The newfound tombs sit close to the Palace of Nestor, a ruler mentioned in Homer’s famous works ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey.’
The large administrative center was destroyed by fire sometime around 1180 BCE, but remains the best-preserved Bronze Age palace on the Greek mainland.
University of Cincinnati’s Professor Carl Blegen first discovered its ruins in 1939, where he unearthed a number of clay tablets written in Linear B script, the earliest known written form of Greek.
Professor Blegen had wanted to excavate in the 1950s in the field where the University of Cincinnati team found the new tombs, called Tholos VI and Tholos VII, but could not get permission from the property owner to expand his investigation.
“Like with the Griffin Warrior grave, by the end of the first week we knew we had something that was really important,” said University of Cincinnati archaeologist Dr. Sharon Stocker, who supervised the excavation.
“It soon became clear to us that lightning had struck again,” added University of Cincinnati’s Professor Jack Davis.
The Griffin Warrior is named for the mythological creature — part eagle, part lion — engraved on an ivory plaque in his tomb. Among the priceless objects of art was an agate sealstone depicting mortal combat.
“Artifacts found in the princely tombs tell similar stories about life along the Mediterranean 3,500 years ago,” Professor Davis said.
A seal made of the semiprecious stone carnelian from the family tombs at Pylos depicts an image of two genii, lionlike mythological creatures holding serving vessels and an incense burner over an altar and below a 16-pointed star. On the right is a putty impression of the piece. Image credit: Jeff Vanderpool / UC Classics.
Like the grave of the Griffin Warrior, the Tholos VI and VII tombs contained artwork emblazoned with mythological creatures.
An agate sealstone featured two lion-like creatures called genii standing upright on clawed feet.
“They carry a serving vase and an incense burner, a tribute for the altar before them featuring a sprouting sapling between horns of consecration,” Dr. Stocker said.
“Above the genii is a 16-pointed star. The same 16-pointed star also appears on a bronze and gold artifact in the grave.”
“It’s rare. There aren’t many 16-pointed stars in Mycenaean iconography. The fact that we have two objects with 16 points in two different media (agate and gold) is noteworthy.”
“The genius motif appears elsewhere in the East during this period.”
“One problem is we don’t have any writing from the Minoan or Mycenaean time that talks of their religion or explains the importance of their symbols.”
A gold ring depicts bulls and barley, the first known representation of domesticated animals and agriculture in ancient Greece. Image credit: UC Classics.
The archaeologists found a gold ring that depicted two bulls flanked by sheaves of grain, identified as barley by a paleobotanist.
“It’s an interesting scene of animal husbandry — cattle mixed with grain production. It’s the foundation of agriculture,” Professor Davis said.
A gold pendant from the family tombs at Pylos featuring the likeness of Hathor. Image credit: Vanessa Muro / UC Classics.
The team also found a gold pendant featuring the likeness of the Egyptian goddess Hathor.
“Its discovery is particularly interesting in light of the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead,” Professor Davis said.
The Tholos VI and VII tombs also contained amber from the Baltic, amethyst from Egypt, imported carnelian and lots of gold.
A double argonaut from the family tombs at Pylos. Image credit: Jeff Vanderpool / UC Classics.
“The tombs paint a picture of accumulated wealth and status,” Dr. Stocker said.
“I think these are probably people who were very sophisticated for their time. They have come out of a place in history where there were few luxury items and imported goods. And all of a sudden at the time of the first tholos tombs, luxury items appear in Greece.”
“You have this explosion of wealth. People are vying for power. It’s the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece.”