An Archaeological Study of the Ancient Phaleron Cemetery near Athens Greece

Project: Research project

Project Details


Substance and context
For most of the Classical era (ca. 480-320 BC), Athens was by far the largest, wealthiest,
and most influential city-state (polis) in the Greek world, and we know a great deal about how
life there was organized and experienced. We know far less about the formation of this polis
during the Archaic era (ca. 700-480 BC), when Athens evolved from a union of small villages
into a hegemonic regional "superpower". It is extremely fortunate that the Phaleron cemetery
was in use throughout the period of this formation process. By examining the cemetery's
anomalously large and diverse skeletal assemblage, the project will generate osteological,
paleodemographic, paleopathological, biochemical, and genetic data that can add to our
knowledge of this crucial and complex process in two novel and unprecedented ways. First, these
data will yield information that more traditional archaeological and textual evidence simply
cannot provide, for example demographic characteristics, such as age and gender distributions,
as well as health status, causes of death, and geographical origins. Second, while studies of other,
previously excavated Greek cemeteries (e.g., Kerameikos) can tell us a great deal about the life
experiences of elites, who tend to be over-represented at those sites, our project will be the first
to analyze a large, predominantly non-elite cemetery assemblage. In particular, through
paleodemographic, paleogenetic, and paleomobility analyses, we can reconstruct the different
social and biological groups buried at the Phaleron site, thereby contributing to ongoing debates
regarding the impact of socioeconomic and other inequalities on access to and use of cemeteries
in the Archaic era.
Archaic Athens was marked by significant inequalities of wealth and status. Life in the
early polis was effectively dominated by a small minority of extremely wealthy, landowning
families. According to sources for the early sixth century, Athenians were then categorized in
one of four distinct wealth divisions: the super-wealthy (pentakosiomedimnoi), who owned land
sufficient to yield at least 500 bushels of grain a year; the slightly less wealthy "horsemen"
(hippeis); the moderately prosperous "yoke-men" (zeugitai); and everyone else, namely the poor
majority, known as the laborers (thetes) (for Archaic Athens, Camp, 2001; Hall, 2006; Osborne,
1996; Shapiro, 2007; Snodgrass, 1980).
The sources for this early time also tell us that a leader called Solon (ca. 594 BC)
outlawed the practice of debt bondage among Athenians, whereby dependent, tenant farmers
forfeited their personal freedom if they were unable to meet certain quotas of produce stipulated
by the landowner. And it is generally assumed today that this measure helped to stimulate the
initial demand for the labor of "outsiders" in Attica, in particular for chattel slaves, most of
whom were imported from non-Greek regions like Thrace, Scythia, and Anatolia. Slaves in
Attica performed all manner of work for more prosperous families, from manufacturing and
mining to farming and household maintenance. And given that these same prosperous families
were expected to use their personal, slave-generated resources to provide many essential services
to the polis, from funding festival spectacles and warships to furnishing Athens with most if not
all of its political leaders, diplomats, generals, priests and priestesses, playwrights, and
prosecutors, one can fairly say that the contributions made by slaves to Athenian social being as
a whole were quite literally vital. Somewhat later on, early in the classical era, the population in
Attica was further swollen by the arrival of growing numbers of resident aliens or "metics"
(metoikoi), who came from elsewhere in Greece and adjacent non-Greek regions. Since metics
were not members of the Athenian social body, they had to be formally sponsored by a fullblooded
Athenian and could not purchase land in Attica. Yet they were also expected to
contribute to the general well-being of the polis by paying a monthly tax, taking part in certain
rituals, and serving in the army or navy when required (Martin, 2013).
By the middle of the Classical era, there were three distinct categories of persons resident
in Attica, the Athenians, their slaves, and the metics (for Classical Athens, Boegehold and
Scafuro, 1994; Camp, 2001; Cohen, 1993, 2000; Davies, 1981; Ober, 2008). We might estimate
that the total population by the end of the 5th century BC was somewhere around 300,000.
Metics perhaps numbered only around 20,000, while slaves comprised somewhere between one
third and one quarter of the total. Hence, as far as we can tell, the vast majority of the people in
Athens will have been non-elites, while over half of all free, native-born Athenians were
probably considered poor, living at or not far above subsistence level in self-supporting
patrilineal households. Their net contribution to social being in the polis was self-evidently
significant, given that they not only provided daily sustenance of all kinds for thousands of
families, but were also actively involved in agriculture, commercial transactions, processes of
law and order, communal decision-making, ritual engagements with divinity, and military
engagements on both land and sea.
