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A cut away view inside the so-called Treasury of Atreus, showing what a Mycenaean funeral might have looked like. Tholoi were not built as individual burial monuments, but as family tombs. As family members died, the older burials would be moved to the side to make room for the most recent. Oftentimes, the older bones would be washed with wine and placed inside an ossuary called a larnax, and the grave goods shifted over.  Or sometimes, the older burials would be dug into the earthen floor.  At least one such burial was hidden from tomb robbers, and survived to be found by archaeologists.

Here, you can see the most recent burial, laid out in the center of the burial chamber.  The door on the side leads into a smaller burial chamber.

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Near Leonidio, on the eastern coast of the Peloponnese, heavy rains recently revealed five Mycenaean tombs dating to the fourteenth century B.C.  So far, the excavators have discovered clay vases; there is no word about the condition of any human remains.  Intact Mycenaean burials are rare, so here’s hoping that the occupants were found preserved in their tombs, and can tell us more about health, diet, and life expectancy in the Late Bronze Age.

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Part of a funerary larnax from Tanagra, Boeotia.  Women mourning the deceased.

March 2012

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