The pyramids of Greece

“The existence of pyramids, or rather pyramid-like buildings, in Greece has not been widely known, as most people, even most researchers worldwide know only of the Egyptian pyramids. Yet, it seems that there are several ancient pyramid-like buildings in southern Greece, the most impressive of which is the structure near the village Hellinikon in Argolis (Eastern Peloponnese). Some of these buildings have suffered major and irreparable damages (…)

In the literature for this topic, the following pyramids are mentioned in
Greece (Lazos, 1995):

Name / Locality / Remarks

1. Hellinikon / Hellinikon and Kephalari / The best-preserved one
2. Ligourio / Epidaurus / Only its base exists
3. Dalamanara / Epidaurus / Only traces remain
4. Kambia = tower for fire-signaling / Nea Epidaurus / Preserved to some height
5. Sikyon (?) / Corinthia (?) / Only traces remain (?)
6. Viglafia / Neapoli (Laconia) / Only its base exists
7. Amfio / near Thebes (Thiva) / scalar

In addition to the above, two other singular structures have been referred to as pyramid-like buildings: the cone-like pyramid in Chania (Crete), and the Rock Pyramid forming the peak of Mt. Taygetos; however, the latter is just the natural peak of the mountain, the tallest in Peloponnese (2,407 m). Prof. I. Liritzis (1995 & 1997), assiduous researcher of such ancient megalithic structures, supports the view that there are over 20 ancient Greek pyramids; they refer to pyramid-like structures in Astros (in Kynouria, to the south of Argolis), in Neochori of Phthiotida (they even date it in 11,000 BC), in Agios Andreas of Mt. Parnassos, in Vathy (of Avlis, in northern Boeotia), and in other places.

(NovoScriptorium: Below, one can see the cone-like ‘pyramid’ of Chania-Crete)

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From all the above structures, only the Hellinikon pyramid to the southeastern
edge of Argive plain is preserved in a relatively good condition.

(…) the Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century AD, mentions the Hellinikon pyramid in his Corinthiaka (2, 25, 7):

Traveling from Argus to the region of Epidaurus, there is a building to the right that resembles very much a pyramid and bears relief carved shields of the shape of the Argolic shields. In this place Proetus had battled with Acrisius for the throne and they say that the battle ended without a winner; for this reason they were later reconciled, as none could achieve a decisive victory. It is said that this was the first time that men and armies equipped with shields clashed; for those that fell in this battle from both armies, since they were compatriots and even relatives, a common tomb was built in that place.

Thus, according to Pausanias, the pyramid was a common tomb, built most probably by Proetus and Acrisius for the soldiers who died in a battle between them; a battle in which soldiers used shields for the first time. This reference to mythical figures (Proetus, Acrisius) indicates that the building was considered to be very old.

Pausanias also mentions (Corinthiaka 2, 24, 7) that in adjacent areas there were some polyandria (mass tombs) of the Argives killed in the battle against the Spartans that was held in Hysiae (an acropolis next to the modern village Akhladocampos) in 669 BC:

And polyandria exist here for Argives who won in a battle against the Lacedaemonians near Hysiae” (Corinthiaka 2, 24, 7).

So the ancient author considered the ’pyramid’ as one of these burial monuments.

(…) The pyramids found in Greece are the only cases of pyramidal architecture in the broader European region.

(…) In 1829 the French Scientific Mission in Moreas (Peloponnese) studied the two pyramids (in villages Hellinikon and Ligourio) and published the results in 1831 – in the three tomes of Abel Blouet and Ravoisié, Amable: Expedition Scientifique de Morée, vol. II, 107.

In 1901, Th. Wiegand conducted a preliminary excavation (the first one, 1901, pp. 241-246) of the Hellinikon pyramid.

(…) More excavations followed in the Hellinikon pyramid by R. Ehrich and Mrs. Ann Hoskin-Ehrich, on August 1937, of the American School of Classic Studies and Archaeology in Athens, while at about the same time R. Scranton (1938) was excavating the Ligourio pyramid. Louis Lord, then director of the American School of Classic Studies in Athens, edited the report (1938, pp. 481-527) of these excavations based on the conclusions of the three archaeologists mentioned above, while he subsequently researched himself and discovered several buildings in Argolis, mainly square archaic towers, which were most probably the polyandria of Pausanias (Lord, 1939, pp. 78-84).

Amongst the findings in the pyramid of Hellinikon were a big pithos, the floor of the long corridor and the room, re-carved from repairs entrance door and parts of the wall, infill from earlier excavations, some ceramics of Protohelladic II period (2800-2500 BC), also room foundations and mortals from later uses of the pyramid, as well as mixture disturb sediments with ceramics of classical period, such as lamps, house ware and few coarse shards of doubtful age and some roman lamps. The infill at the floor varies between 20-60 cm (Lord, 1938, pp. 508-538).

