The story of these tholos tombs’ discovery stretches all the way back to the 1930s when a team led by the project’s predecessor, Dr. Carl Blegen, began excavating the Palace of Nestor and its surrounding area. When it proved impossible to secure the rights to excavate the neighboring Demopoulos Field, the team instead dug close by, discovering a collapsed tholos tomb (“Tholos IV”) in the process.
For decades it was believed that Tholos IV was the burial vault of a single family responsible for the creation of the Mycenaean state of Pylos, but in 2018 when we finally acquired the Demopoulos Field, cleared it of vegetation, and noticed two unusual collections of stones, that interpretation quickly began to fade. Looking to define the stone deposits further, we configured the trenches with them in mind and began excavating. By the end of the month, it was clear that although we had set out to find the lower town associated with the Palace of Nestor, we had instead found two additional tholos tombs (“Tholos VI” and “Tholos VII”).
Blegen’s Tholos IV appears to have been the first constructed and perhaps served as a magnet for later graves. Anyone passing through the gateway in the fortification wall that surrounded the acropolis at the start of the Late Bronze Age would have confronted it straight ahead. Both of the newly discovered tombs as well as the grave of the Griffin Warrior would have been built later in the 15th century B.C. in the phase known as Late Helladic IIA. The Griffin Warrior, in light of so many expressions of both military and religious symbolism represented in the iconography of the objects buried with him, was probably an early Mycenaean wanax. It was that special rank that explains his separate burial. The tholos tombs—including Tholos IV, VI, and VII—would have been the resting places of the other Princes of Pylos and their families.
These important families and individuals were imbued with Minoan culture, building their houses on the acropolis with ashlar blocks in Minoan style, and filling their tombs with Cretan imports of the highest quality. Through the discovery of these tombs, Pylos is looking more like Mycenae now in respect to its cemeteries, hardly backward or provincial at the time of the origins of Mycenaean civilization. Our overall picture of the early stages of the Late Bronze Age on the mainland of Greece is, in fact, becoming clearer than that of Mycenae.