Yet non-elites of all kinds usually go unnoticed in Greek historical sources and rarely
survive in the bioarchaeological record. Due to the lack of lavish monuments, cemetery markers,
and textual evidence, poorer members of poleis in Athens and elsewhere in Greece are
commonly underrepresented in standard reconstructions of the past, despite their crucial
contributions to the life of ancient communities. And of course the same is even more true for
more marginal individuals, such as slaves, captives, outcasts, outlaws, as well as for the very
young (i.e., stillborn infants), who too often remain historically and bioarchaeologically invisible.
As a result, our conventional accounts of the Greek past tend to focus almost exclusively on the
prosperous minority, largely ignoring the less wealthy, the unfree, and other outsiders, and are
thus biased. This study aims to recuperate as much as possible about these unknown, often
marginalized populations.
Study site
This project focuses upon the cemetery of Phaleron located on the northwestern coast of
Attica, about 6 km south of the Acropolis, at the area of the Phaleron Bay, which served as the
main port of ancient Athens before Piraeus was established (Fig. 1). The Phaleron cemetery
consists of hundreds of burials and it is the largest funerary site ever recovered in Attica using
modern excavation techniques and detailed excavation records (Fig. 2). On the basis of
temporally sensitive artifacts, the Phaleron cemetery was used from the late 8th to the early 5th
century BC (ca. 750-480 BC), extending from the very beginnings of Athens formation as a
unitary polis to the devastating assault on Attica and neighboring poleis by the Persians in 480
BC. This period was a time of momentous societal shifts and developments, witnessing the
establishment and subsequent reform of the first governmental institutions, early codifications of
formal laws, the laying out of the first consecrated sanctuaries for the major gods of Attica, the
introduction of many significant festivals and other ritual events, the construction of the first
temples and other landmark monuments, and intermittent feuding among the wealthiest elite
families, such as the Peisistratid "tyrants" and the Alcmeonids. By the time that our cemetery fell
out of use, the Athenians had recently committed themselves to a new politeia or "way of life,"
one they called demokratia (Anderson, 2005; Hall, 2006).
The Phaleron cemetery shows great variation in burial practices. The Phaleron
Bioarchaeological Project focuses upon the materials excavated between 2012-2013 with a total
of 1058 burials, for which the excavation records are complete (Figs. 3, 4). Most burials (54%)
were recovered from shallow pits within the soft, sandy soil. Pit burials consist mainly of adults,
buried in a supine, extended position (Fig. 5). The second largest category (33%), are burials of
infants and young children within large jars (Fig. 6), whereas occasionally older children and
adolescents are found intermixed with adult burials. Moreover, about 8% of the burials consist of
primary cremations, wherein the burning and the successive burial of the body took place in the
same location. Other types of burials include ceramic urns (1%) and simple graves lined with
vertical slabs (1%). The unique case of a skeleton buried within a wooden boat used as a coffin
that was preserved in its entirety illustrates the great preservation conditions at the site and
underline interment diversity (Fig. 7). Finally, animal burials (1%) were also recovered dispersed
among the human burials, consisting of horses and canids. Horses were expensive possessions,
markers of the upper class, a means of wealth display, and a military necessity for the cavalry
force (Hornblower, 2002:140-141).
One of the many strengths of the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project consists of the large
number of deviant burials (7%) that show evidence for captivity, violent death, and/or execution.
These include two mass burials, one consisting of 12 individuals and the other of 4 individuals,
wherein the skeletons were found with the hands tied behind their backs (Fig. 8). Moreover,
there are skeletons that preserve iron handcuffs in situ, usually supine and extended with their
hands tied on top of the lower thorax and the pelvic area (Fig. 9). Finally, there are numerous
cases of skeletons buried face down, in a prone position (Fig. 10). Prone burials are scarce in the
Greek world and are generally considered an indication of unusual circumstances of death or
punishment. In addition, the Phaleron prone burials often preserve the arms and/or legs tightly
flexed and in unnatural positions, suggesting tight bondage such as hog-tied.
The Phaleron cemetery in perspective
The Phaleron cemetery, indeed, constitutes a rare phenomenon in the archaeological
record. The lack of elaborate burials, funerary monuments, inscriptions, and intra-cemetery
organization points to the presence of lower status individuals, largely invisible in the historical
and archaeological records. Previously excavated Archaic and Classical Attic cemeteries
excavated represent higher socioeconomic classes and the Athenian aristocracy, as evidenced by
elaborate funerary monuments and textual sources (e.g., Kerameikos, Ancient Agora). The stages
of burial and funerary treatment in Ancient Athens are well known through a variety of sources
(texts, inscriptions, sculptures, and vase painting) (Kurtz and Boardman, 1971). Thus, the simple,
generally non-furnished, pit burials at Phaleron allow us to go beyond the elites and thereby
address issues relating to the commoners who usually go unnoticed. This variation permits us to
re-open archaeological and historic debates regarding the access to and use of cemeteries in
relation to the political and economic status of the buried dead, such as free citizens, foreigners,
and slaves (e.g., Morris, 1987), and thus interpret broader segments of the ancient societies.
