Category Archives: EUROPE

Roman treasure discovered by chance: Hundreds of ancient gold coins hidden for centuries

Roman treasure discovered by chance: Hundreds of ancient gold coins hidden for centuries

A precious cache of ancient Roman coins discovered on the site of a former theatre in northern Italy is being investigated by archaeologists. The coins, at least 300 of them, date back to the late Roman imperial era and were discovered in the basement of the Cressoni Theatre in Como, north of Milan, in a soapstone jar.

An absolutely astonishing find that will provide significant information about several Roman emperors.

“We do not yet know in detail the historical and cultural significance of the find,” said Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli in a press release. “But that area is proving to be a real treasure for our archaeology. A discovery that fills me with pride.”

Whoever placed the jar in that place “buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it,” said Maria Grazia Facchinetti, a numismatist — or expert in rare coins — at a press conference.

27 of the Roman coins were put on display during the reveal of the discovery.

“They were stacked in rolls similar to those seen in the bank today,” she said, adding the coins have engravings about emperors Honorius, Valentinian III, Leon I, Antonio, and Libio Severo “so they don’t go beyond 474 AD.”

“All of this makes us think that the owner is not a private subject, rather it could be a public bank or deposit,” Facchinetti added.

Archaeologists also uncovered a golden bar inside the jar.

According to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, coins were transferred to the Mibac restoration laboratory in Milan where archaeologists and restorers are examining them.

The ministry did not place a value on the coins. But reports in the Italian media suggest they could be worth millions of dollars.

The historic Cressoni Theater opened in 1807 before transitioning into a cinema and eventually closing in 1997. The site is not far from the Novum Comum forum area, where other important Roman artefacts were discovered, according to the ministry.

The find is one of several surprising discoveries of Roman coins in recent years.

In 2016, archaeologists unearthed a rare 2,000-year-old Roman a gold coin in Jerusalem. The coin featured the face of Nero, the Roman emperor best known for playing the fiddle while Ancient Rome burned, and was likely struck in 56-57 AD.

A quadrillion tons of diamonds lie deep beneath the Earth’s surface
It was discovered at the Mount Zion archaeological dig, south of the Old City of Jerusalem, where a University of North Carolina-Charlotte team was excavating throughout the summer.

That same year, a team of archaeologists unearthed 10 ancient Roman and Ottoman coins from the ruins of a castle in Okinawa, Japan.

800-year-old Pueblo Indian blanket made out of 11,500 turkey feathers

800-year-old Pueblo Indian blanket made out of 11,500 turkey feathers

There are more uses for a turkey than the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast. Researchers believe the flightless fowl held a deep significance for ancient Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest, who domesticated the bird but didn’t eat it. 

Archaeologists at Washington State University examined an 800-year-old feather blanket from southeast Utah, one of the few remaining examples of its kind. They determined it took more than 11,000 turkey feathers to make the spread, likely plucked painlessly from live birds during molting periods. It would have taken between four and ten turkeys to make this single blanket, now on display at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah.

‘The birds that supplied the feathers were likely being treated as individuals important to the household,’ said anthropologist Bill Lipe. ‘This reverence for turkeys and their feathers is still evident today in Pueblo dances and rituals.’

An 800-year-old blanket from Pueblo Indians in the Southwest US took more than 11,500 turkey feathers to make, according to a new report. Turkeys were an integral part of tribal life for thousands of years, and not really a food source until the 11th or 12th century

An 800-year-old blanket from Pueblo Indians in the Southwest US took more than 11,500 turkey feathers to make, according to a new report. Turkeys were an integral part of tribal life for thousands of years, and not really a food source until the 11th or 12th century.

To determine how many turkeys would have been needed for this blanket, Lipe’s team counted feathers from the pelts of wild modern-day turkeys ethically sourced from dealers in Idaho.

Such feathers were widely used to make blankets and robes by the Ancestral Pueblo people but, because they’re so fragile, few examples have survived.

‘The goal of this study was to shed new light on the production of turkey feather blankets and explore the economic and cultural aspects of raising turkeys to supply the feathers,’ said Lipe, lead author of a paper in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Protective fabrics made from animal pelts, fur, and feathers would’ve been needed as tribes ventured into higher, colder elevations in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Feathers from modern-day turkeys used to help determine how many would have been needed for the blanket, Researchers counted feathers from the pelts of wild turkeys ethically sourced from dealers in Idaho.

