Gold Lined Tombs Unearthed Beside Griffin Warrior

Gold Lined Tombs Unearthed Beside Griffin Warrior

Archaeologists from America's University of Cincinnati’s classics department are readdressing what is known of early Greek history based on their once-in-a-lifetime discovery of two treasure-filled tombs that were once lined with gold leaf.

Last Tuesday a team of archaeologists announced in Greece that the two beehive-shaped tombs were discovered in Pylos last year while they were inspecting around the grave of the famous “Griffin Warrior,” an ancient Greek military leader discovered in 2015 with an incredible collection of weapons, armor, and jewelry.

In an article on UC´s website , scientists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker from UC's classics department said that 18 months were spent excavating the two graves and similarly to the Griffin Warrior’s tomb, they were called ‘princely.’ The burials were discovered overlooking the Mediterranean Sea close to the palace of Nestor , a ruler mentioned in Homer’s famous works the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Davis and Stocker´s team are excavating in Greece in the wake of the late Carl Blegen who was head of UC's Classics Department and was responsible for having discovered the Palace of Nestor in 1939 with Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis.

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Stone lines the entrance to a grave called Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939. ( UC Classics )

Populating the History of Pylos

Within the two tombs a wealth of cultural artifacts were recovered, including delicate jewelry. As an added mark of the extreme opulence of the family, the researchers found, “The tombs were littered with flakes of gold leaf that once papered the walls.”

When interpreted alongside the artifacts recovered from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior, historians expect to use these burials to gain a deeper understanding of early Greek civilization and Pylos’ links with ancient Egypt.

Pylos is a town in the Bay of Navarino and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. It has an exceptionally long history - having been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In Classical times the site was uninhabited yet hosted the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. Pylos was one of the last places which held out against the Spartans in the Second Messenian War and it sank out of history until the seventh year of the Peloponnesian War, during which according to the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War , the area was together with most of the country and “round, unpopulated.”

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. ( UC Classics )

Like the Griffin Warrior’s, These Tombs are Guarded by Mythological Creatures

According to Smithsonian Magazine , the identity of the ‘Griffin Warrior’ is an assumption based on the types of armor, weapons, and jewelry found in his tomb - which all suggest he had military and religious authority. It is thought that he may have been the king known in later Mycenaean times as a ‘Wanax.’

The name ‘Griffin Warrior’ was chosen after the mythological creature, the Griffin, which is composed of parts from eagles and lions, a depiction of which was found engraved on an ivory plaque in the warrior’s tomb alongside his armor, weaponry, and gold jewelry.

The new artifacts discovered in the two princely tombs include a gold ring with two bulls within sheaves of barley, and an incredibly detailed carnelian seal depicting an image of two ‘genii,’ which like the Griffin are lionlike mythological creatures. The depictions of the genii are shown below a 16-pointed star and they hold serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar. According to Dr. Stocker “16-pointed stars are rare” to find in Mycenaean iconography and he sees the discovery of two objects depicting 16-pointed stars, in both agate and gold, as “noteworthy.”

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In one of the two family tombs, UC archaeologists found a carnelian sealstone featuring two mythological creatures called genii with serving vessels and incense over an altar. ( UC Classics )

Ancient Links Between Greece And Egypt

A National Geographic article says the two tombs were found holding “lots of gold” but also Baltic amber, Egyptian amethysts, and imported carnelian - which the archaeologists think belonged to “very sophisticated” people at a time when very few luxury items were being imported into Pylos - which was later a central location on the Bronze Age trade routes, said the archaeologists.

Dr. Davis said the discovery of a gold pendant displaying what might be a depiction of the Egyptian goddess Hathor is “particularly interesting considering the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead.” And if this is the Egyptian goddess Hathor than new evidence has been discovered suggesting early trade links between Pylos, Greece, and Egypt.

UC archaeologists found several gold pieces, including this double argonaut (octopus type of creature). ( UC Classics )


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The tombs were discovered and excavated at the site of the ancient city of Pylos in southern Greece. The location of the discovery alone suggests something that has seldom been considered by scientists - that Pylos played a surprisingly prominent role in early Mycenaean civilisation.

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And, despite the tombs having been looted in the antiquity - the time between the classical period and the middle ages - archaeologists reportedly found thousands of pieces of ancient gold foil.

This came as surprise as the tombs had visibly been previously tampered with, yet remnants of the gold sheets that once lined the tomb floors remained.

These artefacts would have given a spectacular gleam to the darkened chamber, especially when a glimmer of light entered the relatively large rooms.

The larger of the two tombs measured at a staggering 39 feet in diameter, while the smaller was 28 feet.

Ancient Greece breakthrough: Stunned scientists rewrite history with gold tombs discovery (Image: GETTY)

The Tholos tomb that was unearthed by archaeologists (Image: GETTY)

They were both rigidly built in a shape known as a "tholos" but had collapsed since their construction.

Other items that researchers came across included beads of amber, carnelian and malachite.

A gold pendant depicting the head of the Egyptian goddess Hathor was also recovered - a major goddess in ancient Egyptian religion who played a variety of roles including a sky and solar goddess, a goddess of music, dance and joy, a symbol of sexuality, beauty and love, as well as a figure considered pivotal to motherhood and queenship, among other things.

The items suggest the Pylos, a city with a enviable port, had superb trading connections in the ancient world that hitherto have been unknown.

The location alone suggests something that has seldom been considered by scientists (Image: Greek Culture Ministry)

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These links are thought to have been strongest with Egypt and the Near East around 1500BC, the time the tombs were in use.

Husband and wife team Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker, both archaeologists at the University of Cincinnati had been working at the site since 1992 before they came across the tombs.

In 2015, they came across a spectacular shaft grave just outside the ancient palace of Pylos.

The grave&rsquos occupant was bread with a long bronze sword and a wealth of Minoan artwork.

The larger of the two tombs measured at a staggering 39 feet in diameter (Image: GETTY)

Detail of Mycenaean bronze dagger found in a tholos tomb (Image: GETTY)

These consisted principally of seal stones, which at the time would have been of the highest quality material.

Because no trace of the grave&rsquos occupant could be found, the researchers named him the Griffin Warrior, after a mythical beast carved on an ivory plaque in the grave.

Both the Griffin Warrior and the two tholos tombs belong, on a pottery-based time scale to a period known as the Late Helladic IIA.

This period lasted from 1600 to 1500 BCE, although the exact dates are disputed among scholars - the period bore witness to the catastrophic Minoan eruption of Thera which devastated the surrounding area with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 6 or 7.

Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt have strong ties (Image: Express Newspapers )

It was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history.