The coastal location of the cemetery and the function of Phaleron as the port of the
ancient city of Athens might in fact reflect a port community of diverse backgrounds and origins,
possibly incorporating foreigners, sailors, and traders. The number and variation of deviant
burials with evidence for violent deaths raise the question of Phaleron cemetery being used also
for executed captives, slaves, or even pirates in other words as a potters field for the
unwanted of the ancient city. Death sentences seem to have been relatively frequent in ancient
Greece, used for a wide range of offences, including sacrilege and treason (e.g., Allen, 2000;
Debrunner, 1996; Gernet, 1981; Todd, 2000). However, the relevant sources are brief and scarce.
The main ways of execution known to us are: drinking of poison (Socrates being the most
famous victim), an early form of crucifixion termed apotympanismos, and pushing the
condemned men to a ravine or from a steep cliff (Keramopoullos, 1923; Gernet, 1981; Todd,
2000). Apotympanismos, in particular, was a special form of execution, given that it served as an
exemplary, public punishment wherein the condemned were tied by shackles onto a tall and wide
wooden plank erected on top of hills or at crossroads to be visible from a distance and widely
known to the people passing by (Pelekides, 1916; Keramopoullos, 1923; Todd, 2000). Whether
or not executed men and criminals were allowed to receive a proper burial depended on the
nature of the crime and other circumstances (see Hager, 1879). In some cases, the corpses were
returned to the relatives to be properly buried after execution. There are references, however, for
criminals guilty of treason, who were only allowed to receive burial outside of the boundaries of
the city of Athens and/or Attica (Debrunner, 1996; Hager, 1879). Burials of social outcasts,
prisoners, and slaves are rare in Greek archaeological sites and require special attention (e.g.,
Faklaris, 1986; Little and Papadopoulos, 1998; Logothetis, 2014; Mpessios and Triantaphyllou,
2000). Thus, the groups of deviant burials open-up further interpretations for the Phaleron
cemetery as a burial ground for the unwanted and/or stigmatized.
Furthermore, given the large number of burials of young juveniles, so commonly
underrepresented in ancient cemeteries, the Phaleron cemetery constitutes a comprehensive
skeletal sample that allows us to investigate infancy and childhood in antiquity. Due to the
differential representation of young juveniles in formal cemeteries, the interpretation of these
juvenile deaths and their funerary contexts, particularly for neonates and infants, in Greek
antiquity remains a contested issue (e.g., Garland, 1985; Lagia, 2007; Liston and Papadopoulos,
2004; Morris, 1987). In fact, there seem to have been regional and chronological variations in the
burial treatment of young juveniles, depending on concepts of personhood and social age. Hence,
the large number of infant and child burials at Phaleron cemetery allows us to examine agerelated
social dimensions of the ancient society and can add greatly to the bioarchaeological
investigation and theorization of children in the past.
Research questions and objectives
The research objectives of this project are multifaceted. The size, temporal scope,
location, and nature of the mortuary assemblage of Phaleron cemetery are in a unique position to
revive antiquity and elucidate the early period of Athens history. The analysis of the people
buried in Phaleron can reveal aspects of ancient lives previously unknown in comparison with
the ancient sources. By applying a contextualized, problem-oriented approach that combines
anthropology and the study of the ancient world and by integrating bioarchaeological,
biochemical, and historical data this project will examine the following research questions:
i. The identity of the people of Phaleron. The nature of the cemetery showing variation in
burial practices, absence of funerary monuments and lavish burials, and lack of
organization, suggests the presence of non-elite groups and raises the hypothesis that
Phaleron represents a socially, politically, and ethnically diverse burial population. By
combining the bioarchaeological data with the detailed excavation records, we will
reconstruct the burial processes of the different skeletal groups. We will examine the ethnic
origins of the buried individuals, and we will investigate the presence of foreigners through
biochemical analysis. We will further reconstruct the dietary patterns of the skeletal
population using isotopic analysis in order to identify possible dietary differences
associated with the low socioeconomic status. The bioarchaeological results will be
compared with material culture data and information from the historical sources (primary
and secondary) in order to decipher the social, political, and economic role of the Phaleron
cemetery groups in ancient Athens. The aim of this inquiry is to elucidate the lives and the
mortuary remains of commoners, foreigners, and possibly slaves in antiquity contrasted
with the funerary treatment of the elites.
