ASCSA Webinar on Dramatic Archaeological Finds in Phaleron

ATHENS – Cultural Institutions around the world are finding ways to continue their work and stay in touch with the public. A live webinar was presented by the  American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) on June 16 featuring Dr. Jane Buikstra of Arizona State University, who discussed ‘The Birth of Democracy in Ancient Athens: A Bioarchaeological Perspective.’

Dr. Buikstra was introduced by ASCSA Director Dr. Jennifer Neils, who added that the topic of the webinar was “one of the most exciting recent archaeological discoveries in Greece,” under the direction of Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki, of “the vast cemetery of Phaleron” – ancient Athens’ original port – “with some 1200 burials Excavated between 2012–2015.”

The dramatic cemetery finds, which included a group of 70 men shackled and apparently executed together, are a snapshot from a critical period of Greek and human history. Dr. Buikstra said they could be the bodies of those who did not survive a failed coup prior to the democratic reforms of Solon and Cleisthenes.

She noted, however, it is difficult to distinguish trauma at the time of death from more recent damage to bones, but the experiments they are conducting are pioneering and crucial.

Regarding the context, she said that in the Archaic Period there was “a lot of experimentation with the manner in which democracy would emerge and … jockeying for power between the aristocracy, the people with money, and the people supporting them through their labor.”

Dr. Buikstra began the presentation by defining her field of bioarchaeology, which includes the work of archaeologists, social anthropologists, and biologists, and concluded by “drilling down to Phaleron where we will meet some people” – “who had been interred in the Phaleron cemetery, providing insight into the past lives of Greece.”

She developed the overarching field of “bioarchaeology, because the professional silos of scholars … and particular methodologies … get in the way of problem solving and learning about people of the past … it is not just the study of human bones from archaeological sites.” The study of human remains “is informed by archaeological and historical context.”

Nevertheless, she is very excited about the new technology and methodologies being used and developed at the site that brought to light thousands of burials during the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.

Neils conveyed some of the questions submitted by people who logged on and said ASCSA expects to present more online lectures.


Ancient Greek history continues to inspire writers and artists through the millennia to the present day.

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