The period is of particular interest to to researchers as it saw the formation of the Mycenaean civilisation which lasted from around 1600 to 1200 BCE.

During this period, many of the civilisation's major cities were burned down in an unknown catastrophe.

The era of classical Greece didn&rsquot emerge until after an age of relative darkness of some 700 years.

Ruins of a seperate tholos tomb at Vaphio (Image: GETTY)

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The later Mycenaean period is the setting for Homer&rsquos epics and such heroes as Agamemnon of Mycene.

The period is now called the Mycenaean because Homer portrays the city&rsquos king, Agamemnon as leader of the Greek fleet that left to recapture Helen of Troy after being abducted by Paris of Troy.

Many of the tholos tombs were excavated at Mycene in the 19th century by archaeologists of the time.

The new finds, then, raise the question over whether the ancient city may have held greater importance at the beginning of the Mycenaean period than what was previously thought.


Artifacts in Gold-Lined Tombs Hint at Ancient Greek Trade Relationships

Archaeologists have uncovered two 3,500-year-old gold-lined, beehive-shaped tombs in the ancient city of Pylos in southern Greece. Though the tombs, dubbed Tholos VI and Tholos VII, were looted in antiquity, they are still strewn with thousands of pieces of gold leaf that had once adorned their walls and floors, reports Nicholas Wade for the New York Times .

But the tombs’ true treasures may actually be the foreign-looking ornaments and jewelry found within. These artifacts suggest that the ancient residents of Pylos were more interconnected with other parts of the world, including Egypt and the Near East, than previously thought.

“What is emerging … is that Pylos was a real powerhouse in the early Mycenaean period,” Jeremy B. Rutter, a Mycenaean archaeologist at Dartmouth College who wasn’t involved in the excavation, tells Wade.

University of Cincinnati archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker first came across the tombs last year on a return trip to Pylos. Three years earlier, the pair had uncovered the final resting place of a high-status—and possibly royal—Greek man just outside of the ancient city’s palace. His burial site included an ostentatious shaft grave complete with a long bronze sword, a wealth of Minoan artwork, gold jewelry and an ivory plaque. The plaque was engraved with a mythological beast, part-eagle and part-lion, earning the tomb’s resident the nickname of “Griffin Warrior.”

An aerial view of the site that includes Tholos VI and Tholos VII, two gold-lined tombs dating back to roughly 1500 B.C. (Arthur Stephens/University of Cincinnati Classics)

A week into excavating the two new tombs, which also appear to house members of the social elite, the researchers realized “that lightning had struck again,” says Davis in a statement.

All three graves date to some of the earliest days of of the Mycenaean civilization, which was active between 1,600 and 1,500 B.C. The time period remains poorly understood, but crucial.

“[These are] the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece,” says Stocker in the statement.

Together, the three graves’ artifacts are now helping archaeologists unravel the goings-on of Greek life at this critical historical juncture.

Described as “princely,” the Tholos tombs, like their griffin-themed neighbor, clearly denote their residents’ resplendence in life. Chock full of amber from the Baltic, amethyst from Egypt, imported carnelian and plenty of gold, they’re also surprisingly cosmopolitan, hinting at the presence of active and far-reaching trade markets in Pylos. Also present was a golden pendant depicting the head of the Egyptian goddess Hathor—a prominent cultural symbol that, despite its foreign origin, was precious enough to join its owner in death.

Tholos Tomb IV as reconstructed by Carl Blegen (Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

The presence of Minoan artifacts in all three tombs also clarifies how the Mycenaeans might have used objects and imagery from this sister civilization, based on the island of Crete, to display their status. That meant “weapons, big-time architecture, lots of gold, and seal stones,” explains Rutter to Wade.

Some of the gold-lined tombs’ artifacts speak to more everyday aspects of life as well, according to the statement. Emblazoned on one of the gold rings is a pair of bulls wreathed by sheaves of barley.

“It’s an interesting scene of animal husbandry,” says Davis in the statement. “As far as we know, it’s the only representation of grain in the art of Crete or Minoan civilization.”

Situated on Greece’s western coast, ancient Pylos was home to a large port—one that the team now suspects was a bustling hub for international trade.

“What we’re learning,” says Stocker, “is that [Pylos was] a much more central and important place on the Bronze Age trade route.”


Archaeologists recently discovered two magnificent 3,500-year-old royal tombs in the shadow of the palace of the legendary King Nestor of Pylos. It’s not clear exactly who the tombs’ owners were, but their contents—gold and bronze, amber from the Baltic, amethyst from Egypt, and carnelian from the Arabian Peninsula and India—suggest wealth, power, and far-flung trade connections in the Bronze Age world. And the images engraved on many of those artefacts may eventually help us better understand the Mycenaean culture that preceded classical Greece.

Archaeologists used photogrammetry to make a detailed 3D map of the tomb and its contents.

Tombs fit for royalty

The larger tomb is 12m (36 feet) wide and 4.5 meters (15 feet) deep, and stone walls would once have stood that height again above ground.

Domes once covered the underground chambers, but the roofs and upper walls have long since collapsed, burying the tombs beneath thousands of melon-sized stones and a tangle of grapevines. University of Cincinnati archaeologists Jack Davis, Sharon Stocker, and their colleagues had to clear away vegetation and then remove the stones by hand.

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

Beneath the rubble, gold leaf litters the burial pits’ floors in gleaming flakes once, it lined the walls and floors of the chambers.

The tombs don’t appear to have contained the remains of their occupants (there’s some evidence that the tombs were disturbed in the distant past), but they were interred with jewellery and other opulent artefacts of gold, bronze, and gemstones, as well as a commanding view of the Mediterranean Sea.

For archaeologists, the real treasure in the Mycenaean tombs isn’t all the gold leaf or polished gemstones but the imagery engraved in those artefacts and what it can tell us about Mycenaean culture and beliefs.

Carved in stone

Today, we’ve got a pretty good grasp of classical Greek religion (and it’s still got a pretty good grip on popular culture). But classical Greece emerged from the ashes of the Mycenaean civilization, which crumbled like many other Mediterranean societies around 1200 BCE when the Bronze Age world suffered a sudden economic and political collapse.

Texts written in the earliest written form of Greek, a script called Linear B, describe the Bronze Age ideas that eventually gave rise to the more familiar classical Greek mythology.

Those texts mention some familiar names, like Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena, but those figures are not quite in the roles they hold in the later Greek pantheon. Zeus isn’t yet the ruler of the gods, while his brother Poseidon rules over earthquakes and the underworld. Other almost-familiar deities appear under different names.

