The city of Tenea lies buried under normal-looking Greek countryside. The city had been lost, and people only knew of its existence because of its name in Greek myths and historical texts, such as the legend of Oedipus, the king of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother.
According to myth, the city was founded by the Trojans on the road between Corinth and Mycenae sometime around 1100BC. Oedipus was raised here after he was sent away as a baby. Tenea was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the ancient region of Corinthia in the northern Peloponnese. Until now, however, no-one knew where it was – or why it disappeared.
Tenea was discovered by Eleni Korka, a Greek American archealogist, who considers the discovery the biggest in her 40-year career.
The search for Tenea began in 1984.
Korka received a call from local villagers digging a water channel. They had hit an ancient sarcophagus and broken it in half. Korka went to look. There she found a vase-shaped coffin with paintings of lions on the inside, a skeleton and offerings to the dead. However, because of her young age and inexperience at the time, Korka was unable to get a licence for the excavation. She finally succeeded in 2010.
So far, Korka and her team have discovered more graves and in them a large number of coins. It seems that Teneans were buried with gold coins on their chest, instead of pennies in the mouth as was usual. Other finds include beautifully painted vases, engraved lanterns and metal tools used by athletes. This makes the team believe there is a stadium they have not found yet.
“Almost everything in Tenea is unique,” Korka said. “The people here were different – they were Trojans. They had their own identity.”
However, if Tenea was so rich and important, why did it disappear? Most other major ancient Greek cities, such as Sparta, Athens and Corinth, are inhabited to this day. It was unusual for a city as large as Tenea – with almost 100,000 inhabitants – to be completely abandoned.
Korka’s team says that the people of Tenea chose to leave the city after attacks from Slavic tribes. They then escaped to nearby hills. The city was then got covered by earth and slowly disappeared .
Tenea’s discovery has answered many mysteries already, such as where the city was located and perhaps why it was abandoned. But for the team, the most exciting thing is what it still may hold.
“It’s like an iceberg and we’re just hitting the tip,” Korka said. “It’s going to keep giving interesting findings for the next 100 years.”
Edited from The Discovery of the ancient Greek city of Tenea by Jessica Bateman (BBC.com)