Secrets of the Four Gold Rings from the Tomb of the Griffin Warrior Revealed
The story behind four magnificent ancient Greek gold signet rings is finally coming to light. One year after they were found in the grave of a Bronze Age Greek warrior, the rings are now taking center stage for both their craftsmanship and the tales that accompany their designs. The researchers studying the artifacts say that they are some of the best examples of Mycenaean-Minoan cultural transfer and early Greek society.
EurekAlert! reports that the rings were crafted with multiple sheets of gold by a highly skilled person. The researchers were astounded by the individual’s abilities in making the rings. As Shari Stocker, co-discoverer of the tomb and a senior research associate in the University of Cincinnati's Department of Classics, said, “They're carving these before the microscope and electric tools. This is exquisite workmanship for something so tiny and old and really shows the skill of Minoan craftsmen.”
The images depicted on the rings show highly detailed Minoan iconography. One ring depicts the iconic Minoan scene of leaping bull. Interestingly, the others all show female figures as the main characters. One of these is an image of a probable goddess holding a staff with two birds accompanying here on a mountain.
A ring showing a bull which was found in the tomb of the Griffin Warrior. (Jennifer Stephens/University of Cincinnati)
Another ring shows five women around a shrine by the water. According to Eurekalert! this is the largest known gold signet ring from the Aegean world. The last of the four rings depicts a woman making a bull’s horn offering to a goddess. The goddess in the image is seated on a throne and holding a mirror.
At first, it was believed that the rings and some of the other artifacts showing Minoan themes were loot from a raid of Crete. However, other grave goods which can be linked to the images shown on the rings suggested to the researchers that they were something more than simple loot.
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April Holloway discussed some of the other artifacts found last year in the tomb of the so-called “Griffin Warrior.” Apart of his weapons - a bronze sword with a gold and ivory handle and a gold-hilted dagger, the archaeologists found the four gold rings and “an ornate string of pearls, 50 Minoan seal stones carved with imagery of goddesses, silver vases, gold cups, a bronze mirror, ivory combs, an ivory plaque carved with a griffin [from which the tomb received its name], and Minoan-style gold jewelry decorated with figures of deities, animals, and floral motifs.”
Specifically, one can see similarities between the mirror which was found with the warrior’s skeleton and that held by the goddess in the fourth ring. The sacred Minoan symbol of the bull, which EurekAlert! points out is also seen in Mycenaean imagery, is depicted in the rings with the bull-leaping scene and the bull horn offering. The researchers also told EurekAlert! that “it is no coincidence that the Griffin Warrior was found buried with a bronze bull's head staff capped by prominent horns, which were likely a symbol of his power and authority.”
The mirror found in the grave. (University of Cincinnati)
Jack Davis, co-discoverer of the tomb and the University of Cincinnati's Carl W. Blegen chair in Greek archaeology, told EurekAlert!:
“People have suggested that the findings in the grave are treasure, like Blackbeard's treasure, that was just buried along with the dead as impressive contraband. We think that already in this period the people on the mainland already understood much of the religious iconography on these rings, and they were already buying into religious concepts on the island of Crete. This isn't just loot […] it may be loot, but they're specifically selecting loot that transmits messages that are understandable to them.”
An ivory comb which was found in the grave last year. (Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)
Davis told the New York Times that they are uncertain if the warrior was buried by Minoans or Mycenaeans who had adopted elements of Minoan culture. He said, “Whoever they are, they are the people introducing Minoan ways to the mainland and forging Mycenaean culture. They were probably dressing like Minoans and building their houses according to styles used on Crete, using Minoan building techniques.”
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The grave of the 30- 35 year old warrior was discovered by Stocker and Davis while they were excavating the 3,500-year-old Palace of Nestor on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula. Holloway described the excavation site for Ancient Origins: “The Palace of Nestor, located at the top of the hill of Epano Englianos, near Pylos, is the best preserved Mycenaean Greek palace discovered. It once consisted of a two-storey building with reception rooms, baths, workshops, store rooms, and an established sewage system.”
Photo of Nestor’s Palace taken in 2010. (Public Domain)
The University of Cincinnati’s team's findings from the "Griffin Warrior" grave will be revealed on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece.
Top Image: One of the gold rings recovered from the tomb of the Griffin Warrior. Source: Chronis Papanikolopoulos/University of Cincinnati