Missing: Alexander the Great's Father

An ancient tomb in northern Greece stirred up excitement when archeologists identified what they claimed were the remains of the father of Alexander the Great. Philip II, although outshone by his son, started the expansion of the Macedonian empire, and he enlisted Aristotle to tutor his precocious prince, who went on to conquer most of the known world in the 4th century B.C. Now a paper in the 21 April Science disputes the identification, arguing that the bones belonged to Philip's son (and Alex's half-brother), Philip III Arrhidaeus.

There is general agreement that the Great Tumulus of Vergina, originally excavated by Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronicos in 1977, was a burial ground for some members of Alexander's royal family. One tomb almost certainly contains the remains of Alexander's only son, who was murdered at a young age. A team including anatomist Jonathan H. Musgrave of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom concluded in 1984 that markings on the skull and other bones of another set of remains appeared to correlate with injuries reportedly suffered by Philip II, including an arrow wound to his right eye during the siege of Methone in 354 B.C., 18 years before his assassination.

But Greek paleoanthropologist Antonis Bartsiokas, the director of Greece's Anaximandrian Institute of Human Evolution and an assistant professor at Democritus University of Thrace, says his new close-ups of the bones, taken in 1998, do not reveal such damage. He scrutinized the bones to see whether the previously reported "notch" and "bone pimple" on the skull were consistent with healed wounds from an arrow injury. He rejects this hypothesis, reporting that the marks "bear no evidence of healing or callus formation" and are simply normal anatomical features. Instead, he claims the bones once supported Philip III Arrhidaeus, who ruled for 6 years after Alexander's death and was murdered in 317 B.C. Philip III was buried for about 6 months before his exhumation and cremation, and the tomb bones appear to have been burned sometime after the body's demise.

Musgrave is sticking to his story. He insists that the facial bones he examined before his 1984 identification of Philip II showed signs of healed wounds. The bones may have degraded since then, he says.

Posted in Archaeology