For several centuries ancient Athenians had been burying their dead in the potters’ quarter (Kerameikos) by the Eridanos Rover west of town. After the Persian army occupied and sacked Athens in 480 BCE, the Greek politician Themistokles persuaded the Athenians to fortify their city with walls as quickly as possible in case the Persians returned. Where these walls cut through the Kerameikos cemetery, the Athenians dismantled and reused the stone monuments and statue bases in the walls.
Twenty-four centuries later, in the Karameikos excavation Greek workmen were moving a large marble bock in the wall when they soon discovered that it was carved in low relief on three of its sides and traces of colored paint were still visible. They depict a wrestling match, a ball game, and a contest between a cat and a dog. (For a photo of the block when it was found, see Foreign Archaeological Schools in Greece, p. 78) The carving technique of portraying depth by foreshortening the bodies dated the carving to c. 500 BCE and was much admired.
Both Gilbert and Stanley Casson, the Assistant Director of the British School, sent articles about the discovery to British newspapers, and King Constantine went to see the reliefs the day after Gilbert saw them. Gilbert also took his Greek friends to see it but they did not have the same appreciation for the quality and significance of the sculpting.
Two weeks later, a similar sculpted base was discovered in the Wall depicting men playing a game with sticks, sometimes referred to as a hockey game.