Plant Offerings from the Classical Necropolis of Limenas, Thasos, Northern Greece

Article excerpt


The ancient city of Thasos (also known as Limenas), situated on the north edge of the island of Thasos, was an important site of the Greek world (Figure 1). Limenas was colonised by the people of Paros at the beginning of the seventh century BC, following a prophecy from the oracle at Delphi obtained by their leader Telesicles. The city they constructed had a harbour and developed as an important naval centre. In the fifth century BC the acropolis and urban area, including the parliament, a prytaneum, a market, a theatre, a conservatory, sanctuaries and several public buildings were enclosed by a wall c. 4km long, part of which survives. Research on the site has been a long-standing project of the Ecole Francaise d'Athenes, which initiated excavations in the early twentieth century; excavations continue today in collaboration with the Archaeological Unit of Kavala.

Archaeological investigation of the necropolis started in the 1970s as a part of a rescue excavation programme of the Archaeological Unit of Kavala. The largest portion of the cemetery has been contacted under two separate farms, the farm of Soultos and the farm of Chryssogelos. Both have yielded important archaeobotanical remains, some of which derive from pyres within cemeteries and form the subject of this paper.

Context: cemeteries and pyres

The first archaeological investigation at the Soultos farm site revealed 54 cist graves (Archaiologikon Deltion 29 1973-1974 B2: 788; 30 1975 B: 278; 37 1982 [1989] B2: 316-22). In 1996 the investigation of the graves located at the north of the enclosure was completed by Dr M. Sgourou. A burnt deposit, or pyre, (pyra B) was discovered among the graves, although it was not directly related to a tomb (Figure 2). The deposit was associated with an assemblage of cooking pots (kuathia and lopadia) dated to the end of the fourth century BC. No animal remains were recovered from this pyre.

The Chryssogelos farm site (Figure 3) is located near the sea, at the Molos area, around 1.5km west of the modern harbour of Limenas. Seventeen burials have been excavated here: nine cist graves, two the graves, five stone sarcophagi and one jar burial in amphora. All the graves had the same orientation (northwest-northeast). Small pottery vases and small iron objects were placed in the majority of the graves. According to the evidence currently collected, it seems that this part of the cemetery belongs to two chronological periods: the majority of the cist graves and the jar burial are dated to the fourth century BC, while the tile graves and the sarcophagi are dated after the second century BC.


A pyre (enaghismos) was related to the cist grave No. 12, containing the remains of a young child (Figure 4). The charred plant assemblage was associated with burnt cooking pots, a silver bag and numerous small statues that allowed the finds to be dated to the second half of the fourth century BC. A small quantity of animal bones, probably of goat and sheep, was discovered in the grave, but no further analysis was performed on the archaeozoological material. Three different burial practices have been observed among the 65 burials excavated so far: cremation, inhumation and jar burial (Aggelarakis 1998).




The plant remains from the pyres

The botanical remains were collected from the pyres where they were observed with the naked eye. All samples were processed and studied by one of the authors (F. Megaloudi) using manual flotation. Floated material was collected by a set of two sieves with apertures of 1mm and 0.3mm each. Processing of the samples took place at the Museum of Thasos. The riots collected were subsequently examined in order to determine the richness of the samples. Flots were examined by comparison with modern reference material in the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens while heavy residues were examined at the Thasos Museum. …