Feathers from modern-day turkeys used to help determine how many would have been needed for the blanket, Researchers counted feathers from the pelts of wild turkeys ethically sourced from dealers in Idaho.
Turkey-feather blankets were made by weaving feathers into nearly 600 feet of yucca fiber cord.

Turkey-feather blankets were made by weaving feathers into nearly 600 feet of yucca fiber cord. The ancestors of the modern-day Pueblo Indians, who include the Hopi and Zuni, tended to live at elevations above 5,000 feet, where the winters were brutal and even summer nights could be cold.

Made by women, the fabrics would have served tribespeople through various stages of life — as blankets for sleeping, cloaks in cold weather, and finally as funerary dressing.

This particular blanket measured 39 by 42.5 inches and took approximately 11,550 soft body feathers wrapped around almost 600 feet of yucca fiber cord.

Turkey feathers began replacing rabbit skin as the preferred material for twined blankets between 400 BC and 700 AD, according to Lipe. They lasted longer and plucking turkey rather than skinning hares would have allowed for an ongoing resource.

Turkeys were one of the very few domesticated animals in North America before Europeans arrived but they weren’t really used as a food source until the late 12th century when deer became more scarce.

Turkeys were one of the very few domesticated animals in North America before Europeans arrived but they weren’t really used as a food source until the late 12th century when deer became more scarce.

New feathers could be collected several times a year for the life of the turkey, which could more than a decade.

‘As ancestral Pueblo farming populations flourished, many thousands of feather blankets would likely have been in circulation at any one time,’ said Shannon Tushingham, a professor of anthropology at WSU and co-author of the study. ‘It is likely that every member of an ancestral Pueblo community, from infants to adults, possessed one.’

Surprisingly, the turkeys would have been treated more like pets or members of the family than dinner.

Turkey feathers began replacing rabbit skin as the preferred material for twined blankets about 2,000 years ago. They lasted longer and plucking turkey rather than skinning hares kept the animal alive and made them a renewable resource

Washington State University archaeologists Bill Lipe (left) and Shannon Tushingham hope understanding how Ancestral Pueblo people made turkey blankets will shine a light on the animal’s role in their culture

Turkey feathers began replacing rabbit skin as the preferred material for twined blankets about 2,000 years ago. They lasted longer and plucking turkey rather than skinning hares kept the animal alive and made them a renewable resource

Turkeys were one of the very few domesticated animals in North America before Europeans arrived but they weren’t really used as a food source until the late 12th century when deer became more scarce.

Turkey remains found among the ancient Pueblo were usually whole skeletons that had been intentionally buried, not scattered bones in hearths or trash heaps. That indicates a ritual or cultural significance for the birds, Lipe believes. 

‘They are right up there with eagle feathers as being symbolically and culturally important,’ he said.

Thousand-Year-Old Goblet Shows Ancient Romans Used Nanotechnology

Thousand-Year-Old Goblet Shows Ancient Romans Used Nanotechnology

Finally, researchers have discovered why the jade-green cup appears red when lit from behind. The colourful secret of a 1,600-year-old Roman chalice at the British Museum is the key to a super­sensitive new technology that might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints.

Thousand-Year-Old Goblet Shows Ancient Romans Used Nanotechnology
The Romans may have first come across the colourful potential of nanoparticles by accident, but they seem to have perfected it.

When lit from the front, the glass chalice, known as the Lycurgus Cup because it bears a scene involving  King Lycurgus of Thrace, appears jade green when lit from the front but blood-red when lit from behind—a property that puzzled scientists for decades after the museum acquired the cup in the 1950s.

The mystery wasn’t solved until 1990 when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: They’d impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometers in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.

The exact mixture of the precious metals suggests the Romans knew what they were doing—“an amazing feat,” says one of the researchers, archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College London.

The ancient nanotech works something like this: When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the colour depending on the observer’s position.

Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues realized that this effect offered untapped potential.

“The Romans knew how to make and use nanoparticles for beautiful art,” Liu says. “We wanted to see if this could have scientific applications.”

When various fluids filled the cup, Liu suspected, they would change how the vibrating electrons in the glass interacted, and thus the colour. (Today’s home pregnancy tests exploit a separate nano-based phenomenon to turn a white line pink.)

