Humans are storytellers more than anything else; whether we are talking about the most ancient of historical epics, or we’re explaining to each other how the universe begins and ends, we are, first and foremost, the tellers of tales. Archaeologists are among the keenest, hoping to find some truth in a myth, or some tangible evidence of a legend being something more than a whisper.
So when one claims to have found evidence of the lost throne of the rules of Mycenae – most famous from the story of the Trojan War – it’s hard not to want to believe that they have. The problem with myths is that it’s incredibly hard to verify what parts of them may be true, and in this particular case, it’s difficult to tell whether this limestone fragment really is part of a long-lost throne or whether it’s something far more innocuous.
As reported by AP, Christofilis Maggidis, the head of excavations at the dig site in southern Greece, has claimed this week to have found a chunk of worked, crafted limestone within a stream underneath the ruins of the palace of the kings of Mycenae. He told a press conference that it must be part of a throne that likely collapsed and fragmented during an earthquake around 1200 BCE.
The acropolis at the dig site. David Monniaux/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0
Although a similar material is found extensively within the citadel’s massive defensive walls, and in the beehive tombs where rulers of the ancient city were buried, this precise type of limestone has never been found in this historical context before now.
Maggidis is convinced that it was definitely part of a large seat, and it certainly wasn’t a commonplace chair construction material. “In our opinion, this is one of the most emblematic and significant finds from the Mycenaean era,” he explained at the conference.
As made famous by Homer’s Iliad, the war between the Trojans of the besieged city of Troy and the Achaeans (ancient Greeks) was led, on the latter side, by Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. Although a lot of the story is apocryphal, the city of Troy, based on excavations, is likely to be a real city at what is now Hissarlik in Turkey.
Mycenae, too, is now an archaeological site in Greece, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Athens. During 1600 and 1100 BCE, it was one of the major centers of Greek civilization and a military stronghold.
The citadel there has been slowly excavated since 1841, and a golden death mask was found there by Heinrich Schliemann, a pioneering archaeologist. Upon his discovery, he declared that he had “gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.” Although it’s disputed by some as being far older than the rule of the ancient king, it does heavily hint that a throne fit for a king – or many kings – should be there among the ruins somewhere.
Is this the death mask of Agamemnon? Xuan Che/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY 2.0
Greek Culture Ministry officials, however, have distanced themselves from the throne interpretation, saying that they think the limestone chunk was part of a stone basin that held water. However, it would be useless for holding liquids, as it was made of a highly porous material.
Maggidis now hopes to get a permit to excavate more of the stream. If more pieces are found, and they can be assembled, then maybe the ancient throne of Mycenae will appear before our very eyes – or, perhaps, it won’t. Only time will tell, and in the meantime, it’s good to be hopeful, but skeptical.