Archaeology: UC discovery of Griffin Warrior named a top find of decade

UC archaeologists unlock secrets of ancient Greece

Archaeology Magazine says the 2015 discovery of an ancient Greek warrior's tomb by University of Cincinnati archaeologists is among the top-10 finds of the past decade.

In its January-February issue, the magazine hails the startling discovery of the tomb of the Griffin Warrior by UC archaeologists Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis as one of the most influential Bronze Age archaeological finds of the past 50 years. The UC College of Arts and Sciences researchers continue to learn secrets at Pylos that are rewriting the history of ancient Greece.

UC's research was among Archaeology Magazine's top-10 list that included the discovery of Richard III's grave in Leicester, England; the discovery of early hominids in South Africa and the mystery of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which disappeared while exploring the arctic in the 1840s.

The 3,500-year-old warrior was named for the mythological figure emblazoned on an ivory plaque found along with weapons, armor and jewelery.

The husband and wife team have been continuing a legacy of archaeological discovery at UC dating back to the late Carl Blegen's work at Pylos and Troy in the 1930s.

Davis, head of UC's Department of Classics, was honored last year with a gold medal for archaeological achievement, its highest award, from the Archaeological Institute of America for his work in the Mediterranean.

Stocker, a senior research associate, supervised the painstaking excavations at Pylos.

A sealstone depicts mortal combat between one combatant plunging a sword down toward the neck of another who is about to impale the other with a spear while a third combatant lies slain on the ground.

The combat sealstone uncovered by UC archaeologists Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis has been hailed as a masterpiece of Bronze Age art. It depicts mortal combat 700 years before Homer would write about war. Photo/UC Classics

Among the treasures was an exquisitely carved sealstone depicting mortal combat that has been hailed as a masterpiece of Bronze Age art. The artwork is so extraordinary that the popular BBC history show "Civilisations" featured the piece during its season premiere in 2018.

"It forces us to rethink everything we thought we knew about this moment in history," show host Simon Schama says.

UC researchers found 1,500 objects from in the tomb, from combs and mirrors to gold rings and swords.

"The grave of the Griffin Warrior has all of the artifacts you would expect a warrior to have accumulated during his lifetime. This is the first time we can understand what the complete warrior kit looked like," Stocker told "Civilisations."

A gold ring features two bulls and sheaves of barley.

A gold ring found in the family tombs at Pylos depicts bulls and barley. Archaeologists believe it's the first known depiction of domestic animals and agriculture in a single artwork from ancient Greece. Photo/Jeff Vanderpool/UC Classics

But UC's researchers were only getting started. In 2018 in the vicinity of the tomb of the Griffin Warrior, Stocker and Davis made another incredible discovery of two beehive-shaped Bronze Age tombs lined with gold leaf.

These princely tombs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea contained cultural artifacts and jewelry that could help historians fill in gaps in our knowledge of early Greek civilization.

A gold ring depicts two bulls flanked by sheaves of grain, identified as barley by a paleobotanist who consulted on the project. An agate sealstone features two lion-like creatures called genii standing upright on clawed feet. They carry a serving vase and incense burner, a tribute for the altar before them featuring a sprouting sapling between horns of consecration. Above them is a 16-pointed star similar to the one inlaid on another bronze and gold artifact in the grave.

Read the Archaeology Magazine story.

Featured image at top: UC senior research associate Sharon Stocker leads UC's archaeological investigation of Pylos, Greece. Photo/UC Classics

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker pose for a photo outside the Colosseum.

UC Classics professor Jack Davis and his wife, Sharon Stocker, a senior research associate at UC, have been continuing UC's storied tradition of archaeology in Pylos, Greece. Photo/UC Classics

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