But we don’t know what most of the symbols and motifs unearthed at Mycenaean archaeological sites mean or what role those symbols may have played in daily life, religious rituals, or other aspects of the culture.

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

On a gold ring, two bulls face each other between sheaves of grain detailed enough to be recognizable as barley. “It’s an interesting scene of animal husbandry: cattle mixed with grain production. It’s the foundation of agriculture,” Davis said.

A gold pendant suggests trade links with Egypt it bears an image of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, whose domains include motherhood and the protection of the dead. Later Greek culture drew parallels between Hathor and the Greek goddess Aphrodite, but it’s not entirely clear what she meant to Mycenaeans.

But one of the most interesting items from the tombs is an agate sealstone, a type of carved gemstone popular in the Minoan civilization that flourished on the island of Crete at around the same time as the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland.

The agate sealstone depicts a detailed ritual scene involving two lion-like spirits called genii.

Archaeologists think people may have carried sealstones as amulets. This one depicts two lion-like spirits, or genii, standing on their hind legs and carrying offerings—a serving vase and an incense burner—to an altar. The altar itself holds a sprouting sapling and a Minoan symbol that probably represents the horns of a sacrificial ox.

A 16-pointed star hangs over the whole scene. The elaborate star shape is a rare symbol on Mycenaean artefacts, but it shows up on two artefacts in the same tomb at Pylos: the agate sealstone and another gold and bronze item. Stocker, Davis, and their colleagues aren’t yet sure what the symbol means or why it may have been associated with the tomb’s occupant, but they’ll spend the next couple of years in the field and in the lab trying to better understand the tombs and their contents.

The Griffin Warrior

The pair of newly-discovered tombs lies close to another royal tomb, first excavated in 2015. It contained armour, weapons, gold jewellery, and another agate sealstone with a detailed combat scene engraved on it. Those warlike grave goods, combined with an ivory plaque bearing an engraving of a griffin, gave the tomb’s occupant the nickname “Griffin Warrior.”

Based on the style of the tomb and the nature of the things he took to the grave, Stocker, Davis, and their colleagues say the Griffin Warrior was probably a king who wielded both military and religious authority—a predecessor to later Mycenaean kings like Nestor, who features in the Greek epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. The two nearby tombs may hold relatives or family members of the Griffin Warrior, perhaps immediate family or members of the same dynasty.


Ancient Greek tombs ‘once lined with gold’ and filled with treasures unearthed after 3,500 years

HUGE opulent tombs that were once lined with gold leaf and filled with treasures have been unearthed in Greece.

Archaeologists think the burial chambers were made for two very important people who died in the Bronze Age around 3,500 years ago.

Despite not knowing the names of the deceased or revealing much about them, the researchers behind the find think it's deeply important for aiding further understanding of early Greek culture.

The tombs were found in Pylos, a place that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is close to the important and treasure filled Griffin Warrior grave.

The Griffin Warrior was discovered back in 2015 with over 3,000 precious artefacts including jewellery and weapons.

Jewellery, beads, a carved sealstone and thousands of gold leaf fragments were recently discovered in the newly found tombs.

The resting places of these important ancient Greeks were hidden underground.

They are laid out in a beehive-shaped structure called a tholi, which means a circular shaped structure or mound.

They also show evidence of being looted in the past but still contain a lot of treasure.

Archaeologist Sharon Stocker of the University of Cincinnati said: "Like with the Griffin Warrior grave, by the end of the first week we knew we had something that was really important.

"It soon became clear to us that lightning had struck again."

The tombs are being referred to as Tholos VI and Tholos VII and were not easy to find.

Dome structures that would have once covered the tombs collapsed long ago so they were hidden underneath rubble and plants.

This made them harder to discover than the nearby tomb Tholus IV, which is largely still in tact from the outside and was found in 1939.

The excavation process of the newly discovered tombs took around 18 months.

Treasures inside date back to the Mycenaean period between 1600 and 1100 BC.

A lot of them are thought to have been imported, including Egyptian amethyst and Baltic amber.

One of the most interesting artefacts discovered is a gold ring that is inscribed with bulls and barely.

Archaeologist Jack Davis, also from the University of Cincinnati, said: "It's an interesting scene of animal husbandry - cattle mixed with grain production. It's the foundation of agriculture.

"As far as we know, it's the only representation of grain in the art of Crete or Minoan civilisation."

The researchers also found a stamp seal, pictured below, that features a 16-pointed star.

This symbol was quite common in Greece from the 6th century BC onward but thought to be less so in the time the graves date back to.

Stocker said: "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."

The diversity of the goods in the graves suggests the wealth of the people who were buried there as well as highlighting Pylos as a thriving Bronze Age port.

Stocker concluded: "I think these are probably people who were very sophisticated for their time.

"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. It's the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece."


Historians from the classic department of the American University of Cincinnati are readdressing what is known of early Greek history based on their once-in-a-lifetime discovery of two treasure-filled tombs that were once lined with gold leaf.

The two beehive-like graves were uncovered by a team of archeologists in last year and they announced in last Tuesday in Pylos while they were investigating the tomb of the renowned Greek military leader Griffin Warrior, who had been identified with the remarkable collection of weapons armors and jewelry in 2015

The scientist Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker from the UC Classics department reported in an article on the UC Web Site that they spent 18 months excavating both graves and similarly to the Griffin Warrior’s tomb, they were called ‘princely.’

The burials were discovered overlooking the Mediterranean Sea close to the palace of Nestor, a ruler mentioned in Homer’s famous works the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Davis and Stocker´s team are excavating in Greece in the wake of the late Carl Blegen who was head of UC’s Classics Department and was responsible for having discovered the Palace of Nestor in 1939 with Greek archaeologists Konstantinos Kourouniotis.

Stone lines the entrance to a grave called Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939.

Within the two tombs, a wealth of cultural artifacts were recovered, including delicate jewelry. As an added mark of the extreme opulence of the family, the researchers found, “The tombs were littered with flakes of gold leaf that once papered the walls.”

When interpreted alongside the artifacts recovered from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior, historians expect to use these burials to gain a deeper understanding of early Greek civilization and Pylos’ links with ancient Egypt.

Pylos is a town in the Bay of Navarino and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. It has an exceptionally long history – having been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In Classical times the site was uninhabited yet hosted the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC, during the Peloponnesian War.

Pylos was one of the last places which held out against the Spartans in the Second Messenian War and it sank out of history until the seventh year of the Peloponnesian War, during which according to the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, the area was together with most of the country and “round, unpopulated.”

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.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the identity of the ‘Griffin Warrior’ is an assumption based on the types of armor, weapons, and jewelry found in his tomb – which all suggest he had military and religious authority. It is thought that he may have been the king known in later Mycenaean times as a ‘Wanax.’

