NEWSFLASH! UC Archaeologists Find Gold-Lined Tombs of Mycenaean Era in Pylos, Greece

Announcing their spectacular news on Tuesday (17 December 2019) in Greece, archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker of University of Cincinnati’s Classics Department shared photos and information of two newly-unearthed Bronze Age tholos tombs in Pylos, Greece.

Located in the same vicinity as the globally-acclaimed tomb of the “Griffin Warrior” which Davis and Stocker unearthed in 2015, the two new beehive-shaped tombs likewise offered up a treasure trove of jewelry and engraved artifacts.

Massive amounts of gold foil littered the tomb floors but had once actually lined the walls of these royal resting places dating back to the Mycenaean civilization of Agamemnon, Achilles, and especially wise old King Nestor.

UC archaeologists discovered two Bronze Age family tombs near the grave of the Griffin Warrior, a Greek military leader who was buried with armor, weapons and jewelry. The round tombs, called Tholos VI and VII, at one time were lined with gold foil and contained artifacts that could shed new light on life in ancient Greece

UC archaeologists discovered two Bronze Age family tombs near the grave of the Griffin Warrior, a Greek military leader who was buried with armor, weapons, and jewelry. The round tombs, called Tholos VI and VII, at one time were lined with gold foil and contained artifacts that could shed new light on life in ancient Greece. Aerial photo by Denitsa Nenova of UC Classics via UC News

Although there are many articles circulating about this historically significant archaeological dig, in this post you’ll find all the exciting details, full-size photos, and relevant links about UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker’s newly unearthed Mycenaean era tombs and stunning golden artifacts recently found in Pylos. Enjoy!


Archaeologists Find Bronze Age Tombs Lined With Gold

An aerial view of the site shows the Tholos IV tomb, far left, found by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939 in relation to the two family tombs called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, uncovered last year by UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker

An aerial view of the site shows the Tholos IV tomb, far left, found by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939 in relation to the two family tombs called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, uncovered last year by UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker. Aerial photo by Denitsa Nenova of UC Classics via UC News

The family tombs are near the 2015 site of the ‘Griffin Warrior,’ a military leader buried with armor, weapons, and jewelry

Date: December 17, 2019
Source: University of Cincinnati

 

Archaeologists with the University of Cincinnati have discovered two Bronze Age tombs containing a trove of engraved jewelry and artifacts that promise to unlock secrets about life in ancient Greece.

The UC archaeologists announced the discovery Tuesday in Greece.

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, archaeologists in UC’s classics department, found the two beehive-shaped tombs in Pylos, Greece, last year while investigating the area around the grave of an individual they have called the “Griffin Warrior,” a Greek man whose final resting place they discovered nearby in 2015.

Like the Griffin Warrior’s tomb, the princely tombs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea also contained a wealth of cultural artifacts and delicate jewelry that could help historians fill in gaps in our knowledge of early Greek civilization.

UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker found several gold pieces including this double argonaut

UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker found several gold pieces including this double argonaut. Photo by Jeff Vanderpool of UC Classics via UC News

UC’s team spent more than 18 months excavating and documenting the find. The tombs were littered with flakes of gold leaf that once papered the walls.

“Like with the Griffin Warrior grave, by the end of the first week we knew we had something that was really important,” said Stocker, who supervised the excavation.

“It soon became clear to us that lightning had struck again,” said Davis, head of UC’s classics department.

The Griffin Warrior is named for the mythological creature — part eagle, part lion — engraved on an ivory plaque in his tomb, which also contained armor, weaponry and gold jewelry. Among the priceless objects of art was an agate seal stone depicting mortal combat with such fine detail that Archaeology magazine hailed it as a “Bronze Age masterpiece.”

A tiny sealstone from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior found by UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker depicts mortal combat in exquisite detail. Archaeology Magazine called the seal stone "a Bronze Age masterpiece."

