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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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C. Fritz/MC
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Ice Age Artists Used Charcoal Over 10,000 Years to Create Europe's Oldest Cave Paintings
C. Fritz/MC
C. Fritz/MC

Tiny bits of charcoal found in a cave in France are providing new clues into how our prehistoric ancestors lived some 35,000 years ago.

The samples were taken from the Chauvet Pont d'Arc Cave in southern France, whose wall paintings are the oldest in Europe and among the oldest in the world. Few people have ever been inside the cave, which was discovered only in 1994 and remains one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time—but some might recognize it from Werner Herzog's award-winning documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The results of the charcoal analysis, published today in the April issue of the journal Antiquity, enabled researchers to paint a picture of how humans created art in the Ice Age, as well as the bitter climactic conditions of that time.

Researchers collected 171 samples of charcoal from hearths and torch marks in the cave. Other bits of charcoal were found directly beneath the animal paintings, which have been preserved in incredible detail after being sealed off by a rockfall thousands of years ago.

A drawing of rhinos inside the Chauvet cave
C. Fritz/MC

The analysis revealed that all but one of the charcoal samples came from burnt pine trees; the remaining one came from buckthorn. That doesn't sound all that impressive until you consider that some of these drawings were created nearly 10,000 years apart, during two different Ice Age periods. Put differently, for millennia, humans chose to use the same material for the sole purpose of creating art.

Researchers concluded that while other types of wood could have been used, the artists who created these cave paintings continued to choose pine, likely due to the availability of fallen branches as well as its combustion properties. But more remarkably, researchers believe these early artists selected it because it was the perfect medium for their art, ideal "for the smudging and blending techniques used in cave paintings," according to the study.

Over the years, the paintings have been praised for their artistic merit and use of motion. As Herzog commented in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, one artist's rendering of a bison with eight legs suggested movement—"almost a form of proto-cinema."

These findings also reveal what the climate was like during that time, and it was anything but balmy. The researchers write:

"Pine is a pioneer taxon [group] with an affinity for mountainous environments and survived in refuges during the coldest periods of the last ice age. As such, it attests, first and foremost, to the harsh climatic conditions that prevailed during the various occupations of the cave."

To preserve the cave paintings, only researchers are allowed inside the Chauvet Cave. However, a replica of the cave was built in France's Ardèche region and remains open to tourists.

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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