From the 15th to the 12th Century BCE, Greece’s Mycenaean civilization played a major role in developing classical Greek culture. The two major cities, Mycenae and Tiryns, are even featured in Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. These stories have influenced literature and art in Europe for more than 3,000 years, but scientists are still finding new clues to how these people lived.
A large debris deposit in the remains of Mycenae that dates back to the Late Bronze Age (about 1200 to 1150 BCE) is helping a team of researchers from the University of North Florida, the University of California, Berkeley, an archaeology research firm SEARCH, Inc better understand the history of animal resources in the ancient city. Their most recent findings, published March 1 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, describe animal remains inside a well within Petsas House–a household in Mycenae that also had a ceramics workshop that local artisans used.
From well preserved agricultural records and architecture like the entrance to the Mycenae citadel called the Lion Gate, researchers believe that animals provided an important source of both sustenance and also symbolism. However, more research is needed to fully understand the role that animals played.
In the study, excavations into Petsas’ well recovered multiple animal remains among stone, metal, and ceramic material. The most common remains were from sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and dogs. The team believes that most of this material was likely thrown into the well from other parts of the house after a destructive earthquake, and additional evidence showed that the animals were used as food.
The team found that the dog remains were more intact than the farm animals and were deposited into the well at a different time. They believe that this is tentative evidence that the canines may have been treated differently in death than the other animals like pigs or sheep.
“This study presents new insights about ancient animals recovered from the renowned archaeological site of Mycenae in Greece—a major political center in the Late Bronze Age, famous for references in Homer’s Iliad,” the authors wrote in a statement. “Research at Petsas House, a domestic building in Mycenae’s settlement used in large part as a ceramics workshop, revealed how the remains of meaty meals and pet dogs were cleaned and disposed of in a house well following a major destructive earthquake. Study of the archaeologically recovered bones, teeth, and shells from the well yielded a more nuanced picture of the diverse and resilient dietary strategies of residents than previously available at Mycenae.”
More deep dives into this well and the rest of the archeological site will potentially reveal patterns of how this civilization stored food, traded food and other goods, and how they responded to natural disasters.