For several years, archaeologists have been rooting around the 3,500-year-old tomb of a Bronze Age warrior they call the "Griffin Warrior.” Within this ancient tomb, they have previously unearthed the warrior’s skeleton and an array of jewelry. Now, the University of Cincinnati has revealed what they call “his most stunning historical offering yet.”
Researchers working at the site in southwest Greece have discovered a beautifully carved gem, they describe as “one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.”
The gem is a seal stone called “Pylos Combat Agate.” Carvings on the stone depict a story reminiscent of an epic Greek poem, with vanquished foe laying defeated as a victorious warrior lifts his sword to deliver the fatal blow. Historians studying the find believe it almost certainly depicts a legendary story well-known to the ancient Minoan and Mycenaean culture. The cookie-sized seal stone has been caked in limestone over the millennia, so the researchers had to use a powerful camera lens and photomicroscopy to reveal its former beauty.
Their efforts, it seems, were well worth it:
"Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience, and it still is. It's brought some people to tears," Shari Stocker, a senior research associate in UC's Department of Classics, said in a statement.
“Some of the details on this are only a half-millimeter big,” added researcher Jack Davis. “They’re incomprehensibly small.”
The Griffin Warrior’s burial site was discovered near the Palace Of Nestor, a Mycenaean Greek palace located between the city of Pylos and the ancient polis of Khôra. His nickname comes from an ivory plaque adorned with the mythical beast found resting in his grave. Thanks to the relatively good condition of his skeleton, anthropologists and anatomical science experts were even able to digitally reconstruct what this prestigious warrior looked like.
“It seems that the Minoans were producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of producing,” explained Davis. “It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy, is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylized features, that itself is just extraordinary.”
"What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn't find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later," he added. "It's a spectacular find."