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The Pylos Combat Agate, an ancient object found in Pylos, Greece and created around 1450 BC.

Is this Minoan Artistic Marvel a Miniaturization of the Heavens?

The discovery of the Pylos Combat Agate in a Mycenaean shaft-grave tomb dating to 1500 BC may be one of the most significant archaeological and artistic finds in decades, perhaps in centuries. The level of artistic sophistication and detail are stunning -- the more so because the piece itself is so small and the level of detail is so incredibly high. Some details are only a half a millimeter in size. But is there an extra dimension to this immaculate artistry that would put it on a whole new celestial scale?

A Scene From the Stars?

Scholars are already debating the meaning of the scene, which shows a triumphant warrior plunging a sword into a shield-bearing combatant wearing a crested helmet, while another warrior lies sprawled-out beneath their feet, apparently already dead. Unnoticed until now, however, is the fact that this scene contains details which reveal that its pattern is in the heavens, corresponding to specific constellations.

This new discovery provides yet another example of a pattern I have been researching and writing about for several years now, demonstrating that ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories from around the globe – together with ancient artwork depicting mythical scenes - are frequently based on celestial metaphor, part of a system which appears to have been fully mature before the earliest texts such as the Gilgamesh cycle were written. This surely suggests the existence of some even earlier culture or civilization, upending conventional timelines of early human history.

Out of Place and Out of Time Object d’art

In the spring of 2015, a team of scholars working in the Pylos region of Greece discovered an undisturbed shaft-grave tomb of a Bronze Age warrior which included an intact skeleton and more than 3,000 artifacts arrayed on and around the body. The tomb is believed to date to the period around 1500 BC and to be from the Mycenaean civilization, but with many of the objects appearing to be of Minoan origin. The discovery, with its rich trove of artifacts, was described as the most significant in the region to be found in several decades -- but it would be another year before the most astonishing find was uncovered: a dirt-encrusted agate stone measuring only 3.6 centimeters which, when carefully cleaned, revealed artwork depicting a close combat scene with stunning detail and artistic sophistication.

The Combat Scene

Below is a simplified, hand-drawn reproduction of the scene containing the major outlines of the figures, based upon images published thus far. I have added colorization to the three figures in the scene in order to help distinguish them. We see a triumphant, long-haired warrior in an extreme lunge, stabbing downwards with a sword held in his right hand, his right arm raised over his head. This figure, whom I will call the Swordsman, has been tinted red in the diagram. The figure into whom the Swordsman is plunging his sword has a large shield, which appears to have been battered into a somewhat folded lozenge- or diamond-shape, possibly by the prior combat. This figure's right arm holds a long spear, the point of which can be seen on the other side of the Swordsman whom he is facing. I'll call him the Spearman, and he is tinted blue in the colored diagram. He is evidently about to receive a mortal wound from the Swordsman. Finally, there is a third figure stretched out below the two fighting figures of the Swordsman and the Spearman: this figure has apparently already been killed and his body is twisted into a contorted position. He is tinted green in the diagram below and we'll call him the Fallen Warrior. His head is to the left as we face the seal, and his lower leg (his right) is fully extended to the right as we look at the scene. His left leg is sharply bent with the knee pointing upwards. His arms are splayed out at different angles, with one bent over his head with the back of the hand against the ground.

A simplified, hand-drawn reproduction of the scene containing the major outlines of the figures. (Author Sketch)

The details of this scene are strongly suggestive of the outlines of specific constellations in the night sky -- and constellations which appear to have formed the basis for many other pieces of ancient artwork and ancient myths. Below is an image showing the region of the night sky containing the constellations Hercules, Ophiucus, Corona Borealis (the "Northern Crown"), and Scorpio. Sagittarius is also included for reference.

The night sky constellations Hercules, Ophiucus, Corona Borealis and Scorpio. (Author provided).

The night sky constellations Hercules, Ophiucus, Corona Borealis and Scorpio. (Author provided).

Hercules: The Swordsman vs Ophiucus

Note the outline of the constellation Hercules: the figure in the sky appears to be executing a deep lunge, with one arm raised above its head, brandishing a sword. The similarities to the Swordsman in the Pylos Agate should be self-evident: that figure also has an extended rear leg, and the arm holding the sword arches over his head in a similar manner.

