December 18, 2008

Huge Greek necropolis from Himera, Sicily

The discovery of such a large number of burials is a rare opportunity for an ancient DNA study of the Greeks of Sicily. The age of the samples, and the fact that they are from freshly excavated graves will make it relatively easy to extract useful DNA from them. Let's hope that we see some results in the next few years.

Ancient Mass Graves of Soldiers, Babies, Found in Italy
More than 10,000 graves containing ancient amphorae, "baby bottles," and the bodies of soldiers who fought the Carthaginians were found near the ancient Greek colony of Himera, in Italy, archaeologists announced recently.

"It's probably the largest Greek necropolis in Sicily," said Stefano Vassallo, the lead archaeologist of the team that made the discoveries, in September.

The ancient burial ground was uncovered during the construction of a railway extension.

"The remains of Himera's buildings had been known and studied for a long time, and we knew there should be some graves. We didn't expect so many graves", said Vassallo, who works for the Italian province of Palermo's government.

"Each [mass grave] contains from 15 to 25 skeletons. They were all young healthy men and they all died a violent death. Some of the skeletons have broken skulls and in some cases we found the tips of the arrows that killed them," Vassallo said.

He thinks the human remains are from soldiers who died fighting the Carthaginians in a famous 480 B.C. battle described by Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

6 comments:

Polak said...

http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v17/n1/abs/ejhg2008120a.html

DagoRed said...

Himera was founded by inhabitans of Zancle, nowdays Messina and they were from Chalkidiki peninsula. it will be interesting to compare the dna of the remains with those of the Chalkidikians(? sorry)and the others Greeks.

Dienekes said...

and they were from Chalkidiki peninsula.

From Chalkis, not from Chalkidiki. Chalkidiki was also colonized from Chalkis, hence its name.

Bram said...

This is awesome. Hopefully it does prove to be an ancient Greek DNA gold mine, and maybe we'll find more proof that the Sicilian mafia is really Greek ;)

DagoRed said...

The island of Eubea, then. It would be also beautiful to study the dna of the people of the Elimis, that lived in the east part of Sicily. It is another mysterious people, that the legend say to originate from the Anatolia and legacy to fugitive from Troy. I believe that, as for the Etruscans it is a mix of local elements and middle Orientals, and they could have brought some genetic element from middle east in Sicily more than the Phoenician . It was not a meaningless people, if they succeeded in containing the Greek advance for centuries.

Catchabus said...

Has anyone come across any developments from this site? Have they been able to access ancient DNA from any of the remains? I visited Himera in 2008 before this discovery was announced and they already had bodies on display, including some “tall” corpses. My roots are in the region (from the town the Carthaginians purportedly retreated to after the first battle in 480) so I am very interested to see some aDNA analysis.