At least 80 skeletons lie in a mass grave in an ancient Greek cemetery, their wrists clamped by iron shackles.
They are the victims, say archaeologists, of a mass execution. But who they were, how they got there and why they appear to have been buried with a measure of respect – that all remains a mystery.
They were found earlier this year in part of the Faliron Delta necropolis – a large ancient cemetery unearthed during the construction of a national opera house and library between downtown Athens and the port of Piraeus.
Few people have been able to get in to have a close look.
But on a rare tour of the site, archaeologists carefully showed Reuters the skeletons, some lying in a long neat row in the dug-out sandy ground, others piled on top of each other, arms and legs twisted with their jaws hanging open.
“They have been executed, all in the same manner. But they have been buried with respect,” Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki, head of excavations, said.
“They are all tied at the hands with handcuffs and most of them are very very young and in a very good state of health when they were executed.”
The experts hope DNA testing and research by anthropologists will uncover exactly how the rows of people died. Whatever happened was violent – most had their arms bound above their heads, the wrists tied together.
But the orderly way they have been buried suggest these were more than slaves or common criminals.
The cemetery dates from between the 8th and 5th century BC.
“It is a period of great unrest for Athenian society, a period where aristocrats, nobles, are battling with each other for power,” said Chryssoulaki.
One of the strongest theories is that they were supporters of Cylon, an Athenian noble and Olympic champion who staged an attempted coup in Athens in 632 BC with the help of his father-in–law, the tyrant of Megara.
The coup failed and Cylon hid in a temple on the Acropolis. He managed to escape, but the people who supported him were killed.