Armour for the Achaeans: first steps in Archaeophysiology, a new discipline is born in Trikala, Greece

An innovative field of research - Archaeophysiology – has been created through a project started recently between members of the world-acclaimed School of Sports and Exercise Science (SEFAA) of the University of Thessaly, Greece and Diana and Ken Wardle of the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Birmingham.

This project is based on an accurate bronze replica of the earliest complete suit of metal armour found in Europe, which is c 3500 years old and weighs c 30kg. This Mycenaean panoply was discovered in 1960 at Dendra near Nauplion, Greece, during excavations by Dr Verdhelis for the Greek Archaeological Service and Professor Åstrom for the Swedish Institute at Athens. The original is housed in the Museum at Nauplion, whilst the accurate replica made some years ago in Birmingham under the supervision of Diana Wardle is in Trikala.

The aim of the programme is to study the loads and stresses on the human body whilst wearing and exercising in the panoply for extended periods under different climatic circumstances and simulated battle conditions. Physiological changes are recorded with the high precision equipment and expertise of the SEFAA laboratory in Trikala (the only one of its kind in Greece) with the assistance of members of the Greek Special Forces. The results will help us understand the physical fitness and diet of our ancestors three and a half millennia ago. It has also already confirmed, as Diana Wardle suggested when the replica was made, that the panoply was designed for battle rather than just ceremony. (See Petmezas below).

This programme has provided the opportunity to develop a wholly new discipline, Archaeophysiology, from two apparently unrelated sciences, archaeology and sports science. This international first is a reminder that lateral thinking can lead to unexpected and productive synergies between ‘alien’ disciplines.

The first public announcement with the preliminary results of this programme was made at the 4th International Congress on Soldiers’ Physical Performance 28 November - 1 December 2017 in Melbourne, Australia and abstracts were published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

Abstracts:

Programme Directors:

  • SEFAA, University of Thessaly, Dr Andreas Flouris
  • CAHA, University of Birmingham, Diana Wardle