Untouched tomb to unravel secrets of Cyprus's past

NICOSIA Fri May 21, 2010 3:22pm BST

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NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Locals say it could be the final resting place of Ajax's niece, contain a golden chariot and will unleash a horrible curse.

But whether a tomb recently uncovered on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus contains the bones and booty of a close relative of a Trojan war hero straight from the pages of Homer or will just yield better evidence for understanding the rituals and lives of ancient Greeks is yet to be revealed.

Construction workers in the eastern coastal town of Paralimni, popular with tourists, literally stumbled onto a rare unlooted tomb dating back to the ancient world, when they were digging up the roadside to lay new paving stones in the "Fig Tree Bay" area.

"The ground just gave way," said Andreas Evangelou, the mayor of the once sleepy fishing village, told Reuters.

Beneath the road's surface, a burial chamber, untouched by looters was awakened from thousands of years of slumber, and will now give experts the opportunity to piece together a more accurate picture of the life and rituals of the ancients.

"It's a usual tomb found in the area of Protaras, which is unlooted. We don't know yet what it is, the only unique thing is that it is unlooted, which may give us a better understanding of their life and rituals during that period," said Dr. Maria Hadjicosti, the director of Cyprus's Antiquities Department.

At least four clay coffins (sarcophagi) were found, along with the usual offerings of pottery and glassware, accompanying the dead to the next life. At least one of the clay coffins is adorned with floral motifs.

"It looks like it was in continual use because there are four sarcophagi with their remains," Evangelou said.

Local press on the east Mediterranean island have carried wild claims that the tomb belongs to an ancient princess, the daughter of King Teukros of Salamis. Salamis was once the capital of Cyprus's ten city kingdoms.

Legend has it that the king -- whose brother was Ajax and uncle was the Trojan King Priam -- ordered that his daughter be buried along with her golden throne and chariot at the point where the sun meets the sea.

But Cypriot experts do not share the local speculation on the tomb's relationship with the figures of Greek mythology.

"It is impossible to connect the content of this tomb with ancient sources," Hadjicosti said.

According to Evangelou, it is likely that this is not the only burial site in the area.

"Personally, I believe that this area is full of tombs and ancient relics, and it looks like this legend has a basis," Evangelou said.

Plans are now underway to share this glimpse into the past with visitors.

"We want to create something similar to that outside the Acropolis museum in Athens, with a glass pavement," Evangelou said.

On a darker note, the mayor said that according to the old wives' tales handed down from one generation to the next, the legend states that the person who uncovers the princess's grave site will come to a sticky end.

"That's the talk in the local coffee shop among the granddads," Evangelou said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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