Category Archives: GREECE

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.

Byzantine Amphora Found By Swimmer At Cretan Beach

Byzantine Amphora Found By Swimmer At Cretan Beach

An ancient amphora, which is a vase that was historically used to store and transport things such as wine, oil and grain was discovered by a man who was swimming at Arina beach in Heraklion, Crete.

Admittedly, this is more likely if your holiday is in Crete than Gran Canaria, but it’s what happened to one man who had been swimming from his hotel beach.

When he got back inside, he looked at his photos and noticed something round and bobbing in the water. At first, he thought it could be a floating human head.

In fact it was a 12th century Byzantine amphora found by a man out for a swim

That would clearly be of concern, so he alerted the beach lifeguard and took a surfboard out to investigate what it was on Thursday.

It was not a human head In fact it was a 12th century Byzantine amphora found by a man out for a swim In fact it was an amphora, a kind of vase used to store and transport things like wine, oil or grain.

Although it was covered in shells and other debris from the sea, it was intact and is believed to date from the Byzantine period in the 12th or 13th centuries. It will be handed over to the Directorate of Antiquities, local media reported.

The amphora was found at Arina beach by Heraklio in North Crete. Authorities warned that any historical artefacts like this had to be declared as they are property of the Greek state.

People should not move them, however, as this could damage them. Instead, they should give details of where they can be found.

Sculpture of Greek God Hermes Found in Athens

Sculpture of Greek God Hermes Found in Athens

According to a statement released by Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports, municipal workers discovered a fragment of an ancient sculpture built into a sewer line under Aiolou Street, near St. Irene Square. 

The head of an ancient statue of the Greek god Hermes has been unearthed during excavations for sewage system improvements in central Athens, the ministry of culture said Sunday.

The “original artwork dating late 4th century BC or early 3rd century BC” is in good condition, a statement said.

The marble head found just 1.3 metres (four feet) under the pavement on the busy Aiolou street on Friday, “depicts the god in a mature age and is obviously a part of a herm”, the statement added.

Herms or Hermas are sculptures, usually of the head of Hermes, and sometimes a torso, which was set on a squared column erected at road crossings as signs.

This handout picture released by the Greek Culture Ministry on November 15, 2020, shows the head of an ancient statue of the Greek god Hermes, in Athens

According to Greek mythology, Hermes was the son of Zeus and the messenger of the gods, who also protected travellers and merchants.

The ministry gave no estimate of the value of the sculpture but it was immediately transported to a warehouse of the directorate of antiquities.

On Saturday, Athens mayor Kostas Bakoyannis posted a photo of the Hermes head on his Facebook account. “Unique Athens”, he said.

Intact Amphora Recovered Off Croatia’s Coast

Intact Amphora Recovered Off Croatia’s Coast

Total Croatia News reports that a table jug for serving wine and a utensil for straining it was found in the Adriatic Sea, near Croatia’s Paklinski Islands and the entrance to the harbour city of Hvar. The pottery was exposed through the loss of seagrasses.

As Morski writes on the 31st of October, 2020, on Saturday, an action was carried out to save an entire late antiquity-period amphora from the seabed close to the Paklinski Islands near Hvar.

In addition to the amphora, two other complete late antiquity wine vessels were found during the dive, marking yet another incredible Hvar archaeological discovery.

The amphora was found by Dr Ivan Cvitkovic and Dr Ante Zuljevic from the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries during field research on foreign species along the seabed as part of the BENTHIC NIS project, which is otherwise funded by the Croatian Science Foundation.

The wine amphorae are dated to the period between the 3rd and 5th centuries, and the inside is coated with resin because the pottery is porous and liquid would leak through the walls of the vessel.

The action was organised by Tea Katunaric Kirjakov, an underwater archaeologist and lecturer at the Academy of Arts, University of Split, with the assistance of Kantharos d.o.o from Hvar, specialising in archaeological research, surveillance, photographic and photogrammetric documentation.

”The team from the Institute has been monitoring [the area] for many years and they noticed that there are antiquity vessels down there. With the erosion of Posidonia, the discovery of an ancient amphora came to light.

Upon examining the terrain, we found two more ancient wine vessels which were completely preserved. One is a table jug and the other is for straining wine. We also found a number of fragments of amphorae around.

