The girl that put a face to distant antiquity- the reconstructed 11 year old “Myrtis” of ancient Athens, will be moved to a new home in The National Archaeological Museum as of September 13th. The nameless young girl that died and was buried in a mass grave during the plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C. will now stand next to the funerary stele of the city’s most illustrious dead that are kept in the museum.
The name Myrtis is borrowed, given to her by scientists that worked on the reconstruction of her features. Following her ‘resurrection’ nearly 2,500 years after she died of typhoid fever; the plague that also struck down the statesman Pericles and one third of all Athenians at that time , has now also been made a “Millenium Friend”. Her picture is now posted on a website supporting the UN Millenium Goals as a message to the world about disease prevention.
“My death was inevitable. In the 5th century BC we had neither the knowledge nor the means to fight deadly illnesses. However, you, the people of the 21st century, have no excuse. You possess all the necessary means and resources to save the lives of millions of people. To save the lives of millions of children like me who are dying of preventable and curable diseases. 2,500 years after my death, I hope that my message will engage and inspire more people to work and make the Millennium Development Goals a reality,” a letter posted next to her picture says.
Orthodontics professor Manolis Grigorakis was the first to conceive the project of reconstructing Myrtis. He said his team had already begun working on reconstructions of the faces of a man and woman found in the same mass grave in Kerameikos.”I am moved and happy to watch Myrtis’ journey throughout Greece. She has already been admired by some 12,000 visitors at the Goulandris Museum and I am in a position to know that most are fanatical admirers. I hope these are multiplied at the new exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens,” he stated.
The exhibition “Myrtis: Face to Face with the Past” is centred on the facial reconstruction by scientists of an 11 year old Athenian girl that lived and died in ancient Athens during the 5th century BC.
Her bones were discovered between 1994 and 1995 in a mass grave with another 150 bodies. She was found during the creation of the Kerameikos metro station . Her skull was in an unusually good condition and this inspired Professor Papagrigorakis to enlist the help of specialist scientists from Sweden to recreate her features, using the Manchester facial reconstruction technique.
The final result, wearing a linen dress made especially for the purpose by Greek fashion designer Sophia Kokosalaki based on images of clothing styles of that time, forms the backbone of an exhibition that explores both the various stages of a facial reconstruction. It also exhibits the finds uncovered by archaeologists at Kerameikos, which date around 430-426 B.C. The findings are linked with the plague that contributed to Athens’ defeat from Sparta during the Peloponnesian Wars.
Scientists decided to give Myrtis brown eyes and brown hair and arranged her in a Classical era style. Scientists stressed that her true colours could only be discovered by expensive DNA analysis that has not yet been carried out.
DNA analysis techniques have confirmed that Myrtis and two other bodies in the mass grave had died of typhoid fever. This supports general theories about the historic plague.