Louis Lord considers that the pyramids were not tombs, because their doors were opening from inside; nor were they towers for fire-signaling, as they were not built in elevated positions with a view. Lord believes they were posts capable of housing a guard of a few men, which could control the road to Tegea. However, he stresses that the peculiar pyramid-like construction is a fact that remains unexplained (1938). There wasn’t a reason to build this form of structure for this purpose, as an outpost with a small wall would be the normal thing to do.

(…) The German archaeologist S. Oppermann, with a relative publication in German (1971, pp. 45-52), made known the two pyramids, in Hellinikon and Ligourio, to a wider Germanspeaking public, without adding something to the topic from a research point of view.

(NovoScriptorium: Below, on can see the best preserved pyramid in Hellinikon)

nea-acropoli-greek-pyramids

After about 15 years followed the researcher and author Christos Lazos, with two publications on Greek pyramids (1984, 1987), and an article by Helena Fracchia of the University of Toronto (1985, pp. 683-689), in 1986 Professor I. Liritzis published his book Archaeometry – Methods of dating in archaeology, and in 1994 the civil engineer V. Katsiadramis made a static study of the two pyramids and the corresponding figures (1994, pp. 9215-9236). In 1994 appear a paper by Professor Ioannis Liritzis and another one by the academician Theocharis et al. (1994, pp. 399-405) and the two books, again by archaeometrist Professor Ioannis Liritzis (1995) and by author C. Lazos (1995), which exhaust the topic from the descriptive point of view. Finally, Professor Ioannis Liritzis, in 1997, published an article about the mystery of these pyramids and similarly Professor Theodore Spiropoulos (2003).

In practical, the real research work on the Greek pyramids started under the supervision of the archaeometrist Professor Ioannis Liritzis and his group.

The dating of the pyramid was approached through five sub-projects:

1) Geophysical prospection inside and around the two main pyramids at Hellenikon and Ligourio, where buried monuments were discovered (Theocharis et. al., 1997, pp. 593-618).

2) The results of the above team directed the archaeological excavations carried out by archaeologist A. Sampson (1996, pp. 56-61) and archaeologists of the Archaeological Museum of Nauplion (Pikoulas, 1996, pp. 60-63; Piteros, 1995, pp. 11-13, and Piteros, 1998, pp. 344-394). Amongst the new findings were foundations of rooms, ceramics of Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Protochristian periods, and Protohelladic II in the exterior foundations of Hellenikon pyramid above the bedrock. A comparative study of masonries was also made (Liritzis, 1995 & 1997, pp. 32-34).

3) Astronomical orientation of the long entrance corridor was found related to the rise of Orion’s belt occurring in circa 2000-2400 BC (Liritzis, 1998, pp. 10-21).

4) The dating of some parts of the over lied large megalithic blocks in the wall, with the novel thermoluminescence dating method of rock surfaces. Sampling was chosen for their firmness and lack of sun exposure of internal contact surfaces, by removing a few milligrams of powder from pieces in firm contact. Seven pieces gave an age range of circa 2000-2500 BC. Liritzis, 1994a, pp. 603-604; 1994b, 361-366; Theocharis et al. 1994, 399-405), while two ceramic shards of non-diagnostic typology one from Hellenikon and one from Ligourio pyramids dated by TL (ThermoLuminescence) and OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) gave concordant ages of 3000±250 BC and 660±200 BC respectively (Liritzis et al., 1994, pp. 189-198). The novel dating method has been well published by the initiator and others Liritzis et al. 1997, pp. 479-496); Liritzis and Galloway, 1999, pp. 361-368; Habermann, 2000, pp. 847-851; Greilich et al. 2005, pp. 645-665; Morgenstein et al. 2003, pp. 503-518; Liritzis and Vafiadou, 2005, pp. 25-38).

5) The mythological genealogy of Argolid has been cautiously interpreted. It involves Inachus and his deluge and his descendants of Proetus and Acrissius that according to ancient traveler Pausanias (2nd c. AD) they fought for domination but had a draw and erected Hellenikon pyramid, shown to be at c. 2800 BC (Zangger, 1993; Liritzis and Raftopoulou, 1999, pp. 87-99)

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(…) the Greek pyramids seem to have no relation to Egyptian ones (interior plan, masonry, slope, size), though there were trade contacts between the people of SE Mediterranean evidenced at least by the early presence of Minoans, Myceneans and later on Greek colonizations, in the West, Asia Minor and the Levant and Egypt, e.g. Tel Kabri, Avaris, Meggido etc. (Barbara and Wolf-Dietrich Neimeier, 1997, pp. 763-802).

