Some wonderful archaeology news in the last two weeks, as the excavators at Pylos have come forward with news of a fantastic intact grave from the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, just before the rise of the Mycenaean empire.
I first saw the article posted to National Geographic, which has some great images but doesn’t allow hot-inking or have much real information.
The article from Neokosmos is much better, and includes some genuine information about the excavation and the issues that are raised by this find, which are many.
Upshot is: this is major news and a huge boon to prehistorians of the Mycenaean period in Mediterranean archaeology. The Griffin Warrior is one of the first unlooted “rich” or “royal” graves to be found in Greece since Heinrich Schliemann excavated Mycenae itself in 1876. This new tomb contained 1400 objects, including a bronze sword, gold necklace and seals, beads, mirror, ivory comb, an ivory plaque carved with a griffin, and cups in bronze, silver and gold.
What’s far more interesting than the material wealth of the assemblage, however, is where it come from culturally: this man’s seal stones and cultural assemblage look Minoan (from Crete). And yet here he is, buried on a royal palace site on the Greek mainland. He seems to embody the transition of power between Crete and the Mainland in the Late Bronze Age, a period which ended with outright conquest of the island and the occupation of Crete by Mycenaean overlords.
It’s also very interesting that the Griffin Warrior has an intact skeleton. He was a man roughly 30-35 years of age, and there is a huge wealth of evidence to be gleaned from his skeletal assemblage. The isotopes and layers of his bones and teeth can potentially tell us where he was born and raised, and where he spent the years immediately before his death. Whether he knew hunger or privation as a child. Whether he suffered injuries and what quality of medical care he received over the course of his childhood and adult life. And lastly, we can look at his DNA and see if he seems to be related to burial populations from the same time period on the Greek mainland, on Crete, or some other place entirely.
We have a lot to look forward to, and a great deal of wonderful information and experimentation should emerge from this find. In a field where people find wonderful things every day–Greek archaeology, particularly prehistoric archaeology, is an incredibly rich field–this is one of the most wonderful things to be found in the last 200 years.
It is worthy of celebration.