updated 2/13/2006 12:21:43 PM ET 2006-02-13T17:21:43

Archaeologists have unearthed a massive tomb in the northern Greek town of Pella, capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The eight-chambered tomb dates to the Hellenistic Age between the 4th and 2nd century B.C., and is the largest of its kind ever found in Greece. The biggest multichambered tombs until now contained three chambers.

The 678-square-foot (63-square-meter) tomb hewn out of rock was discovered by a farmer plowing his field on the eastern edge of the ancient cemetery of Pella, some 370 miles (590 kilometers) north of Athens, archaeologists said.

"This is the largest and most monumental tomb of its kind ever found in Greece," said Maria Akamati, who led the excavations.

Archaeologists believe the tomb — filled with dozens of votive clay pots and idols, copper coins and jewelry — will shed light on the culture of Macedonia in the period that followed Alexander's conquest of Asia.

Alexander's empire, which stretched from Greece to Asia, broke into separate kingdoms upon his death in 323 B.C., as his generals battled over the remains of the ancient world's greatest empire.

Similar tombs from the same era have been discovered on Crete, Cyprus and Egypt, which was ruled by a Greek dynasty founded by Ptolemy, Alexander's general.

The tomb's size suggests it belonged to a wealthy Macedonian family, Akamati said.

The tomb, believed to have been used for two centuries, was probably plundered in antiquity as most of the artifacts were strewn by the entrance to the chambers, Akamati said.

The complex is dominated by a central area surrounded by eight chambers colored in red, blue and gold dyes. Three inscribed stone slabs inside bear the names of their female owners — Antigona, Kleoniki and Nikosrati. A relief on one of the slabs depicts a women and her servant.

The discovery was confirmed on Friday by a senior archaeologist responsible for the Pella site and will be presented at an Archaeological Conference in Thessaloniki that begins Thursday.

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