A battle wound suffered more than 2000 years ago may be helping scientists lay a 40-year-old archaeological mystery to rest. In a 4th century B.C.E. skirmish over war spoils, a lance impaled the leg of King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, killing his horse and leaving the powerful ruler lame, according to ancient literary sources. Three years later, Philip—who was probably in his mid-40s—was assassinated at his daughter’s wedding celebration, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s, when two male skeletons were excavated from a pair of royal tombs in Vergina, Greece, that researchers believed they had found the monarch’s remains. After decades of debate, many archaeologists concluded that Philip was buried in tomb II, now commonly called the “Tomb of Philip.” Among other evidence, its male skeleton bore damage to the skull, which scholars linked to an injury the ruler received when an arrow reportedly left him blind in his right eye. Now, a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may have turned that idea on its head. Using scanning and radiography to analyze the unearthed bones, a team of scientists has concluded that tomb I, not tomb II, housed the king’s remains as well as those of his roughly 18-year-old wife, Cleopatra, and their newborn child, both killed soon after Philip. The approximately 45-year-old male had leg bones that show evidence of a traumatic injury: The knee area sported a suspicious spear-sized hole, and the tibia and femur had fused together at the joint—likely a result of the penetrating wound—which would have given the owner a pronounced limp (see video). The other male skeleton bears no evidence of such a debilitating wound, casting doubt on its authenticity, the scientists say.
(Video credit: Science/AAAS)