A tiny seal stone from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior found by UC archaeologists Davis and Stocker depicts mortal combat in exquisite detail. Archaeology Magazine called the seal stone “a Bronze Age masterpiece.” Photo by UC Classics via UC News

Artifacts found in the princely tombs tell similar stories about life along the Mediterranean 3,500 years ago, Davis said. A gold ring depicted two bulls flanked by sheaves of grain, identified as barley by a paleobotanist who consulted on the project.

“It’s an interesting scene of animal husbandry — cattle mixed with grain production. It’s the foundation of agriculture,” Davis said. “As far as we know, it’s the only representation of grain in the art of Crete or Minoan civilization.”

A 3500-year old gold ring found in the family tombs at Pylos depicts bulls and barley. Archaeologists believe it's the first known depiction of domestic animals and agriculture in a single artwork from ancient Greece

A 3500-year old gold ring found in the family tombs at Pylos depicts bulls and barley. Archaeologists believe it’s the first known depiction of domestic animals and agriculture in a single artwork from ancient Greece. Photo by Jeff Vanderpool of UC Classics via UC News

Like the grave of the Griffin Warrior, the two family tombs contained artwork emblazoned with mythological creatures. An agate seal stone featured two lion-like creatures called genii standing upright on clawed feet. They carry a serving vase and an incense burner, a tribute for the altar before them featuring a sprouting sapling between horns of consecration, Stocker said.

Above the genii is a 16-pointed star. The same 16-pointed star also appears on a bronze and gold artifact in the grave, she said.

A semiprecious carnelian seal stone of two genii, lionlike mythological creatures holding serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar and below a 16-pointed star. On the right is a putty impression made from the seal

A semiprecious carnelian seal stone of two genii, lionlike mythological creatures holding serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar and below a 16-pointed star. On the right is a putty impression made from the seal. Photo by Jeff Vanderpool of UC Classics via UC News

“It’s rare. There aren’t many 16-pointed stars in Mycenaean iconography. The fact that we have two objects with 16 points in two different media (agate and gold) is noteworthy,” Stocker said.

The genius motif appears elsewhere in the East during this period, she said.

“One problem is we don’t have any writing from the Minoan or Mycenaean time that talks of their religion or explains the importance of their symbols,” Stocker said.

UC’s team also found a gold pendant featuring the likeness of the Egyptian goddess Hathor.

Gold pendant in the newly unearthed tholos tomb at Pylos featuring Hathor, an Egyptian goddess protector of the dead

Gold pendant in the newly unearthed tholos tomb at Pylos featuring Hathor, an Egyptian goddess protector of the dead. Photo by Vanessa Muro UC Classics via UC News

“Its discovery is particularly interesting in light of the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead,” Davis said.

The identity of the Griffin Warrior is a matter for speculation. Stocker said the combination of armor, weapons, and jewelry found in his tomb strongly indicate he had military and religious authority, likely as the king known in later Mycenaean times as a wanax.

Likewise, the princely tombs paint a picture of accumulated wealth and status, she said. They contained amber from the Baltic, amethyst from Egypt, imported carnelian and lots of gold. The tombs sit on a scenic vista overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on the spot where the Palace of Nestor would later rise and fall to ruins.

Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939

Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939. Photo by UC Classics via UC News

“I think these are probably people who were very sophisticated for their time,” she said. “They have come out of a place in history where there were few luxury items and imported goods. And all of a sudden at the time of the first tholos tombs, luxury items appear in Greece.

“You have this explosion of wealth. People are vying for power,” she said. “It’s the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece.”

The antiquities provide evidence that coastal Pylos was once an important destination for commerce and trade.

Map of Mycenaean Greece, ca. 1250 BCE, showing trade routes

Map of Mycenaean Greece, ca. 1250 BCE, showing trade routes. Source: linearbknossosmycenae.com

“If you look at a map, Pylos is a remote area now. You have to cross mountains to get here. Until recently, it hasn’t even been on the tourist path,” Stocker said. “But if you’re coming by sea, the location makes more sense. It’s on the way to Italy. What we’re learning is that it’s a much more central and important place on the Bronze Age trade route.”

