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The Griffin Warrior: Amazing Archaeological Discovery on Pylos

On a drizzly May morning in an unremarkable olive grove two archaeologists made the discovery of a century.  They found an ancient tomb rich in bronze, ivory, gold, and incredible stories.  They found the tomb of the Griffin Warrior.  For classicists around the world this may be the discovery of the century. For husband-wife archaeologist team Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, this is the discovery of a lifetime.  The find certainly ranks with the likes of Heinrich Schliemann who found the legendary city of Troy and the remnants of the ancient Mycenaean culture, home of Agamemnon.  It ranks with the likes of Carl Blegen who unearthed the Palace of Nestor on the Greek island of Pylos.

Davis and Stocker were in fact inspired by Blegen’s work at Pylos in the 1940’s to launch their dig in the same region. They had appealed to the authorities in Greece to conduct an archeological dig in an area near Nestor’s palace that they thought would provide more insight into the history of this people of Homeric legend who notably fought in the Trojan war.  Their request was granted only in part, for they were given a very different location.  A location they thought looked most unpromising.  It was a very common old olive grove crossed by Greek farmers and villagers for thousands of years.  Nothing remarkable.  In one spot, however, they noticed three stones whose placement betrayed something of human design.  Perhaps – just maybe – they might be the corner of something.  And so, the dig began. It was not until after four days of continual digging that any further hope of human element could be seen.  Eventually, they realized they were standing upon the burial ground of a highly-esteemed warrior.  His grave, undisturbed since the day he was buried, was filled with treasures that give clues to his status and his people, including a griffin-decorated ivory plaque that was found between his legs.  It was this particular item that inspired the team to give him the title “Griffin Warrior.”

A ring found at the tomb of the Griffin Warrior in Greece. Credit Jennifer Stephens/University of Cincinnati

A ring found at the tomb of the Griffin Warrior in Greece. Credit Jennifer Stephens/University of Cincinnati

For six months the team continued to excavate the tomb and its contents, hardly believing the providence that would keep this find so well concealed and undisturbed for thousands of years.  The grave is full of precious beads – gold, amethyst and carnelian. It contains relics appropriate to a warrior such as a battle knife and a boar tusk helmet. There are also many relics that seem to be connected to ancient ceremony.  These items provide clues to a people wrapped in the myth and legend of Homer’s epic tales.  Not just who they are, but perhaps how their culture in Pylos even began.  The Griffin Warrior and his tomb seem to pre-date the Palace of Nestor that resides nearby.  This suggests that the Griffin Warrior is not one of Nestor’s soldiers, but perhaps the people group that pre-dated Nestor and his reign.  The images on several items resemble those found on artifacts in both the Mycenean Greek culture and the ancient Minoan culture of Crete (the island of the mythical Minotaur).   The Griffin found near the warrior, for example, is a symbol connected with the ancient Mycenean culture.  The warrior also had a staff, ring, and other items decorated with Minoan bulls. This is most amazing indeed as the find suggests these two cultures were intertwined generations before the Trojan War.  Could the people of Mycenae and Crete together be the ancestors of Pylos?

Read the full story of this magnificent find and the revelations it has offered thus far in a wonderful article put together by the Smithsonian Institute (link provided below).  The story is inspirational not only for the exciting new insights this gives to antiquity and a story as timeless as the Trojan War, but also for the epic journey of the people lead to this discovery.  What an amazing lesson in the reward of perseverance and providence.  When events did not seem to head the direction they desired, when the plans they had made were thwarted, they did not give up but persevered to make the best of a disappointing situation.  The hard work and dedication of Davis and Stocker and their entire team was rewarded many times over with an amazing discovery, one for the history books.



Smithsonian Article:

This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization:  The recent discovery of the grave of an ancient soldier is challenging accepted wisdom among archaeologists

New York Times Article:

In Greek Warrior’s Grave, Rings of Power (and a Mirror and Combs)


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