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The Griffin Warrior: A Staggering Discovery from Ancient Greece

Griffin Warrior
The Pylos Combat Agate found in the Griffin Warrior Tomb by archaeologists Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis. Credit: YouTube

The discovery of the Griffin Warrior Tomb is one of the most fascinating archaeological findings, as it seems to link the Minoan and the Mycenaean civilizations.

On May 28, 2015, the archaeologists excavating in Pylos in southwestern Greece, discovered a Bronze Age tomb with a skeleton surrounded by rich artifacts, suggesting it belonged to an important man.

The grave belongs to the Mycenaean Civilization, approximately 1750 BC to 1050 BC. Also, many of the objects found seem to be related to the Minoan Civilization, c. 3500 BC  to 1100 BC.

Overall archaeological research has shown that the Mycenaeans had reached most of the eastern Mediterranean, including ancient Egypt, the city-states of the Near East (today’s Turkey), and the islands of the Mediterranean.

However, the strongest connection discovered is the one with the Minoan Civilization on the island of Crete.

The Minoan Civilization was named after the legendary King Minos, but the islanders’ culture was very different from that found on mainland Greece.

The Griffin Warrior Tomb

The Griffin Warrior Tomb was discovered near the ancient Palace of Nestor within the Bronze Age city of Pylos in southwest Greece.

The archeologists were Sharon Stocker, a senior research associate in University of Cincinnati in the Department of Classics, and Jack Davis, the university’s Carl W. Blegen Chair in Greek archaeology,

The excavation began in a spot where three stones appeared to form a corner. A two meter by one meter shaft was discovered.

Inside the shaft there was a stone-lined chamber containing a wooden coffin. Several offerings were found inside the chamber and on top of the coffin.

The findings were jewelry, sealstones, carved ivories, combs, gold and silver goblets, and bronze weapons, hence the warrior suggestion.

The artifacts included a gold box-weave chain with “sacral ivy,” a meter-long sword with a gold-coated hilt, a gold-hilted dagger, and multiple gold and silver cups.

On these cups were carnelian, amethyst, amber, and gold beads, four gold rings, many small, carved seals with etched depictions of combat, goddesses, reeds, altars, lions, and men jumping over bulls.

A plaque of ivory with a representation of a griffin in a rocky landscape, a bronze mirror with an ivory handle, thin bands of bronze from the warrior’s armor, and boar tusks, possibly from the warrior’s helmet, were amongst the things found.

Analyses of the skeleton indicate that the man was in his thirties and around five-foot tall with had long hair. Furthermore, the finds suggest he was a rich, prominent member of society.

A computerized facial reconstruction based on the warrior’s skull shows a broad, determined face with close-set eyes and a prominent jaw.

The analysis suggests that the Griffin Warrior lived during the end of the shaft grave period before the construction of the palatial centers in Mycenaean Greece, including the Palace of Nestor. Further analysis of the skeleton will show more about the identity of the skeleton.

Scientific examination of his well-preserved teeth and pelvic bones may help determine his genetic background, diet, and cause of death.

The Minoan Civilization influence in mainland Greece

Excavations on the Greek mainland and Crete have shown that beginning around 1600 BC, the comparatively unsophisticated culture on the mainland underwent a transformation.

“In time, there’s a blossoming of wealth and culture,” Stocker told UC Magazine. “Palaces are built, wealth accumulates, and power is consolidated in places such as Pylos and Mycenae.”

For a few centuries, mainland Greeks seemed to imitate the Minoans. Pylos, an early Mycenaean power center, had buildings that resembled the large houses with ashlar masonry found at Knossos, Crete.

“There were probably four or five fancy mansions in Pylos at the time of the Griffin Warrior, all very Minoan in style,” Davis said.

The mansions had painted walls, a type of artistry pioneered by the Minoans.

For a time period, the Mycenaeans imported Minoan luxury goods and incorporated Minoan symbols, such as the bull, into their own art.

Rich Mycenaeans were buried with Minoan luxury goods while some other graves included locally-produced Mycenaean objects, such as painted pottery and copies of Minoan originals.

The Mycenaeans also adapted the Minoan script, called Linear A, for their own use; this script is now called Linear B.

Mycenaean society also changed shape, becoming more hierarchical. Power concentrated in the hands of the palace-dwelling members of society, as shown in the works of Homer.

The findings in the Griffin Warrior Tomb are an indication of riches and sophistication that supports the archaeologists’ argument.

The Pylos Combat Agate

The most astonishing find in the Griffin Warrior Tomb is a miniature seal stone with a combat representation of remarkable detail.

It is a vivid depiction of a warrior in battle with two others. The hero is slaying an opponent, and a third warrior is lying dead in the foreground.

The hero is wearing an item similar to the seal itself like a wristwatch. His two opponents  wear the same patterned kilts whereas the hero is wearing a codpiece.

The details of the carvings are hard to fathom and can only be seen with a magnifying glass.

The seal measures only 3.6 cm (1.4 inches), carved on a hard stone known as agate; hence, it is named the Pylos Combat Agate. It is mounted so that it can be worn on the wrist.

Archaeologist John Bennet, director of the British School at Athens, said the seal is a masterpiece of miniature art and Aegean art in particular.

Archaeologists have been puzzled by the engraved detail, with some of the details being  only half a millimeter big. Some even say that the engraver must have used a magnifying glass to carve it.

Archaeologists argue that the human body is represented at a level of detail and musculature that is not encountered until the classical period of Greek art about a thousand years later.

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