Pylos site map showing the family tombs in relation to the tomb of the Griffin Warrior and the Palace of Nestor

Pylos site map showing the family tombs in relation to the tomb of the Griffin Warrior and the Palace of Nestor. Photo by Denitsa Nenova of UC Classics via UC News

The princely tombs sit close to the palace of Nestor, a ruler mentioned in Homer’s famous works “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” The palace was discovered in 1939 by the late UC Classics professor Carl Blegen.

Blegen had wanted to excavate in the 1950s in the field where Davis and Stocker found the new tombs but could not get permission from the property owner to expand his investigation.

The late Carl Blegen, former head of UC's Classics Department who discovered the Palace of Nestor in 1939 with Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis

The late Carl Blegen, former head of UC’s Classics Department who discovered the Palace of Nestor in 1939 with Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis. Photo by UC Classics via UC News

The tombs would have to wait years for another UC team to make the startling discovery hidden beneath its grapevines.

Excavating the site was particularly arduous. With the excavation season looming, delays in procuring the site forced researchers to postpone plans to study the site first with ground-penetrating radar. Instead, Stocker and Davis relied on their experience and intuition to focus on one disturbed area.

“There were noticeable concentrations of rocks on the surface once we got rid of the vegetation,” she said.

Those turned out to be the exposed covers of deep tombs, one plunging nearly 15 feet. The tombs were protected from the elements and potential thieves by an estimated 40,000 stones the size of watermelons.

The boulders had sat undisturbed for millennia where they had fallen when the domes of the tombs collapsed. And now 3,500 years later, UC’s team had to remove each stone individually.

UC archaeologist Sharon Stocker working at the site of the Griffin Warrior in Pylos Greece in 2015

UC archaeologist Sharon Stocker working at the site of the Griffin Warrior in Pylos Greece in 2015. Photo by UC Classics via UC News

“It was like going back to the Mycenaean Period. They had placed them by hand in the walls of the tombs and we were taking them out by hand,” Stocker said. “It was a lot of work.”

At every step of the excavation, the researchers used photogrammetry and digital mapping to document the location and orientation of objects in the tomb. This is especially valuable because of the great number of artifacts that were recovered, Davis said.

“We can see all levels as we excavated them and relate them one to the other in three dimensions,” he said. UC’s team will continue working at Pylos for at least the next two years while they and other researchers around the world unravel mysteries contained in the artifacts.

“It has been 50 years since any substantial tombs of this sort have been found at any Bronze Age palatial site. That makes this extraordinary,” Davis said.

An aerial view of the site shows the Tholos IV tomb, far left, found by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939 in relation to the two family tombs called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, uncovered last year by UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker

An aerial view of the site shows the Tholos IV tomb, far left, found by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939 in relation to the two family tombs called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, uncovered last year by UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker. Aerial photo by Denitsa Nenova of UC Classics via UC News


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Cincinnati. Original written by Michael Miller. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Page Citation:

University of Cincinnati. “Archaeologists find Bronze Age tombs lined with gold: The family tombs are near the 2015 site of the ‘Griffin Warrior,’ a military leader buried with armor, weapons and jewelry.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 December 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191217124004.htm>

Additional Note: Check out this short video clip provided by the Greek Culture Ministry via Youtube:

11 thoughts on “NEWSFLASH! UC Archaeologists Find Gold-Lined Tombs of Mycenaean Era in Pylos, Greece

    • Hi Rita, Thanks! Check out the link for the Bronze Age trade routes – it’s your excellent paper, “The Minoan and Mycenaean Agricultural Trade and Trade Routes in the Mycenaean Empire.” Merry Xmas to you too, Dear Rita!

      Like

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