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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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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

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