotta. These were pottery shards and they were everywhere. Nikos quickly explained that these were remnants of ancient pottery that had been built by the antique people who had lived here on the mountain over 2,000 years before.
I quickly began looking with the earnest of an archeologist, which I’d always wanted to be. Most of the shards were of unexciting, almost nondescript random shapes. Yet two finds put my pulse astir at once. One was what obviously was the base of a jar or pot, with its black paint still resolutely coating the piece after 2 millennia.
The second treasure was the handle of what I fantasized to be an amphora, though could as easily been from a single-handled jar. Yet the handle was here, in my hands, nearly as red as the day it had been fired. The excitement coursed through me as I realized, both happily and with some remorse, that here in this agrarian field was a living museum, of sorts, which anyone could just walk up to and learn from.
The cheerless points about this, however, were twofold. First, anyone (including myself, I realized) could walk away with these minor yet important treasures of Greece. Secondly, each year, how many of these valuable clues to the past of Greece, Europe, and humanity were being chopped up finer and finer each spring as the farmer did the bidding that his livelihood demanded?
The thought was almost unfathomable, yet the realities were starkly evident: throughout the world there are simply not enough field archeologists, nor enough funding to preserve the past in a sufficient manner that we moderns may learn of our past while also properly dedicating it to the minds of future generations.
So it goes, for now. And so we went, bidding the tomb and the farmer’s field goodbye, for the time being.
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