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Skeleton Surfaces from Mysterious Greek Tomb

Nov 12, 2014 02:43 PM EST

A skeleton has surfaced from a mysterious tomb dating back to Alexander the Great's era in Amphipolis in northern Greece, the Greek Ministry of Culture announced Wednesday, adding even more speculation around the famous site.

Excavations at the site, near the city of Thessaloniki, began in 2012. Since then archaeologists have discovered the vast tomb, guarded by two sphinxes, as well as a floor mosaic made of colored pebbles along with two sculpted female figures. These findings spurred all sorts of theories as to who was buried there, including the ancient conqueror himself or a member of his family. Though scientists know Alexander died in Babylonia - in present day Iraq - the location of his burial site remains unknown.

But this latest discovery may help to unravel the mystery behind the Greek tomb. Some experts suggest that if the remains are male - they have yet to be identified - they could belong to Hephaestion, a close friend and possible lover of Alexander the Great, or someone of high social standing.

"It is probably the monument of a dead person who became a hero, meaning a mortal who was worshipped by society at that time," the ministry said in a statement, via Reuters. "The deceased was a prominent person, since only this could explain the construction of this unique burial complex."

Archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri found the human remains about 5.3 feet beneath the floor of the third chamber in the massive tomb site, according to Discovery News. Within the 10.6 by 5.1-foot limestone grave, the team unearthed the remains of a wooden coffin, along with iron and copper nails, bone and glass fragments.

"Parts of the skeleton were found scattered within and outside of the grave. Obviously, an anthropological investigation will be carried on the remains," the Greek Ministry of Culture said in the statement.

These scattered remnants suggest that the tomb was looted.

Also, Dorothy King, a classical archaeologist not involved in the excavation, notes that the skeleton indicates that this person was of great importance. According to the scholar, most people who died abroad were buried in foreign land while those of high standing like Alexander and Hephaestion, Alexander the Great's close friend and possible lover, were embalmed to be returned.

"I think that if the bones are male, they are most likely to be those of someone like Hephaestion," King wrote in her blog.

Once archaeologists finish identifying the skeletal remains, the mystery might finally be laid to rest.

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