Coffins shed light on Ancient Greeks

October 07, 2004


THE discovery of two large limestone coffins dating back 3,000 years could indicate that the ancient Greeks may have been more technologically advanced than previously thought, an archaeologist said today.

Each of the coffins, also known as a sarcophagus, was found in Ancient Corinth and dates back to 900 to 875 BC - a period known as the early Geometric period.

The name derives from the art of the period, mostly found on pots, with its characteristically linear designs and dots and lines forming zigzags and angles.

Guy Sanders, in charge of the digs carried out by the American School of Classical Studies, said the enormous weight of each coffin - 3.33 tonnes and 1.8 tonnes - suggests the ancient Corinthians must have used a mechanical system to lower the sarcophagi into graves instead of sheer muscle power.

"To lower the sarcophagus into place in a controlled movement ... requires some kind of temporary superstructure over the grounds so they can control the vertical movement of the stone," Sanders said.

The American School has been conducting digs in Greece since 1896. Ancient Corinth is located about 100km west of Athens.

"Either they had 40 or 50 people at the end of a rope or they had some kind of mechanical fashion of lowering it in a gradual control drop. For that you need some kind of primitive or basic gearing system," Sanders said.

The ancient Greek word sarcophagus, which remains in use, means flesh-eating.

The limestone used to make an ancient Greek sarcophagus caused the rapid disintegration of its contents, giving the coffin its distinct name.