“It’s a spectacular find.”
November 8, 2017 2:38 PM   Subscribe

A miniature masterpiece from the Greek tomb of the “Griffin Warrior.” From an archaeological dig in the Pylos region of Greece, a find in a Bronze Age grave : "the tomb has revealed its most valuable secret, and intricately carved sealstone that researchers are calling “one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.”
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee (50 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Holy shit.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:47 PM on November 8 [8 favorites]


Beautiful. Too bad that drawing of it is so terrible, it distorts and simplifies throughout - look at the shape of the rearmost foot and the lack of musculature and definition between the ankle and the edge of the foot and heel's silhouette visible in the photograph.
posted by mwhybark at 2:50 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


Wow, that's really lovely and so incredibly detailed. Would it have been used to mark wax?
posted by tavella at 2:50 PM on November 8


This is well before even the Archaic period. The poses and postures are familiar but the modeling is unprecedented for something this early. Wow indeed...
posted by jim in austin at 2:57 PM on November 8 [15 favorites]


Looks like they were used on clay, both on documents and as door/container seals. That makes sense with how finely detailed they are, wax probably wouldn't hold as much detail.
posted by tavella at 3:01 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


My 5000 year old could do that
posted by thelonius at 3:03 PM on November 8 [47 favorites]


Neato. This depiction of brutal violence meets my approval.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:05 PM on November 8 [4 favorites]


Gorgeous. There's probably more lost art than we can imagine. How lucky this was saved.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:08 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


I'll be curious to see the publication in Hesperia (it doesn't look like it's out yet). I think the closest parallel is CMS I, 11, a roughly contemporary seal stone also found in a grave context at Mycenae. They share a number of iconographic similarities, most prominently one man (nearly entirely nude) killing another (with shield and helmet). I'm not at all an expert in Bronze Age seals, but I'm curious what (if anything) makes the Pylos one particularly exceptional.
posted by dd42 at 3:10 PM on November 8 [16 favorites]


Ridiculous.

Extraordinary.

Ridiculously extraordinary.


I'm speechless...this is a beautiful find.
posted by darkstar at 3:13 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


Some classicists consider 1200 BCE late archaic "Greece", partly because dating Linears A and B (documentary evidence of Greek language) are uncertain and a significant amount of material culture associated with 14th cen. BCE Hyksos, Hurrian, and other obscure Syro-Palestinian kingdoms (eg. Griffin iconography) has been uncovered in Minoan, Mycenaean, and Cypriot palace strata. Controversy now revolves around syncretism, trade integration with, or colonization by "Sea Peoples" in the period preceding Greek "Dark Age".
posted by marycatherine at 3:17 PM on November 8 [5 favorites]


I think the closest parallel is CMS I, 11

Good catch!

They share a number of iconographic similarities, most prominently one man (nearly entirely nude) killing another (with shield and helmet).

And the helmet and shield are almost identical, as are the poses and composition. Maybe they both depict the same episode from a history or legend.
posted by Iridic at 3:18 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


I'm not at all an expert in Bronze Age seals, but I'm curious what (if anything) makes the Pylos one particularly exceptional.

I'm not either, but as a completely amateur Bronze Age nerd, I've never seen anything from this period that's even remotely as detailed and realistic as this.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:18 PM on November 8 [3 favorites]


That CMS I thing looks like the bootleg dollar store version
posted by theodolite at 3:29 PM on November 8 [14 favorites]


Also, in the drawing the stabbing warrior has a left leg drawn in which doesn't seem to actually be visible on the sealstone.
posted by tavella at 3:51 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


The viral marketing for Thor: Ragnarok is off the hook.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 3:54 PM on November 8 [8 favorites]


I can't get over this. Unless this stone is totally sui generis and some mad genius did this all by themselves with no input from the larger culture, then this implies:

-an artistic tradition with a sophisticated understanding of musculature and contour
-tools that can work hard stone at the half-millimeter level of detail
-optical aids. (There were rock crystal lenses all over the ancient world, but it's a matter of dispute whether they were exclusively used as burning glasses or if artisans and scribes looked through them for detail work.)
posted by Iridic at 4:17 PM on November 8 [27 favorites]


wow. that is just incredibly beautiful. the level of detail on such a small scale. what a wonderful find, I can't imagine how exciting it must be for the archaeologists!
posted by supermedusa at 4:18 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


