14 June 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Unique work of Minoan art, the Pylos Combat Agate must be the David of the Prehistoric era

Found in a Greek tomb dating back 3,500 years, the artifact is so well designed that it looks as lively and realistically muscular as a Renaissance piece.

In 2016, archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati were excavating a Mycenaean site in the Pylos region when they discovered an unexpected find: the entire tomb of a Bronze Age Warrior named “Griffon Warrior” dating from around 1500 B.C. The find was dubbed “one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered” by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports at the time.

At first glance, it didn’t appear to be much. A 3.6-centimetre-long (1.4-inch-long) chunk of stone encrusted in a layer of limestone.

After more than a year of cleaning, experts unearthed an exquisitely carved gem: an agate sealstone, used for stamping an image into clay or wax, dubbed “one of the best pieces of Mycenaean art ever discovered.”

Researchers believe it has the potential to change the history of ancient Greek art.

Pylos Combat Agate
Pylos Combat Agate didn’t look like much at first. A small piece of stone, just 3.6 centimeters (1.4 inches) in length, encrusted in a layer of limestone. Photo: The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

It shows a warrior, victoriously plunging his sword into a second foe, the first already defeated and crumpled on the ground at their feet. It’s been named the Pylos Combat Agate.

Researchers say the face of the seal stone bears a representation of combat that draws on the iconography of battle scenes known from the Shaft-Grave period mainland and Neopalatial Crete. The level of detail in the representation of weapons and clothing, like the attention given to the physiognomy of the human bodies, is without parallel.

The tomb itself, which was discovered in 2015, was a stunning find. Inside was an exceptionally well-preserved Mycenaean skeleton called as a Griffin Warrior after an ivory plaque engraved with the figure of a griffin that was buried alongside him.

The tomb was brimming with treasure. At least 3,000 pieces, including gold rings, silver cups, a sword with gold embroidery on the hilt, over 1,000 rare stone-carved beads, a suit of bronze armor, ivory combs, a gold necklace, and more than 50 seal stones.

Photo: T. Ross/The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

These artifacts indicated a diverse and profound civilization. Many of the burial items were Minoan in origin, demonstrating that the cultural contact between the Minoans and the Mycenaeans was greater and wider than previously assumed.

The Pylos Combat Agate, on the other hand, is a rare and sublime object, according to the experts.

“What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later,” said researcher Jack Davis of the University of Cincinnati.

“It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy, is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylised features, that itself is just extraordinary.”

The skill and sophistication required to make such an intricate carving is unequaled by anything from the era – so detailed that photomicroscopy is needed to view them properly. Photo: The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Experts believe it was carved with a magnifying glass, despite the fact that archaeologists have yet to discover any magnifying instruments from that era.

The ability and complexity necessary to create such an exquisite carving are unparalleled in the age – so detailed that photomicroscopy is required to adequately observe them.

It’s also unclear what the stone portrays, but it’s likely a popular legend of the period, according to University of Cincinnati researcher Shari Stocker.

The Griffin Warrior’s identity is still unknown, but he’ll be recognized for his contribution to anthropology, archaeology, and art history if nothing else. Work on the artifacts discovered in his tomb is still ongoing.

Related Articles

Archaeologists discover ‘exceptional’ ancient Roman sanctuary in near intact condition in Netherlands

23 June 2022

23 June 2022

Archaeologists have unearthed a relatively intact 1st-century Roman sanctuary in the town of Herwen-Hemeling in the province of Gelderland in...

“Mosaic of the Wine Harvest” mosaic to be exhibited in November in Turkey’s Hatay

26 October 2021

26 October 2021

The mosaic depicting the grape harvest, which is considered to date from the Late Roman period, equivalent to the 5th...

Hundreds of silver coins have been found near the castle of Lukov in Moravia

4 September 2021

4 September 2021

In the forest near the Southern Moravian Fortress Lukov, two members of the Society of Friends of the Lukov Fortress...

Unique tombs wrapped in high-quality fabrics and painted bodies were discovered at monumental temple in Peru

11 March 2023

11 March 2023

Unique tombs wrapped in high-quality fabrics and painted bodies were discovered at the monumental temple in Peru. Located on the...

Ancient Murals of Two-faced Figures Found in Peru

21 March 2023

21 March 2023

Archaeologists are reporting a number of fascinating discoveries as work on the excavations at Pañamarca progresses that are helping to...

Irish archaeologists discover a rare 1,600-year-old idol in the Roscommon bog

13 August 2021

13 August 2021

A 1,600-year-old wooden pagan idol has been discovered in a bog in Co Roscommon by Irish archaeologists. This rare artifact...

2000-year-old tomb guarded by two bull heads found in Tharsa Ancient City, Türkiye

18 May 2024

18 May 2024

In Türkiye, archaeologists have discovered a new 2000-year-old tomb protected by two bull heads during excavation and cleaning efforts in...

Gladiators were mostly Vegetarians and they were fatter than you may think

6 August 2023

6 August 2023

What better epitomizes the ideal male physique than the Roman gladiator? Gladiators were the movie stars of the first century,...

Elamite clay tablet discovered 4500 years old, in southwest Iran

4 December 2021

4 December 2021

A clay tablet, estimated to be from the Elam period, about 4500 years old, was recently discovered in southwestern Iran....

Paleontologists Unearth 139 Million-Year-Old Pregnant Dinosaur Fossil in Chile

10 May 2022

10 May 2022

Archeologists in Chile have unearthed the fossilized remains of a 13ft-long pregnant ichthyosaur from a melting glacier -marking the first...

Ancient Greeks Built a Road to Haul Cargo Overland: The Father of the Railway: Diolkos

6 May 2024

6 May 2024

The Diolkos, an ambitious road that crossed the entire Isthmus of Corinth and was partially paved with stone, was built...

2,000-year-old altar found in Alexandria Troas

9 October 2021

9 October 2021

A 2,000-year-old altar was unearthed during the ongoing excavations in the ancient city of Alexandria Troas, in a region close...

A 3200-year-old trepanned skull discovered in eastern Turkey’s Van province

12 November 2022

12 November 2022

A 3200-year-old trepanned skull was discovered in eastern Turkey’s Van province. In the prehistoric era, Anatolia served as a transitional...

A Mysterious Chapel Discovered in Istanbul Bagcılar

3 August 2023

3 August 2023

While Istanbul continues to surprise with the richness of its historical heritage, this time a chapel was discovered in Bağcılar....

Researchers decipher enigmatic ancient ‘Unknown Kushan Script’

13 July 2023

13 July 2023

A research team at the University of Cologne’s Department of Linguistics deciphered a writing system belonging to the Kushan Empire,...