The Infant Cemetery of Astypalea
Archaeological findings in construction sites are hardly news in Greece – dig a little and you’ll find houses, temples, all kinds of artifacts. Yet, nothing could prepare Astypalea locals for what was beneath the ground.
The grounds were strewn with amphorae, each containing foetuses or bodies of babies up to two years of age. It was an infant cemetery, the only one in the world, the origins of which are lost between centuries of history and Mediterranean legends.
The Infant Cemetery is a unique archaeological site located at the hill of Katsalis on the southern side of Chora, in Astypalea. It is a one-of-a-kind infant necropolis that was in use from the Geometric to the Hellenistic period and the excavations have brought to light various jar burials and bones.
The infant necropolis was found on the hill of Katsalis and specifically at the location of Kylindra at the southern outskirts of the capital. This is the first time that such an archaeological site is discovered. The cemetery was used continuously from the Geometric to the Hellenistic period.
More than 2,260 jar burials, namely burials in vessels, have been discovered. The common characteristic of the bones found is the persons’ age. All of them belong to babies or toddlers. It is considered to be an important shrine for infertility, dedicated to stillborns and lost babies, with wishes and hope that the others will survive.
Archaeologists and anthropologists from Greece and Europe often visit the cemetery to study these findings that shed light on epidemics and diseases of the Antiquity. The site is not yet open to the public. You can see the cemetery if you stand outside the fence.
It’s all boarded up, and excavation is very much a work in progress. This is an evocative place, like many on the island. A place where history, lives, legends and death have intersected, mixed and crossed over centuries, leaving a trace.