That's incredibly beautiful, and I want to hold it.
posted by PussKillian at 4:23 PM on November 8


Imagine what else that artist created, all lost.
posted by Beholder at 4:25 PM on November 8 [9 favorites]


No one is mentioning the Alien warrior / creature from the black lagoon style.
posted by Oyéah at 4:30 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


The Alien warrior has too many fingers (at least 6.)
posted by Oyéah at 4:32 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


It belongs in a museum!
posted by valkane at 4:49 PM on November 8 [7 favorites]


What is the alien warrior holding in his left (six fingered) hand? Is that a small shield? And are there any other depictions of shields like that big one the loser is holding? I've never seen anything that shape.
posted by charlesminus at 4:52 PM on November 8


Also, in the drawing the stabbing warrior has a left leg drawn in which doesn't seem to actually be visible on the sealstone.

It's incredibly hard to photograph shiny, translucent objects. I think I can see the leg, but notice too how the stabber's shield is almost invisible in the upper part of the photo and yet shows a lot of detail in the drawing. I am sure the artist didn't make things up, though there will be an interpretive filter of course.

The stabber is remarkably pinheaded considering the quality of the rest of the work, no?

Ultimately I am sure they will 3D scan this object and print copies, e.g., 2.
posted by Rumple at 4:53 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


It's a variation of a Mycenean/Minoan figure-of-eight shield. The warrior doing the stabbing is grasping the plume of the other's helmet to expose the neck.
posted by notquitemaryann at 4:57 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


Wow, what a find! Never seen anything like that in Grecian culture at that date.
Previously.
posted by rmmcclay at 5:01 PM on November 8


Oooh, I hope they do some RTI so we can get a better view of the details! The NYT article mentions that this stone was mounted to be worn, maybe around the wrist. And the victorious figure in the carving is also wearing bracelets. Can't wait to read the article in Hesperia!
posted by Mouse Army at 5:05 PM on November 8


The Griffin Warrior has his own webpage!

This press release (and also see the links at the bottom) have some different high res pictures, for example this one.
posted by Rumple at 5:15 PM on November 8 [5 favorites]


Oops, should have explained RTI in lieu of recent acronym discussions. RTI is reflectance transformation imaging, and it allows you to take digital images of an object and move a computer-generated light source all over it. So you can get raking light, for example, from any angle.

Here's a site about it with some nice videos showing what you can do with RTI.

posted by Mouse Army at 5:19 PM on November 8 [4 favorites]


I was going to say, this is a bad photo of this piece. It is possible to image this with great detail. I am kind of amazed they didn't do better with the technology available, like even in a telephone. They need some depth of field, even though the field is small, and they don't need to jazz it up in any way, just some good, garden variety macro photography.
posted by Oyéah at 5:31 PM on November 8


Awesome! A miniature masterpiece indeed.
posted by cookiemaster at 5:33 PM on November 8


This is so amazing that I would have believed it were fake if it hadn't been so publicly excavated. Of note to me: the tartan on the prone warrior. In popular culture they belong to the Scots, but they date back to the Bronze Age in Europe.

Iridic: what about an extremely nearsighted artisan?
posted by Countess Elena at 5:34 PM on November 8


Like many others I've been looking at this thing for a couple days now and it is just incomprehensibly- impressive? beautiful? alien? familiar?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:20 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of annoyed that I have gone through multiple sites and stories on the tomb, and as far as I can find not a single one has an image of this famous ivory plaque it is named after.
posted by tavella at 6:28 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]


what about an extremely nearsighted artisan?

Could be! Impressive either way.
posted by Iridic at 6:39 PM on November 8


Am I the only one who thinks the archaeologists are jumping to conclusions by asserting the warrior is male? The long flowing hair, the feminine facial features, the chest. . . those do not look like pectoral muscles to me.
posted by Ndwright at 8:11 PM on November 8 [5 favorites]


Am I the only one who thinks the archaeologists are jumping to conclusions by asserting the warrior is male?

There are precedents for that kind of mistake, so it's definitely a possibility to keep in mind.

Minoan portraiture tends toward the androgynous, and archaeologists have to rely on certain cues to determine subjects' genders—often the use of white to depict women and red to depict men, a convention borrowed from Egyptian art. (However, exceptions do crop up, and it's suspected that Minoan artists sometimes played with gender to serve artistic, social, or religious ends. It's also possible that the Minoan concept of gender wasn't a simple binary.)

