Ancient mass grave in Greece a mystery

Archaeologists discover a mass grave in an ancient Greek cemetery, where the skeletons' wrists are clamped by iron shackles.

ATHENS (REUTERS) -The 80 or more shackled skeletal remains near downtown Athens lie silent, but they tell a tale of intrigue.

Archaeologists say they were victims of a mass execution in ancient Greece, possibly during a period of unrest in Athenian society when aristocrats battled each other for power.

Dr Stella Chryssoulaki, the head of excavations, says most of the victims were very young.

"They have been buried with respect. We are not talking about people who had a difficult life, such as slaves, nor people who were unknown to those that buried them."

One leading theory says the victims were supporters of an Olympic champion who staged a failed coup in 632 BC and fled, but whose backers were killed.

Scientists say their mass grave was discovered in a large cemetery reserved for everyday residents of ordinary neighbourhoods - not leaders or prominent figures.

"It's of particular interest in order for us to understand their daily life, the population, the state of public health, but also their views on death. You know, a cemetery is a first and last photograph in antiquity of those people that pass from life to death" said Dr Chryssoulaki.

Scientists hope DNA testing will help identify the victims; until then, the mute skeletons hold fast to their ancient story of mystery.