This picture has been doing the rounds on twitter. It was pointed out to me by the excellent Loretta Ross (who as it happens is a debut author!), taken from the twitter account of @History-Pics.
The skull at bottom was found inside the helmet! It was found on the plain of Marathon, where as you surely know was once fought a famous battle. The helmet and skull therefore is usually described as being from the Battle of Marathon.
So are we looking at one of the heroes of Marathon? Well, probably not. But maybe. Since my book The Marathon Conspiracy recounts the battle at once point, I thought I'd go through the pros and cons of this rather remarkable find:
First off, it's genuine. This is a for-real Corinthian helmet that dates to the time of Marathon, plus or minus a few decades. We are absolutely looking at a classical Greek warrior.
The Corinthian style was very popular so it's no problem that it was found at a place where only Athenians fought.
This helmet and skull is old news. It was discovered in the 1800s by inquisitive amateurs. They claimed they found it at Marathon. By modern standards the provenance is horribly broken. By the standards of Victorian England there's no problem; they're probably telling the truth.
After the battle the Athenians counted their dead. There were 192 fallen heroes. They were buried under a mound at the southern end of the battlefield. The dead were cremated, a little unusually for the time but not outrageously so. This skull was found elsewhere on the battlefield. The only way this could be an Athenian from the famous battle would be if the Athenians somehow managed to miss one of the dead. Since they also buried the Persian dead (their bones were found underneath a vineyard to the north of the battlefield) and since the site was revisited several times over the following days, it seems hard to believe they missed one of their own.
The Athenian casualty list was made public at the time (and parts have been recovered). If a casualty wasn't on the list, but never came home, someone was bound to say, "Where's Uncle Bob?" Bob would have been found for sure, because the men who fell at Marathon were treated like Trojan Heroes.
Here's a big problem: in those days, armour was always recovered before a burial. This was expensive stuff. It would typically go to the warrior's heir, or be snaffled by someone from the other side. It might seem a little creepy to go into battle wearing armour that someone had died in, but that's how they did it.
So for those reasons it's far from obvious that this guy fought at Marathon. He might have died on the plain any time from a few decades before to a few decades after. He probably wasn't murdered (though that thought crossed my mind) because the helmet is still there. Any criminal would have taken it.
So the skull in the helmet remains a mystery!