by Allison Meier on September 1, 2015
The Bronze Age battles of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were considered by 19th-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann to be based on fact, and he devoted much of his life to proving this at Mycenaean sites in present-day Greece. Schleimann may have stretched his findings a bit to make his theories work, such as the famous 16th-century BCE “mask of Agamemnon” discovered in 1876, which he proposed was the funerary mask of the Greek leader of lore. Nevertheless, the Mycenaean sites are rich with the fragments of a society mythologized in Homer’s epic poems, and a newly excavated palace is revealing more about this mysterious past.
The Greek Ministry of Culture announced on August 25 that since 2009, archaeologists at a Mycenaean palace on Aghios Vassilios Hill on Greece’s Sparta plain have unearthed numerous artifacts, including a cup with the shape of a bull’s head, an intricate seal with a nautilus shape, and most importantly, clay tablets with their writing preserved due to a late 14th or early 13th century BCE fire.
Kristina Killgrove at Forbes pointed out that these tablets, inscribed in Linear B — the oldest known form of Greek — join those found at Knossos by Arthur Evans as rare examples of this language of antiquity. It’s believed to be evolved from Linear A, used by the Minoans. Linear B wasn’t deciphered in the modern era until scholar Michael Ventrisdevoted himself to the task in the 1950s, his research cut short by his 1956 death in a car wreck.
These tablets at what they believe is a Mycenaean palace could potentially add even more to knowledge on this vanished culture, a highly structured civilization that some believe was brought down by an earthquake or a drought, although much speculation remains. It’s improbable that any of the old writing will mention the death of Hector or battles of Achilles as told by Homer, but they will likely contribute significantly to understanding the world of nearly 4,000 years ago.