ii. Insiders and outsiders: We are especially interested in the group of deviant burials, which
likely includes executed criminals and/or war captives and/or slaves. The project's targeted,
inter-disciplinary study of these unconventional burials can thus help to refine and enrich
current thinking on matters like the administration of laws and punishments in Archaic
Athens, the conduct of warfare beyond and perhaps within the bounds of the polis, and the
introduction of chattel slavery, all of which continue to be subjects of intense scholarly
debate. And ultimately, this extraordinary deviant assemblage can provide information of
an entirely new kind on one of the most basic questions of all, namely: How precisely did
this emergent community distinguish itself from "outsiders". For through its treatment of
the mortuary remains of these "others," this polity necessarily tells us something about how
it defined and objectified a communal "self". We will examine the ethnic origins, diet,
genetic make-up, health status, chronological date, and burial treatment of the deviant
groups. We will then compare the biological, ethnic, genetic, dietary, forensic, temporal,
and mortuary profiles of the deviant burials to those of the non-deviant burials in order to
obtain a holistic interpretation of the Phaleron cemetery. We will also use the ancient
sources to contextualize the social, political, and judicial phenomena of the period under
study, including topics of litigation, prosecution, and persecution.
iii. The experience of childhood in Greek antiquity. Focusing on the numerous burials of
infants and young children, we will address bioculturally sensitive aspects of the
construction of identity and the experience of childhood in antiquity, including age stages,
health, and diet. This approach will further allow us to reconstruct the funerary treatment of
the young and more nuanced topics, such as the perceptions and attitudes towards juvenile
death, loss, and compassion in antiquity. The bioarchaeological evidence will be compared
with the historical information from written sources on the social developments that
accompanied different chronological ages, including aspects of personhood and dietary
thresholds (e.g., weaning ages), in order to provide a holistic understanding of childhood in
the ancient Greek world.
iv. Diet, health, and epidemics. The location of Phaleron and its function as the port of the city
of Athens is suggestive of a community open to the exchange of people, goods, but also
diseases. Thus, we can gain direct insight into the health status of coastal groups and
investigate the movement and load of pathogens in early cities. The large number of infant
burials intermixed with adult burials showing evidence for a violent death, may further
indicate an unusual cause of death, such as an epidemic, nutritional deficiency, or abuse.
This is further supported by the presence of pot burials including grave goods that are
contrasted with the generally poor, unfurnished burials of the adults. We will conduct
analysis of ancient pathogen DNA to test for the presence of infectious diseases in the
buried population. The DNA results will be compared to paleopathological (macroscopic)
observations on the skeletons and to the results of the dietary reconstruction.
v. The metaphysics of polis community. More generally, through sustained, humanistic and
scientific study of the skeletal remains, grave goods, different modes of burial, and the site
and location of the cemetery as whole, the project hopes to yield some new perspectives on
larger matters concerning the metaphysical environment in archaic Athens. For example,
given that the disposal of the dead necessarily involved ritual actions, what can the site tell
us about ongoing relations between humans and superhuman or divine agencies in archaic
Athens? Given that mortality and bloodshed was anathema to all Greek gods, what can the
cemetery tell us about how prevailing distinctions were drawn between purified,
consecrated spaces and non-consecrated spaces? Given the unconventional treatment of
many of its occupants, what can the cemetery tell us about archaic Athenian notions of
personhood and subjectivity? Who exactly qualified as a person and a subject in this
particular lifeworld? And what was the dominant mode of sociality in this particular time
and place? What forms of human communion and belonging did an archaic Greek polis
History of the project and its productivity
The location of the cemetery at the Delta of Phaleron and its archaeological significance
were known since the early 1900s when the Greek Archaeological Service discovered and
excavated a total of about 150 graves (Kourouniotis, 1911; Pelekidis, 1916). Among the
individual graves, a mass burial of seventeen male skeletons laid side-by-side preserving iron
collars was recovered, known ever since as The Captives of Phaleron (Pelekidis, 1916;
Keramopoullos, 1923). A century later, the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Cultural Center (SNFCC) including new facilities for the National Library of Greece, the Greek
National Opera, and the 210,000 m2 Stavros Niarchos Park, brought to light the extensive
Phaleron cemetery ( In order for the
SNFCC to be completed, large-scale excavations took place between 2012 and 2016 by the
Archaeological Service of Western Attica, Piraeus, and the Islands (Greek Ministry of Culture)
under the direction of Dr. Stella Chrysoulaki, funded by SNFCC.