Since the researchers couldn’t put liquid into the precious artefact itself, they instead imprinted billions of tiny wells onto a plastic plate about the size of a postage stamp and sprayed the wells with gold or silver nanoparticles, essentially creating an array with billions of ultra-miniature Lycurgus Cups.

When water, oil, sugar solutions and salt solutions were poured into the wells, they displayed a range of easy-to-distinguish colours—light green for water and red for oil, for example.

The proto­type was 100 times more sensitive to altered levels of salt in solution than current commercial sensors using similar techniques.

It may one day make its way into handheld devices for detecting pathogens in samples of saliva or urine, or for thwarting terrorists trying to carry dangerous liquids onto airplanes.

The original fourth-century A.D. Lycurgus Cup, probably taken out only for special occasions, depicts King Lycurgus ensnared in a tangle of grapevines, presumably for evil acts committed against Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.

If inventors manage to develop a new detection tool from this ancient technology, it’ll be Lycurgus’ turn to do the ensnaring.

Norway ice melt reveals ‘frozen archive’ of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows

Norway ice melt reveals ‘frozen archive’ of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows

In the Jotunheimen Mountains, the team found 68 arrows on the Langfonne ice patch, tracing the objects again to various lengths of time over 1000 years, from the Stone Age to the Medieval Period.

In addition, the find, printed this week as an examination in the Holocene journal, includes the stays of reindeer antlers, Iron Age scaring sticks utilised in reindeer searching and a 3,300-year-old shoe from the Bronze Age.

In line with the authors of the survey, the arrows mark the earliest ice findings in Northern Europe.

Norway ice melt reveals 'frozen archive' of ancient reindeer-hunting arrows
Archaeologists have uncovered a haul of ancient artifacts from a melted ice patch in Norway, including this leather boot that dates back more than 3000 years.

Norway’s Jotunheimen Mountains are positioned greater than 200 miles (in extra of 320 kilometres) north of the capital, Oslo.

The Langfonne ice patch, the place the arrows have been discovered, has retreated by greater than 70% over the previous 20 years as international warming has brought about dramatic ice melt, the examine says.

“With the ice now retreating due to climate change, the evidence for ancient hunting at Langfonne is reappearing from what is, in essence, a frozen archive,” mentioned Lars Pilø, the examine’s lead writer and an archaeologist from the Innlandet County Council, in a press release.

“The ice melt, sad as it is, provides an unprecedented archaeological opportunity for new knowledge.”

The oldest arrows, courting again to 4000 BC, are in a poor situation. But surprisingly, the arrows from the Late Neolithic interval (2400-1750 BC) have been higher preserved compared to these from the next 2,000 years, in line with the examine.

Researchers discovered a plethora of ancient arrows that date across various periods of Norwegian history.

Using floor penetrating radar (GPR) know-how, researchers imagine that the dangerous state of the oldest arrows could also be as a result of ice motion.

GPR information revealed ice deformation deep inside of the patch could have damaged the outdated, brittle arrows, however, it additionally helped to convey them to the floor to be found.

“Icy patches are not your regular archaeological sites,” Pilø mentioned. “Glacial archaeology has the potential to transform our understanding of human activity in the high mountains and beyond.”

The impressive Roman military base found in Cornfield in Serbia

The impressive Roman military base found in Cornfield in Serbia

The well-maintained ruins of the headquarters of a Roman legion, hidden under a Serbian cornfield near the coal mines, are excavated by archaeologists, who say that its rural location makes it exceptional.

Covering an estimated 3,500 square meters, the headquarters – or principium – belonged to the VII Claudia Legion. Its location was deduced in the spring during a survey.

There are over 100 recorded principiums across the territory of the Roman empire, but almost all are buried under modern cities, said Miomir Korac, lead archaeologist of digs there and at the Roman provincial capital Viminacium that the compound served.

Miomir Korac, the lead archaeologist, poses for a picture at the remains of Roman legion’s headquarters at the ancient city of Viminacium, near Kostolac, Serbia.

“A very small number of principiums are explored completely (and) … so we can say (preservation of) this one is unique as it is undisturbed.”

The compound, which lies east of Belgrade and around one metre (3 ft) under the surface, had 40 rooms with heated walls, a treasury, a shrine, parade grounds and a fountain.

So far only a quarter has been explored, with excavations scheduled to resume next spring.