The name ‘Griffin Warrior’ was chosen after the mythological creature, the Griffin, which is composed of parts from eagles and lions, a depiction of which was found engraved on an ivory plaque in the warrior’s tomb alongside his armor, weaponry, and gold jewelry.

The new artifacts discovered in the two princely tombs include a gold ring with two bulls within sheaves of barley, and an incredibly detailed carnelian seal depicting an image of two ‘genii,’ which like the Griffin are lionlike mythological creatures. The depictions of the genii are shown below a 16-pointed star and they hold serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar.

According to Dr. Stocker, “16-pointed stars are rare” to find in Mycenaean iconography and he sees the discovery of two objects depicting 16-pointed stars, in both agate and gold, as “noteworthy.”

In one of the two family tombs, UC archaeologists found a carnelian seal stone featuring two mythological creatures called genii with serving vessels and incense over an altar.

A National Geographic article says the two tombs were found holding “lots of gold” but also Baltic amber, Egyptian amethysts, and imported carnelian – which the archaeologists think belonged to “very sophisticated” people at a time when very few luxury items were being imported into Pylos – which was later a central location on the Bronze Age trade routes, said the archaeologists.

Dr. Davis said the discovery of a gold pendant displaying what might be a depiction of the Egyptian goddess Hathor is “particularly interesting considering the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead.” And if this is the Egyptian goddess Hathor than new evidence has been discovered suggesting early trade links between Pylos, Greece, and Egypt.

UC archaeologists found several gold pieces, including this double argonaut (octopus type of creature).

Rare warrior tomb filled with Bronze Age wealth and weapons discovered

On the floor of the grave lay the skeleton of an adult male, stretched out on his back. Weapons lay to his left, and jewelry to his right.

Near the head and chest was a bronze sword, its ivory hilt covered in gold. A gold-hilted dagger lay beneath it. Still more weapons were found by the man's legs and feet.

Gold cups rested on his chest and stomach, and near his neck was a perfectly preserved gold necklace with two pendants. By his right side and spread around his head were over one thousand beads of carnelian, amethyst, jasper, agate and gold. Nearby were four gold rings, and silver cups as well as bronze bowls, cups, jugs and basins.

The above describes what a University of Cincinnati-led international research team found this summer when excavating what was initially thought to be a Bronze Age house.

Instead, the team made a rich and rare discovery of an intact, Bronze Age warrior's tomb dating back to about 1500 B.C., and that discovery is featured in The New York Times, in an article titled: A Warrior's Grave at Pylos, Greece, Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations.

The find is so extraordinary that UC's Shari Stocker, senior research associate in the Department of Classics, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, states: "This previously unopened shaft grave of a wealthy Mycenaean warrior, dating back 3,500 years, is one of the most magnificent displays of prehistoric wealth discovered in mainland Greece in the past 65 years."

Stocker co-leads the team that unearthed the undisturbed shaft tomb, along with Jack Davis, UC's Carl W. Blegen Chair in Greek Archaeology. Other team members include UC faculty, staff specialists and students, some of whom have worked in the area around the present-day city of Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece for the last quarter century as part of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. That UC-based effort is dedicated to uncovering the pre-history and history of the Bronze Age center known as the Palace of Nestor, an extensive complex and a site linked to Homeric legend. Though the palace was destroyed by fire sometime around 1200 B.C., it is nevertheless the best-preserved Bronze Age palace on the Greek mainland.

It was UC archaeologist Carl Blegen, along with Konstantinos Kourouniotis, director of the National Archaeological Museum, who initially uncovered the remains of the famed Palace of Nestor in an olive grove in 1939. Located near the present-day city of Pylos, the palace was a destination in Homer's "Odyssey," where sacrifices were said to be offered on its beaches. The king who ruled at the Palace of Nestor controlled a vast territory that was divided into more than 20 districts with capital towns and numerous small settlements.

Explains Stocker, "This latest find is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer's 'Iliad.' Nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus. This find may be even more important because the warrior pre-dates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years. That means he was likely an important figure at a time when this part of Greece was being indelibly shaped by close contact with Crete, Europe's first advanced civilization."

Thus, the tomb may have held a powerful warrior or king -- or even a trader or a raider -- who died at about 30 to 35 years of age but who helped to lay the foundations of the Mycenaean culture that later flourished in the region.

Davis speculates, "Whoever he was, he seems to have been celebrated for his trading or fighting in nearby island of Crete and for his appreciation of the more-sophisticated and delicate are of the Minoan civilization (found on Crete), with which he was buried."

Potential Wealth of Information

The team found the tomb while working in the area of the Palace of Nestor, seeking clues as to how the palace and its rulers came to control an area encompassing all of modern Messenia in western Greece and supporting more than 50,000 inhabitants during the Bronze Age.

Davis says that researchers were there to try and figure out how the Palace of Nestor became a center of power and when this rise in power began, questions they now think the tomb may help answer.

Given the magnitude of this find, it may be necessary to rethink when Plyos and the wider area around it began to flourish. It may have been earlier than previously thought since, somehow, whether via trade or force (e.g., raiding), its inhabitants had acquired the valuable objects found within the tomb.

Many of the tomb's objects were made in nearby Crete and show a strong Minoan style and technique unknown in mainland Greece in the 15th century BC.

The same would likely have been true of the warrior's dwelling during this lifetime. He would have lived on the hilltop citadel of nearby Englianos at a time when great mansions were first being built with walls of cut-stone blocks (vs. uncut rock and stones) in the style then associated with nearby Mediterranean Island of Crete and its Minoan culture, their walls decorated with paintings influenced by earlier Minoan wall paintings.

The weapons of bronze found within the tomb included a meter-long slashing sword with an ivory handle covered with gold.

Wealth of Jewels and Weaponry

A remarkable store of riches was deposited in the tomb with the warrior at the time of his death. The mere fact that the vessels in the tomb are of metal (vs. ceramic pottery) is a strong indication of his great wealth.

"It is truly amazing that no ceramic vessels were included among the grave gifts. All the cups, pitchers and basins we found were of metal: bronze, silver and gold. He clearly could afford to hold regular pots of ceramic in disdain," according to Stocker.

This member of the elite was accompanied in the afterlife by about 50 seal-stones carved with intricate Minoan designs of goddesses as well as depictions of bulls and human bull jumpers soaring over their horns. Four gold rings in the tomb contain fine Minoan carvings. A plaque of carved ivory with a representation of a griffon with huge wings lay between the man's legs. Nearby was a bronze mirror with an ivory handle. Archaeological conservator Alexandros Zokos was essential partner in the removal, cleaning and preservation of the finds from the grave.

The weapons of bronze within the tomb include a meter-long slashing sword with an ivory handle, several daggers, a spearhead, along with the already-mentioned sword and dagger with gold pommels.

Other grave gifts originally rested above the dead warrior atop a coffin of wood which later collapsed, spilling a crushing load of objects down on the skeleton -- and making the job of excavation difficult and slow.

The gifts atop the coffin included bronze jugs a large, bronze basin thin bands of bronze, probably from the warrior's suit of body armor many wild boar's teeth from the warrior's helmet.

In combination with this weaponry, the discovery of so much jewelry with a male burial challenges the commonly held belief that these apparently "feminine" adornments and offerings accompanied only wealthy women to the hereafter.

Previously Unexplored Field

What would eventually become the successful excavation of the tomb began on the team's very first day of its field work in May 2015, conducted in a previously unexplored field near the Palace of Nestor. They immediately found one of the four walls of the warrior's grave.

"We put a trench in this one spot because three stones were visible on the surface," says Davis, adding, "At first, we expected to find the remains of a house. We expected that this was the corner of a room of a house, but quickly realized that it was the tops of the walls of a stone-lined grave shaft."

In the end, the shaft measured about 5 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. It took the team about two weeks to clear the shaft before "we hit bronze," says Stocker. At that point, they realized they might have an exceptional prize: an undisturbed grave shaft, never stripped by looters. She explains, "The fact that we had not encountered any objects for almost a meter indicated that whatever was at the bottom had been sealed for a long time."

Stocker and Alison Fields, a UC graduate student of classics, did most of the actual excavation because their smaller size allowed them to work more easily and carefully around the tomb and its many precious objects.

What Comes Next

Both Stocker and Davis say it was good luck to discover this intact grave. Given the rarity of the find, it's unlikely to be repeated. "It's almost as if the occupant wants his story to be told," Davis says.

And that story will continue to unfold. The UC team and others are studying the artifacts in detail, with all artifacts remaining in Greece and their final disposition determined by the Greek Archaeological Service. Former UC anthropologist Lynne Schepartz, now of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, will study the skeletal remains.


Ideas, Inventions And Innovations


Credit: photo/UC Classics

The UC archaeologists announced the discovery Tuesday in 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.

Credit: Aerial photo/UC Classics

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’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 sealstone depicting mortal combat with such fine detail that Archaeology magazine hailed it as a “Bronze Age masterpiece.”

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 seal made of the semiprecious stone carnelian from the family tombs at Pylos depicts an image 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 of the piece.

Full Gallery Photo/UC Classics

Like the grave of the Griffin Warrior, the two family tombs contained artwork emblazoned with mythological creatures. An agate sealstone 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.

“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.

It’s the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece.

UC archaeologists found a gold pendant in the family tombs at Pylos featuring the likeness of Hathor, an Egyptian goddess who was a protector of the dead.

Full Gallery Photo/UC Classics

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

“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.

“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.

Stone lines the entrance to a grave called Tholos IV near the former Palace of Nestor, both discovered by the late UC Classics archaeologist Carl Blegen in 1939.

Full Gallery Photo/UC Classics

“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.”

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 tombs would have to wait 63 years for another UC team to make the startling discovery hidden beneath its grape vines.

A map of the site shows the family tombs in relation to the tomb of the Griffin Warrior and the Palace of Nestor

. Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker/UC Classics

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.

“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.

Featured image at top: A 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 tiny sealstone from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior depicts mortal combat in exquisite detail. Archaeology Magazine called the sealstone "a Bronze Age masterpiece." UC archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker found the tomb of the Griffin Warrior in 2015. More recently, they found two family tombs nearby that also contained a wealth of artifacts dating back more than 3,500 years.

Photo/UC Classics


Contacts and sources:
Michael Miller
University of Cincinnati


An international team of archaeologists led by University of Cincinnati researchers recently discovered a Bronze Age warrior’s tomb in southwestern Greece filled with more than 1,400 objects: jewels, weapons and armor, as well as bronze, silver and gold vessels. The unusual find is celebrated in today’s New York Times.

By MB Reilly 513-556-1824

UC's Sharon Stocker, left, and Jack Davis, right, have worked in the Pylos region of Greece for 25 years. They led a team of 45 archaeologists and experts in various specialties as well as students during this summer's excavations. Stocker stands in the shaft tomb the team uncovered.

On the floor of the grave lay the skeleton of an adult male, stretched out on his back. Weapons lay to his left, and jewelry to his right.

Near the head and chest was a bronze sword, its ivory hilt covered in gold. A gold-hilted dagger lay beneath it. Still more weapons were found by the man’s legs and feet.

Gold cups rested on his chest and stomach, and near his neck was a perfectly preserved gold necklace with two pendants. By his right side and spread around his head were over one thousand beads of carnelian, amethyst, jasper, agate and gold. Nearby were four gold rings, and silver cups as well as bronze bowls, cups, jugs and basins.

The above describes what a University of Cincinnati-led international research team found this summer when excavating what was initially thought to be a Bronze Age house.


Instead, the team made a rich and rare discovery of an intact, Bronze Age warrior’s tomb dating back to about 1500 B.C., and that discovery is featured in The New York Times, in an article titled: A Warrior's Grave at Pylos, Greece, Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations.

The find is so extraordinary that UC’s Shari Stocker, senior research associate in the Department of Classics, McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, states: “This previously unopened shaft grave of a wealthy Mycenaean warrior, dating back 3,500 years, is one of the most magnificent displays of prehistoric wealth discovered in mainland Greece in the past 65 years.”

Stocker co-leads the team that unearthed the undisturbed shaft tomb, along with Jack Davis, UC’s Carl W. Blegen Chair in Greek Archaeology. Other team members include UC faculty, staff specialists and students, some of whom have worked in the area around the present-day city of Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece for the last quarter century as part of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. That UC-based effort is dedicated to uncovering the pre-history and history of the Bronze Age center known as the Palace of Nestor, an extensive complex and a site linked to Homeric legend. Though the palace was destroyed by fire sometime around 1200 B.C., it is nevertheless the best-preserved Bronze Age palace on the Greek mainland.

This gold ring with a Cretan bull-jumping scene was one of four solid-gold rings found in the tomb. This number is more than found with any other single burial elsewhere in Greece.

It was UC archaeologist Carl Blegen, along with Konstantinos Kourouniotis, director of the National Archaeological Museum, who initially uncovered the remains of the famed Palace of Nestor in an olive grove in 1939. Located near the present-day city of Pylos, the palace was a destination in Homer’s “Odyssey,” where sacrifices were said to be offered on its beaches. The king who ruled at the Palace of Nestor controlled a vast territory that was divided into more than 20 districts with capital towns and numerous small settlements.

Explains Stocker, “This latest find is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer’s ‘Iliad.’ Nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus. This find may be even more important because the warrior pre-dates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years. That means he was likely an important figure at a time when this part of Greece was being indelibly shaped by close contact with Crete, Europe’s first advanced civilization.”

Thus, the tomb may have held a powerful warrior or king – or even a trader or a raider – who died at about 30 to 35 years of age but who helped to lay the foundations of the Mycenaean culture that later flourished in the region.

Davis speculates, “Whoever he was, he seems to have been celebrated for his trading or fighting in nearby island of Crete and for his appreciation of the more-sophisticated and delicate are of the Minoan civilization (found on Crete), with which he was buried.”

Potential wealth of information

The team found the tomb while working in the area of the Palace of Nestor, seeking clues as to how the palace and its rulers came to control an area encompassing all of modern Messenia in western Greece and supporting more than 50,000 inhabitants during the Bronze Age.

Davis says that researchers were there to try and figure out how the Palace of Nestor became a center of power and when this rise in power began, questions they now think the tomb may help answer.

Given the magnitude of this find, it may be necessary to rethink when Plyos and the wider area around it began to flourish. It may have been earlier than previously thought since, somehow, whether via trade or force (e.g., raiding), its inhabitants had acquired the valuable objects found within the tomb.

Many of the tomb’s objects were made in nearby Crete and show a strong Minoan style and technique unknown in mainland Greece in the 15th century BC.

The same would likely have been true of the warrior’s dwelling during this lifetime. He would have lived on the hilltop citadel of nearby Englianos at a time when great mansions were first being built with walls of cut-stone blocks (vs. uncut rock and stones) in the style then associated with nearby Mediterranean Island of Crete and its Minoan culture, their walls decorated with paintings influenced by earlier Minoan wall paintings.


World of the Griffin Warrior. The age of Homer

The Pylos Combat Agate, found in the Griffin Warrior’s grave, is an extraordinarily fine seal stone measuring only 1.4 inches wide. It depicts the final moments of a battle among three warriors.The age of Homer was an age of heroes—Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, and Nestor, the king of Pylos, among others—whose deeds are chronicled in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Many archaeologists believe that Homer’s tales, despite being composed 500 or more years after the Late Bronze Age events they describe, had roots in a real past. “There’s always a kernel of truth to stories handed down from generation to generation,” says archaeologist Jack Davis. Whether these men were real people is unknown. But the culture they belonged to, which dominated Bronze Age Greece from around 1600 until 1200 B.C.—known as Mycenaean since it was given that name by nineteenth-century scholars—was certainly the model for the poems’ dimly remembered heroes from the deep past.

(Chronis Papanikolopoulos/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati Peter Gaul/Badisches Landesmuseum)

Other artifacts from the Griffin Warrior’s grave: The face of a gold ring (top) shows a scene of female figures at a shrine on a coastal inlet or an island. The largest female figure is thought to be a Minoan goddess, while the others are likely dancing and singing worshippers. A Minoan gold necklace (above) with three beads, two of agate and the largest of faience.Over the past century, archaeologists and linguists have largely focused their studies on the Mycenaeans’ place in the early development of later classical Greek civilization. Excavations at Pylos, and at sites all across mainland Greece, have provided a great deal of evidence of the Mycenaeans in their prime. This research has revealed that at their peak they were tied into a world that encompassed most of the eastern Mediterranean, including ancient Egypt, the city-states of the Near East, and the islands of the Mediterranean. One such link, though, stands out as perhaps the most important: a deep connection to the island of Crete, which, in the Late Bronze Age, was inhabited by members of a culture scholars call Minoan after the legendary King Minos, a culture very different from that found on the mainland.

Scholars have long debated the nature of the relationship between the Mycenaeans and the Minoans. This discussion has centered on whether Mycenaean culture, and what is thought of as ancient Greek culture, dating to half a millennium later, was imported from Crete, or was a homegrown phenomenon. But the exceptional discovery of a man’s grave filled with more than 2,000 artifacts just outside Nestor’s palace in Pylos suggests that the concept of competing cultures might obscure a deep interconnectedness. “Archaeologists have a way of cutting the world up into well-bounded cultural entities, but it seems that in the Late Bronze Age new identities were being formed,” says archaeologist Dimitri Nakassis of the University of Colorado Boulder. “There used to be clear lines between the Minoans and the Mycenaeans, but a lot of work now points out that these are our categories, not theirs.”

World of the Griffin Warrior

(Palace of Nestor Excavations/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

The Griffin Warrior’s undisturbed grave (top, right side of image) was found in an olive grove 200 yards from Pylos’ Palace of Nestor. Nearby stands a tholos (above), a type of beehive-shaped Bronze Age burial structure.The extraordinary contents of this man’s grave may be the key to understanding a far more complex development. Scholars are now beginning to believe that the shift from the Minoan to Mycenaean world may not have been a sharp transition achieved through colonization or conquest, but a more complicated process of cultural mixture and communication that only came to an end when mainland Mycenaean culture took over Crete around 1400 B.C. Says Jan Driessen, a Minoan specialist at the Catholic University of Louvain, “There’s no way to overestimate the tomb’s importance.”

In 2015, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, both of the University of Cincinnati, were in their third decade of research in and around the palace of Pylos. The palace itself was discovered in 1939 and excavated in the 1950s and 1960s. Davis, Stocker, and their colleagues had been exploring the complex and the area around it since the early 1990s. Archaeologists think that by the thirteenth century B.C. Mycenaean society was highly stratified, with a single ruler, called a wanax, who governed thousands of subjects living in and around his palace. Excavations at Mycenaean sites have traditionally focused on these royal complexes. Since the palace at Pylos can’t be further excavated without damaging its well-preserved floors and walls, Davis and Stocker expanded their investigation, seeing an opportunity to uncover the remains of the town or settlement outside the royal and administrative center, as other researchers had at Mycenae.

(Ken Feisel)Legal delays meant the team wasn’t able to excavate where they had originally planned. “Forty people showed up, and we had nowhere to dig,” says Stocker. Thwarted, they began investigating a stone formation nestled among the olive trees that surround the palace. Although the site was just over 200 yards from the palace’s front gate, Davis says he didn’t have high hopes for the area. He thought it might be the foundation of one of the palace’s outbuildings, or a water storage tank.

As the excavators dug into the site’s beige earth, they uncovered a few stones, and then a few more. Soon they were convinced they had discovered a grave. After days of digging, they uncovered a six-foot-by-three-foot shaft carved out of the hard clay. The first artifact the team found was a bronze vessel whose presence after thousands of years was an indication that the tomb hadn’t been robbed. Over the next six months, Stocker and Davis discovered bronze weapons, finely crafted gold jewelry, carved seal stones, ivory inlays, beads, and much more, all buried with a single individual who, the team estimates, was between 30 and 35 years old when he died. Very early on, they unearthed an as-yet-unconserved ivory plaque decorated with a griffin that gave the man his name—the Griffin Warrior.

During the warrior’s time, in the 1500s B.C., the Mycenaeans generally buried their prominent dead in huge, beehive-shaped structures called tholoi that were easily identified by tomb robbers. Thieves have taken a heavy toll on Mycenaean sites over the millennia, and the winding roads around Pylos are dotted with ruined tholoi, now just empty, stone-lined pits in the midst of sprawling olive groves. In fact, a tholos located near the Griffin Warrior’s grave was damaged and robbed long before archaeologists excavated it in the 1950s, and only a few beads and a handful of small artifacts were found inside the structure. The Griffin Warrior’s grave is a rare undisturbed exception, and Stocker is still amazed at the team’s luck. Not only had the grave escaped the tomb robbers’ notice, if it had been situated just a few feet in any direction, the roots of an olive tree would have penetrated and disturbed it.

(Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A Linear B tablet from Pylos found in 1939 records prospective contributions of recycled “temple bronze” from the “Nearer and Further Provinces” of Pylos’ administrative district.The warrior’s solo shaft burial was unusual for his time. Most contemporary Mycenaeans were interred in shared graves, sometimes with up to 20 people in a single grave or tholos. The tombs were periodically reopened and the human remains separated and shuffled around with each new addition to the family crypt. This has made it difficult for archaeologists to distinguish which artifacts were buried with whom. “What’s surprising in the case of the Griffin Warrior is to find a complete example where you know exactly what was deposited with this individual,” says archaeologist John Bennet, director of the British School at Athens.

The sheer number of artifacts stands out, too. Later Mycenaean graves, whether individual or shared, rarely contain riches on the scale of the Griffin Warrior’s. “That much concentration of wealth in a single tomb is shocking,” Nakassis says. “I keep thinking, ‘What are they doing? How do they have all this stuff?’” But the discovery in Pylos is significant not only for the survival, quality, and quantity of its finds, but also because the artifacts are encouraging scholars to reconsider this pivotal era, when mainland settlements such as Pylos were on the rise.

Just 500 years before the Griffin Warrior lived, in the Middle Bronze Age, it would likely have been easy to distinguish a mainlander from a Minoan. Although Crete is separated from the Greek mainland by only about 100 miles, the people who lived on the island in the early second millennium B.C. did not have much in common with their neighbors across the Aegean Sea. By 1900 B.C., a sophisticated culture existed on Crete, boasting palaces built using finely cut stonework known as ashlar, a belief system that featured a central goddess figure and other divinities, and the widespread use of bull imagery in its art, none of which were in evidence at this time on the mainland. Excavations at Minoan sites on the island undertaken over the last century show that, starting in the late third millennium B.C., the Minoans’ trade networks were far more extensive than those of contemporary mainlanders. Artifacts found at such Cretan sites as Knossos include imported stone vases and jewelry from Egypt and the Levant, rare commodities on the mainland at this time. The Minoans further distinguished themselves from the mainlanders by their artistic prowess, particularly with regard to gold- and stonework. Minoan craftsmanship was, for centuries, superior to anything found on the mainland.

(Chronis Papanikolopoulos/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A gold ring from the warrior’s burial depicts two female figures, the larger of whom, likely a goddess, sits on a throne and holds a stemmed object thought to be a mirror. A bird with a long, swallow-like tail perches on the throne, and the wavy lines at the top appear to represent the heavens.Nearly 150 years of archaeological excavations on the Greek mainland and Crete have shown that, beginning around 1600 B.C., the comparatively unsophisticated culture on the mainland underwent a radical transformation. “In time, there’s a blossoming of wealth and culture,” Stocker says. “Palaces are built, wealth accumulates, and power is consolidated in places such as Pylos and Mycenae.” The reasons for this leap forward are unknown. For a few centuries, the mainlanders imitated the Minoans. Pylos was an early Mycenaean power center, and buildings there at the time of the Griffin Warrior resembled the large houses with ashlar masonry found at Knossos on Crete. “There were probably four or five fancy mansions in Pylos at the time of the Griffin Warrior, all very Minoan in style,” Davis says. For example, the mansions had painted walls, a type of artistry pioneered by the Minoans.

World of the Griffin Warrior

(Clockwise from top left: Chronis Papanikolopoulos, Jeff Vanderpool, Jennifer Stephens all Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A group of artifacts from the Griffin Warrior’s burial displays the bull imagery characteristic of the Minoans on Crete. Clockwise from top left: a gold ring showing a dismounting bull leaper with flowing hair a carnelian seal stone depicting three bulls and a bronze bull that once topped a wooden scepter.

(Jeff Vanderpool/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A side view of the carnelian seal stone depicting three bulls shows how such objects were drilled through to enable them to be worn on cords as bracelets.For a time, the Mycenaeans both imported Minoan luxury goods and incorporated Minoan symbols, including the bull, into their own art. The richest Mycenaeans were buried with Minoan luxury goods, while some other graves included locally produced Mycenaean objects, such as painted pottery, that were often excellent-quality copies of Minoan originals. The Mycenaeans also borrowed the Minoan script, called Linear A, and adapted it to their own use this script is now called Linear B. Mycenaean society, too, began to change shape. What began as a loose collection of small villages became more and more hierarchical, with power concentrated in the hands of the palace-dwelling members of society featured in the works of Homer.

When archaeologists first excavated the later phases of Minoan palaces in the very early 1900s, the direct parallels with sites on the mainland, including similar architecture, artifacts, wall paintings, and pottery, led them to think that mainland Greece might have been little more than a series of Minoan colonies. Minoans, these researchers thought, were the true founders of Mycenaean society, setting up trading outposts and exporting their palace-oriented social structure and distinctive script to a less-sophisticated mainland.

(Palace of Nestor Excavations/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A heavily corroded bronze disk (left) with gold foil decorations and an X-ray of the disk (right) display a sun with 16 points that was likely attached to the warrior’s armor.

World of the Griffin Warrior

(Palace of Nestor Excavations/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A bronze mirror (left) with an ivory handle and an ornate ivory comb (right) are among the artifacts from the grave suggesting that the warrior was a man of high status and was concerned with his appearance.Half a century later, that interpretation was upended. When clay tablets found at Pylos and other sites, including Mycenae, were deciphered in the 1950s, the story was pushed in a completely different direction. Linear B resembled Crete’s Linear A, but recorded an entirely different language—Mycenaean Greek. It became clear that it was related to the language of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and, more distantly, to the other Indo-European languages, from Sanskrit to English. Scholars today can peruse the bureaucratic records left behind in the Palace of Nestor, while Linear A and the language it records remain an impenetrable mystery.

The discovery and decipherment of Linear B led scholars to rethink the relationship between Mycenae and Crete. Not only were the Mycenaeans the true forebears of the ancient Greeks, scholars argued, they were indiscriminate thieves who imported or copied Minoan objets d’art without understanding their meaning or significance. “At the time, most scholars were thinking of hostile takeovers, not cooperative ventures,” says archaeologist Cynthia Shelmerdine of the University of Texas at Austin.

The Griffin Warrior’s grave and its contents are once again changing interpretations of the relationship between the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Much of this has been made possible by the fact that he was buried alone, and that his tomb was discovered undisturbed. This has allowed the team to both study the objects themselves and show how they were originally positioned. Among the thousands of artifacts from the Griffin Warrior’s grave are Minoan-style seal stones of amethyst, carnelian, and agate. Other objects are harder to place, including a sword whose hilt is decorated with tiny gold staples, giving it an embroidered effect, and a boar-tusk helmet, a style of armor that Odysseus wears in Book 10 of the Iliad and that is found on both Crete and the mainland.

Stocker and Davis have spent the last several years building a case that the Griffin Warrior, and the people who buried him, were not just avid collectors of Minoan art but were also highly clued in to its symbolism. “The Griffin Warrior is saying, ‘I’m part of that Minoan world,’” Stocker explains. “There’s a story we can get at with this burial that we haven’t been able to before.” Scholars agree that the grave is more than a random collection of Mycenaean and Minoan objects. “Here, Cretan art is being reused and repurposed in a local context,” says Nakassis. “That tells us there was a strong connection between people living in Pylos and Crete, a highly informed network of goods, and probably of people, across the Aegean. These weren’t unsophisticated rubes who didn’t understand the beauty and grace of the art they were burying.” Instead, they were deliberately creating a reflection of their worldview.

(Jeff Vanderpool/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

An agate seal stone from the grave (left) and an impression in putty (right) show two Minoan mythological creatures known as genii. Over their heads hangs the same 16-pointed celestial body.

World of the Griffin Warrior

(Palace of Nestor Excavations/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati Jeff Vanderpool/Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A bronze sword (left) with a gold-embroidered pommel from the grave and an image (right) of the flowing-haired victorious warrior on the Pylos Combat Agate holding an identical type of swordOne notable category of objects buried with the Griffin Warrior is seal stones—some 50 of them, made of semiprecious materials. The seal stones, originally used by the Minoans for administrative purposes, are miniature works of art, intricately decorated beyond any functional necessity. In fact, after the stones were cleaned and restored, Stocker’s colleagues made impressions of their designs in putty and found that some of the detail is too small to see with the naked eye, even in the imprints. Many of the stones had been placed on the warrior’s right side, some probably worn as part of bracelets, and others gathered in a bag or pouch that decayed long ago. The most spectacular seal stone, dubbed the Pylos Combat Agate, is just 1.4 inches wide. Davis and Stocker believe that the artist who created this seal stone was Cretan, because there is, thus far at least, no evidence that artisans on the mainland possessed the skill required to create such an object. The stone depicts a leaping warrior stabbing an armored, spear-wielding foe, while another lies dead at his feet. The scene, like those on many of the other seal stones, is echoed by artifacts found in the warrior’s grave, such as the weapons and scepter laid on his left side. “The sword the victor is using is the same as the sword the warrior is buried with,” Davis says. Six ivory combs and a mirror in the grave suggest the warrior was concerned with his grooming, and perhaps had flowing locks similar to those of the stone’s triumphant warrior. Like the agate’s hero, the Griffin Warrior wore a gold necklace. There is also a nearly microscopic seal stone, less than two-hundredths of an inch across, depicted on a bracelet on the warrior’s wrist. The seal stones in the grave were drilled through, as though to accommodate just such a bracelet cord.

(Chronis Papanikolopoulos, Courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati)

A gold ring from the burial depicts a goddess descending from on high flanked by two birds alighting on rocky peaks.The sheer number of carved rings and seal stones reinforces the idea that there was something more than mimicry going on. Driessen says seal stones such as those found in the Griffin Warrior’s tomb were highly individual objects that were used by the Minoans for bureaucratic functions, such as to signal identity on official documents. A Minoan would have had one ring or seal stone, or maybe two—but not 50. “It doesn’t make sense to have fifty seal stones,” Driessen says. “The Griffin Warrior was showing off, or maybe the ones who buried him were showing off. There’s obviously Minoan influence, but I do think some of these objects were not used in the same way the Minoans used them.”

Other objects, too, seem like conscious references to one another. One of four gold rings in the grave shows a Minoan-style bull leaper, echoing a bull’s head once mounted atop a scepter buried nearby. On one seal stone a sun with 16 rays hangs in the sky above two otherworldly creatures with insect-like features, known to scholars of Minoan art as genii. Recent X-rays of a badly corroded bronze breastplate found on the warrior’s legs show that the same 16-pointed star once adorned his suit of armor. “There’s so much evidence that suggests that the Mycenaeans understood Minoan ritual concepts of power,” Davis says. “It seems to us likely that some beliefs originating in Crete had been transplanted intact to Pylos, if not by Minoan missionaries, by converted mainlanders.”

Driessen suggests that the idea of classifying art and artifacts as “Minoan” or “Mycenaean” at this time of cross-cultural ferment may not fully reflect the period’s complexity. For example, he believes that mainlanders might have carved the seal stones themselves, having learned from Minoan artisans, or Cretan artisans may have emigrated to the mainland, bringing familiar iconography to new audiences. The connections between the iconography and artifacts have convinced Stocker and Davis that the Griffin Warrior was an informed consumer of Minoan-style objects, not an indiscriminate looter. Somehow, Stocker says, the Griffin Warrior functions as a kind of bridge between the Minoans and Mycenaeans that provides evidence of just how closely interconnected they were. “There’s symbolic unity among the artifacts. We have things that match, assembled with intentionality,” she says. “It’s not randomly accumulated loot. It reflects a story that’s been purposely acquired.”