(…) The Argolis pyramids continue to attract the interest of researchers. Professor
I. Liritzis in his book (1995) argues that their megaliths were used as construction materials for churches and for lime production, in order to explain the reason for the disappearance of the Astros, Sikyon and Viglafia pyramids, which were reported by foreign travelers in early 19th century (…)

The Hellinikon pyramid

The Hellinikon pyramid is located 5 to 6 km to the southeastern edge of the plain of Argolid, in the direction of the ancient road to Arcadia, between the villages Hellinikon and Kefalari, where the Erasinos River sources are (nowadays Kephalari). This is the best preserved pyramid.

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(…) However, archaeometric measurements based on optical thermoluminescence
conducted by prof. I. Liritzis at the Nuclear Dating Laboratory of the University of Edinburgh and at the Archaeometry Laboratory of Democritos Center (Theocharis et al. 1995) showed that at least the Hellinikon pyramid is much older: circa 2700 BC.

The Ligourio pyramid

The Ligourio pyramid is located in the foot of Mt. Arachnaeo, to the left side of the road leading from Argos to Epidaurus, 1.5 km West of the village of Ligourio. Its dimensions are approximately 14 (north side) x 12 x 12 x 12m. Pausanias does not mention this pyramid at all and the first reference to it comes from the ”French Scientific Mission in Moreas” (Blouet, A. and Ravoisié, A., 1831). In the years that passed since the early 19th century the pyramid, made of sandstone blocks, deteriorated to the point it is now almost leveled.

πυραμίδα λιγουριό

The first excavations in the region were conducted by the American School of Classic Studies of Athens, from 9 to 18 December 1936 and later from 1 to 9 August 1937.

Among the findings of the 1937 excavation, led by R. Scranton (1938, 7.4, pp. 528-538), was a stone axe (keltis) dated in the Neolithic Age, that is prior to 3000 BC, a most intriguing fact that created certain connotations.

(…) In 1995 academician Petros Theocharis and his colleagues announced that the optical thermoluminescence method gives an age for the Ligourio pyramid of 4100 ± 600 years, that is it was built circa 2100 BC or about 600 years ’younger’ than the Hellinikon pyramid as dated with the same method, although as far as it can be discerned the two pyramids are very similar.

(…) When excavations were made around the Greek pyramids in the early 1900s,
pottery fragments from the 4th century BC were found, and it was presumed that the pyramids were also constructed then; that is, about the time of Alexander the Great. Recent dating of crystals from internal surfaces of the limestone blocks using thermoluminescence puts the construction times back two millennia. The Hellenikon pyramid dates to 2730 B.C.; the Ligourio, to 2100 BC. This means that the Greek pyramids were built in roughly the same time frame as the Egyptian pyramids (Hammond, 1997).

(…) For the Greek pyramids, the case is still open. We believe that a coordinated effort of archaeologists, historians, astronomers, architects and archaeometrists is needed in order to reach definite conclusions as far as the use of the pyramid-like structures in Greece is concerned.”

[Source: the very informative paper “The pyramids of Greece: Ancient meridian
observatories?” (Bulgarian Astronomical Journal 16, 2011), by Efstratios Theodossiou,Vassilios N. Manimanis, Milan S. Dimitrijevic, Marco Katsiotis]

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Additionally, we present now the ‘Abstract‘ of the paper [“Dating of Two Hellenic Pyramids by a Novel Application of Thermoluminescence” (Journal of Archaeological Science (1997) 24, 399–405), by P. S. Theocaris, I. Liritzis, R. B. Galloway] where the dating of the two structures in Hellinikon and Ligourio is presented:

Abstract

A new variant of thermoluminescence dating has been employed to determine the age of construction of two pyramids, one at Hellenikon and the other at Ligourio in Argolid, Peloponnese, Greece. The dating technique concerns the inter-block surfaces of the limestone building blocks and relies on the electron traps responsible for thermoluminescence in the surface layer of the carved limestone blocks having been bleached by sunlight prior to the blocks being incorporated into the structure. Nine determinations of age have been made, complemented by one which relates to a Mycenean wall of known age. From the average ages, the date of construction of the Hellenikon pyramid was found to be 2730 +/- 720 BC and of the Ligourio pyramid 2260 +/- 710 BC. The date of the Mycenean wall was determined as 1110 +/- 340 BC, in agreement, within the measurement uncertainty, with the established date of 1280 BC. However, the pyramids were previously attributed to Classical/Hellenistic times, mainly on the basis of some in situ pottery finds. The present dating approach revises the age of the pyramids and shows them to be prehistoric.

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Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

 

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