Inside one room, archaeologists found 120 silver coins that “must have been lost during an emergency” such as an invasion or a natural disaster, said the principium’s lead archaeologist Nemanja Mrdjic.

Buried under a Serbian cornfield, Roman military headquarters slowly sheds its secrets

“The distribution of coins from a corner to the door, … suggests they (coins) spilled while someone was fleeing.”

The VII Claudia Legion was active between 2nd and 5th centuries AD, and its walled camp and principium were separated from the rest of Viminacium, which had its own fortifications.

Excavations of Viminacium have been ongoing since 1882 and finds there include a Roman ship, golden tiles, jade sculptures, mosaics and frescos, along with 14,000 tombs and the remains of three mammoths.

The impressive Roman military base found in Cornfield in Serbia

Archaeologists estimate that they have only uncovered 4% of the site, which they say it’s bigger than New York’s Central Park.

Discovering ancient Egypt in the heart of Rome, Italy

Discovering ancient Egypt in the heart of Rome, Italy

Have you ever seen a real mummy? In the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, which is a section of the Vatican’s museums, you will. It is the body of a woman, whose name was probably Amenirdis and it is greatly conserved.

Many are the monuments and rarities coming from Egypt in Roman times, as for instance hieroglyphics, stelae, mummy cases coming from the city of Thebes, canopic jars and ritual objects.

These are just a few of the treasures and wonders you can admire in the shrines located through the corridors in which you will find yourself fascinated. There is a whole part of the museum dedicated to the funeral customs of Ancient Egypt.

Did you know that for ancient Egyptians the death was not the meaning of an end?

Death was not the end of life but the beginning of a new existence. They believed that men had two souls: Ba and Ka. The first one was destined to the afterlife to receive the prize or the punishment concerned, whereas the second one remained with the body to look after it: it was used to put in the graves goods, food, beverages, clothes, cosmetics and all the things that the deceased may need and used during the normal life so that, even in the afterlife, they might survive.

Also, the physical body of the passed ones had to be as conserved as well preserved for the afterlife, and they had to be recognizable, this is why the technique of mummification was used.

The mummification technique had a profound spiritual meaning: the body, once mummified was made incorruptible and spiritualized. Another constant and typical funeral custom of ancient Egypt was to conserve even the organs of the passed ones.

The Canopy jars

The Canopy jars were the four vessels in which the mummified deceased’s organs were conserved. Usually, they were made in alabaster but also in other materials like stone or steel.

The caps are four because they are the representation of the four sons of Horus.

They collaborated with Anubis in the mummification of Osiris’s body, (the sovereign of the realm of the dead) and this is the reason why they became patrons of the canopy jars.

Duamutef, whose jar has a wolf’s head, containing the stomach of the deceased, Hapi, with the head of a monkey, conserving the lungs, Imset, the human head, conserving the liver and the last one Qebehsenuf, with the rapacious head, containing the guts.

The Sacred Vessel

You will find these sculptures too, usually made of wood. They were often used and collocated in tombs to represent positive advice for the deceased in his or her travel. It was a tangible symbol that connected the Ka with life.

Navigation had a huge importance in Egypt: Egyptian people’s life highly depended on the Nile and it was venerated as it was a real and proper God.

A cat from ancient Egypt in Rome

Bast or Bastet is the name of the Egyptian cat goddess, venerated for protection and fertility. In ancient times to kill or injure a cat led to serious penalties and also cats were mummified and this explains how much they were respected and loved by people. So, cats where and are loved even nowadays by people from all over the world, even by the Egyptian Goddess Isis! There a place in Rome was walking just in front of Palazzo Grazioli and looking up you can find a cat statue which was part of the Isis Goddess Temple.

And there is also a “Roman” Pyramid

Discovering ancient Egypt in the heart of Rome, Italy

Rome is well known for its ancient architecture – the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trajan’s Market and the Roman Forum to name a few – but one thing it is not often associated with is pyramids. But right in the heart of Rome, sits a 2,000-year-old pyramid, measuring 30 meters along each side and 35 meters in height. You can’t miss it! Yet very few people have heard of Rome’s Pyramid of Cestius.

The Pyramid of Cestius was built along the Via Ostiensis, an important road in ancient Rome, sometime between 18 and 12 BC. While it is debatable whether the Egyptian pyramids were ever really used as tombs, the pyramid of Cestius most definitely was.

