An ancient cremation burial site in Italy was only thought to contain the remains of one person. Now scientists say they've found a different answer to a most "thorny question": "Who/what was buried with Nestor's Cup?" Researchers say the clay receptacle by that name—dug out from a tomb at the former Greek colony of Pithekoussai on the volcanic island of Ischia—was actually buried with the remains of multiple individuals, as well as those of goats, and maybe dogs and birds. It's a big new find regarding what a release notes is already "considered one of the most intriguing discoveries in Mediterranean pre-classic archaeology."
"We can say that we reopened a cold case," Melania Gigante, the lead author of a study published Wednesday in PLOS One, tells Live Science in an email. This particular tomb, also known as "Cremation 168," dates back to the 8th century BC, and was one of about 1,300 or so such tombs excavated between 1952 and 1982. The remains inside were long thought to be that of a child. However, Gigante and her team more closely studied the 195 burned bone fragments from the tomb and instead found that about 130 of them were from three adult humans of varying ages.
Meanwhile, at least 45 of the fragments were found to be from animals, which researchers theorize were buried with the deceased for companionship or food in the afterlife. Live Science points out that it makes more sense adults would have been buried there considering the "racy" inscription on Nestor's Cup, one of the oldest surviving specimens of Greek writing. The translation: "I am Nestor's cup, good to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway Desire for beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize him."
The people and animals all appeared to have been cremated at the same time, or at least using similar methods, based on the burn patterns, the scientists say. "I am not surprised to have received yet another confirmation of how much there is still to be discovered about Pithekoussai," Gigante says. "This study is only the first step towards a more complete interpretation not only of the Tomb of Nestor's Cup, but also of the customs and funerary uses at the dawn of [Greater Greece]." (Read more discoveries stories.)