Ancient Mystery Of The Tomb Of Tiryns – Burial Place For An Unknown Mycenaean Hero?

Science News

There is an interesting A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ mystery on the west slope of Profitis Ilias Hill on the Cyclades Islands in Greece. At the site, you’ll find not only a beautiful small chapel deducted to Profitis Ilias (Prophet Ilias) but also a curious A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ tomb built for an unknown Mycenaean hero.

As the name suggests, the sacred islands are associated with the mysterious Cycladic culture. This Bronze Age culture is famous for its prehistoric Cycladic figurines carved in marble. These magnificent very A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ artifacts appeared in the Cycladic society, many centuries before the arising of the famous Minoan Civilization.

Cyclopean masonry at Tiryns walls, Greece. Credit: Nick Stenning – Flickr

In 1913, archaeologists excavating in the area around the citadel of Tiryns on Profitis Ilias Hill came across a beehive structure. Later investigations revealed it was a tholos tomb.

“Strange A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ domed structures, commonly called “beehive tombs”, also known as Tholos tombs, have been found in many places around the world. What is odd about these A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ structures is that they are referred to as tombs, and yet no burial remains have been found inside them.

The most impressive beehive structure is perhaps the tomb or treasury of Atreus, sometimes called the Tomb of Clytemnestra in Mycenae Greece.” 1

When scientists examined the A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ tomb of Tiryns they knew they had stumbled upon something interesting but difficult to solve. The 13 m long and almost 3 m wide tomb was in excellent condition, but it was empty. The entrance portal of the tomb was decorated with wall-paintings of spirals and there was no sarcophagus inside. Scientists searched for A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ artifacts that could reveal why this tomb was built and for whom but no Mycenaean pottery at all was found inside the tomb. How can we explain the absence of a sarcophagus and burial artifacts?

Did you know? The Minoans appeared to have possessed remarkable technologies; one of them was the creation of tiny, wonderful seals, which were skillfully carved out of soft stones, ivory or bone. Here you see finds from the Ideon Cave. Left: A piece of gold jewelry – Right: Ivory seals. Image via E̳x̳p̳l̳o̳r̳e̳ Crete – Read more

One possible explanation is that something was placed inside the tomb, but the burial place was looted in Roman times. Another possibility is the tholos tomb was never used at all.

“Its construction is contemporary with the third building phase of the citadel. As Protocorinthian and black-figure sherds found in the cist and in the dromos confirm, the tomb must have been open already in that period. The kind of finds suggests a hero cult. In the Roman imperial period, the interior was converted into an oil-pressing installation.” 2

Masonry tunnel found at the site. Credit: Alun Salt – Flickr

In 1915, archaeologists discovered a number of A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ tombs not far from the Mycenaean citadel Profitis Ilias Hill. It was rather obvious the A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ tombs were part of a cemetery where the Mycenaean civilization buried their dead, but most of the tombs were empty and had been looted in antiquity. However, despite the lack of grave goods and burial bod̳i̳e̳s, scientists did make a great archaeological discovery at the site. They found a beautiful gold ring from the so-called ‘Tiryns treasure’. It was the largest Mycenaean signet ring yet found and a masterpiece of the Mycenaean seal engraver’s art.

Gold signet ring from the “Tiryns treasure” of Mycenae. Dated to the 15th century B.C. Image source

“The bezel is deeply engraved with an important ritual scene, while the annulus is decorated in relief. In the ritual scene a female deity sits on a throne at the far left resting her feet on a footstool. She wears a long clerical garment and cylindrical hat, and raises a conical cup or rhyton with her right hand. Four lion-headed daemons carrying libation ewers walk in procession towards the goddess. Various other elements, such as a bird (possibly an eagle), an incense burner atop a short column, and the sun and moon, emphasize this scene’s religious character.” 3

We will never know who was meant to be put to eternal rest in the tomb of Tiryns, but the burial place was most likely built for a cult Mycenaean hero who lived sometime between 1300 and 1400 B.C.

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