Within the pyramid is a barrel-vaulted burial chamber which, according to the inscriptions on the east and west flanks of the pyramid, housed the body of a Roman politician known as Gaius Cestius Epulo , a tribune, praetor and member of the priesthood. A second inscription announces that the building of this pyramid was completed in 330 days.

Pyramids were royal tombs and this particular custom came to Rome thanks to the Egyptian influence on Rome’s architecture developed after the civil war and Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists uncovered entire roman city without digging

Archaeologists uncovered entire roman city without digging

Archaeologists first managed to map a full roman city, Falerii Novi in Italy, using advanced GPRs, which allowed them to reveal surprising information while it remains deep underground. The technology could revolutionise our view of ancient settlements.

The team, from the University of Cambridge and Ghent University, has discovered a bath complex, market, temple, a public monument unlike anything seen before, and even the city’s sprawling network of water pipes. By looking at different depths, the archaeologists can now study how the town evolved over hundreds of years.

The research, published today in Antiquity, harnessed recent advances in GPR technology which make it possible to explore larger areas in higher resolution than ever before. This is likely to have major implications for the study of ancient cities because many cannot be excavated either because they are too large, or because they are trapped under modern structures.

A slice of ground-penetrating radar data from Falerii Novi, revealing the outlines of the town’s buildings.

GPR works like regular radar, bouncing radio waves off objects and using the ‘echo’ to build up a picture at different depths.* By towing their GPR instruments behind a quad bike, the archaeologists surveyed all 30.5 hectares within the city’s walls — Falerii Novi was just under half the size of Pompeii — taking a reading every 12.5cm.

Located 50 km north of Rome and first occupied in 241 BC, Falerii Novi survived into the medieval period (until around AD 700). The team’s GPR data can now start to reveal some of the physical changes experienced by the city at this time. They have already found evidence of stone robbing.

The study also challenges certain assumptions about Roman urban design, showing that Falerii Novi’s layout was less standardised than many other well-studied towns, like Pompeii.

The temple, market building and bath complex discovered by the team are also more architecturally elaborate than would usually be expected in a small city.

In a southern district, just within the city’s walls, GPR revealed a large rectangular building connected to a series of water pipes which lead to the aqueduct.

Remarkably, these pipes can be traced across much of Falerii Novi, running beneath its insulae (city blocks), and not just along its streets, as might normally be expected. The team believes that this structure was an open-air natatio or pool, forming part of a substantial public bathing complex.

Even more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the team identified a pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex (a covered passageway with a central row of columns). They know of no direct parallel but believe these were part of an impressive public monument and contributed to an intriguing sacred landscape on the city’s edge.

Corresponding author, Professor Martin Millett from the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Classics, said:

“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities.”

Millett and his colleagues have already used GPR to survey Interamna Lirenas in Italy, and on a lesser scale, Alborough in North Yorkshire, but they now hope to see it deployed on far bigger sites.

“It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya,” Millett said. “We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come.”

The sheer wealth of data produced by such high-resolution mapping does, however, pose significant challenges. Traditional methods of manual data analysis are to time-consuming, requiring around 20 hours to fully document a single hectare. It will be some time before the researchers finish examining Falerii Novi but to speed the process up they are developing new automated techniques.

Falerii Novi is well documented in the historical record, is not covered by modern buildings and has been the subject of decades of analysis using other non-invasive techniques, such as magnetometry, but GPR has now revealed a far more complete picture.

Further information

*GPR is so effective because it relies on the reflection of radio waves off items in the ground. Different materials reflect waves differently, which can be used to create maps of underground features. Although this principle has been employed since the 1910s, over the past few years technological advances have made the equipment faster and higher resolution.


The project was funded by the AHRC. Lieven Verdonck, from Ghent University, was employed on a post-doctoral fellowship from the Fund for Scientific Research — Flanders (FWO). The team is grateful for support from Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’Area Metropolitana di Roma, la Provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria Meridionale.

Breathtaking Find Unearths 3,500-Year-Old Ancient Greek Tombs, Once Lined With Gold

Breathtaking Find Unearths 3,500-Year-Old Ancient Greek Tombs, Once Lined With Gold

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.

Breathtaking Find Unearths 3,500-Year-Old Ancient Greek Tombs, Once Lined With Gold
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.