Immediately below Hercules in the sky we find the oblong shape of the constellation Ophiucus. Note that the constellation Ophiucus is located below the constellation Hercules as seen in the sky (for an observer in the northern hemisphere of our planet, such as an observer in the region of ancient Greece, Mycenae, or Minoan Crete).  This suggests that the constellation Hercules, brandishing a mighty sword, could be envisioned as being in the act of striking a mortal blow to the figure of Ophiucus (the Spearman) -- and indeed there are details in the artwork which suggest that the Spearman corresponds to Ophiucus. First, the serpent-halves held by Ophiucus could be envisioned as spears rather than as serpents, and I have previously shown how some figures in ancient Greek myth who carry spears may be associated with Ophiucus -- including the goddess Athena. Note that the Spearman in the Pylos Agate appears to be wearing a fringed garment of some sort, visible between his legs, below the rim of his broad shield (perhaps suggestive of the "multiple heads" of the constellation Scorpio just below). Similarly, Athena is frequently depicted wearing the Aegis, often depicted as a triangular cloak or shawl fringed with serpents (see for instance the ancient statue shown below from the sixth century BC, featuring an intricately detailed Aegis):

Colossal statue of Athena, from the Gigantomachy group ca. 525 BC.

Colossal statue of Athena, from the Gigantomachy group ca. 525 BC. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Spearman’s Celestial Armory

The Spearman on the Pylos Agate carries a large, somewhat crumpled shield. Note that the shape on the left side of Ophiucus could easily be envisioned as a large, battered shield:

The blue area could equate with the shield central to the Agate. (Author provided).

The blue area could equate with the shield central to the Agate. (Author provided).

In fact, if an additional line is envisioned in the sky just above the colored region shown above, the resemblance to the shield of the Spearman in the artwork becomes even more convincing:

More shield-like. (Author provided)

More shield-like. (Author provided)

Additionally, the triangular "head" atop the oblong body of Ophiucus could be envisioned as a helmet -- and in the Pylos Agate, it is the Spearman who wears a helmet -- just as Athena is also often depicted with a helmet. It should be fairly obvious that Ophiucus could be envisioned as a heavily-armored combatant, with only the legs protruding from beneath the well-protected body -- precisely what we see in the depiction of the Spearman.

A Decisive Correlation

But the confirmatory detail which indicates that we are indeed looking at a celestial scene in the Pylos Agate is found in the extended arm of the Swordsman which can be seen to be grasping the distinctive, curving helmet-crest of the Spearman. The ancient artist of the Pylos Agate has depicted this crest as a sort of open "C-shape," with the opening pointing upwards. This detail in the Pylos Agate can be seen to correspond to the constellation of Corona Borealis -- the Northern Crown -- in the night sky.

Detail of the top center section of the Pylos Agate.

Detail of the top center section of the Pylos Agate. (Public Domain)

The dominant figure of the Swordsman in the Pylos Agate reaches out his lower arm (the arm not holding the sword) to grasp the curved helmet-crest, just as the menacing figure of Hercules can be envisioned to be reaching out his lower arm (the arm not holding the sword) to grasp the Northern Crown. It is only a small adjustment to envision a line between one of the lower stars of the downward-reaching arm of Hercules and the stars of the Northern Crown and thus to see how Hercules could be envisioned as grasping the arc in the sky -- just as the Swordsman in the Pylos Agate is doing:

The Swordsman clutches the crown/helmet. (Author provided).

The Swordsman clutches the crown/helmet. (Author provided).

Does the Fallen Warrior Match With Scorpio?

As for the contorted form of the Fallen Warrior in the Pylos Agate, he almost certainly corresponds to the figure of the constellation Scorpio, beneath the feet of Ophiucus (and thus below both Hercules and Ophiucus, or in this case the Swordsman and the Spearman). Note how the arm of the Fallen Warrior which flops over his head creates a shape reminiscent of the barbed "tail" of the Scorpion in the night sky, while the three "lower limbs" of the same Fallen Warrior (his two legs plus his downward-splayed arm) create a kind of "delta-shape" corresponding to the triangular "head-end" of the constellation Scorpio.

