At the summit of a mist-shrouded hill, archaeologists investigate the remnants of ancient walls built by settlers thousands of years ago. But as they trace the scattered relics, an astonishing picture emerges. Their discovery, as it turned out, was far bigger than any of them had expected.
Vlochos is a little village located 190 miles north of Athens, Greece. And just south of the settlement stands an isolated hill known as Strongilovoúni, which has recently caused quite a stir.
For 200 years, archaeologists have known of a scattering of ancient remains located on the hill. Indeed, the outlines of walls and buildings are clearly seen, which suggests that people once called this place home.
However, in the archaeological playground that is modern-day Greece, most researchers thought Strongilovoúni wasn’t that important. In fact, western Thessaly, the region where Vlochos is located, was likely a sleepy backwater in ancient times.
However, in 2015 Robin Ronnlund, a classical archaeology and ancient history Ph.D. student at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, stumbled across the site. And with a colleague at the university, he decided to take a closer look.
The pair, alongside a local archaeological team and Athens’ Swedish Institute, subsequently formed the Vlochos Archaeological Project. Moreover, amazingly, they discovered that Strongilovoúni wasn’t just home to an ancient settlement. In fact, an entire, long-forgotten city once flourished here.
In September 2016 Ronnlund and his colleagues arrived at Strongilovoúni for a two-week field project. And during it they uncovered evidence that the hill’s ruins were, in fact, part of something far more significant than anyone had imagined.
Why, then, had the ruins been largely ignored for so long? Well, one reason could be that so few of them are visible when the hill is looked at from below. It’s only when the vantage point is changed that things start to get really, really interesting.
On the summit, some 700 feet above the surrounding plains, archaeologists found evidence of walls, towers and city gates. And they later estimated that this hilltop settlement once covered 40 hectares.
Ronnlund and his team reckoned, in fact, that the settlement was pretty sophisticated. “We found a town square and a street grid that indicate we are dealing with quite a large city,” he said in a University of Gothenburg statement in December 2016.
At some points, the ancient fortifications towered up to 8 feet over the ruined city. There was also evidence that the slopes below the summit were once home to an extension of the settlement. Deposits from a nearby river, however, now cover much of the remains.
Impressively, the team managed to make their observations without doing any damage. Indeed, instead of excavating, they used non-invasive techniques such as ground-penetrating radar to observe the extent of the remains.
And as well as structural discoveries, such as walls and foundations, Ronnlund and his colleagues found other, more personal remnants. Pottery and coins, for example, were uncovered, with one fragment featuring a delicate portrait of a man.
But just how old are this incredible lost city and its intriguing leftover artefacts? Well, according to Ronnlund, following his analysis of the discoveries, the settlement itself could date back some 2,500 years.
“Our oldest finds are from around 500 [BCE],” Ronnlund explained. “But the city seems to have flourished mainly from the fourth to the third century BCE before it was abandoned for some reason, maybe in connection with the Roman conquest of the area.”
The archaeologists’ finds are particularly impressive given that they were made within a fortnight. Now, Ronnlund and his team hope that their project can continue to uncover clues about what was one of ancient Greece’s most violent eras.
“Very little is known about ancient cities in the region,” he continued. “Our project fills an important gap in the knowledge about the area and shows that a lot [of] remains [await] to be discovered in the Greek soil.”
Interestingly, too, although news outlets quickly reported on Strongilovoúni’s story, Vlochos Archaeological Project explained that the remains have long been known about – and that, over the years, various theories have emerged to explain their existence.
The 2016 investigation is, however, the first to have declared the ruined settlement a city. And responding to the subsequent media circus in December 2016, Vlochos Archaeological Project wryly reflected on the strange nature of fame.
“The world of international media,” it said, “is somewhat different to that of international archaeology.” Ronnlund and his team, meanwhile, hope to return to Strongilovoúni in 2017 to find more evidence of a city that, if not lost, has certainly been overlooked for far too long.