Tiny Stone Holds Unparalleled Ancient Greek Art

'It's brought some people to tears'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2017 2:57 PM CST
Updated Nov 11, 2017 12:55 PM CST
Epic Battle on Tiny Stone Could Change Greek History
The 3,500-year-old Pylos Combat Agate shows a remarkably detailed battle scene--depicted on a stone only 1.4 inches across.   (University of Cincinnati)

The director of the British School at Athens tells the New York Times it's "a masterpiece of miniature art." The woman who discovered it had an even more profound reaction. "Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience," Shari Stocker says in a press release. "It's brought some people to tears." Stocker and her husband, Jack Davis, both archaeologists, discovered the Pylos Combat Agate in the tomb of the Griffin Warrior, which they uncovered in 2015 near the ancient city of Pylos in Greece. At first they thought the limestone-encrusted object, which the International Business Times reports was found near the right arm of the skeleton of the Griffin Warrior—buried around 1450 BC—was a simple bead. They were way off. More than a year's worth of work to remove the limestone has revealed what Davis now says is "a spectacular find."

The Pylos Combat Agate is a sealstone, a carved gemstone that can be stamped into clay or wax. Its carving depicts a warrior stabbing another fighter in the neck with a sword while a third fighter lies dying at his feet. Davis and Stocker say it's one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art yet discovered and the best glyptic art from the Aegean Bronze Age ever seen. The skill shown in depicting the human form wouldn't be seen again in Greece for another 1,000 years. Even more impressive: the Pylos Combat Agate is only 1.4 inches across. Some of the details are "incomprehensibly small" and require a magnifying glass to appreciate, and yet no magnifying glasses were known to exist in the area at the time. Stocker and Davis say the Griffin Warrior's sealstone has ramifications for what we thought we knew about Greek culture and art, as well as possibly the works of Homer. (Bones may belong to a teen sacrificed to Zeus.)

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