Our goal was to check whether there is a complete amphora or shipwreck remains, however in this survey of the terrain, we haven’t yet been able to specify such a thing.

It will be necessary to undertake another action and look at the deeper parts of the seabed to see whether the amphorae have rolled there,” Tea Katunaric Kirjakov told Morski.

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

Unbeknownst to a Greek farmer, a 3,400-year-old tomb containing two coffins and dozens of artefacts dating back to the Late Minoan era had been lying beneath his olive grove in southeast Crete.

The hole in the ground led to a Minoan Bronze Age tomb.

Both were buried in large vases – intricately embossed clay coffins that were common in Minoan culture in the Bronze Age – and they were surrounded by colourful funeral vases that indicated their owners’ good rank. The burial site was eventually sealed with stone masonry and forgotten leaving the dead unidentified for nearly 3,400 years.

George Dvorsky revealed to Gizmodo earlier this summer that a local farmer accidentally brought an abrupt end to the pair’s millennia-long rest. The farmer tried to park his vehicle on his property under a shaded olive grove when the ground gave way, forcing him to find a new parking spot.

When he started driving off, the unidentified local noticed a four-foot-wide hole that had formed in the patch of land he had just vacated. Perched on the edge of the gaping space the man realized that “a wonderful thing” had been unintentionally unearthed.

The ancient chamber tomb was entirely intact and undamaged by looters.

Archaeologists from the local heritage ministry Lassithi Ephorate of Antiquities, have launched excavations under the olive grove of the farmer at Rousses, a small village just northeast of Kentri, Ierapetra, in southeastern Crete, according to a statement.

The skeletal remains were found inside two larnakes (singular: “larnax”) – a type of small closed coffin used in the Minoan and Greek Bronze Age.

They identified the Minoan tomb, nearly perfectly preserved despite its advanced age, in a pit measuring roughly four feet across and eight feet deep. Space’s interior was divided into three carved niches accessible by a vertical trench.

In the northernmost niche, archaeologists found a coffin and an array of vessels scattered across the ground. The southernmost niche yielded a second sealed coffin, as well as 14 ritual Greek jars called amphorae and a bowl.

Two Minoan men were buried in the Crete tomb roughly 3,400 years ago (Lassithi Ephorate of Antiquities)

Forbes’ Kristina Kilgrove writes that the high quality of the pottery left in the tomb indicates the individuals buried were relatively affluent. She notes, however, that other burial sites dating to the same Late Minoan period feature more elaborate beehive-style tombs.

“These [men] could be wealthy,” Kilgrove states, “but not the wealthiest.”

The ornate pottery vessels found inside the tomb were all in good condition.

Unlike many ancient tombs, the Kentri grave was never discovered by thieves, Argyris Pantazis, deputy mayor of Local Communities, Agrarian and Tourism of Ierapetra, tells local news outlet Cretapost.

In fact, the site likely would have remained sealed in perpetuity if not for the chance intervention of a broken irrigation pipe, which watered down the soil surrounding the farmer’s olive grove and led to his unexpected parking debacle.

“We are particularly pleased with this great archaeological discovery as it is expected to further enhance our culture and history,” Pantazis added in his interview with Cretapost. “Indeed, this is also a response to all those who doubt that there were Minoans in Ierapetra.”

According to Archaeology News Network, most Minoan settlements found on Crete are located in the lowlands and plains rather than the mountainous regions of Ierapetra.

Still, a 2012 excavation in Anatoli, Ierapetra, revealed a Minoan mansion dating to between 1600 and 1400 B.C., roughly the same time period as the Kentri tomb.

This latest find offers further proof of the ancient civilization’s presence—as Mark Cartwright notes for Ancient History Encyclopedia, the Minoans are most renowned for their labyrinthine palace complexes, which likely inspired the classic Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to legend, Queen Pasiphae of Crete gave birth to the Minotaur, a fierce half-man, half-bull hybrid, after falling for a bull sent to Earth by the Greek god Zeus.

Minoan fresco is commonly known as the ‘Prince of the Lilies.’

The Minotaur, doomed to an eternity spent wandering the halls of an underground labyrinth and killing anyone it encountered, was eventually defeated by the demigod Theseus, who relied on an enchanted ball of thread provided by the king’s daughter, Ariadne, to escape the maze.

