A year ago, a team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati (UC) hit the jackpot when they unearthed a Bronze Age tomb laden with riches, including weaponry, jewelry, and precious golden rings. Researchers have since been focusing their attention on four mysterious golden rings found deep within the ground, and it appears that they provide insights into the origins of Ancient Greek civilization.
The site in Greece appears to be the final resting place of a fairly wealthy soldier or warrior, a man who lived 3,500 years ago. Stretched out on his back, he was adorned with golden daggers with ivory hilts, gilded cups, and thousands of beads of precious gems. To find such a tomb unlooted is an incredibly rare occurrence.
Nicknamed the “Griffin Warrior” thanks to an ivory plaque adorned with the mythical beast found resting in his grave, the husband-and-wife team leading the excavations have been particularly enthralled by the man’s rise to power.
The gold rings, they believe, were rings of dominance. They served as indications of the elite status of the local rulers of Pylos, the settlement on the southwestern coastline of Greece that was once, perhaps, the dominion of this mysterious man. He was a fighter for the Mycenaeans, clearly a renowned one considering he was buried so close to the Palace of Nestor, a throne that has been immortalized in Homer’s Odyssey.
A symbolic mirror found within the grave. University of Cincinnati
The rulers of Mycenae are most recognizable to those familiar with Homer's story of the Trojan War, parts of which are likely to not be fictional, but fact. Just recently, an archaeologist claimed to have found the throne of the legendary Mycenaean ruler Agamemnon, but this remains debatable.
Nevertheless, this tomb clearly belonged to a Mycenaean warrior, and it appears that his death coincides with a great war between this empire and that of the Minoan civilization. Based on Crete and Thera – present-day Santorini – they were ultimately wiped out by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunami, an event that may have inspired the tales of the mythical Atlantis.
“The grave was right around the time the Mycenaeans were conquering the Minoans,” Shari Stocker, a senior research associate at UC, explained in a statement. “We know that there were extensive raids and shortly after the date of our grave, Minoan-Crete fell to the Mycenaeans.”
Another golden ring, this time featuring a bull-jumping scene. University of Cincinnati
Curiously, at the time, the Minoans were far more refined and advanced in many respects than the nascent Grecian cultures. The Griffin Warrior’s rings of power are in fact engraved with Minoan insignia, indicating its importance at the time.
They are meticulously crafted from multiple sheets of gold, and show a variety of scenes, from women resting under a seaside shrine to various bull-based iconography, the latter of which was a common feature of Minoan art. A mirror found within the grave appears on one of the rings, suggesting a special significance to the Mycenaeans.
Additionally, the grave also features plenty of bull’s horns, both literally and on the rings, suggesting a motif of power-based ritualized slaughter. Amusingly, the tomb contains a fair few combs, which the researchers think represent an important pre-battle ceremony – brushing their hair in order to look positively fabulous/fearsome.
Significantly, far from just stealing Minoan works of art, the mainland Greeks were apparently reveling in their islandic culture.
“This isn't just loot,” Jack Davis, the university's Carl W. Blegen chair in Greek archaeology, added. “It may be loot, but they're specifically selecting loot that transmits messages that are understandable to them.”
This isn’t just a grave, then. It’s a time capsule, an insight into the rise of Ancient Greece and the religious adoption of another long-dead culture. It’s an archaeological game-changer.
One of the six ivory combs found within the grave. University of Cincinnati