History lies just beneath our feet. This is especially true in Greece, where civilization goes back thousands of years. Priceless artifacts that tell the story of humanity long ago are often in the strangest places, right next to where we are going about the business of our everyday lives.
While we usually think of Indiana Jones-style archaeologists searching for years to find a single vestige of the past, a recent case on the Greek island of Crete showed just how surprising the act of discovery can be. It all started with a farmer backing his car up to an old olive tree. Soon, the ground began to give way, and he had to pull away in a hurry before his back tire sank below the surface.
What he found wasn’t quicksand but an actual hole that had opened up in the earth. When he looked down inside, what he saw amazed him and brought officials from Greece’s antiquities department to come investigate. It was an underground chamber almost 4 feet wide and more than 8 feet deep. And the artifacts inside were 3,200 to 3,400 years old.
The world inside the chamber was a tomb that had been undisturbed for thousands of years, complete with coffins, amphorae (iconic Greek jars that were used for storage), and most spectacular of all, the skeletons of two men. Placed in a crouching position inside their coffins, the skeletons were in relatively good quality, an incredible fact given their age.
A miraculously unlooted Bronze Age chamber tomb, complete with two spectacularly well-preserved skeletons, was found by a farmer in his olive grove this week on the Greek island of Crete: https://t.co/aUUihgCgN8 pic.twitter.com/PzENrnIc5z
— Forbes Science (@ForbesScience) August 24, 2018
Where did these men come from? As archaeologist Kristina Killgrove wrote in Forbes, “because the pottery is high-quality, it is possible that these were high-status individuals.” They are thought to be from Minoa, an ancient Mediterranean civilization based in the Aegean islands, Corfu, and Sicily, which developed a high standard of living and artistic achievement. The center of Minoan civilization in Crete was based at the palace in Knossos, which was the first place in the world to have running water, flush toilets, and bathtubs.
The time when the men found in the tomb lived is generally accepted to be the decline of Minoan civilization. According to Killgrove, “it has been suggested that climatic catastrophes such as the eruption of the Thera volcano and a major earthquake that caused a massive tsunami weakened Minoan civilization and allowed for foreigners to destroy the palaces.”
As for these men, it seems that they were buried quite well, with good-quality pottery around them, a sign of wealth, and solidly constructed tombs that have stood the test of time. According to Greek antiquities authorities, the tomb was first dug into limestone. “The access to the tomb was made by a vertical trench, while the entrance was sealed by stone masonry.”
What caused the hole to open up leading to the tomb in the first place? The limestone soil of the region is very strong but can be dissolved by prolonged exposure to water. It seems that in this case, an underground irrigation hose for the surrounding olive trees put out enough water to permeate through the rock. So next time you come upon a hole in the ground, take a look. You never know what you might find!