In 2015, an international collaborative project was established for the contextualized
bioarchaeological analysis and interpretation of the Phaleron cemetery and a specialized team of
bioarchaeologists, forensic anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians were assembled for
this purpose. The Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project is taking place at the Malcolm H. Wiener
Laboratory for Archaeological Science of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens
(ASCSA), which can provide the necessary infrastructure, including storage and working space,
sample preparation laboratories with fume hoods, and equipment such as microscopes, 3D laser
scanners, and an X-ray facility. Biochemical analyses will take place in collaborating
institutions: radiocarbon analysis for dating at the National Science Foundation - Arizona AMS
Laboratory at University of Arizona, isotopic analysis for diet and migration at the
Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory at Arizona State University, and ancient DNA analysis at
the Max Planck Institute for Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.
All the necessary permits for this project have been obtained, so there are no obstacles for
completion. Here follows a description of the tasks in progress and/or completed during the first
year of the project (2016-2017). In the summer of 2016 (June July), the archaeological human
skeletal remains from Phaleron excavated between 2012-2013 were transferred at the Wiener
Laboratory where they were inventoried. The conservation of the Phaleron human remains by
professional conservators began in July of 2016, under the supervision of Dr. Prevedorou. In
addition, undergraduate student apprentices from Departments of Conservation of Antiquities
and Works of Arts are being trained in conservation of osteological material while working on
the Phaleron remains under supervision. By the end of July 2017, the conservation of the infant
remains from the jar burials will be completed and conservation of the other types of burials will
be ongoing. In the fall of 2016, the projects website was launched and is currently under
construction ( The projects website will be updated regularly
and will contain information regarding the projects progress and preliminary results. In the
spring of 2017, the design of the digital database for the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project will
begin. The database will be available through the projects website and will serve as the
repository of data collected.
The cemetery and the analysis of the burials are often featured in the press and have thus
received a lot of publicity, however, there are no scholarly publications on the Phaleron cemetery
project to date. The first presentation of the project at an international conference will take place
in March of 2017 at the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting by Prevedorou and
The estimated date of completion for the Bioarchaeological Project of Phaleron is August
2020. In this application, we ask for funding for a three-year project (2017-2020) for the in-depth
study, interpretation, and publication of the human burials of the Phaleron cemetery. If awarded,
the NEH Collaborative Research Grant will support: a) curation, photographic documentation,
osteological data collection for paleodemographic and paleopathological reconstruction,
sampling for analytical methodologies (radiocarbon, DNA, isotopic analyses) of the human
skeletal remains, and Information Technology (IT) support (1st year of funding), b) the
postdoctoral position of the project Co-Director (Prevedorou) through Arizona State University
(2nd and 3rd year of funding), c) research and travel expenses for the projects Director
(Buikstra), Co-Director (Prevedorou), the projects historian (Anderson), and the projects
forensic specialist (Steadman) as it aims to support the collaboration between the four for the
contextualization of the site, and e) the interpretation and publication of the human remains
buried in the cemetery of Phaleron. For complementary sources see Statement of History of
For the purpose of this project, an international team including a variety of specialists
was assembled. Jane Buikstra, Regents Professor and Founding Director of the Center for
Bioarchaeological Research at Arizona State University (ASU) and a member of the American
Academy of Sciences will serve as the projects Director. Buikstra is the scholar who defined the
term Bioarchaeology that led to the relevant academic field, and a leader in bioarchaeological
research world-wide. Buikstra will oversee the design and execution of the project through
frequent communication and videoconference, she will actively participate in the analysis of the
paleopathological and forensic aspects of the skeletal material through her annual trips to Athens,
and she will direct the interpretation and publication of the projects results. Buikstra will devote
10% of her time annually for the first two years and 50% in the third year.
Eleni-Anna Prevedorou will serve as the projects Co-Director holding a postdoctoral
position at ASU and the Wiener Laboratory. She has worked closely with Buikstra on a number
of projects during her graduate training at ASU and her postgraduate career. She is bilingual and
can thus manage all aspects of the project, including excavation notes and bureaucratic
documentation in both Greek and English. Her research has focused upon the excavation,
analysis, and contextual interpretation of skeletal assemblages and archaeological sites in Athens,
Attica, and the surrounding regions, thus she is well versed in the history and archaeology of the
projects study area. Prevedorou further specializes in biodistance and biogeochemistry and has
applied extensive isotopic analyses for the study of ancient migration and diet, including the
establishment of comparative, isotopic baseline data around Greece and the Aegean world and,
thus, she is fully qualified to supervise and implement all stages of the different analytical
methodologies. She will devote 100% of her time annually for three years to the management,
analysis, interpretation, and publication of the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project.
