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Greek Grave Found from Start of Age of Homer

(p. D1) Archaeologists digging at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, have discovered the rich grave of a warrior who was buried at the dawn of European civilization.

He lies with a yardlong bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.

. . .

(p. D5) An ivory plaque carved with a griffin, a mythical animal that protected goddesses and kings, lay between the warrior's legs. The grave contained gold, silver and bronze cups.

. . .

The Minoan culture on Crete exerted a strong influence on the people of southern Greece. Copying and adapting Minoan technologies, they developed the palace cultures such as those of Pylos and Mycene. But as the Mycenaeans grew in strength and confidence, they were eventually able to invade the land of their tutors. Notably, they then adapted Linear A, the script in which the Cretans wrote their own language, into Linear B, a script for writing Greek.

Linear B tablets were preserved in the fiery destruction of palaces when the soft clay on which they were written was baked into permanent form. Caches of tablets have been found in Knossos, the main palace of Crete, and in Pylos and other mainland palaces. Linear B, a script in which each symbol stands for a syllable, was later succeeded by the familiar Greek alphabet in which each symbol represents a single vowel or consonant.

The griffin warrior, whose grave objects are culturally Minoan but whose place of burial is Mycenaean, lies at the center of this cultural transfer. The palace of Pylos had yet to arise, and he could have been part of the cultural transition that made it possible. The transfer was not entirely peaceful: At some point, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete, and in 1450 B.C., the palace of Knossos was burned, perhaps by Mycenaeans. It is not yet clear whether the objects in the griffin warrior's tomb were significant in his own culture or just plunder.

"I think these objects were not just loot but had a meaning already for the guy buried in this grave," Dr. Davis said. "This is the critical period when religious ideas were being transferred from Crete to the mainland."

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "A Grave, and a Gateway." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 27, 2015): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 26, 2015, and has the title "Grave of 'Griffin Warrior' at Pylos Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations.")

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