Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

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Greek Farmer Stumbles Onto 3,400-Year-Old Tomb Hidden Below His Olive Grove

If you live in an environment where ancient cultures flourish, you often slip into fascinating bits of long-forgotten history. That’s what happened to one Greek farmer living in Crete, not far from the town of Ierapetra.

When the ground below him started to give way, the farmer parked his truck under some olive trees on his property. After the farmer moved his vehicle to a safer place, he saw a four-foot hole opening in the ground. He realized that this was not an ordinary hole when he looked inside.

The hole in the ground led to a Minoan Bronze Age tomb.
The hole in the ground led to a Minoan Bronze Age tomb.

The farmer called archaeologists from the Ministry of Heritage to investigate, and began excavating an ancient Minoan grave, carved into the soft limestone pillar, which had been hidden for thousands of years.

Two adult Minoans had been set in high-embossed clay reefs called “larnakes,” common in the Minoan culture of the Bronze Age. These, in turn, were surrounded by funerary vases which indicated that the men had a high status.

The ancient chamber tomb was entirely intact and undamaged by looters.
The ancient chamber tomb was entirely intact and undamaged by looters.

The tomb was about 13 feet in length and eight feet deep, divided into three chambers that would have been accessed via a vertical tunnel that was sealed with clay after the tomb’s occupants were laid to rest. One larnax was found in the northernmost chamber, with a number of funerary vessels scattered around it.

The chamber at the southern end of the tomb held the other larnax coffin, along with 14 amphorae and a bowl. The tomb was estimated to be about 3,400 years old, and was preserved in near-perfect condition, making it a valuable find.

Two Minoan men were buried in the Crete tomb roughly 3,400 years ago
Two Minoan men were buried in the Crete tomb roughly 3,400 years ago

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist, wrote for Forbes that the ornamentation on the artifacts found in the tomb suggest that its inhabitants were men of wealth. The fanciest tombs from the same period, however, had massive domed walls in a “beehive” style, which this tomb doesn’t, so they probably weren’t among the wealthiest.

The find dates from the Late Minoan Period, sometimes called the Late Palace Period. In the earlier part of that era, Minoan civilization was very rich, with impressive ceramics and art, but by the later part of the period there is an apparent decline in wealth and prestige, according to Killgrove.

It’s believed that the civilization was weakened by a combination of natural disasters, including a tsunami triggered by an earthquake, and the eruption of a nearby volcano. This made it easier for foreigners to come in and destroy the palaces.

Locals don’t anticipate the discovery of any more tombs of this type, but the area is known to be the home of a number of antiquities, and a great deal of them have been found by coincidence, as with this find.

The Deputy Mayor of Local Communities, Agrarian and Tourism of Ierapetra pointed out that the tomb had never been found by thieves, and went on to say that it would probably have remained undiscovered forever, except for the broken irrigation pipe that was responsible for the softened and eroded soil in the farmer’s olive grove.

He went on to say how pleased they were with having the tomb to further enrich their understanding of their ancient culture and history, and that the tomb was proof for those historians who didn’t think that there had been Minoans in that part of Crete.

Previously, it had been thought that the Minoans only settled in the lowlands and plains of the island, not in the mountains that surround Ierapetra, although there was an excavation in 2012 that uncovered a Minoan mansion in the same area.

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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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