Greg Anderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the Ohio State
University. Andersons primary work areas consist of ancient history and critical theory of the
ancient world. His interests include the birth of democracy, tyranny, and state formation,
economy, and religion in ancient Athens. Anderson will serve as the projects consultant on
Athenian history and he will devote 10% of his time annually on the Phaleron Project. He will
collaborate with Buikstra and Prevedorou in background research, literature review, and ancient
sources and he will advise in the interpretation of the Phaleron mortuary site for the social,
political, and economic evolvement of ancient Athens. Anderson will travel to Athens and the
American School to confer with the projects Director and Co-Director in addition to regular
Paraskevi Tritsaroli is currently a Visiting Senior Research Member at the Wiener
Laboratory. Tritsaroli is an experienced bioarchaeologist and she has actively participated in the
excavation and field recording of the human skeletal remains at the Phaleron cemetery. Thus, she
is particularly familiar with the skeletal assemblage, the material culture, and the burial
environment at the Phaleron site. Tritsaroli will be conducting the osteological data collection
focusing on demographic and paleopathological indicators and she will participate in data
processing. She will devote 100% of her time annually for the first two years of the project.
Zoi Chalatsi is a graduate of the Department of Conservation of Antiquities and Works of
Art of the Technological Educational Institute of Athens and an associate of the Institute for
Aegean Prehistory and the Wiener Laboratory. She is a professional conservator specializing on
the conservation and recording of human skeletal remains. She will serve as the head conservator
of the conservation team for the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project and she will manage all
conservation aspects and archives, as well as photographic documentation in collaboration with
Prevedorou. Chalatsi will devote 100% of her time during the first two years of the project.
Dawnie Steadman is a Board Certified Forensic Anthropologist, Director of the Forensic
Anthropology Center and Professor at the University of Tennessee. Steadman will be a
collaborator on the Phaleron Project focusing upon demographic forensic aspects such as aging
and sexing methods and, particularly, trauma. Her participation in the project will involve the
examination of the victims of violent death and possible torture and the demographic analysis of
this diverse cemetery population. Steadman will devote 10% of her time to the Phaleron
Bioarchaeological Project.
Panagiotis Karkanas is the Director of the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of
Classical Studies at Athens and a member of the Greek Archaeological Service. Karkanas is an
internationally prominent geoarchaeologist conducting research in Greece, the wider
Mediterranean, the Balkans, northern Europe, Africa, and China. He will conduct the
geoarchaeological analysis of the Phaleron cemetery and will be involved in the stratigraphic and
chronological assessments of the individual burials. He will also provide the infrastructure at the
Wiener Laboratory and will facilitate the every-day needs of the project. He will devote 5% of
his time to the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project.
Stella Chrysoulaki is the Head of the Archaeological Service of Western Attica, Piraeus,
and Islands (Dept. of the Greek Ministry of Culture) and the Director of the excavation of the
Phaleron cemetery since 2012. Chrysoulaki and her excavation team will work closely with the
bioarchaeological team to contextualize the human remains and they will provide all excavation
records and the results of the stylistic study of the recovered pottery. Dr. Chrysoulaki will devote
5% of her time to the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project.
Kelly Knudson is an Associate Professor and Director of the Archaeological Chemistry
Laboratory at Arizona State University where isotopic analyses for diet and migration will take
place. Knudson will collaborate on the isotopic analysis of the Phaleron remains and will devote
2% of her time during the second and third years of the project. Johannes Krause is the Head of
the Department of Archaeogenetics and a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for the
Science of Human History. Anne Stone is Regents Professor and Director of the Laboratory of
Molecular Anthropology at Arizona State University. Krause and Stone will collaborate on the
ancient DNA analytical studies that will take place at the Max Planck Institute. Stone will devote
2% and Krause 5% of time during the second and third year of the project.
Greg Hodgins is the Director of the University of Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometer
Laboratory. George Fakorellis is an Associate Professor at the Department of Conservation of
Antiquities and Works of Art of the Technological Education Institute of Athens. Hodgins and
Fakorellis will collaborate on the radiocarbon dating analysis of the Phaleron remains that will
take place at the University of Arizona. Hodgins will devote 5% of his time and Fakorellis 2%
during the first and second years of the project.
Conservation, inventorying, sample selection, and data collection of the remaining pit
burials will take place at the Wiener Laboratory during the first year of the proposed funding
period. To ensure the timely completion of the project, we will prioritize the skulls that provide
most of the necessary information. All conservation and curation stages will follow protocols
that are in accordance with the biochemical (isotopic, radiocarbon) and ancient DNA analyses.
