Chariots of archaeology: A horse-y discovery in Greece

Hold your horses: Chariot races were a big part of the original Olympic games. Archaeologists in Greece believe they have found the orginial hippodrome race track where those races were contested.
Hold your horses: Chariot races were a big part of the original Olympic games. Archaeologists in Greece believe they have found the orginial hippodrome race track where those races were contested.Courtesy A. Brady
Do you have Olympic fever yet? The Beijing Games get underway in just two weeks. And of course, there are bound to be a bunch of new events.

But what I’d like to see is a throwback to one of the old events: chariot races. The idea popped into my head today when reading this article that archaeologists in Greece may have found the ancient hippodrome – fancy term for track – used for chariot races in the original Olympics.

A team of German researchers, using geomagnetic technology to take pictures of structures under the ground, believes it has found the chariot track of Olympia. It was last visible some 1,600 years ago before it was buried in a river of mud. Get the full details here.

The geomagnetic technology has undiscovered an ancient circuit that stretches of nearly 656 feet underneath an area that’s now fields and olive groves. The next step in the process will be to do spot digs at the site to go down and find out what is actually there.

Part of the oblong track's distinctive outline was documented some seven feet (two meters) beneath fields and olive groves and extended almost 656 feet (200 meters) in length. Documents from Greek texts of the past peg the size of the chariot track at 3,444 feet long and featuring very elaborate starting gates, sharp turns and fancy distance posts.

Also, chariot racers where the only old Greeks to be clothed while competing. While other athletes competed nude, chariot drivers wore tunics.

So come on International Olympic Committee and NBC, let’s bring back the good old days of chariot races at the games. My hot tip – but don’t tell anyone you heard it from me – is to bet on the guy who looks most like Charleton Heston driving a team of white horses.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I've never heard of geo-magnetics being used to search out archaeological sites but I am really excited about this idea. I did some geomagnetic mapping of the Kenosha Kimberlite a long time ago and it was a fun project. It's just really fun to map something below the surface that you can't see with your eyes.

There are some places up on the north shore of Minnesota where you can do your own magnetic mapping experiments. There is so much iron in the rock up there that you can actually watch your compass needle get pulled towards the earth because of the overly magnetic rock. That's how these very sophisticated instruments (magnetometers) work in the story above. They measure how much extra magnetism a certain patch of ground shows compared to the earth's normal magnetic field.

posted on Fri, 07/25/2008 - 3:22pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I wonder what about the track itself would show up as magnetic? Hmm....can any of you buzz readers think of anything?

posted on Fri, 07/25/2008 - 3:24pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

I wonder if "geomagnetic technology" might also include georadar techniques. I read about this in a post titled "German archaeologists locate site of hippodrome at ancient Olympia" in The Earth Times. They credit two other specialists for the discovery.

Using modern geophysical methods, they systematically searched the area for the first time.
The experts Armin Grubert from Mainz and Christian Huebner from Freiburg, who specialize in the use of geomagnetic and geo-radar techniques, were able to map soil disturbances such as water courses, ditches, and walls.
They detected conspicuous, rectilinear structures along a stretch of almost 1,200 metres.

Georadar or ground penetrating radar (GPR) is radar that, with the aid of computers, can reveal boundaries between different materials (silt on top of hard roads).

posted on Sat, 07/26/2008 - 9:01am
GH Wellington's picture
GH Wellington says:

if they ever did have chariot racing again, i'd wonder if they would have the contestants where tunics like they did in the old days...

posted on Wed, 07/30/2008 - 10:24am

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