Mystery of Nestor’s Cup Tomb Deepens after Three People’s Ashes Discovered

Archaeologists have reexamined a 2,800-year-old tomb of cremated remains, discovering that it includes the ashes of not one, but three persons, like a burned human cocktail. In addition, it looks that the charred corpses of a few dogs and goats were thrown in for good measure. The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS 1 recently.

On the Italian volcanic island of Ischia, close off the coast of Naples, the Tomb of Nestor’s Cup was unearthed in the ruins of Pithekoussai. Greeks founded the settlement in the 8th century BCE, making it one of the first Greek colonial outposts in the West Mediterranean. Researchers discovered a huge necropolis within the town’s ruins, with over 1,300 tombs, one of which contained the Nestor’s Cup.

Archeologists have been captivated by the cup for a long time since it contains one of the earliest surviving examples of written Greek. Given the significance of this treasure, scholars have reason to think that the tomb once belonged to a powerful person. It was previously thought that the tomb only held the cremated remains of a single person aged 10 to 14, but a fresh analysis has discovered that it actually holds the remains of three people.

Scientists from the University of Padua and Sapienza University of Rome studied 195 charred bone fragments in the tomb. Only 130 of the fragments were discovered to be human, with the remaining 45 belonging to other animal species such as goats and probably dogs. These animals are said to have been placed in the tomb as nourishment or companions for the departed. Surprisingly, the team discovered that the charred bones revealed evidence of many life phases, implying at least three persons of various ages. “These findings drastically alter earlier reconstructions of the cremation deposit, rewriting the answer to the question: who was buried with Nestor’s Cup?” the researchers write in their report.

This is an unanswered question. The researchers were unable to glean any information about the persons buried with the cup, such as their age at death or why they were buried with it. Although we now know that this tomb held three people and some animals, the mystery surrounding the tomb’s occupants has only deepened. “The Tomb of Nestor’s Cup…, largely regarded as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Pre-Classical Mediterranean Archeology, has resurfaced more than fifty years after its discovery.” “Our research rewrites the Tomb’s history and earlier archaeological interpretations, shedding new light on Greek immigrants’ funeral practices, culture, and society in the ancient West Mediterranean,” said the study’s author.