I've previously noted strong historical precedent for envisioning Scorpio as the figure of a slain warrior or youth. Below is an image of the famous bell-krater, dated to the early fifth century BC, depicting the goddess Artemis slaying Actaeon, towards whom she is pointing her bow as the unfortunate hunter is torn apart by his own pack of dogs:

Artemis slaying Actaeon. From Beazley, John D. Attic Red-figure Vases in American Museums. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1918. This drawing is found on page 113 of that text.

Artemis slaying Actaeon. From Beazley, John D. Attic Red-figure Vases in American Museums. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1918. This drawing is found on page 113 of that text.

Below is the same ancient artwork, depicted as a drawing, in order to enable the viewer to see "around the curve" of the ancient vase, thereby allowing us to appreciate the entire scene:

It should be readily apparent, from the angle of Actaeon's body as well as from the "delta-shape" created by the youth's upwards-stretched arm and head, that the ancient artist of the above scene has envisioned Actaeon as corresponding to Scorpio in the heavens. We could even argue that the hind legs and upward-curving tail of lowest-left dog correspond to the "stinger" portion of Scorpio's tail.

But the most conclusive details can be found in the outline of the goddess herself. From the angle of her body, to the height at which she is holding her bow, to the length of her dress, it is evident that Artemis corresponds to Sagittarius in the night sky -- and Sagittarius does indeed point a bow in the direction of Scorpio, as seen in the outlines of the constellations:

(Author provided)

(Author provided)

Below we see the same stars juxtaposed with the artwork of the ancient vase:

(Author provided)

(Author provided)

The above example should confirm that Scorpio was indeed used as a celestial model for artwork featuring a fallen warrior (or hunter) in ancient Greek art -- but of course this bell-krater is nearly a thousand years later than the artwork on the Pylos Combat Agate.

A Mindboggling Miniature

In fact, based on these examples, it is quite evident that artists in ancient Greece depicted mythological scenes based upon heavenly models corresponding to constellations which we still know and use today -- and now that we have access to the newly-discovered, exquisitely-wrought Pylos Combat Agate, we know that this practice was well developed about a thousand years prior to other examples of constellational artwork from the same region.

Thus, in addition to executing a work of superlative artistic quality, the ancient artist (or artists) responsible for the Pylos Combat Agate also managed to conceive the scene in such a way as to reflect the heavens above, with numerous features which confirm the correspondence of the characters depicted in the artwork to actors in the celestial sphere, among the infinite realm of the stars.

Top image: The Pylos Combat Agate, an ancient object found in Pylos, Greece and created around 1450 BC. (Public Domain)

By David Warner Mathisen

Resources:

Beazley, John D. Attic Red-figure Vases in American Museums. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1918.

Rey, H. A. The Stars: A New Way to See Them. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1952. Enlarged World-Wide Edition, 1988.

Richardson, Rachel. "Unearthing a masterpiece: A University of Cincinnati team's stunning discovery of a rare Minoan sealstone in the trasure-laden tomb of a Bronze Age Greek warrior promises to rewrite the history of ancient Greek art." UC Magazine. November 6, 2017. http://magazine.uc.edu/editors_picks/recent_features/unearthingamasterpiece.html

