New light shone on the relationship between Minoans and Mycenaeans
January 8, 2017 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Yet remarkably little is known of the beginnings of Mycenaean culture. The Pylos grave, with its wealth of undisturbed burial objects and, at its bottom, a largely intact skeleton, offers a nearly unprecedented window into this time—and what it reveals is calling into question our most basic ideas about the roots of Western civilization.
This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization by Jo Marchant.
posted by Kattullus (27 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
More available at the Griffin Warrior Project
posted by BWA at 1:03 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


Previously on the deciphering of Linear B writing (which wasn't done by nameless scholars).

TBH the article doesn't "call[...] into question our most basic ideas about the roots of Western civilization." That Mycenaean civilization was influenced by the Minoans and may even have started as Minoan outposts isn't particularly new and was already hinted at when stuff written in Linear B was found in mainland Greece.
posted by sukeban at 1:06 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]


Significantly, weapons had been placed on the left side of the warrior’s body while rings and seal stones were on the right, suggesting that they were arranged with intent, not simply thrown in. The representational artwork featured on the rings also had direct connections to actual buried objects. “One of the gold rings has a goddess standing on top of a mountain with a staff that seems to be crowned by a horned bull’s head,” says Davis. “We found a bull’s head staff in the grave.” Another ring shows a goddess sitting on a throne, looking at herself in the mirror. “We have a mirror.” Davis and Stocker do not believe that all this is a coincidence. “We think that objects were chosen to interact with the iconography of the rings.”
If it turns out that this long-haired "warrior" buried with lots and lots of jewelry and with cult implements ostensibly wielded by women in depictions found on the accompanying objects turns out to be female when they look at the pelvis or run a DNA test, I'll laugh like you can't imagine.
posted by sukeban at 1:11 PM on January 8 [29 favorites]


As we look out to sea, he points out the island of Sphacteria, where the Athenians beat the Spartans during a fifth-century B.C. battle of the Peloponnesian War.

Ah, Cleon, the vulgar, warmongering populist.
posted by Emma May Smith at 1:37 PM on January 8 [9 favorites]


I imagine the archaeologists 3,500 years from now unearthing a giant Prozac capsule with the remains of a cremated human within, and wondering what the significance is.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:08 PM on January 8 [19 favorites]


If it turns out that this long-haired "warrior" buried with lots and lots of jewelry and with cult implements ostensibly wielded by women in depictions found on the accompanying objects turns out to be female

I suspect professional archeologists in 2015 do know how to identify gender by the pelvis rather than relying on modern gender stereotypes.
posted by Candleman at 2:16 PM on January 8 [16 favorites]


I suspect professional archeologists in 2015 do know how to identify gender by the pelvis rather than relying on modern gender stereotypes.

It's not just a matter of knowing, but of having the finances. As a side note, being one of the people who has brought this up constantly on MetaFilter, I am rather annoyed that yet another woman-related thing keeps getting forgotten. But hey. Here we go again, teaching people, again, about things we've linked to several times. Last time I wrote about this was a few days ago. Granted I didn't link to the places I have before, but that's because I trusted people remembered. Or at the very least, didn't brush aside this sort of thing without first looking into it themselves.

Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 ad, from 2011:
Various types of evidence have been used in the search for Norse migrants to eastern England in the latter ninth century. Most of the data gives the impression that Norse females were far outnumbered by males. But using burials that are most certainly Norse and that have also been sexed osteologically provides very different results for the ratio of male to female Norse migrants. Indeed, it suggests that female migration may have been as significant as male, and that Norse women were in England from the earliest stages of the migration, including during the campaigning period from 865.
Ancient Graves Of Armed Women Hint at Amazons from 1997 goes into it a bit.

I Am No Man: A Study of Warrior Women in the Archaeological Record from 2009 also goes into it.

Here's one from 2016! Reconsidering Gender and Grave Goods at the Toumba Cemetery of Lefkandi, Euboea.

Now, the article does say they analyzed the skeleton, but even osteological analysis for gender can be misleading. Plus they do not specify whether they gendered the skeleton based on grave goods or osteo analysis. So we'll have to wait for the DNA to come in, or someone to specify how they determined the warrior's gender (according to our binary views of gender – how do we know the warrior wasn't intersex?).
Analyses of the skeleton show that this 30-something dignitary stood around five-and-a-half feet, tall for a man of his time. Combs found in the grave imply that he had long hair. And a recent computerized facial reconstruction based on the warrior’s skull, created by Lynne Schepartz and Tobias Houlton, physical anthropologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, shows a broad, determined face with close-set eyes and a prominent jaw. Davis and Stocker are also planning DNA tests and isotope analyses that they hope will provide information about his ethnic and geographic origins.
One last thing. Whatever gender the warrior, there are goddesses everywhere.
posted by fraula at 2:32 PM on January 8 [35 favorites]


I would also like to know more about how they determined the gender of the person. I couldn't find a definitive answer on the researchers' own website (linked by BWA above), but it does say: "The discovery of so much jewelry with a male burial challenges the commonly held belief that apparently 'female' offerings only accompanied deceased women to the hereafter." Which suggests that they're at least aware of problems with applying contemporary gender stereotypes to analyses of grave goods.
posted by Tsuga at 3:17 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


a troupe of adopted animals, including the mascot, a sleek gray cat named Nestor, which she rescued from the middle of the road when he was 4 weeks old. “He was teeny,” she recalls. “One day he blew off the table.”

this article is overly light on pictures, you ask me
posted by Greg Nog at 3:24 PM on January 8 [15 favorites]


It's not just a matter of knowing, but of having the finances.

