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The Pyramid of Lygourio

The existence of pyramids, or pyramidal structures, in Greece is not widely known. Their story is both peculiar and fascinating given that these buildings still constitute an obscure aspect of the huge archaeological heritage of Greece.

The pyramids of Greece are the only recognised instances of pyramidal architecture in the broader region of Europe.

There are several ancient pyramid-like buildings in southern Greece, such as the ones found near the villages Hellenikon and Lygourio.

Over the ages, the pyramid Lygourio suffered major and irreplaceable damages. Especially since the early 19th century the pyramid, built of limestone blocks, decayed to the degree that it is now almost levelled. Merely a couple of building stones have remained in their original positions; the rest were used as raw material for the construction of other buildings in Lygourio, while some stones are incorporated in the Byzantine church of Aghia Marina (St. Marina). The dimensions of the pyramid’s remains are approximately 14 by 12 m.

Location and Function

The Lygourio pyramid is located at the foot of Mount Arachnaeo, to the left side of the road leading from Argos to Epidaurus, 200 metres from the church of Aghia Marina and 1.5 km west of the village of Lygourio.There is no adequate explanation as yet of the purpose behind the construction and shape of the ancient pyramid-shaped buildings in Greece, including Lygourio pyramid.

Ancient geographer and traveller Pausanias declares that the pyramids’ purpose had been forgotten in his age but he suggests they were tombs or small military outposts.

Professor Louis E. Lord, also, presumes that the pyramids could not have been tombs, as their doors were opening from inside; nor could they be towers for fire-signalling, as their position was not elevated in order to have a broad view. Lord believes they were guardhouses, which could control the road to Tegea. However, the peculiar pyramid-like construction is a fact that remains unexplained, as there was no reason to build this form of structure for such a purpose.

Other views support that the Greek pyramids could also have an astronomical significance, or that they were sanctuaries. Other proposals suggest the view that the Argolid pyramids were erected for the defense of the region, as fortifications-guardhouses.

Historical references

Pausanias does not mention the pyramid of Lygourio at all. Its first reference derives from the ”French Scientific Mission in Moreas”. (please see below)

Dating

In 1829 the French Scientific Mission in Moreas studied the pyramid in Lygourio, along with the pyramid of Hellinikon, and published the results in 1831 – in the three tomes of Abel Blouet and Amable Ravoisie: Expédition Scientifique de Morée.

More excavations followed in the Lygourio pyramid by the American School of Classic Studies of Athens , led by R. Scranton, in 1938. Among the findings of this excavation was a stone axe (‘keltis’) dated in the Neolithic Age, that is prior to 3000 B.C. Scranton writes that ”the keltis, an isolated prehistoric artifact, does not prove the existence of a Neolithic settlement at the site. It was probably just transported there from a distant place as something curious”. However, some researchers are questioning this interpretation.

Nevertheless, most researchers and archaeologists date the Lygourio pyramid, along with the Hellinikon pyramid, around the 4th century BC. The same archaeologists consider that this reveals the relations between Egypt and Argos, a tradition reinforced by the mission of 3000 Argive mercenaries in Egypt in 349 BC. However, the Greek pyramids seem to have no relation to Egyptian ones in terms of interior plan, masonry, slope, size, etc.

Recent dating of crystals from internal surfaces of the pyramid’s limestone blocks – using the thermoluminescence dating method of rock surfaces – gave an age range of roughly 2000-2500 B.C., while a pottery fragment from Lygourio pyramid dated by thermoluminescence and optically stimulated luminescence methods dates to 660±200 BC.

Please also refer to the article on the Pyramids of the Peloponnese by our Eric Cauchi, published in Current World Archaeology Magazine, issue 80 (November 2016).

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