Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mycenae Archaeological Site in Greece

Mycenae is an amazing archaeological site that is located up on a hill overlooking a dry Mediterranean valley in the Peloponnese which is a peninsula in southern Greece. Mycenae is 120 km (75 miles) from Athens and about a half hour drive from the coastal town of Nafplio (see a subsequent post).

This city was one of the earlier Greek archaeological cities that experienced its peak between 1600 BC to about 1100 BC when it had more than 30,000 inhabitants and covered about 32 hectares (about 79 acres). That is about 3500 years ago and one of the older civilizations in the world with Egyptian culture going back to 3150 BC and Chinese culture going back to the Shang Dynasty that ruled from 1700–1046 BC.

Greek Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Thinking back to these early centers of human civilization puts me in awe of their achievements with language, tools, jewelry, and art. But then I think about some of the Bristlecone pine trees that I have dated that exceed 4000 years in age (reaching as old as 5000 years). It is amazing that these individual trees have lived through the entirety of human cultural development which suggests how short of a time humans have been on this planet compared to other organisms or compared to the 4.6 billion years of Earth's geologic history.

We stayed at a large hotel called Petite Planete which was a wonderful place that served great French influenced meals. The hotel was on the road out to Mycenae and was probably about 20 minutes walking distance from the archaeological site.

White African Daisy (Osteospermum Ecklonis)
We spoke with an English tour guide who was actually on vacation himself. He was telling us of times past when this hotel (which could easily seat 100 people for a meal) was usually full with tourists coming to tour Mycenae. The tourists would tend to spend a night or at least stop for lunch.  Now tour companies have developed larger tour buses that can travel the country roads faster and most tourists will take a partial day tour out of Athens to come to Mycenae for a few hours. With this massive transport of most tourists in and out of Athens, local business has fallen off and the hotel only had about four different couples of guests.

We took a walk on the evening that we arrived and enjoyed the olive and orange trees scattered across the landscape. Once we got to a higher vantage point we could tell that the entire landscape was spotted with cultivated trees throughout the valley.

It was a good time of year to visit, because the orange trees were in blossom sending their fragrant scents abroad on the air. Wildflowers abounded across the landscape painting the area in bright red, yellow, and purple colors.

On our walk, we could see the old structures of Mycenae on a hill in the distance and it was hard to wait until the next day to go up and see the archaeological site.


The ruins of Mycenae are famous for the Lions Gate which is the main entrance to the ruins. The marble sculpture of two lions makes the center piece to the entrance way.

The ruins were surrounded with thick defensive walls. Some of the walls were about 20 feet thick with a few back doors hidden among the rocks.

The archaeological site maintained a water supply through a couple of cisterns that caught rainwater and stored it for the cities use.

In AD 1876 Heinrich Schliemann uncovered a tomb whose occupant had a golden mask. Schliemann believed this to be the burial of Agamemnon but later archaeological work dates this grave at 1550 to 1500 BC which predates the life of Agamemnon, but the mask still holds that name.  Schliemann was a German businessman who was an early amateur archaeologist that was a pioneer in the field. He believed in the historical accuracy of Homer’s tales and excavated in Hissarlik in Turkey which is thought to be the city of Troy and in Mycenae looking for evidence of archaeological finds supporting the historical accuracy of Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid. Some of his techniques were a bit brutish such as dynamiting his way through nine archaeological levels at the site of Hissarlik including what was later thought to be the true archaeological units of the city of Troy. Schliemann was one of the earliest archaeologists and I can attest that the techniques of excavation improved considerably since his time.

Other circular burial mounds existed around the site as well. This one was near the museum and when it was complete, you could walk out of the bottom portion of the mound.

The artifacts found at Mycenae demonstrate the wide range of trade conducted at this site with artifacts coming from areas all along the Mediterranean and as far away as the modern day United Kingdom.

I was most impressed with the extent of writing and language that the Mycenae culture had 3500 years ago. Many of these tablets show bits of writing.

The beads were carved with fine artwork.

There were many human form artifacts that were found on the site including some articulated models or dolls.

Mycenae was at its height during the bronze age and many axe heads, swords, and other metal implements were found in the ruins.

Overall, I was amazed at the level of cultural development at Mycenae but in retrospect I can put that in perspective of other natural phenomena like the life of trees that grow to 4000 years in age, clams that can live to be 400 years old, or the age of the earth at 4.6 billion years. Humans have spent such a short time on the planet and our cultural development has been so recent; it is interesting that we now grapple with the issue of using up the resource that our society depends upon and we can measure the changes that we have made to the Earth's climate.

Purple Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)

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