You mean forensic archaeologists can't all identify sex of a skeleton at a glance like Emily Deschanel does all the time on Bones???
posted by tobascodagama at 3:45 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]


Significantly, weapons had been placed on the left side of the warrior’s body while rings and seal stones were on the right, suggesting that they were arranged with intent, not simply thrown in.

I read stuff like this and I can only think of Motel of the Mysteries. Of course they weren't "simply thrown in", you muppet.
posted by fshgrl at 3:56 PM on January 8 [9 favorites]


“With no sign of wealth, art or sophisticated architecture, mainland Greece must have been a pretty depressing place to live,” says Davis. “Then, everything changes.”
I think this is a very short sighted statement and totally wrong. Imagine you live in Greece, grow grapes, run sheep, make bread, raise your family, fish, live in one of the world's most coveted climates. Publishers, please make brilliant guys like this wake up and remind them, that blabber is blabber, not fact.
posted by Oyéah at 4:25 PM on January 8 [12 favorites]


When the Olympics came to Utah, the Greeks who were next for the Summer games, they put up a display of coins from the various islands, and cultures on those islands. One coin was from a brothel island, showed a soldier/warrior, in a chair, with a "goddess" on his lap. Those rings could be common wear for wealthy courtesans. Notice how the dresses differ for the two types of "goddesses" on the rings. I like that small detail.

In this discussion the writers seem all a-gush about how great the growth of the palace and power reality, as if that defines civilization. Something about the slant of the article galls me. Though how fantastic to excavate a burial site like that. Their suppositions betray their prejudices.
posted by Oyéah at 4:40 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


“With no sign of wealth, art or sophisticated architecture, mainland Greece must have been a pretty depressing place to live,”

I think what they mean is, mainland Greece of that time period is a pretty depression place to excavate.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:53 PM on January 8 [5 favorites]


What we generally consider the "peak" of a culture - marked by exquiste grave goods and fabulous art for grand palaces, seems to be the point where the greatest portion of wealth is concentrated in the fewest hands, so for the lower classes, maybe these "off" periods weren't so depressing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:40 PM on January 8 [7 favorites]


That Mycenaean civilization was influenced by the Minoans and may even have started as Minoan outposts isn't particularly new and was already hinted at when stuff written in Linear B was found in mainland Greece.

Yes, this is a standard theory, though of course always rather speculative given the paucity of evidence.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Ah grave robbing.

I hope archaeologists of the future dig up the graves of ancestors of archaeologists of the present.
posted by spitbull at 1:07 AM on January 9



You mean forensic archaeologists can't all identify sex of a skeleton at a glance like Emily Deschanel does all the time on Bones???


I think this is sarcasm. But in case anyone has any doubts, even after Fraula's fantastic comment....

No. No they can't. It's based on ranges, and the more indicative bones you have for an individual the more accurate you can be. But more and more, DNA testing is showing that even then, they can still get it wrong.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:36 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I hope archaeologists of the future dig up the graves of ancestors of archaeologists of the present.

I bet most of them would consider that one of the highest possible compliments.

People are complicated. It's possible for something that's a colonial practice in some contexts to be a legitimate method of study in others.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 2:59 AM on January 9 [5 favorites]


It's not as if we Europeans don't dig our own ancestors' graves and put them in museums, from Sutton Hoo to even later tombs (click on square #16 for a late 1400s noblewoman's sarcophagus), and it's not either as if there aren't archaeologists outside the Western world who study their own history.
posted by sukeban at 4:53 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]


And sometimes it's a choice between building something new and not doing anything about the burials in that area and destroying anything that could be learnt from that archaeology record, or excavating it scientifically, learning what we can and then developing the ground.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:56 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


This is cool, thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:07 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


And sometimes it's a choice between building something new and not doing anything about the burials in that area and destroying anything that could be learnt from that archaeology record, or excavating it scientifically, learning what we can and then developing the ground.

The third choice is not to build the new thing there, or design it to avoid the archaeological site. Which happens (although less often than preservationists would like), and in fact is far preferable to your two options.
posted by suelac at 12:15 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]


Oh, and here's their gallery with more pics from the excavation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]


Their suppositions betray their prejudices

As someone whose work is fairly routinely run through the meat grinder of rushed science journalism: an accurate thing to say here is that the Smithsonian style guide, press pressures, and the freelancer's treatment is where the prejudices are being betrayed. Jo Marchant, who wrote that piece, has academic credentials and can undoubtedly parse technical material with care. But she wrote this for a magazine, not a peer reviewed journal, and so she wrote it the way she did. The researchers briefly profiled in the piece did not write this. Don't assume that journalism presents researchers work as the researchers themselves would present it, in content or tone.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:44 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]




It would be lovely to preserve every last ounce of our past. And I do think there is too much destroyed for the sake of 'development'. But we couldn't operate as a society if we tried to preserve everything.

I'm an archaeologist in London, you have to be pragmatic.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:09 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


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