History

Face of Bronze Age Warrior Revealed

A mysterious warrior buried in a treasure-packed grave in Greece some 3,500 years ago featured a square jaw and powerful neck.

The face of a warrior buried in a treasure-packed grave in Greece some 3,500 years ago has now been revealed - and he was a looker.

Dubbed the "Griffin Warrior," from an ivory plaque depicting the mythical beast within his burial, the man featured a broad, handsome face with a square jaw and powerful neck.

Reconstructing the closest possible depiction of the Griffin Warrior was not an easy task, says Tobias Houlton, a specialist in facial reconstruction, who worked on the project with his colleague Lynne Schepartz of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The skull of the man, thought to have been between 30 and 35 when he died around 1500 BC, was in very poor condition.

"It was multi-fragmented, with evident deterioration of the bones across the mid-face, affecting the nasal region and inner eye details," Houlton told Discovery News. "Prior to re-assembly, we were uncertain that a facial reconstruction would be possible," he added.

To reach the best approximation of the warrior's face, Houlton used the so-called Manchester method. The facial tissues are laid from the skull surface outward by using depth marker pegs to determine thickness. The shape, size and position of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth are determined through the features of the underlying skull.

The condition of the skull did not allow Houlton to reconstruct the regions around the eyes and nose.

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To compensate, Houlton and Schepartz generated an average face template using a face pool of 50 modern Greek males aged 25-35 years.

"This is the closest possible population group data we can access in relation to the Griffin Warrior. The nose from the template was then used to facilitate the nasal reconstruction and identify the most likely angle of the eyes," Houlton said.

He noted that features such as skin and hair color, which would require DNA information, could only be assumed according to identified trends in Mycenaean and Minoan artifacts.

"We used many types of comparative information, including Mycenaean wall paintings for the hairstyle," Schepartz told Discovery News.

The result is a sturdy man with long black hair, staring from a past that is reminiscent of Homer's epics.

The Griffin Warrior's tomb, measuring about 5 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, was found near the remains of the fabled Palace of Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer's Iliad.

"This is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus. The warrior predates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years," Stocker said.

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Analysis of beautifully engraved rings found in the tomb revealed the warrior was part of the elite that ruled Pylos right around the time the Mycenaeans were conquering the Minoans, adopting much of their culture.

It is not yet known if the man was a Minoan warrior or a native Mycenaean steeped in Minoan culture.

The lavish contents of the man's grave had hinted at his importance. It was found in the summer of 2015 by Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, a husband-and-wife team from the University of Cincinnati, as they excavated what they believed was an ancient house in Pylos, a city on the southwest coast of Greece.

What they found turned out to be a treasure-packed grave and one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries since the Second World War.

Stretched out on his back, a skeleton lay on the floor of the grave, undisturbed for 3,500 years. A dazzling hoard of more than 2,000 objects surrounded the remains. A bronze sword, with an ivory handle, laced with gold, was placed near the head and chest. Next to it was a gold-handled dagger, while more weapons were scattered around the legs and feet.

A plaque of carved ivory with a depiction of a griffon with huge wings lay between the man's legs and nearby was a bronze mirror with an ivory handle.

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Gold cups rested on the chest and stomach, while near the neck a perfectly preserved gold necklace with two pendants was still shining.

Spread around the head were over 1,000 beads of carnelian, amethyst, jasper, agate and gold. Also arrayed on and around the body, were rings of solid gold, ivory combs, silver cups as well as bronze bowls, cups, jugs and basins.

Not a single fragment of pottery was found in the tomb: the man was so rich that all of his grave gifts were made of metal.

It was one of the most spectacular Greek Bronze Age tomb for decades.

"The range of types of artifacts is extraordinary as is their rich iconography, but what is of special importance is that they were all buried with one man at the same time," Davis told Discovery News.

It's hard to imagine he was buried with so much jewelry and artifacts typically associated with women.

At least for some of the most feminine items, the mirror and combs, Stocker suggests they may reflect the custom of combing hair before battle. She added that jewelry and other ornaments were likely gifts for the goddesses.

Whoever the Griffin Warrior was, he was one of the people who introduced Minoan ways to the mainland and forged Mycenaean civilization, from whom Greek culture developed.