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University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations
University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations

Archaeologists Discover 1400 Artifacts In Bronze Age Warrior’s Tomb

University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations
University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations

Archaeologists in southern Greece have uncovered the tomb of a wealthy Bronze Age warrior dating back to around 1500 BCE. The tomb includes not only the warrior’s skeleton, but also 1400 artifacts ranging from bronze swords and daggers to gold jewelry and precious stone beads. The University of Cincinnati-led archaeological team is calling it one of the biggest finds in mainland Greece in 65 years. 

The dig began inauspiciously: the team, who had been excavating the area around the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, chose to survey a nearby field, and soon found a few deliberately-placed stones.

“At first, we expected to find the remains of a house,” University of Cincinnati researcher Jack L. Davis told UC Magazine. “We expected that this was the corner of a room of a house, but quickly realized that it was the tops of the walls of a stone-lined grave shaft.”

Further excavation of the tomb, which measures around five feet deep, revealed an amazing sight:

On the floor of the grave lay the skeleton of an adult male, stretched out on his back. Weapons lay to his left, and jewelry to his right.

Near the head and chest was a bronze sword, its ivory hilt covered in gold. A gold-hilted dagger lay beneath it. Still more weapons were found by the man’s legs and feet.

Gold cups rested on his chest and stomach, and near his neck was a perfectly preserved gold necklace with two pendants. By his right side and spread around his head were over one thousand beads of carnelian, amethyst, jasper, agate and gold. Nearby were four gold rings, and silver cups as well as bronze bowls, cups, jugs and basins.

According to The New York Times, the researchers are calling the ancient man the “griffin warrior,” after an ivory plaque carved with a griffin found beside him in the tomb. Based on the precious metals and beads also found in the grave, they believe he was a leader in his community, and of course, extremely wealthy. As Davis explained to UC Magazine, “Whoever he was, he seems to have been celebrated for his trading or fighting [on] the nearby island of Crete and for his appreciation of the more-sophisticated and delicate [art] of the Minoan civilization (found on Crete), with which he was buried.”

Researchers believe the tomb may help shed light on the emergence of Mycenaean civilization and the roots of classic Greek culture, which arose in that area several centuries later. Though the tomb pre-dates the Palace of Nestor (which was, itself, destroyed in 1180 BC, around the time of Homer’s Troy) by 200 or 300 years, it provides valuable clues about the emergence of culture and trade in that region. Together with other recent finds, like the Mycenaean palace near Sparta, the researchers believe they can start to piece together a more complete picture of the origins of Mycenaean civilization, which was the first advanced civilization to emerge on the European mainland.

The team is still in shock, not only that they found the tomb, but that it had lain undisturbed for so many centuries. So many ancient tombs have been rooted out and looted over the years—and this one, with the top of its stone wall standing in the field, was lying almost in plain sight. “It is indeed mind boggling that we were first,” Dr. Davis told The New York Times. “I’m still shaking my head in disbelief. So many walked over it so many times, including our own team.”

Bronze Mirror With Ivory Handle (Credit: University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations)

UC's Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull (Credit: University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations)

Bronze weapons(Credit: University of Cincinnati, Pylos Excavations)

[h/t: UC Magazine]

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Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Unearth the Victims of a Mysterious Massacre 400 Years Ago on an Australian Island
Beacon Island
Beacon Island
Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The cargo ship Batavia set out from the Netherlands in October 1628, bound for the Dutch colony at present-day Jakarta, Indonesia, with more than 300 crew and passengers. For some still-unknown reason, the ship veered off course to the south and smashed into a coral atoll about 50 miles west of the Australian coast.

What happened over the next few months—culminating in a mysterious and brutal massacre that left at least 125 people dead—is Australia's oldest cold case.

In a story that aired on 60 Minutes Australia, correspondent Liam Bartlett traveled to this "island of horror" where a team of Australian and Dutch scientists is uncovering the nearly 400-year-old skeletons, well preserved in the sand of what is now Beacon Island. They hope to discover what led to the sudden mass slaughter of adults and children.

"We're dealing with a psychopath and some pretty horrible events," Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and the leader of the research team, tells Bartlett. "There's nothing like it in Dutch history or Australian history."

