The Greek Grave of a Wealthy Warrior, AKA Griffin Warrior Tomb

Ever play a Tomb Raider game and dream of becoming a real-life Lara Croft? How about watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and think about becoming an archaeologist like Indiana Jones? Me, too. (That is, if you answered “yes”.) And the fact that I’m not an archaeologist doesn’t stop me from geeking out over cool archaeological discoveries.

Even though it happened a few years ago, I just heard about the discovery of a wealthy warrior’s tomb in Pylos, Greece—very near the Palace of Nestor. The more I read, the more interested I became. Here’s the lowdown:

Ajax battling Hektor. Engraving by John Flaxman, 1795 by © Foto H.-P.Haack (H.-P.Haack) (Antiquariat Dr. Haack Leipzig) [Public domain or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ajax battling Hektor. Engraving by John Flaxman, 1795 by © Foto H.-P.Haack (H.-P.Haack) (Antiquariat Dr. Haack Leipzig) [Public domain or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In May 2015, Sharon Stoker and Jack Davis from the University of Cincinnati directed an excavation in an olive grove near the Palace of Nestor—and on May 28th, diggers Flint Dibble and Alison Fields hit something. Something big, as it turned out—the most intact and undisturbed 3,500-year-old grave ever found from that time period.

Oh, yeah, “that” time period would have been during the Minoan civilization. You might remember King Minos? The one who ordered King Aegeus to pick 7 boys plus 7 girls every 7 years to send into Daedalus’ labyrinth (where of course the Minotaur roamed). Greek mythology says later in the underworld, Minos became a judge of the dead.

The Minotaur on the Shattered Cliff – engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating Canto XII of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, scanned, post-processed, and uploaded by Karl Hahn (Pantheon Books edition of Divine Comedy) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Minotaur on the Shattered Cliff – engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating Canto XII of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, scanned, post-processed, and uploaded by Karl Hahn (Pantheon Books edition of Divine Comedy) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But we’re not talking about Minos here; we’re talking about the griffin warrior—a man in his early 30’s as determined from examinations of the skeleton—nicknamed “griffin” because of an ivory plaque decorated with a griffin found buried with him. According to a Smithsonian article, he stood about 5 ½ feet, which would have been considered tall when he lived. …And per the dating of the grave, he would have died before the Palace of Nestor was even built.

You may have heard of King Nestor and his palace from the Illiad and Odyssey (tales by Homer). Greek mythology says Nestor became king after Heracles killed his father and all of his brothers and sisters—and the Palace of Nestor is considered to be the best preserved Greek palace from the Mycenaean civilization (important because that was the first advanced civilization to appear on the Greek mainland).

 Also of note in regards to King Nestor—Greek mythology claims he was an Argonaut that helped fight the centaurs and joined in the hunt for the Calydonian boar. (Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey also speak of both the Mycenaean Kings Agamnenon and Nestor in references concerning the Trojan War.)

The Greeks claimed The Iliad and Odyssey to be historical, but later scholars reclassified them as mythology; today, archaeological discoveries such as the Palace of Nestor near Pylos and the grave of the griffen warrior may support those early Greek assertions and help to swing opinions back toward the view that the stories found in Greek mythology may have some basis in reality.

Ancient Greek Helmet by Skeeze on https://pixabay.com/en/helmet-boar-s-tusk-ancient-1627391/
Ancient Greek Helmet by Skeeze on https://pixabay.com/en/helmet-boar-s-tusk-ancient-1627391/

Something else that makes the griffin warrior so important is the seeming blend of Minoan and Mycenaean objects surrounding him, perhaps suggesting that the Mycenaeans did not replace the Minoans so much as adapt and evolve much of Minoan culture in the formation of their own civilization.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though; you can visit the Palace of Nestor yourself—as of 2016, it has a new roof to protect it from the elements. Go take a look and tell me what you think ancient Greek civilization was like in the area. Do you believe the ancient Greek myths could have been real?

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