Experts describe the discovery of tomb packed full of gold, silver and weapons, which sheds light on ancient Mycenaean and Minoan civilisations, as one of the most significant in decades
Flanked by a three-foot long bronze sword with an ivory handle and surrounded by a treasure trove of gold, silver and precious stones, he lay undisturbed for 3,500 years.
Now, the skeleton of an ancient Greek warrior, his tomb protected by a heavy stone slab, has been discovered by archaeologists in the Peloponnese.
Described as one of the most exciting discoveries in Greece for decades, the 30-35 year old man has been dubbed the “Griffin Warrior” after an ivory plaque depicting the half-lion, half-eagle mythical beast that was found alongside him.
Experts said it was remarkable that the grave had escaped the attentions of tomb raiders over the centuries.
It was discovered by Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, a husband and wife team of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati in the US who have been involved in excavations at the site for 25 years.
The grave was “one of the most magnificent displays of prehistoric wealth discovered in mainland Greece in the past 65 years," Dr Stocker said.
They came upon it almost by accident on the first day of a dig at the site of the Palace of Nestor, part of the ancient city of Pylos, which dates from the Mycenaean era.
The warrior was laid to rest with delicate gold jewellery, strings of pearls, signet rings and gold and silver goblets.
Keeping up appearances was clearly important to him – also found among the trove was a bronze mirror, six fine-toothed ivory combs and semi-precious stones such as amethyst, agate and jasper.
The archaeologists believe some of the jewels were woven into a burial shroud, a tiny fragment of which survived.
The man’s identity is not known, but the splendour of his burial suggests that he was a prominent warrior, merchant or chieftain of the time.
He headed into the afterlife with a fearsome array of weaponry, including a long slashing sword, several daggers and a spear head.
He was dressed in bronze armour and wore a helmet decorated with the teeth of wild boar.
"Whoever he was, he seems to have been celebrated for his trading or fighting in the nearby island of Crete,” said Dr Davis.
The archaeologists also found stone seals decorated with images of Minoan-style human figures vaulting over bulls, as well as goddesses and lions.
Gold goblets rested on the remains of his chest and stomach and close to his neck was a beautiful necklace featuring two pendants.
"It is truly amazing that no ceramic vessels were included among the grave gifts. All the cups, pitchers and basins we found were of metal: bronze, silver and gold. He clearly could afford to hold regular pots of ceramic in disdain," said Dr Stocker.
The grave, which dates to around 1500BC, measured five feet deep, four feet wide and eight feet long.
A stone slab weighing a ton, which once probably sealed the grave, had collapsed inwards, crushing the coffin beneath.
Although the grave dates from the Mycenaean era it bears the cultural influence of the Minoan civilisation, providing a crucial understanding as to how the two interacted in ancient times.
The Minoan civilisation flourished on Crete from around 2000 BC but was later subsumed by the Mycenaean culture, which spread from the Peloponnese across the eastern Mediterranean in the period 1600 to 1100 BC.
The shift of power was a key moment in the history of the Bronze Age, giving rise to classical Greek culture.
Professors Davis and Stocker found more than 1,400 grave items, the quality of which "testifies to the influence of the Minoans" in the region.
The objects may have been seized from Crete during raids, or obtained through trade.
The discovery of the tomb was made in May but was only revealed by the Greek authorities this week.
It lies close to the site of the Palace of Nestor, which was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, and the modern-day town of Pylos.
It was first excavated in 1939 by the archaeologist Carl Blegen, who was also from the University of Cincinnati.
The contents of the grave have yet to be studied fully but could yield a wealth of information on the cultural crossover between the Minoan and Mycenaean peoples.
If DNA can be extracted from the warrior’s teeth, more will be learnt of his origins. If plant material is found inside the grave, carbon dating could indicate when the body was buried.
"This latest find is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer's Iliad. Nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus,” said Dr Stocker.
“This find may be even more important because the warrior pre-dates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years. That means he was likely an important figure at a time when this part of Greece was being indelibly shaped by close contact with Crete, Europe's first advanced civilisation."
Original article: www.telegraph.co.uk