U.S. archaeologists studying the intact grave of an ancient Greek warrior have identified four "rings of power" which shed light on the rise of the Mycenaean civilization, from whom Greek culture developed.
Unearthed last year at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, the grave has been hailed by the Greek Culture Ministry as the "most important to have been discovered [in continental Greece] in 65 years."
A 3,500-year-old warrior was found lying with a bronze sword and a dazzling hoard of more than 2,000 objects. The discovery was made by Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Cincinnati.
The treasures were found arranged on and around the skeleton, dubbed the "Griffin Warrior" for an ivory plaque depicting the mythical beast. The stunning collection included jewels, silver cups, weapons, precious stone beads, ivory combs and a mirror.
"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," Stocker told Discovery News.
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Most interestingly, the grave contained four beautifully engraved gold rings, made of multiple sheets of gold.
One depicts a scene of a bull leaping, another shows five elaborately dressed female figures gathered by a seaside shrine.
The third ring features a female figure, likely a goddess, holding a staff and flanked by two birds atop a mountain glen. The final ring shows a woman presenting a bull's horn offering to a goddess holding a mirror and seated on a high-backed throne atop of which is perched a bird.
According to Davis and Stocker, who will detail their finding at a conference in Athens, Greece, this upcoming Thursday, these were not simple jewels, but rings of power.
They reveal the warrior, who was between 30 and 35 when he died, was part of the elite that ruled Pylos right around the time the Mycenaeans were conquering the Minoans of Crete, adopting much of their culture.
In fact, a significant number of the items found in the warrior's grave was made by Minoans, including the rings.
"They were made at the moment that Mycenaean culture rose, but they were made on Crete and brought from there to the Greek mainland," Davis told Discovery News.
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The rings - three of which will be unveiled on Thursday - and many other objects buried with the warrior feature Minoan themes.
They could have been easily looted from a raid on Crete, but the loot was highly selective: only artifacts that transmitted understandable messages were chosen.
"They're not just going there and robbing a jewelry store. They're thinking about it and selecting specific items for inclusion in the burial," Stocker said.
Artifacts in the grave are echoed in the iconography of the gold rings.
A mirror found above the warrior's legs may relate to the fourth ring, in which a seated goddess is portrayed holding a mirror.
The bull, a sacred symbol to the Minoans, is represented in three of the four rings. It appears in the first ring, while a horned staff and a bull's horn are depicted in the third and fourth ring. So it seems it was no coincidence the warrior was found buried with a bronze bull's head staff capped by prominent horns -- a symbol of power and authority.
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According to the researchers, the people on the mainland already understood much of the religious iconography on these rings.
"They were already buying into religious concepts on the island of Crete," Davis said.
It is not yet known if the warrior and those who buried him were Minoans or Mycenaeans steeped in Minoan culture.
"Whoever they are, they are the people introducing Minoan ways to the mainland and forging Mycenaean culture," Davis told the New York Times.
"Right from the beginning there were people on the mainland who knew what Minoan culture meant and were bringing it to the mainland for a specific reason, that of establishing themselves in positions of power," he added.