Rare Ancient Tomb of Rich Minoan Woman Discovered at Monumental Archaeological Complex in Crete

The rare ancient tomb of a wealthy Minoan woman has been discovered at a monumental archaeological complex on the Greek island of Crete.

The cist grave—a small, coffin-like grave built using stone—contained an almost complete and intact skeleton of a woman, as well as a several valuable objects, according to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.

These objects include a bronze mirror with an ivory handle, bone and bronze garment pins, and a necklace consisting of several gold beads shaped like olives or olive pits.

Archaeologists say that these types of burials are rare on Crete. In fact, they are only found at the city of Chania and Knossos—the most important ancient Minoan settlement on the island.

The fact that the woman was buried with valuable objects, suggests she was a wealthy person in life and a member of the elite class.

The find came during excavations conducted in the municipality of Sissi by the Belgian School at Athens (EBSA) in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Lasithi. This work involved more than 100 archaeologists from around the world.

These excavations—led by Jan Driessen from the EBSA and the University of Louvain in Belgium—uncovered a large monumental complex on a hill in Sissi, which is located on the island's northern coast.

"The site is formed by a coastal hill, located at the mouth of the Selinari river and opposite the entrance to the Selinari gorge," Driessen told Newsweek. "Hence it is strategically located, guarding both traffic overland between the center of the island and the east but also maritime routes. The site is only 3 kilometers [1.8 miles] east of the important Minoan urban settlement of Malia with its large court-centred building or palace."

Major discoveries at the site include a cemetery in use between 2,600 and 1,750 B.C. with more than 200 burials of different types; an early Minoan settlement which lasted between 2,600 and 2,500 B.C.; a major "palace" complex with a courtyard from the 17-16th centuries B.C. and a large Mycenaean-era complex constructed around 1,400 B.C. and abandoned around 1,200 B.C.

The Minoan Civilization flourished on Crete and other islands in the Aegean Sea from around 3,000 B.C. to 1,100 B.C. It is considered by many to be the birthplace of "high culture" in Europe, bringing numerous cultural and artistic achievements.

Peaking around 1,600 B.C., the Minoan civilization was known for its great cities and architectural complexes, sophisticated artwork, its written script, and extensive trade routes which spread out across the Mediterranean.

Crete, archaeological complex
Monumental complex with central courtyard in Sissi with remnants of a Proto-Minoan settlement in the northwest. EBSA, N. Kress

The Minoan woman's tomb is not the only grave to be uncovered recently in Greece. In August, the Ministry of Culture and Sports announced the discovery of two ancient chamber tombs in southern Greece which date back to the Late Mycenaean Period (1,400-1,200 B.C.)

The Mycenaean culture was the first advanced civilization to develop on the Greek mainland, centered around the capital of Mycenae. The Mycenaean period spanned the years between around 1,600 and 1,100 B.C. and during this time, they developed a syllabic script which represents the earliest form of Greek.

Also in August, Russian archaeologists said they had uncovered the 1,500-year-old crypt of a warrior who was buried with his wife and children in an ancient city.

The remains were found in the eastern necropolis at Phanagoria—a coastal settlement founded by the Ancient Greeks located in what is now the Krasnodar Krai administrative region of Russia on the shores of the Black Sea.

Phangoria was founded in the mid-sixth century B.C. by Greek settlers who were largely fleeing conflict in Asia Minor—where modern-day Turkey is located. The settlement eventually developed into the most influential city in the Black Sea area and one of the largest Greek metropolises before being abandoned in the 9th and 10th centuries due to unknown reasons.