A tomb from Pylos and other news

An interesting find from Greece, actually made this summer, is in the news now. The unlooted (!) shaft grave of a warrior of the Bronze Age, dated to the sixteenth–fifteenth century BC and rich in finds, has been found in Pylos, in the Peloponnese in Greece, near the Palace of King Nestor, named after the legendary king from the Homeric epics.

The tomb measured 5x4m and was 8m deep. Excavators discovered the bones from the skeleton of a 30 to 35 year old man lying on its back. On the body’s left were placed weapons, including a slashing sword with an ivory handle, daggers, and a spearhead. To his right were pieces of jewellery, including four gold rings decorated with carvings in Minoan style and 50 seal stones in Minoan style carved with depictions of goddesses and bull jumpers.

Near the head and chest was a sword with an ivory hilt covered in gold. On the man’s chest and stomach were gold cups. Around his neck was a gold necklace with two pendants. An ivory plaque carved with the depiction of a griffin and a bronze mirror with an ivory handle were found near the man’s legs.

The finds also include more than one thousand beads of carnelian, amethyst, jasper, agate and gold, scattered on the right and around the head of the skeleton. Six ivory combs, silver cups and bowls, jugs, basins and cups of bronze were also found in the tomb. Lastly, also boar’s teeth and bands of bronze, coming from his armour and helmet, were found in the burial.

The tomb is dated right at the beginning of the Mycenaean period (ca. 1550 BC), pre-dating the more famous period associated with the Trojan War (ca. 1200 BC). This has not stopped some people who really ought to know better from trying to link him to Homer’s heroes, however. The man buried here may have been not just a warrior, but also a trader, a raider, or perhaps even a king. However, it seems clear that he must have played an important role in society.

Many of the objects are Minoan in either origin or style, and some were most probably made in Crete. This show that the deceased had contacts with Crete or managed to acquire Minoan objects in some way, and he – or, better, the persons that buried him – wanted to show them off. For the rich people buried in the shaft graves at Mycenaea, for example, it has been suggested that they perhaps served as mercenaries in Crete.

In other news, an ostracon of limestone and dated to the fifteenth century BC, found more than twenty years ago a tomb near Luxor in Egypt, has just been deciphered as the earliest known abecedary. It is written in hieratic and the words are organized according to their initial sounds, with a column of signs on the left used as abbreviations of the same words. On this ostracon appear even some signs seen in inscriptions in the Sinai Desert and in southern Egypt and interpreted as the earliest alphabetic characters, inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs.

A marble head of Medusa, probably an architectural decoration of a small temple, was recently found in Antiochia ad Cragum, in Southern Turkey. The ancient city was founded by the Emperor Nero in the first century AD, and is known mostly through archaeological research. The excavators point out that it is surprising that a pagan element escaped destruction when the city was Christianized.

And finally, on the RSPB Scotland nature reserve on the Isle of Coll, buried deposit of 3,000-year-old bronze weapons has been unearthed. All in all, at least seven weapons have been recovered, including spearheads and swords. It seems that the deposit was once a freshwater loch, and that the weapons were actually broken on purpose (i.e. ritually ‘killed’), and deposited into the water as part of a ritual offering.

Picture credit: thumbnail for this post taken from this article on the Pylos tomb.

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