Lefkandi (Greece)

A Hero's Burial in Dark Age Greece

Heroon at Toumba, Lefkandi
Heroon at Toumba, Lefkandi. Pompilos

Lefkandi is the best-known archaeological site from Dark Age Greece (1200–750 B.C.E.), consisting of the remains of a village and associated cemeteries located near the modern village of Eretria on the southern shore of the island of Euboea (known as Evvia or Evia). An important element of the site is what scholars have interpreted as a heroon, a temple dedicated to a hero. 

Lefkandi was founded in the Early Bronze Age, and was occupied nearly continuously between approximately 1500 and 331 B.C.E.

Lefkandi (called by its residents Lelanton) was one of the locations settled by the Mycenaeans after the fall of Knossos. The occupation is unusual in that its residents seemed to have carried on with the prevailing Mycenaean social structure while the rest of Greece fell into disarray.

Life in the "Dark Age"

At its height during the so-called "Greek Dark Age" (12th–8th century B.C.E.), the village at Lefkandi was a large but scattered settlement, a loose cluster of houses and hamlets scattered over a wide area, with a fairly low population.

At least six cemeteries were discovered on Euboea, dated between 1100–850 B.C.E. Grave goods in the burials included gold and luxury goods from the Near East, such as Egyptian faience and bronze jugs, Phoenician brown bowls, scarabs, and seals. Burial 79, known as the "Euboean Warrior Trader", particularly held a wide range of pottery, iron and bronze artifacts, and a set of 16 trader's balance weights.

Over time, the burials became increasingly rich in gold and imports until 850 B.C.E., when the burials abruptly ceased, even though the settlement continued to thrive.

One of these cemeteries is called Toumba because it was located on the lower east slope of the Toumba hillock. Excavations by the Greek Archaeological Service and the British School at Athens between 1968 and 1970 found 36 tombs and 8 pyres: their investigations continue to this day.

Toumba's Proto-Geometric Heröon

Within the limits of the Toumba cemetery was discovered a large building with substantial walls, Proto-geometric in date, but partly destroyed before it could be fully excavated. This structure, believed to be a heröon (a temple dedicated to a warrior), was 10 meters (33 feet) wide and at least 45 m (150 ft) long, erected on a leveled platform of rock. Parts of the remaining wall stand 1.5 m (5 ft) high, constructed by a substantial interior of rough-shaped stones with a mud-brick superstructure and an interior facing of plaster.

The building had a porch on the east face and an ovoid apse at the west; its interior held three rooms, the largest, central room measuring 22 m (72 ft) long and two smaller square rooms at the apsidal end. The floor was made of clay laid directly on rock or on a shallow shingle bedding. It had a roof of reeds, supported by a row of central posts, rectangular timbers of 20–22 cm wide and 7–8 cm thick, set into circular pits. The building was used for a short time, between 1050 and 950 B.C.E.

The Heröon Burials

Below the center room, two rectangular shafts extended deep into the bedrock. The northern-most shaft, cut 2.23 m (7.3 ft) below the rock surface, held the skeletal remains of three or four horses, apparently thrown or driven head first into the pit.

The southern shaft was deeper, 2.63 m (8.6 ft) below the central room floor. The walls of this shaft were lined with mudbrick and faced with plaster. A small adobe and wooden structure was in one of the corners.

The southern shaft held two burials, an extended burial of a woman between 25–30 years, with a gold and faience necklace, gilt hair coils and other gold and iron artifacts; and a bronze amphora holding the cremated remains of a male warrior, aged 30–45. These burials suggested to the excavators that the building above was a heröon, a temple built to honor a hero, warrior or king. Under the floor east of the burial shaft was found an area of rock scorched by a fierce fire and containing a circle of postholes, believed to represent the pyre on which the hero was cremated.

Recent Findings

The exotic material goods at Lefkandi make one of the few examples in so-called Dark Age Greece (more properly the Early Iron Age) that contained imported goods.

No such goods appear anywhere else either on or near mainland Greece in such a quantity at such an early period. That exchange continued even after the burials ceased. The presence of trinkets—small, inexpensive imported artifacts such as faience scrabs—in burials suggests to classical archaeologist Nathan Arrington that they were used as personal talismans by most people in the community, rather than as objects signifying elite status.

Archaeologist and architect Georg Herdt argues that the Toumba building was not as grand an edifice as has been reconstructed. The diameter of the support posts and the width of the mudbrick walls suggest that the building had a lower and narrower roof. Some scholars had suggested the Toumba was ancestral to a Greek temple with a peristasis; Herdt suggests that the origin of the Greek temple architecture is not on Lefkandi.

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