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Among the Mycenae Grave Circle B remains chosen for forensic reconstruction, Gamma 55 is believed to be the brother of fellow female grave occupant Gamma 58.

A note about the DNA analysis done on these remains: of the 22 individuals excavated from Grave Circle B, only 4 yielded sufficiently preserved genetic material for DNA testing.  Gamma 55 and 58 belong to the same haplogroup, meaning they are related, with a common ancestor, but may not necessarily be brother and sister; they could also be first cousins, or aunt/nephew, or uncle/niece.  There simply wasn't enough preserved material for geneticists to be more specific.

Gamma 55 was a tall, powerfully built individual; he stood about 5 feet 9 1/4 inches, which would have been gigantic for that period.  He was about thirty-three years old when he died, and he died around the same time as Gamma 58 and Gamma 51, the unfortunate young man who died after a trepanning operation. 

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Anemospilia is a lonely site, standing on a windswept slope of Mount Juktas, facing north toward Knossos and the Aegean.  Its very name means "Cave of the Winds."

In 1979, archaeologists Yanni and Efi Sakellarakis discovered the remains of a building complex which appeared to be a Minoan temple with four rooms.  It had been destroyed and burned during an earthquake which had occurred sometime around 1700 B.C., at a time when palaces and towns all over Crete suffered widespread destruction.

The Sakellarakises discovered a skeleton (the "acolyte") in the outer corridor, too badly smashed to determine even age or sex; the individual had been trying to flee the collapsing building.  In another chamber, they found a male lying on his back with his arms drawn up to shield his face from the falling roof beams, and a female lying face down in one corner, where she'd fled seeking shelter. 

But the biggest surprise waited on the altar.  By now, it was apparent that the earthquake had interrupted some sort of ritual.  As the altar was excavated, bones started to appear.  And then, it slowly dawned on the archaeologists that the victim wasn't an animal at all, but a young man, trussed up with his arms behind his back, and his knees drawn up to his chest.  Forensic analysis of his bones indicated he had already perished and his blood had drained out when the earth shook and the building caught fire.

Poseidon's wrath had interrupted a human sacrifice in progress--the first and only such ritual of its kind ever discovered in Minoan Crete.

In the 1980s, John Prag and Richard Naeve, who had undertaken the reconstructions of the individuals at Mycenae's Grave Circle B, were called in to give faces to the four victims of the Anemospilia disaster.  Unfortunately, the "acolyte" and the sacrificial victim were too badly damaged to reconstruct, but the team was able to give faces to the priest and priestess.

The priest stood 5 feet 10 inches tall, and was between thirty and forty years old when he died.  The priestess was 5 feet tall, and in her early to mid-twenties.  She suffered from anemia, and examination of her teeth revealed that she would have had severe halitosis in life.

Gamma 51

May. 14th, 2011 12:00 pm
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Among the remains found in Mycenae's Grave Circle B was Gamma 51, a young man of twenty-eight who stood 5 feet 8 inches tall.  Like the other individuals, he was robust, and in life would have been long and lean.

His was a rather poor burial, for while his neighbor and contemporary Gamma 55 was given gold and a sword, Gamma 51 was buried only with a few vases, and laid out at the foot of the grave, where he just managed to fit.

What is striking about Gamma 51 is the evidence of trepination on his skull.  Trepination is a surgical practice which goes back to Neolithic times, and involves cutting a hole in the skull.  Gamma 51 underwent the procedure, perhaps to relieve pressure caused by the blow he received to the right frontal bone.  Apparently, he did not survive long after the operation, because there is no evidence of healing around the hole.

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Among the human remains discovered in Mycenae's Grave Circle B, one of the earliest intact individuals was a male labeled Sigma 131.  Researchers dubbed him 'Pelops,' after the founder of the Atreid dynasty, even though he lived three hundred years too early to be the "real" Pelops.

Sigma 131 was a powerfully built individual, around 55 years old when he died, and suffered from three diseased teeth, arthritis of the spine, and gallstones.  I should mention here that all the Grave Circle B individuals submitted for forensic reconstruction were tall and robust.  

The first reconstruction was deemed too fleshy, the face of someone from the late 20th century rather than the 16th century B.C.  So the forensic artists went back and gave Sigma 131 a leaner face, with a more pained look, as he would have been in constant discomfort toward the end of his life.

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In 1951, workers renovating the so-called Tomb of Clytemnestra at Mycenae discovered a cemetery that is now known as Grave Circle B.  The burials were excavated between 1952-1954. 

Thirty-six years later, in 1987, British forensic reconstruction specialists John Prag and Richard Naeve were asked to give faces to some of the human remains.  Initially, they were asked to put faces to the skulls found by Heinrich Schliemann in Grave Circle A, hopefully to provide a glimpse of the men behind the 'Mask of Agamemnon' and the other death masks.  Unfortunately, due to the high alkaline content in the soil around Mycenae, and the haphazard archaeological techniques of Schliemann's day, not enough material remained to attempt a reconstruction.

The remains in Grave Circle B had fared slightly better, partly due to more advanced and careful archaeological practices.  Prag and Naeve reconstructed several faces, all male, with the exception of one woman whose skull was intact enough for the procedure.  Technically, she is known as Gamma 58, but the forensic team dubbed her 'Clytemnestra,' after the most famous woman of the Atreid ruling dynasty, even though she would have lived 300 years before a real-life Clytemnestra.  Her pathology indicated she was around 35 at the time of death, tall and strongly built, though slender.   She showed arthritis in the lower back as well as in her hands.  It isn't clear how she died, or whether she had any children.  

During the reconstruction, the forensic team noticed similarities between her heart-shaped features and those of her fellow grave occupant, a young man known as Gamma 55; they speculated there might be a blood relationship between the two.  Later DNA analysis confirmed that Gamma 55 and 58 were, indeed, brother and sister.  So she's really more of an 'Elektra' than a 'Clytemnestra.'   

March 2012

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