Here we reproduce parts from three different articles on the subject, so that our readers obtain the best possible information.
Archaeologists in Greece have discovered the ruins of an ancient palace with important archaic inscriptions dating back to the Mycenaean age.
The palace, likely built around the 17th-16th centuries BC, had around 10 rooms and was discovered near Sparta in southern Greece.
At the site, archaeologists found objects of worship, clay figurines, a cup adorned with a bull’s head, swords and fragments of murals.
Since 2009, excavations in the area have unearthed inscriptions on tablets detailing religious ceremonies and names and places in a script called Linear B, the oldest script to be discovered in Europe. It first appears in Crete from around 1375BC and was only deciphered in the mid 20th century.
The new discovery will allow for more research on the “political, administrative, economic and societal organisation of the region” and provide “new information on the beliefs and language systems of the Mycenaean people”, the ministry said in a statement.
According to the culture ministry, more than 150 archaeological excavations have been carried out in Greece so far this year, “demonstrating the importance of the archaeological wealth and cultural heritage of the country”.
Until recently, Laconia was regarded an exception in the map of the Peloponnese Mycenaean palaces, even though –according to myth– its queen, Helen, was the cause of the Trojan War (the Homeric epics are an important source of information about the topography, the social and political organization and the habits of the Mycenaean era). This raised a lot of questions about the politics and the administrative organization of Laconia during that period.
Answers to these questions slowly began to emerge in 2008, when clay tablets with Linear B came to light at the archaeological site of Aghios Vassilios, near Xirokambi. The tablets suggested the possible existence of an archive, a sort of register, within the site, which would provide strong evidence for the fact that there was a palatial-administrative center at the site. The Linear B texts are referring to two important production units: one of perfume substances and the other of fabrics, both operating within the palatial centres and controlled by them. Also found were a big number of artefacts related to weapons, a characteristic type of vessel and an object of symbolic value, the double axe.
The excavation data and the deciphered texts of the tablets –which prove a very pedantic bureaucratic organization and a powerful administrative background– confirm the significance of the settlement in matters of administrative structures in Laconia of the Mycenaean era. This is why the Archaeological Programme of Aghios Vassilios was initiated for the systematic archaeological survey of the site, under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens, led by Mrs. Vasilogamvrou and joined by numerous scientists of various fields.
The systematic survey is being conducted since 2010, on the hill where the Post-Byzantine church of Aghios Vassilios is located. From that spot one can see all other Mycenaean sites of the valley. The Mycenaean settlement covers the narrow hills of the Sparta plain, approximately 11,5 klm south of the city, not far from Xirokambi.
The main building phase of the three Mycenaean buildings which are being excavated dates back to the 14th century BC. During that time construction works in Aghios Vassilios were intensive. Moreover, elements related to the organization and architecture of the buildings during that period point to contact with Crete. One of the buildings investigated is connected with functions of social and religious nature, while in the extensive destruction layer remains of a symposium, figurines, seal stones, clay and bronze vessels and 21 bronze swords were found. The numerous fragments of wall paintings show that the buildings of Aghios Vassilios had painted decoration, as did the rest of the Mycenaean centers of mainland Greece and the Aegean. A fire which broke out at the end of the 14th century BC or the beginning of 13th century BC, destroyed the buildings, which were not rebuilt at the same location.
The discovery of the palatial centre of Aghios Vassilios is very important for the study and understanding of Mycenaean era, not only in Laconia, but in all parts of mainland Greece, as Mrs. Vasilogamvrou and her team point out, after having completed the excavation period for 2013, on the 20th of August, and having enriched Aghios Vassilios’ archive by new fragments of tablets.
The 10-room complex, called Ayios Vassileios, was filled with striking artifacts, including fragments of ornate murals, a cultic cup with a bull’s head, a seal emblazoned with a nautilus and several bronze swords. The palace, which burnt to the ground in the 14th century B.C., also contained several tablets written in Linear B script, the earliest known form of written Greek, the Greek Ministry of Culture said in a statement. The ancient palace was uncovered about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) away from the historical Sparta that arose centuries later.
The Mycenaeans, whose culture likely inspired Homer’s epics “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” rose to prominence in 1700 B.C. The civilization left behind gorgeous palaces, tombs laden with treasures and a trove of clay tablets holding text in Linear B, which was deciphered in the 1950s.
Though archaeologists have a fairly clear picture of the late Mycenaean culture up to around 1200 B.C., they knew relatively little about the centuries beforehand. Then in 2009, archaeologists uncovered the remains of an ancient site that was first erected in the 17th century B.C., according to the statement. The entire complex was likely destroyed in a fire a few hundred years later.
The ruins, which are on a low hill on a Spartan plain that is dotted with olive trees, include what is likely the palace archive. At the time, administrators of the political bureaucracy kept temporary records on unbaked clay tablets, which would then be recycled after a short period, such as a year, said Hal Haskell, an archeologist who studies the ancient Mycenaean culture at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
Though the conflagration destroyed the palatial complex, it also fired the clay tablets, baking the Linear B text into permanence. So far, the team has been able to identify both male and female names, as well as records of financial dealings and religious offerings, according to the statement. The records’ complexity reveals a highly sophisticated culture with an intricate bureaucracy, the archaeologists note.
A second structure on the site preserved fragments of ancient murals, while a sanctuary east of the courtyard included cultic religious objects, such as ivory idols and figurines, a rhyton, or drinking vessel, with a bull’s head on it, large newts and many decorative gems.
The palatial complex fills a big gap in archaeology, said Haskell, who was not involved in the current excavation.
“Tradition tells us that Sparta was an important site in the Mycenaean period,” Haskell told Live Science.
Yet no one had found a palace in the Spartan plain, certainly not one that matched the grandeur of the palaces of Pylos and Mycenae. The new site could be that lost Spartan palace, Haskell told Live Science.
“What’s exciting is you do have this middle Bronze Age stuff that suggests it’s a site of great significance,” Haskell said, referring to the artifacts inside the palace.
For instance, Linear B tablets would only be housed in an administrative center in Mycenaean culture, Haskell said. To really show this is a long-lost Spartan palace, the archaeologists are hoping to uncover the megaron, or the throne room where ancient Greeks held receptions, Haskell said.
The find is “hugely significant,” Torsten Meissner, a classicist at the University of Cambridge in England, told Live Science in an email. All of the other famous sites Homer mentioned in his epics have been discovered. “Mycenaean, or Bronze Age, Sparta was the last ‘big prize,'” Meissner said.
The early evidence of Linear B tablets at the palace could also force scholars to rethink the time and place where Linear B developed. Historians used to think that Linear B derived from an elusive, still undecipherable text used by the enigmatic Minoan culture known as Linear A, which developed on the island of Crete. The new Linear B tablets at Ayios Vassileios were from 100 years earlier than the next oldest tablets, and given that there is a Minoan settlement near the new Spartan palace, scholars may need to rethink where that language transfer occurred, Meissner said.