Since mid-August, Greece has been living the discovery of the tomb of Amphipolis as if following a daily soap-opera, with the public at large mesmerized by the constantly updating developments of the excavation. The chief archaeologist at the site, Katerina Peristeri, and her team have managed to even pique the interest of the world at large, drawing throngs of tourists to the huge and magnificent funerary monument of Macedonia.
The surprise visit of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to the excavation site on August 12th, raised a fury of hopes and expectations as it was hinted that this may, in fact, be the tomb of Alexander the Great, although it was never actually mentioned as such.
The assumptions surrounding the shrine of the actual identity of the interred individual are numerous and diverse with practically every new finding contradictory with respect to the period of construction of the tomb and its characteristics, leading to fervent disputes among the Greek archaeological community. For Ms. Peristeri, for example, there is no doubt that this is clearly a Hellenistic monument built towards the end of 4th century B.C. whereas others have speculated the tomb may be Roman in origin, provoking the ire of Ms. Peristeri.
Excavations have brought to light a very important circular enclosure of 498 meters, which dates from the late 4th century B.C. (sometime between 325 and 300 B.C.).
Built of limestone and consisting of an almost perfect circle constructed of pure white marble from the northern Aegean island of Thassos, the monument's imposing height (30 meters), the sphinxes guarding the tomb's entrance and the very large width of the entrance (4.5 meters) support the idea that this was a very expensive undertaking.
It is believed that the impressive Lion of Amphipolis (over 5 meters tall) which was discovered over a century ago and stands, today, on the very spot where its broken and scattered pieces were found, once rested at the top of the tomb.
The two splendid Caryatids discovered at the Kasta Hill excavation site are also honed of Thassian marble and have both archaeologists and the public at large in awe.
The co-existence of the Sphinxes and the Caryatids within a short span of a few meters is indicative of the Macedonian period's different styles of influence among the artists of the time and demonstrates that the great Macedonian empire housed diverse elements of the many cultures it conquered.
After the discovery of the Caryatids which lie at the entrance of the second chamber, progress has been slow and meticulous, with archaeologists using gentle strokes to uncover a soil-filled third chamber in the tomb. With this third chamber about to reveal its secrets, at least two pieces of evidence suggest that it is very deep and much larger than the previous chambers and encompasses a deep, steep staircase.
Eventually, according to officials from the Ministry of Culture, the excavation team will attempt to enter a fourth area that appears to exist beyond the third chamber. Although not yet determined whether this new space is stable or may require structural support, it will undoubtedly provide further detail into the identity of the tomb's origin as well as to its inhabitant(s).
The striking folds of the robes of the Caryatids along with the intricate characteristics of their bodies have brought about the admiration of the global archaeological community. They are massive yet elegant, marking the influence of Classical Athens alongside the expansiveness of the Macedonian empire.
The sheer size of the monument at Amphipolis is proof that it belonged to a person of great importance of the Hellenistic period. Unfortunately, no inscriptions of any kind have been found and it is common knowledge that Macedonian tombs were rarely decorated with any such inscriptions. The identity of the tenant may be revealed from any potential sarcophagus or from any offerings that may be found in the crypt's deepest chamber.
Perplexing to researchers, as in all such cases, is whether the tomb has been looted at some time in the past. There is the belief, however, that the monument was very well-protected, making it difficult for anyone to enter.
The Greek public continues to live, hour by hour, a roller-coaster of emotions as any new tidbits of information painstakingly emerge. Nevertheless, the discovery at Amphipolis has finally provided a moment of pride and encouragement for the Greeks, given their suffering through years of moral decline as a result of the ongoing debt crisis.
Indeed, if Alexander is the occupant of the tomb even though he is historically known to have been buried in Alexandria, or even if it is revealed that this was his cenotaph, it will be a time of glory and grandeur for all of Greece, a nation desperately in need of such inspiration.