Smithsonian Channel features UC's discovery of Griffin Warrior

"Secrets" explores research into ancient Greece by UC Classics

The seventh season of the Smithsonian Channel’s show “Secrets” will feature the University of Cincinnati Classics Department’s startling 2015 discovery of a Bronze Age tomb that was the last resting place of an Ancient Greek leader known as the Griffin Warrior.

The show will profile the work of UC Classics Department Head Jack Davis and UC senior research associate Sharon Stocker in Pylos, Greece. The two researchers found the 3,500-year-old warrior-priest’s tomb that contained armor, weapons and priceless artwork that is helping historians better understand life in ancient Greece.

Jack Davis talks to the Smithsonian Channel for the series "Secrets."

UC Classics professor and department head Jack Davis talks to the Smithsonian Channel about the 2015 discovery of the tomb of the Griffin Warrior at Pylos, Greece. Photo/Smithsonian Channel

Davis shared their memorable moment of discovery with the Smithsonian Channel.

“Suddenly, there was a thick layer of bronze and we knew we had something special,” Davis told the Smithsonian Channel. “Everything was made of something precious — precious stones, substantial amounts of gold and silver.”

The artwork included a sealstone carving that depicted mortal combat with such exquisite detail that the magazine Archaeology hailed it as a Bronze Age masterpiece. It’s considered one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.

The Greek Culture Ministry hailed the discovery as the most important historical find of the past 65 years.

“I still get very moved by this because it was an amazing discovery. I don’t think anybody ever imagines that in their career they’ll find something like this,” Stocker told the Smithsonian Channel.

Watch the Griffin Warrior episode

The Griffin Warrior episode of "Secrets" premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on the Smithsonian Channel and will be rebroadcast at noon and 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The episode is also available on streaming platforms such as Hulu and Paramount+.

The Griffin Warrior was named for the mythological creature that adorned an ivory plaque in the tomb. The tomb is in the vicinity of the Palace of Nestor, which was unearthed with the help of the late UC Classics professor Carl Blegen in 1939. Nestor was a ruler mentioned by name in Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.”

Blegen had wanted to explore the olive groves in 1939 but could not get permission from the land owners at the time, so the startling discovery would wait nearly 80 years for another UC archaeology team.

Stocker and Davis in 2019 discovered two other Bronze Age tombs in the vicinity of the Palace of Nestor that likewise contained artifacts that are helping historians better understand the economy, rituals, beliefs and daily life in the Mediterranean 3,500 years ago.

The princely tombs likewise contained artwork emblazoned with mythological figures. An agate sealstone featured two lion-like creatures called genii standing upright and carrying a serving vase and incense burner, a tribute for an altar before them featuring a sprouting sapling between horns of consecration.

Researchers also found a gold ring with two bulls flanked by sheaves of grain, identified as barley by a paleobotanist who consulted on the project. 

A still frame of the show "Secrets" shows Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis giving a tour of the excavation site.

UC Classics' Sharon Stocker, left, and Jack Davis give Smithsonian Channel a tour of their archaeological site at Pylos, Greece for the series "Secrets." Photo/Smithsonian Channel

In 2017, the UC team uncovered adjacent family tombs containing more artifacts that are shedding light on life in ancient Greece.

The UC discoveries have captured the imaginations of historians around the world and were featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, the archaeology journal Hesperia and National Geographic, among others.

Stocker will be returning to Greece in September to oversee the fall season of excavation.

The episode of Secrets premieres at 8 p.m. Monday with rebroadcasts at noon and 5 p.m. Tuesday on Smithsonian Channel. It’s also available streaming on select services.

Season 7 of the popular series also profiles Cleopatra’s lost city in Egypt and an ancient battlefield in Scotland.

Featured image at top: A sealstone found in the tomb of the Griffin Warrior depicts mortal combat in exquisite detail. Photo/UC Classics 

Come explore history with UC Classics

For nearly 80 years, the Department of Classics of the University of Cincinnati McMicken College of Arts and Sciences has organized and supported archaeological research projects in the Mediterranean. This commitment to sustained archaeological research is paralleled by few other academic institutions in the United States. A consistent program of excavations and surveys has built the department's reputation as one of the world’s preeminent centers of graduate education in pre-Classical and Classical archaeology. Learn more about becoming a UC Classics student.