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Ancient Greek Helmet Found in Stone Burial Chamber in Croatia

The Greek-Illyrian war helmet found in southern Dalmatia, Croatia in December of 2020. Credit: Dubrovnik Museums

A very rare bronze Greek-Illyrian war helmet, used in Greece during the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, has just been discovered in a rock-cut tomb in Dalmatia, Croatia.

The form of the iconic open-faced helmet, which archaeologists consider an especially rare find, originated in the Peloponnese during the 8th and 7th centuries BC.

Archaeologists working at the grave site in Croatia. Credit: Dubrovnik Museums

The spectacular find was made recently during the exploration of the cave tomb in Zakotarac, located on the Pelješac peninsula, in southern Dalmatia, Croatia. The tomb was for a warrior buried approximately three centuries later, however, in the 4th century BC.

The rare find, accompanied by many other valuable objects from the era, was discovered within a previously-unknown rock-cut tomb along a hillside near Gradina.

The site of the 4th- century BC grave site in Croatia. In the distance is a hilltop settlement of Gradina that Archaeologists believe may hold further important discoveries. Credit: Dubrovnik Museums

This particular style of helmet, which became the iconic head covering of Greek warriors over the centuries, was first used by the ancient Greek Etruscans and Scythians. It later became known as the Illyrian helmet.

An alternate form of this helmet was also developed in Italy, according to archaeologists who gleaned this information from depictions on ivory relief sculptures. However, this style of helmet became obsolete in most areas of Greece in the early 5th century BC and its common use in Illyria ended by the 4th century BC.

Part of the warrior’s skull appears to be visible from the openings of the helmet, although earth has over the millennia made its way into where the rest of his head would be.

Adding to the importance of the find, archaeologists also discovered a treasure trove of ancient weapons, including spears and knives, in the same Croatian grave.

At least two other people had been buried along with the warrior, including a woman, who was found wearing a bronze bracelet.

According to a report in Archaeology News Network, additional treasures at the gravesite included “fifteen bronze and silver fibulae (clasps), twelve needles, several spiral bronze ornaments and tweezers and several hundred glass paste and amber beads belonging to necklaces.”

The spectacular find was made when archaeologists were working on restoring a damaged burial mound. The rectangular space of the mound measured approximately 3 x 2 meters (9.84 x 6.56 feet).

An ancient Greek vase found at the Croatian burial site. Credit: Dubrovnik Museums

The body of the warrior had been laid to rest in a west-east direction in the tomb, but unfortunately, his bones were found in a “rather poor condition,” according to the archaeologists.

The tomb dates back to earlier than the nearby colony on Korčula, which is known to have been founded in the late 4th or early 3rd century BC, according to the project coordinator, Dr. Hrvoje Potrebica, from the Department of Archaeology of Zagreb University.

The discovery was made possible after last year’s visit to western Peljesac by a team from Croatia’s Center for Prehistoric Research. In the process of exploring this area, they were able to identify potential archaeological dig sites at the Illyrian Cave Sanctuary at Nakovana, dating back to the 4th to 1st centuries BC.

Priceless objects to accompany the dead in the afterlife

During this reconnaissance, they found grave goods deposited around a stalagmite. Professor Potrebica holds that the fourth century BC Greek-Illyrian helmet “is exceptionally rare” and is one of  only about forty such helmets that have ever been found in all of Europe.

Another treasure found in the grave were thirty vases of predominantly Greek origin — although the researchers believe that they had been made by both Attic and Italian workshops.

According to the archeologists, these types of vessels were among the most expensive vases made during that period. Along with these rare discoveries, the researchers were able to pinpoint many other previously unknown sites in Nakovana, Professor Potrebica stated.

The researchers additionally were able to examine another group of prehistoric mounds around the Croatian village of Zakotorac. Following a road that is believed to have been trodden in prehistoric times, they came upon yet another site known as “the Vidohovo spring.”

The archaeologists state that they believe this site will yield yet more treasures, possibly including a shrine, with Dr. Potrebica adding that it holds “enormous potential.”

In 2021, after all the pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted, the archeological team hopes that they will once again be able to return to this site, which will enable them to lace these finds into their proper historical context.

Dr. Potrebica told interviewers that the discovery of the bronze war helmet, along with the other “exceptional finds” on Korcula, are presenting archaeologists with a new understanding of the “importance of the southern Adriatic in the historical dynamics of this part of Europe.”

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