Questioning the Mycenaean Death Mask of Agamemnon

Questioning the Mycenaean Death Mask of Agamemnon

The German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann is perhaps one of the luckiest archaeologists in history. His discovery of the Mask of Agamemnon was not his first, but second remarkable discovery. Having already discovered the real location of the legendary Troy, Schliemann’s next project was to discover the final resting place of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae who led the Greek forces during the Trojan War. Though there is debate if Schliemann ever reached his second goal, he certainly made another impressive find in the process - the 'Mask of Agamemnon.'

Schliemann is probably best known for his identification of Troy at Hissarlik, and the unearthing of the ‘Treasure of Priam’. Less well-known, may be his subsequent excavation in Mycenae, Greece. However, it was here that he made another stunning discovery, a golden death mask.

Portrait of Heinrich Schliemann ( Wikimedia Commons )

Agamemnon, King of Mycenae

Agamemnon is one of the most famous characters in Classical Greek literature. Apart from appearing in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Agamemnon was also a favorite character amongst Greek writers of tragedy, as his triumphant return from Troy was soon followed by his murder at the hands of either his wife, Clytemnestra or her lover, Aegisthus. It was the work of the 2 nd century A.D. traveler, Pausanias, that would provide Schliemann with the clues required to uncover the tomb of Agamemnon.

In Mycenae, according to Pausanias, “there are also underground chambers of Atreus (the father of Agamemnon) and his children, in which were stored their treasures…. Agamemnon has his tomb, and so has Eurymedon the charioteer, while another is shared by Teledamus and Pelops, twin sons, they say, of Cassandra,… Clytemnestra and Aegisthus were buried at some little distance from the wall. They were thought unworthy of a place within it, where lay Agamemnon himself and those who were murdered with him.”

The Assassination of Agamemnon illustration in Stories from the Greek Tragedians (1897), Alfred Church ( Wikimedia Commons )

Agamemnon’s burial

According to Schliemann’s interpretation of Pausanias, Agamemnon was buried within the walls of the Bronze Age citadel. This ran contrary to the interpretation of previous scholars, who believed that the tombs were outside the walls of the city. In 1874, tests conducted by Schliemann inside the wall revealed house walls, a tomb stone, and some terracotta artifacts. This meant that the site had potential for future investigation.

  • The eerie masks that preserve history and breathe life into the dead
  • Mycenae, the Ancient city founded by Perseus
  • The Treasures of Priam: Golden Riches from the Legendary City of Troy

Uncovering the graves of Mycenae

Two years later, Schliemann began excavating at Mycenae on behalf of the Greek Archaeological Society. Schliemann’s workmen would soon uncover stelae marking the boundary of a grave circle about 27.5 meters (90 feet) across which was located just within the citadel’s gate. This grave circle would eventually be labeled as ‘Grave Circle A’. By the end of August, the first of the five late Bronze Age shaft graves were found within Grave Circle A.

Grave Circle A at Mycenae, