Discovered Bronze Age 'Royal' Tombs Reveal Secrets About Life in Ancient Greece

Published December 19th, 2019 - 09:45 GMT
The same 16-pointed star also appears on a bronze and gold artefact in the grave. (Greek Culture Ministry)
The same 16-pointed star also appears on a bronze and gold artefact in the grave. (Greek Culture Ministry)
Archaeologists discovered the tombs that once had dome-shaped roofs.

Archaeologists have unearthed two monumental Bronze Age tombs in the south of Greece, littered with flakes of gold leaf that once papered the walls.

The tombs, which date back around 3,500 years, were discovered near the Mycenaean-era palace of Pylos in Greece's Peloponnese region - which featured in Homer's Odyssey.

They were made in the Tholos style, characterised by massive domed underground constructions like beehives. These types of tombs were generally reserved for Mycenaean royalty.  

The tombs contain a trove of engraved jewellery and artefacts, which researchers claim could help historians fill in gaps in our knowledge of early Greek civilisation. 

The larger of the two tombs had a diameter of 40 feet (12 metres) at floor level and its stone walls survived to a height of 15 feet (4.5 metres) - less than half its original height. 

The other was about two-thirds of that size and its walls now stand 6.5ft (two meters) high. 

According to the Greek culture ministry, the dome-shaped roofs of both tombs collapsed during antiquity, and the chambers became filled with so much earth and rubble that grave robbers couldn't get in to plunder them.

But the tombs were not immune from being targeted by opportunistic thieves, with several generations of Greeks disturbing the sacred site around 1,000 BC. 

Recovered grave goods from the two tombs included a golden seal ring and a golden amulet of the ancient Egyptian goddess, Hathor.  

She is the goddess of the sky, women, fertility and love and is usually depicted as a woman with the head of a cow, ears of a cow, or simply in cow form. 

Hathor is one of the central figures of Greek mythology who is closely associated with sky god Ra.

The gold ring shows 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,' Jack Davis, one of the lead archaeologists at the University of Cincinnati who spent 18 months excavating the site, said. 

The golden objects found inside the gold-lined walls of the tomb indicate the importance of those laid to rest within. 

As does the considerable art emblazoned with mythological creatures throughout the catacomb.

An agate sealstone adorned with two lion-like creatures - called genii - was found inside, with the beats portrayed as standing upright on clawed feet. 

Above the genii is a 16-pointed star. The same 16-pointed star also appears on a bronze and gold artefact in the grave, the researchers say.

'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,' Sharon Stocker, dig supervisor, said. 

The Greek culture ministry said the latest discovery was particularly important as it shed light on the early phases of Greece's Mycenaean civilisation.

The Mycenaean era, between roughly 1650-1100 BC provided the material for many of the myths and legends of ancient Greece including that of the Trojan War.

The tombs were excavated over the past two years by University of Cincinnati archaeologists.

The researchers also uncovered the Griffin Warrior grave nearby, a rich burial that got its name from some of the ornaments found in it.

It yielded a stunning hoard of gold and silver treasure, jewellery and bronze arms buried with a man presumed to have been an early ruler of Pylos.

One of the finds includes a tiny sealstone depicting mortal combat in exquisite detail. 

All three graves were built earlier than the sprawling palace whose ruins lie close by, and which features in Homer's Odyssey as the seat of the wise King Nestor.  

'Like with the Griffin Warrior grave, by the end of the first week we knew we had something that was really important,' Sharon Stocker, dig supervisor, said of the latest find. 

'It soon became clear to us that lightning had struck again,' Davis added.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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