Talk of the Town Leads Straight to Discovery

In a cafe in Cyprus, the University of Cincinnati scholar overheard conversations about an ancient tomb. Her interest piqued, she listened intently as the locals described an apparently undisturbed archeological site. It might be only a tall tale or a local legend, Gisela Walberg thought, but what if...?

That bit of eavesdropping in the town of Episkopi led Walberg to a Late Bronze-Age tomb yielding more than 200 artifacts. She'll discuss her findings in a free lecture 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in Room 308 Blegen Library on the UC campus. The discoveries - among them a gold earring, a signet ring with a bull's head on it, and a bronze fibula or safety pin - took place during her 2002 season at Bamboula, a Bronze-Age Greek harbor town on the eastern edge of the Mycenaean world.

"I was thrilled," Walberg, a professor of classics in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, says. "I still am."

 "I had heard an awful lot of local talk about a possible tomb in the area. A woman alone going to the local cafenia is not the thing to do, but it was a good place to talk to people.

There are always fantastic stories going on around excavation sites, but this sounded more normal and more likely. There wasn't any talk of golden chariots or other fantastic things.

"I heard so much about the tomb, I thought I had better investigate. I became afraid if I didn't, someone else might - namely a looter," says Walberg, UC's Marion Rawson Professor of Aegean Prehistory.

The tomb proved to be the only one of three that had not been plundered. "Looters often smash things up, so when we came upon this tomb, where the artifacts remained in place, we knew we found something big," she says.

The large number of artifacts, found just two weeks before the field season's end, brought a big workload that had to be finished in a hurry. "We had to make sure everything that was found was tagged, catalogued, carefully packaged and stored at the nearby museum in Episkopi.

"I was worried we would not be able to deal with so much in the time we had left," Walberg says.

One rare discovery proved to be a jar, or pithos, containing unburnt human bones. Human remains were usually burned if placed in a jar. The skeletal remains belonged to someone who suffered from thalassemia, a condition that causes bones to become extremely porous - "almost like lace," Walberg says. The hereditary condition is connected to Mediterraneans, similar to the African American link to sickle cell anemia.

In addition to the discoveries in the tomb, Walberg's team found a well that yielded an impressive pottery sherd with an elaborate relief of men and bulls. The well also led to a finding that troubles Walberg: skeletal remains from 36 different dogs. "It's a puzzle. We don't know much about the place of dogs in the Greek world. There are no signs of trauma. The dogs are not old.

They're young but not puppies. It's not clear why there are so many together in this spot. There is a much later, Hellenistic well from the Agora in Athens with numerous dog skeletons together with bones of human infants, but the significance of that find is unclear, too," Walberg says.

Built at the end of a river flowing from the Troodos Mountains, Bamboula flourished between the 13th and 11th centuries B.C. Walberg and the team will return in summer 2003 for further investigations.

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