To reconstruct the demographic profile of the human burials from Phaleron, data will be
collected on skeletal age and sex. Age-at-death estimation and sex determination will follow
standard methodologies for adults (Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994) and for fetal and juvenile
remains (Fazekas and Ksa, 1978; Scheuer and Black, 2000). When possible, transition analysis,
a recent advance in aging methods, will be performed to estimate age-at-death (Boldsen et al.,
2012; Milner and Boldsen, 2012). Stature will be estimated following the formula by Eliakis and
colleagues (1966) developed for Greek populations based on forensic specimens from the
University of Athens. For comparative purposes, stature estimations based on the Trotter formula
for European-Americans commonly used in Greek human skeletal studies will also be provided
(Trotter, 1970). Paleopathological analysis will also follow standard protocols for pathological
conditions, trauma, developmental anomalies, musculoskeletal stress markers, and possible
artificial postmortem modifications macroscopically, microscopically, as well as through
radiographs (Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994; Ortner, 2003).
Biogeochemical analysis will be conducted to examine the geographic origins (radiogenic
strontium isotope analysis) and the dietary practices (stable strontium isotope analysis) of the
individuals buried at Phaleron. Biogeochemistry is widely employed in archaeological research
for the reconstruction of mobility, migration, and paleodiet. The chemical element strontium (Sr)
moves from bedrock into the food chain through soil and groundwater, and ultimately into the
human skeleton (Bentley, 2006; Price et al., 2002). The radiogenic strontium isotopic
composition of human bone and teeth (87Sr/86Sr) reflects the chemical composition of the
individuals food and water sources, which in turn reflects the chemical composition of the
geological region and habitat from which the food and water sources were obtained (Bentley,
2006). Specifically, dental enamel forms during early childhood and does not remodel, thus its
isotopic composition reflects the composition of the sources consumed during the period of
enamel formation. Consequently, differences between the isotopic signature of enamel samples
that form in early life and the isotopic signature of the region in which the individual died can
reveal changes in the residential history of the individual. The method is based on the variation
of 87Sr/86Sr values between different geological terrains according to geological age and
geochemical composition of the local bedrock. The archaeological samples are supplemented by
modern environmental samples (e.g., fauna and water) to characterize the locally available
87Sr/86Sr ranges (e.g., Price et al., 2002; Bentley, 2006; Bentley et al., 2004; for Attica, see
Prevedorou, 2015). Hence, 87Sr/86Sr analysis will allow us to reconstruct the geographic origins
of the individuals buried at Phaleron and examine possible non-local provenance and migration
(e.g., foreign population, laborers, slaves, captives).
To examine paleodiet, stable strontium isotope analysis (d88/86Sr) will be conducted on
the same archaeological specimens. The d88/86Sr methodology is based on trophic level
fractionation within any given ecosystem and allows us to directly trace the dietary origin of
strontium into the human organism by revealing diets based on either terrestrial or marine
resources (Knudson et al., 2010; Prevedorou, 2015). Thus, d88/86Sr analysis will permit us to
reconstruct the dietary practices of the ancient people buried at Phaleron and also examine a
potential discrimination based on marine foods for people with a maritime background (e.g.,
sailors, pirates).
Radiocarbon analysis (
14C) will be performed on samples across the cemetery in order to
reconstruct the chronological scope of the cemetery and to examine potential chronological
differences between the different burial groups (e.g., jar burials, pit burials, deviant burials).
Radiocarbon analysis is a dating technique performed on collagen recovered from bone elements
that allows us to obtain absolute calendar dates from the skeleton and, thus, to directly date
individual burials.
Ancient human DNA and ancient pathogen DNA analysis will be performed on skeletons
across the Phaleron cemetery (deviant and non-deviant). The goal of the human ancient DNA
analysis is to reconstruct the full genome of the sampled individuals and thus to examine the
genetic make-up of the population buried in Phaleron, the presence of biological relatedness, and
deep-history origins and mobility. The goal of the pathogen ancient DNA analysis is to test for
the presence of pathogens and thus to examine the circulation of pathogens at the ancient port
and the hypothesis that the cemetery included victims of infectious diseases.
All sampling for the analytical methodologies described above (biogeochemical,
radiocarbon, DNA) will take place by Prevedorou. Archaeological samples will be selected and
prepared at the Wiener Laboratory and will be subsequently transferred to the designated
laboratories. Prevedorou will further direct and implement the biogeochemical analyses on diet
and migration at Arizona State University in collaboration with the ASU Archaeological
Chemistry Laboratory Director, Prof. Kelly Knudson.
Given the large scale of the proposed project and the size of the skeletal sample, data
management is a crucial component. For this purpose, a database will be designed and
implemented. An example of such a system is the standardized skeletal documentation software
Osteoware by the National Museum of National History of the Smithsonian Institution (available
at that is based on the standards manual of the field (Buikstra and
Ubelaker 1994). The Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project Database will incorporate aspects of
Osteoware, but it will expand the data fields to include detailed conservation information,
biodistance data, sampling information (isotopic, aDNA, radiocarbon), photographs, and
excavation records. The Phaleron database will be accessible through the projects website in
order for different researchers to be able to access it at different levels and from different
locations (e.g., viewing and/or entering data). The goal is to provide the complete information for
each burial, including all types of data, photographs, and excavation records in a unified data
collection system.