A screenshot of the Beacon Island dig site from 60 Minutes Australia
A scene from the 60 Minutes Australia report
Kat Long

The Batavia, the flagship of the Dutch East India Company, was on its maiden voyage. The commander, Francisco Pelsaert, and the captain, Ariaen Jacobsz, detested each other. Jacobsz conspired with Pelsaert's deputy, Jeronimus Cornelisz, to take control of the ship and its load of silver and valuable paintings. But before the mutiny could unfold, the ship crashed into the reef in the early morning of June 4, 1629.

About 100 people died in the wreck, while almost 200 made it to a cluster of islands in the Abrolhos chain—treeless, desert-like stretches of sand without water or food. Pelsaert and Jacobsz sailed for help, hoping to reach their original destination nearly 2000 miles away by boat.

The events of the next three months continue to puzzle and horrify modern researchers. Initially, Jeronimus Cornelisz organized food rations and shelter for the survivors on Beacon Island as a way to cement his leadership. But then, he hoarded the weapons and boats for his own use. He ordered his followers to execute the strong, able-bodied men who could pose a threat to his control over the group. Most of the women and children who would be a drain on supplies were also killed, though some women were kept alive as sexual slaves, Bartlett reports.

"Totally Lord of the Flies," Paterson says.

The Batavia massacre
An image from Pelsaert's journal of the voyage
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cornelisz marooned several men on a nearby island to get them out of the way as the killing rampage continued. But those men, led by a sailor named Wiebbe Hayes, managed to find water and food, and made a primitive protective fort of stone slabs—which still exists as the first European-made structure on Australian soil. In early August, two months after the wreck, Cornelisz and his men attempted to storm Hayes' stronghold and eliminate his band of survivors.

At the last moment, a rescue ship helmed by Pelsaert and Jacobsz appeared on the horizon. Both Hayes and Cornelisz sent out boats to intercept the ship, hoping to establish their version of events as fact and save themselves from punishment. Fortunately, Hayes's men reached the ship first.

Only 80 to 90 survivors out of the Batavia's 300-plus passengers eventually arrived in present-day Jakarta. Cornelisz, who never showed a hint of remorse or offered an explanation for his brutality, was hanged along with his co-conspirators. The bones of his victims, preserved in the island's alkali coral sand for almost four centuries, are now revealing clues to the historical mystery. 

"Horrible things happened to these individuals. They clearly were victims," Paterson tells Bartlett. "But the archaeology allows us to get their story told." 

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Find Traces of What Could Be the Oldest Wine in the World
iStock
iStock

Humankind has enjoyed wine for a long time—since the early Neolithic period, at least, judging from ancient residue on prehistoric pottery shards excavated from two sites in Georgia, in the South Caucasus. The fragments potentially date back to 6000 BCE, pushing back the earliest evidence of winemaking by about 600 to 1000 years, as The New York Times reports.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the findings pinpoint Georgia as one of the very first—if not the first—nations to have mastered winemaking. Before, Iran held the honor, although China can still lay claim to the world's oldest fermented beverage (a cocktail-like concoction of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and wild grapes that was enjoyed as early as 7000 BCE).

Leading the PNAS study was Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He and his team excavated the remains of two Neolithic villages, located around 30 miles south of Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi. There, they found shards of clay jars—the likely remnants of large, rotund vats, which once could have accommodated as many as 400 bottles worth of today's wine.

Remains of ancient Georgian pottery vessels that may have once contained wine, photographed by Mindia Jalabadze.
(A) Representative early Neolithic jar from Khramis Didi-Gora (B) Jar base (C) Jar base (D) Jar base, interior
Mindia Jalabadze, courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia

These shards were collected for chemical analysis. Eight of them ended up containing tartaric, malic, succinic, and citric acids, all of which had leached into the clay long ago. The combination of these four acids is believed to be present only in grape wine. Researchers also noted traces of ancient grape pollen, starch from grape wine, and signs of prehistoric fruit flies.

Of course, there is the off chance that the jars might have been used to just make grape juice, but their decorations indicate that they weren't made to hold ordinary drinks, researchers argue.

Archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age shows that Georgians have always held wine in great importance. But some experts thought this love of vino dated back even further—and now they believe they have pretty convincing proof.

[h/t The New York Times]

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