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]