Ancient Greek Tombs Lined with Gold and Filled with Treasure Unearthed Near Palace from Homer's 'The Odyssey' and 'The Iliad'

Archeologists from the University of Cincinnati have unearthed two Bronze Age tombs dating back to the time of Mycenaeans, 3,500 years ago.

"It has been 50 years since any substantial tombs of this sort have been found at any Bronze Age palatial site," said Jack Davis, one half of the husband-and-wife team responsible for the find. "That makes this extraordinary."

Davis and Sharon Stocker announced the discovery of two ancient tombs in the Greek coastal town of Pylos on Tuesday 17 December. The burial sites lie on a vista looking out onto the Mediterranian, close to the palace of Nestor, a legendary king depicted in Homer's "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."

"Lightning had struck," said Davis, describing the moment he and Stocker came across the exposed covers of two underground tombs, one of which extends 15-feet deep.

Tens-of-thousands of large boulders—some, they say, the size of watermelons—have protected the tombs from thieves and vandals over the millennia, leaving them virtually untouched since their construction.

Inside the tomb, Davis and Stocker found amber from the Baltic and amethyst from Egypt, as well as imported carnelian and a littering of gold flakes that had once lined the walls, scattered on the floor.

A gold ring depicts bulls and barley
A gold ring depicts bulls and barley found in the tombs. UC Classics

A gold ring engraved with two bulls and sheaves of what is thought to be barley contains the first depiction of grain in the art of Crete of Minoan civilization "as far as we know," said Davis.

Another piece of gold jewellry—a pendant—displays the image of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love, beauty, dancing and pleasure.

"Its discovery is particularly interesting in light of the role she played in Egypt as protectress of the dead," said Davis.

The tombs also feature artwork depicting mythical creatures, including two lion-like beings with clawed feet, standing upright on an agate sealstone. A 16-pointed star appears above their head, similar to another 16-pointed star on a bronze and gold object found in the grave.

Stars like these are "rare" in Mycenaean iconography, said Stocker. But 16-pointed stars from this period have been seen in other locations further east.

 A sealstone made from semiprecious carnelian
A sealstone made from semiprecious carnelian found inside the tombs. UC Classics

The newly-discovered tombs draw comparisons to the grave of the Griffin Warrior, so named because it contained an ivory plaque engraved with a griffin, as well as armor, weapons and an agate sealstone displaying mortal combat.

Like the princely tombs, the Griffin Warrior's grave dates back to a period around 3,500 years ago—"the formative years that will give rise to the Classic Age of Greece," said Stocker.

The Mycenaeans who built the graves preceded Classical Greece, ruling over an area that encompassed large chunks of the eastern Mediterranean from 1600 to 1100 B.C.E. The owners of the tombs would have lived during the civilization's early years, when luxury goods and imports were only just starting to become more commonplace.

"You have this explosion of wealth. People are vying for power," said Stocker, who believes the tombs' owners were likely "very sophisticated" for the time.

Their presence suggests the now-remote town of Pylos was once a center for trade and commerce, she added. "What we're learning is that it's a much more central and important place on the Bronze Age trade route."

Tombs at Pylos, Greece
UC archaeologists discovered two large family tombs at Pylos, Greece, strewn with flakes of gold that once lined their walls. The excavation took more than 18 months. UC Classics