Given the lack of color and costume cues, we probably can't determine the stabber's gender with 100% certainty. We would need to identify the story or chronicle from which the scene is drawn and then find a surviving account in a language we can read. Might take a while.
posted by Iridic at 9:17 PM on November 8 [8 favorites]


Ndwright, nope, I got that vibe as well. The particulars (hair, face) aren't enough to make a determination but the possibility is there.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:47 PM on November 8


Are there any pictures of the imprint of that seal?
posted by monotreme at 11:26 PM on November 8


Yeah, I'm dying to see an imprint. It's possible you'd get some correction for the distortions of proportion at the top and bottom of the seal if you rolled it onto clay.
posted by Jilder at 4:03 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]


No one is mentioning the Alien warrior / creature from the black lagoon style.

The Alien warrior has too many fingers (at least 6.)


Huh? I see two distinctly human fighters with the requisite number of fingers.
posted by cooker girl at 6:49 AM on November 9


Well, but artists in the archaic period (i.e., the succeeding one, if the engraving is correctly dated) routinely depicted male warriors with long hair. IIRC, the Odyssey has Odysseus telling the dead Achilles that when he was buried, the Achaeans cut their hair in mourning. The idea that long hair would be feminine is pretty anachronistic.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the figure couldn't be a woman, but if your cue for thinking that is that the figure has long hair, that's not going to get you there.
posted by praemunire at 10:45 AM on November 9 [3 favorites]


That's amazing.

What is the club like weapon lying on the ground and at the waist of the victor?

The NYT article supposes the shield guy is on the same side as the guy on the ground because they're both wearing skirts, I guess. However the victor and the guy on the ground both have the same weapons, and whoever carved this seemed to think it was pretty important to show, look, they both have the same weapons. If the victor and the guy on the ground are on the same side it seems more purely a moment of revenge, though of course fanart can be arbitrarily complex.
posted by fleacircus at 12:47 PM on November 9


The clublike objects are their scabbards.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:57 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


In the Iliad, there are repeated dramatic incidents when a great warrior falls and his comrades have to fight desperately to drive off the killers and recover the body. This might depict a similar sort of situation.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:25 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Since they would have brought their own gear, warriors wouldn't necessarily have standardized weapons for each side of a conflict (though some peoples were famous for their skill at certain weapons). Again--not suggesting that it's a literal truth, but just as an example--swords and spears are both used in the Iliad by both sides. Both Hector and Ajax use swords and some kind of throwing-spear in their conflict in Book VII.
posted by praemunire at 2:36 PM on November 9


I keep looking at the back leg of the shield warrior. You first glance at CMS I, 11 and they look similar, and then you look back, and it's not anywhere near. In the Griffin Warrior sealstone, the way the tendons are evoked, the fine details of the ankle, the way the muscle bulges at the top of the calf just like you see when athletes are straining... it's truly amazing.
posted by tavella at 2:50 PM on November 9


The fallen warrior is also facing in the direction of the victorious warrior, which you would expect if he had been fighting him and then fallen. On the other hand, no sign of shield and helmet. It's 50/50 really.
posted by tavella at 2:52 PM on November 9


Right, for most the spear was the first used weapon (along with, sometimes, a second spear* or javelin, sometimes double-ended, and/or a bow) and sword was the backup when your longer-range stuff broke, got stuck, or became unwieldy. Maces, picks, and axes were also used, but were considered unusual (that is, you might get named The Mace Guy just for preferring them to the spear/sword norm). Interestingly re: axes, Minoan art especially features the labrys, a double-headed ax, which acquired religious significance (usually shown along with or in reference to a goddess); its shape is echoed in the figure-of-eight shields carried by the warriors.

Previously we had some of the same suspicions about the sex/gender of the warrior buried in the grave. Anyway, I watched their presentation and they mention evaluation by a physical anthropologist (Schepartz, who uses pelvic and cranial assessments to assign sex) and ct scans/x-rays. Couldn't find much about the results.

* Hector notably regrets not carrying a backup spear, yells for one, and realizes he's probably a dead man when no one responds. He is correct.
posted by notquitemaryann at 9:47 PM on November 9 [4 favorites]


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