Archaeologists on Crete find skeleton covered with gold foil in 2,700-year-old grave

ATHENS, Greece — Greek archaeologists have found an ancient skeleton covered with gold foil in a grave on the island of Crete, officials said Tuesday.

Excavator Nicholas Stampolidis said his team discovered more than 3,000 pieces of gold foil in the 7th-century B.C. twin grave near the ancient town of Eleutherna.

Cemeteries there have produced a wealth of outstanding artifacts in recent years.

The tiny gold ornaments, from 1 to 4 centimetres (0.4 to 1.5 inches) long, had been sewn onto a lavish robe or shroud that initially wrapped the body of a woman and has almost completely rotted away but for a few off-white threads.

"The whole length of the (grave) was covered with small pieces of gold foil — square, circular and lozenge-shaped," Stampolidis told The Associated Press. "We were literally digging up gold interspersed with earth, not earth with some gold in it."

The woman, who presumably had a high social or religious status, was buried with a second skeleton in a large jar sealed with a stone slab weighing more than half a ton. It was hidden behind a false wall, to confuse grave robbers.

Experts are trying to determine the other skeleton's sex.

The grave also contained a copper bowl; pottery; perfume bottles imported from Egypt or Syria and Palestine; hundreds of amber, rock crystal and faience beads; as well as a gold pendant in the form of a bee goddess that probably was part of a rock crystal and gold necklace.

"If you look at it one way up, it's shaped like a lily," said Stampolidis, a professor of archaeology at the University of Crete who has worked at Eleutherna for the 25 years. "Turned upside down, you see a female figure holding her breasts, whose lower body is shaped as a bee with wings. The workmanship is exquisite."

The ruins of Eleutherna stand on the northern foothills of Mount Ida — the mythical birthplace of Zeus, chief of the ancient Greek gods. Past excavations have discovered a citadel, homes and an important cemetery with lavish female burials.

The town flourished from the 9th century B.C. — the dark ages of Greek archaeology that followed the fall of Crete's great Minoan palatial culture — and endured until the Middle Ages.

 By Nicholas Paphitis (CP)

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