Comments

David, although a well-argued and thoughtfully theory, I do not believe this related to the constellations. I believe this may denote a civil war between Minoan Crete and Carians (living on Delos and another adjacent Cyclades island).
The leaping figure (left) is entirely in keeping with a Cretan bull leaping athlete in dress, codpiece and all. The weaponry used also Cretan Minoan. Also, note the leaper is not lunging, there is no outstretched leg in the engraving at all. This may suggest that the bull leaping festivals were a right of passage, into the Cretan military elite.
The Carian on the right were known to work for Minos, supplying soldiers and sailors for his Navy, they paid no tribute, they were paid by the Minoan Warchief for military services. A festival is known celebrating Apollo at Delos (Carian home island), huge head of heard were provided by the Minoan islands (payment), which makes sense, the island itself cannot support agriculture.
The Carian introduced the horsehair helmet plume adopted by the Greeks later, they also had military dances, battle formations and invented most of the shield innovations (a figure of eight shield shown – it was assumed that this was a clumsy full body length shield, it is constructed of a wicker core with stapled leather – it as good as it gets for absorbing standoff arrows and sling stone energy, then look what the Carian does, rotates it 90 degrees for close quarter combat when the hoplite can be brought to bear, there is very little chance of getting a sword anywhere near the Carian – the shield is 1m either side of the body, the only point of weakness is at the neck but to do so you have to leap to get over the shield). The Carians known later to be the best disciplined fighters, they taught the Spartans everything they knew. This is all shown. They changed sides! This actually makes sense, Thera erupted, trade massively disrupted, the Minoan metal reserves quickly ran out. They couldn’t pay the Carians. They went to work for Mycenaeans instead, that invaded Crete later. It’s an important artefact and so wonderfully crafted. The engraving shows all the hallmarks of Minoan Palace workshop. Thoughts appreciated?

David W Mathisen's picture

Thank you for your comment and observations – I would argue that the incorporation of cultural artifacts, clothing, armor, hairstyles, etc do not in any way invalidate the argument that a scene is based upon celestial patterns. There are scenes from ancient Egypt which I can demonstrate to be based upon the constellations, and the gods and goddesses or kings or warriros in those scenes are depicted in the Egyptian ornamentation and dress and style of their period, as are vanquished enemy combatants who are depicted in their own styles and with their own armor etc. If you are not yet convinced that the Pylos Agate scene is celestial in origin, I would urge you to visit this blog post I wrote for those new to my work, which contains some links to other artwork based on the same constellations: http://mathisencorollary.blogspot.com/2017/12/welcome-to-new-visitors-from-ancient.html

There are literally hundreds of other examples that I can offer which provide additional evidence for the arguments that I am making about these connections. When you start to see the patterns in other artwork corresponding to these particular constellations (Hercules and Ophiucus for instance) then the distinctive characteristics become more obvious (in fact, they begin to jump out at you, after you examine enough examples). My books Star Myths of the World Volume Two (about Greek myths) and Star Myths of the World Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible) contain over 250 illustrations and star charts in each volume, and many of those examples help to shed light on the celestial features that are present in the Pylos Agate. But, your observations are also valid and insightful – I am not denying the possibilities that you are presenting here either. Cheers, David

David W Mathisen's picture

Hi Nick D – I tried to reply to your comments but it seems that my reply started a new comment. Here’s what I wrote:

Thank you for your comment and observations – I would argue that the incorporation of cultural artifacts, clothing, armor, hairstyles, etc do not in any way invalidate the argument that a scene is based upon celestial patterns. There are scenes from ancient Egypt which I can demonstrate to be based upon the constellations, and the gods and goddesses or kings or warriros in those scenes are depicted in the Egyptian ornamentation and dress and style of their period, as are vanquished enemy combatants who are depicted in their own styles and with their own armor etc. If you are not yet convinced that the Pylos Agate scene is celestial in origin, I would urge you to visit this blog post I wrote for those new to my work, which contains some links to other artwork based on the same constellations: http://mathisencorollary.blogspot.com/2017/12/welcome-to-new-visitors-fr...

There are literally hundreds of other examples that I can offer which provide additional evidence for the arguments that I am making about these connections. When you start to see the patterns in other artwork corresponding to these particular constellations (Hercules and Ophiucus for instance) then the distinctive characteristics become more obvious (in fact, they begin to jump out at you, after you examine enough examples). My books Star Myths of the World Volume Two (about Greek myths) and Star Myths of the World Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible) contain over 250 illustrations and star charts in each volume, and many of those examples help to shed light on the celestial features that are present in the Pylos Agate. But, your observations are also valid and insightful – I am not denying the possibilities that you are presenting here either. Cheers, David

