ATHENS (Reuters) - Archaeologists have unearthed gold jewellery, weapons and pottery at an ancient burial site near Pella in northern Greece, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, the culture ministry said on Thursday.
The excavations at the vast cemetery uncovered 43 graves dating from 650-279 BC which shed light on the early development of the Macedonian kingdom, which had an empire that stretched as far as India under Alexander's conquests.
Among the most interesting discoveries were the graves of 20 warriors dating to the late Archaic period, between 580 and 460 BC, the ministry said in a statement.
Some were buried in bronze helmets alongside iron swords and knives. Their eyes, mouths and chests were covered in gold foil richly decorated with drawings of lions and other animals symbolizing royal power.
"The discovery is rich in historical importance, shedding light on Macedonian culture during the Archaic period," Pavlos Chrysostomou, who headed the eight-year project that investigated a total of 900 graves, told Reuters.
Pavlas said the graves confirmed evidence of an ancient Macedonian society organized along militaristic lines and with overseas trade as early as the second half of the seventh century BC.
Among the excavated graves, the team also found 11 women from the Archaic period, with gold and bronze necklaces, earrings and broaches.
Nine of the graves dated to the late classical or early Hellenistic period, around the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.
Alexander, whose father Philip II unified the city states of mainland Greece, conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks before dying at the age of 32 in Babylon. Educated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, Alexander was never defeated in battle.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn and Renee Maltezou; editing by Elizabeth Piper)