One of the best preserved Bronze Age sites on the Greek mainland is the Palace of Nestor near the city of Pylos, which was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. The site was first excavated in 1939 by a team from the University of Cincinnati and archaeologists from the university are still working at the site today, where they continue to make exciting new discoveries such as the Griffin Warrior Tomb.
Uncovered in 2015, this is a Bronze Age shaft tomb dating to around 1450 BC, which means that it is older than the palace of Nestor itself. As well as the adult male skeleton, more than 3,500 items were found in the tomb including weapons, jewels, armour and silver and gold artefacts, many of them made in Crete. Some of the more historically significant objects include a Minoan sealstone called the ‘Pylos Combat Agate’ and gold signet rings with detailed images from Minoan mythology.
The identity of the man buried in the tomb is unknown but the number and wealth of the grave offerings indicate that he must have been an important dignitary. He was aged around 30 and stood 5 feet (1.50 m) tall, and the many military objects around him suggest that he was a warrior. He lay on his back in a wooden coffin with a metre-long gold-coated sword and a dagger on his chest and other weapons between his legs. Also lying on his chest and stomach were golden cups, and by his right side were hundreds of carnelian, amethyst, amber and gold beads. A gold chain and a pendant, dozens of seal-stones carved with intricate designs, and four gold rings glittered beside him, and nearby was a bronze mirror with an ivory handle.
Team leaders Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis commented: “It is truly amazing that no ceramic vessels were included among the grave gifts. All of the cups, pitchers and basins we found were of metal – bronze, silver and gold. He clearly could afford to hold regular pots in disdain.”
Lying between the man’s legs was a plaque of ivory with a representation of a griffin in a rocky landscape, hence the name given to the tomb. (A griffin is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet).
This Ancient Greek sealstone of the Mycenaean era was probably made in Minoan Crete. The finely-detailed engraving depicts two warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat. One of the warriors – who has already defeated one opponent who lies sprawled at his feet – is now plunging his sword into the exposed neck of another foe while grabbing the crest of the man’s helmet. The image is similar to other Late Bronze Age seals found at other Mycenaen sites.
Excavation work continues.
To learn more about the Palace of Nestor see https://www.hunebednieuwscafe.nl/2020/02/palace-of-nestor-greece/ on this website
Text Alun Harvey