Excavation records will be translated into English by Prevedorou and incorporated in the
Digital Database of the Phaleron Biarchaeological Project so that they can be readily accessible.
Literature review for the contextualization of the sources will take place mainly at the Blegen
Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Primary historic sources relative
to the Phaleron cemetery and to the projects goals (e.g., historic events, references to execution,
etc.) will be examined by Anderson, the projects historian, and will be incorporated into the
sites interpretation. Processing of archaeological data and material culture studies will take
place by Chrysoulaki.
Work plan
Here, we provide a work plan for the activities of the three-year project to be funded by NEH.
October 1, 2017 March 31, 2018: Curation and photographic documentation (Z. Chalatsi) and
osteological data collection (V. Tritsaroli) of the skeletons derived from simple, pit burials.
Bibliographical research and monthly videoconference calls (Buikstra, Prevedorou). Projects
digital database development and implementation (Prevedorou in collaboration with IT
consultant). Projects website development (Prevedorou in collaboration with IT consultant).
April 1, 2018 September 30, 2018: Completion of the curation and photographic
documentation (Z. Chalatsi) and osteological data collection (V. Tritsaroli). Lectures and
conference presentations (Buikstra, Prevedorou). Preparation and transfer of skeletal samples
(Prevedorou). Monthly videoconference calls (Buikstra, Prevedorou). Trips to Greece for data
analysis, archival research, and collaboration meetings (Buikstra, Anderson, Steadman) and to
the US (Prevedorou). Projects website and digital database maintenance (Prevedorou in
collaboration with IT consultant).
October 1, 2018 March 31, 2019: Bibliographical research (Prevedorou). Projects website and
digital database maintenance (Prevedorou). Translation of Greek excavation records
(Prevedorou). Data management and chemical analyses (Prevedorou). Monthly videoconference
calls (Buikstra, Prevedorou). Trips for collaboration meetings (Buikstra, Prevedorou).
April 1, 2019 September 30, 2019: Bibliographical research (Prevedorou). Projects website
and digital database maintenance (Prevedorou). Translation of Greek excavation records
(Prevedorou). Data management and analysis (Prevedorou). Monthly videoconference calls
(Buikstra, Prevedorou). Trips for collaboration meetings (Buikstra, Prevedorou).
October 1, 2019 March 31, 2020: Completion of all chemical analyses (biochemical,
radiocarbon, and DNA). Bibliographical research and synthesis of the cemeterys finds and
results by Prevedorou, Buikstra, and Anderson. Trips to Greece for collaboration meetings
(Buikstra, Anderson). Projects website and digital database maintenance (Prevedorou).
April 1, 2020 September 30, 2020: Synthesis, interpretation, and publication of the cemeterys
finds and results by Buikstra, Prevedorou, Anderson, and Steadman. Projects website
maintenance (Prevedorou).
Final product and dissemination
Dissemination of the projects results will act at different levels targeting both scholarly
and public audiences. The project will have an active website (
The website will be updated regularly providing summaries of the ongoing work, photographic
material, as well as preliminary results and highlights. Formal and informal talks will be given
at both the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and Arizona State University. Given
the publicity of the Phaleron excavation and skeletal assemblage in Greece, the Wiener
Laboratory will also hosts open-house days when members of the local and international
academic community, the Greek Archaeological Services, and the pubic can visit the laboratory
space and see the ongoing bioarchaeological work.
The preliminary and final results of the project will be presented annually at international
academic conferences. All results will be fully published. The various components of the project
will be published in a series of peer-reviewed publications in leading journals of the field. The
absolute dating and the interpretation of the burial contexts will be submitted to the American
Journal of Archaeology. The biogeochemical results and the investigation of mobility and dietary
patterns will be submitted to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and the Journal of
Archaeological Science. The paleopathological results and the examination of health and disease
patterns will be submitted to the International Journal of Paleopathology. The ancient DNA
results will be submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An edited
volume will be published as a Hesperia Supplement by the American School of Classical Studies
(Princeton) that will include the synthesized interpretation of the Phaleron cemetery and its
people. With the completion of the project, the Bioarchaeological Database will be made
available online to serve as a model for bioarchaeological data management and dissemination
for studies of large scale both in Greece and internationally.
Effective start/end date10/1/179/30/22


  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): $99,124.00


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