Hi David, thanks for the reply. Taken a look at the blog, another good read. I’m struggling to see the figures in relation to the dating? Hercules (stand to be corrected) seems to pop up around the time of Troy.
Dumb Q’s on astronomy. The feats of Hercules represent the zodiac right. This is a weird time, due to procession the pole star is changing from Thuban to Kappa Draconis. Hercules popped up around 1200BCE. The snake is less relevant as it doesn’t help you find North, enter the time of Hercules. I do agree these story get passed down for a reason, they help you understand the seasons and world around you. The stars are like modern day TV, there are stories that can be used to preserve useful information.
I think we do agree that this is an exquisitely crafted artefact, whether a very nearsighted craftsman or lens assisted, they had such a fine hand. I can’t see a modern day craftsman producing this, it is fabulous. Seen some iconography that MAY suggest levers, but I'm still struggling with this, there is such fidelity at the edges. I cannot understand how it's made, it’s a nightmarish material to work at this scale with fairly crude tools, even if you are so very careful and have all the time in the world. It’s wonderful. I can’t see it being Mycenaean myself, it is just too good. But obviously was found in a Mycenaean grave, so what was it doing there? I’d love to see the wax imprint it leaves.
Everything in the scene supports Minoan origin, that suggests a dating between Thera and Mycenaean conquest. Boy, did these people have tech, it’s like DARPA in antiquity and across so many disciplines: art, engineering, science, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, commerce and trade. My jaw dropped on learning they had steam! They are completely out of time, it is more like being on the cusp of the industrial revolution, but not quite, then Thera blow up and the world went wrong. No wonder others perceived them as gods. But they themselves don’t seem to.
Best, Nick
PS to me, it looks as if there are two Cretans bodies, one ontop of the other on the ground. Should have said the horsehair plume, would face forwards (the Carians head has been turned away - not very clear in this image), it allows the combatant to use the crest to counter a downward blow from a sword, this tech has first rate. If the scene represents a civil war, there was a high attrition rate. The Carians were good fighters. Just to give others food for thought, they might spot something neither of us sees.

David W Mathisen's picture

If you’re able to spend some more time looking through my blog posts and videos and discussions of the myths (there’s a whole “Myths” section at my website at www.starmythworld.com) you’ll see that my interpretation of the evidence found in myths from around the world is that this system which underlies the ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories from virtually every culture, on every inhabited continent and island, is extremely ancient – far more ancient than the period we think of as “ancient Greece.” In Hamlet’s Mill, the authors write that “the dust of centuries had settled upon the remains of this great world-wide archaic construction when the Greeks came on the scene” (quotation found on pages 4 and 5; see further discussion here: http://mathisencorollary.blogspot.com/2015/10/fragments-of-lost-whole.html ). This system predates (and informs) the mythologies of the earliest conventionally-known ancient civilizations – including those of ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia ancient China, and the ancient Indus-Saraswati civilization. It may in fact predate Gobekli Tepe (see discussions in my 2017 book entitled “Astrotheology for Life,” as well as in recent books by Robert Schoch and Graham Hancock and others). The constellation we know as Hercules informs figures in mythologies that came long before classical Greece. I’m convinced based upon overwhelming evidence that all of these various figures and episodes (including the adventures of Heracles, later called Hercules) are based on celestial metaphor, not on historical actors. This includes the stories regarding what we know of as the “Trojan War.” I spend some time in my book Star Myths of the World, Volume Two, showing that the events and characters in both the Iliad and the Odyssey are celestial in nature, based upon constellations, primarily, and describing the cycles of the heavens. The same can be said for the characters and episodes in the ancient Sanskrit epics such as the Mahabharata. You correctly point out that the various labors performed by Heracles relate to constellations in the night sky (not all of them are zodiac constellations, however, according to my analysis). Ancient artwork, including that on ancient Greek pottery from the sixth century BC and forward, also provides compelling evidence that the ancients understood that these myths relate to the constellations. The newly-discovered Pylos Combat Agate provides us with startlingly sophisticated artwork from a period of time almost one thousand years earlier than those other examples that I have examined in the past and written about (writing about them before the Pylos Agate was even discovered, or any photographs of it published). And, as I argue in this brief article, there is abundant evidence that the scene in the Pylos Agate is using the very same ancient system of celestial metaphor. Thus, it provides us with important new confirmatory evidence that this ancient system goes very deep into history. Thanks for your comments and insights into this extraordinary piece of ancient artwork – I’m glad you find it as engaging and intriguing as I do! Cheers, David 

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