Much of the Minoans’ history remains unclear, but Forbes’ Kilgrove reports that natural disasters, including the eruption of the Thera volcano, an earthquake and a tsunami, contributed to the group’s downfall, enabling enemies such as the Mycenaeans to easily invade. Analysis of the excavated Kentri tomb may offer further insights on the Minoan-Mycenaean rivalry, as well as the Cretan civilization’s eventual demise.

Archaeologists Discover 3,500-Year-Old “Griffin Warrior” Tomb Full of Treasures

Archaeologists Discover 3,500-Year-Old “Griffin Warrior” Tomb Full of Treasures

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

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

The warrior was buried with a bronze sword, ivory combs, gold rings, and seal stones, gemstones carved with images depicting Minoan influences. Although the archaeologists don’t yet know where in Greece the griffin warrior was from, it’s clear from the wealth of objects found in his grave that he held a high station in society, and the particulars of the object are leading archaeologists to revise some accepted theories about Mycenaean Greece.

University of Cincinnati faculty and staff in the Griffin Warrior tomb (click to enlarge)
University of Cincinnati faculty and staff in the Griffin Warrior tomb
Archaeologists Discover 3,500-Year-Old “Griffin Warrior” Tomb Full of Treasures
A detailed ivory comb found at the Pylos dig site

The warrior was buried with a bronze sword, ivory combs, gold rings, and seal stones, gemstones carved with images depicting Minoan influences. Although the archaeologists don’t yet know where in Greece the griffin warrior was from, it’s clear from the wealth of objects found in his grave that he held a high station in society, and the particulars of the object are leading archaeologists to revise some accepted theories about Mycenaean Greece.

The discovery was made near the southwest coast of Greece, close to the Palace of Nestor, which is part of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. The palace, named for King Nestor of Pylos in Homer’s The Illiad, is one of the best-preserved Bronze Age palaces on the Greek mainland, despite having been nearly destroyed by fire in 1200 BCE. Dr. Sharon Stocker and Dr. Jack W. Davis from the University of Cincinnati have been excavating at Pylos for the past 25 years.

The Palace of Nestor is an incredible source of archaeological information, though it has been more than 75 years since the last discovery of this magnitude: in 1939, Carl Blegen unearthed a number of tablets inscribed with Linear B script, writing that, borrowing heavily from the Minoan Linear A script, became the earliest known form of written Greek.

A gold ring found in the tomb at Pylos featuring Minoan Toreador imagery

Like the Linear B tablets, many of the objects found in the Griffin Warrior’s tomb display Minoan imagery, such as bulls and bull-leaping, a seemingly impossible athletic feat where a person jumps over a charging bull. These images of bull-leapers, also known as Toreadors, are common in Minoan culture and can be seen in many places, such as the stucco frescoes at the Palace of Knossos, The archaeologists have determined that the Griffin Warrior predates the Palace of Nestor, which might point to Mycenaean Greece flourishing earlier than previously thought in Pylos. Mycenaean Greece (1600–1100 BCE), the first advanced culture on the mainland, was a civilization in transition.

After mainland Greece invaded and occupied Minoan Crete around 1420 BCE, Greeks began to adapt, rather than destroy, the more sophisticated Minoan culture. Dr Davis believes that the presence of Minoan imagery on the Griffin Warrior’s artefacts “suggests that contact between Crete and Greece were very close… and that here in Pylos they… were in the process of incorporating Minoan ideas into their own ideology.”

The open shaft grave of the Griffin Warrior at Pylos

The archaeologists hope to do DNA testing on the Griffin Warrior’s teeth to try to determine his birthplace, which might help explain the meaning and purpose of the Minoan rings and stones in his tomb — e.g., whether these artefacts were personally important to him, aspects of Minoan culture that had been adopted by the Mycenaean people, or had been looted from Crete.

The Griffin Warrior’s discovery and further investigation into his birthplace might lead archaeologists to further reevaluate the history and timeline of Mycenaean Greek culture and its relation to Minoan Crete. This finding has revealed a wealth of new information, but work continues at the Pylos dig site to see how much more can be illuminated about Mycenaean Greece.

3,600-Year-old figurine found in a Prehistoric Village in Greece

3,600-Year-old figurine found in a Prehistoric Village in Greece

A 3,600-year-old marble figurine of a woman is among a treasure trove of artefacts found in a prehistoric village on the Greek island of Santorini.

3,600-Year-old figurine found in a Prehistoric Village in Greece
A 3,600-year-old marble figurine of a woman (pictured) is among a treasure trove of artefacts found in a prehistoric village on the Greek island of Santorini.

Archaeologists also found two small marble jars, a marble vial and an alabaster vase inside rectangular clay chests within an ancient settlement.

They said the finds shed new light on the beliefs of the Theran society – a mysterious group that scientists know little about as they had no written language.

The discovery was made by experts at the Greek culture ministry in the prehistoric village of Akrotiri – known locally as the ‘Minoan Pompeii’.

The large settlement was destroyed around the year 1628 BC in a catastrophic volcanic eruption on the island, which in Ancient Greek was known as Thera.

Thick layers of ash from the explosion preserved the remains of many frescoes, objects and artworks in Akrotiri. The new finds include a number of different marble artefacts that were likely used for religious or other symbolic rituals, archaeologists said.

They shed fresh light on the prehistoric Theran society, which scientists believe was killed off during Santorini’s 16th Century BC eruption.

‘These finds are undoubtedly linked to the views and beliefs of Theran society,’ the Greek culture ministry said.

Archaeologists also found two small marble jars, a marble vial and an alabaster vase inside rectangular clay chests within an ancient building

‘They provide a stimulus for a new interpretive drive on fundamental questions about the ideology and possibly the religion of prehistoric Aegean society.’

Just like the Roman-era remains in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Akrotiri is a goldmine for researchers. This is because much of the settlement became preserved for the ages by solidified volcanic ash.

Pictured are marble and clay pots and other artefacts uncovered as part of the new study. The discovery was made by experts at the Greek culture ministry in the prehistoric village of Akrotiri – known locally as the ‘Minoan Pompeii’

The Late Bronze Age eruption devastated many nearby islands and is commonly believed to have triggered the downfall of the once-dominant Minoan civilisation.

It is thought the group, based on the neighbouring island of Crete, fell due to the desolating earthquakes and tsunamis that followed.

Akrotiri has been suggested by several experts as a likely candidate to represent the fictional island of Atlantis mentioned in Plato’s works.

A 3,500-year-old Minoan vase carved from rock-crystals

A 3,500-year-old Minoan vase carved from rock-crystals

Ideally situated in a sheltered gulf surrounded by mountains, Zakros (or Kato Zakros) in south-eastern Crete, was the fourth largest Minoan settlement after Knossos, Phaistos and Malia.

The ancient name has been lost and the present one derives from the nearest local town. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the settlement achieved its greatest influence in the palatial period c. 2000 BCE to c. 1450 BCE.

The palace was destroyed (possibly by the eruption of the Thera volcano, although the date of this is much disputed) and abandoned c. 1450 BCE with the surrounding settlement also being abandoned c. 1330 BCE.

The site was first excavated in 1901 CE by D. Hogarth of the British School of Athens and once again from 1961 CE under the supervision of N. Platon, Ephor of Cretan Antiquities.

The excavations discovered a large palace complex and surrounding settlement displaying many typical Minoan architectural features.

These include a large central court (30x12m), secondary courts, colonnades, light-wells, a monumental stepped entrance, lustral basins (sunken rooms), storage magazines, archive rooms, stairs to a second floor, and paving with large flagstones and red plaster interstices.

Some rooms were also covered in fresco similar to (but fewer in quantity than) those at Knossos, depicting spirals, double axes and bull horns of consecration.

Unique to the Zakros site is a large circular cistern (5m in diameter) with seven steps leading down into it and originally surrounded by columns. An interesting and unique find in the extensive settlement around the palace complex is a large furnace with four exhaust ducts, perhaps used for metallurgy.

Zakros Minoan Site

The presence of more than 500 large storage jars (pithoi), over 50 fine stone vases, seals and Linear A tablets, quantities of ivory and bronze ingots, fine libation vases and rhyton all suggest the palace, as in the other Minoan towns, was a prosperous administrative and commercial centre, not only locally but with trade links to the Cycladic islands, Egypt and the Peloponnese on mainland Greece.

Other archaeological finds of note are fine gold jewellery pieces, Marine style pottery and gold objects such as a bull’s head and engraved bowl.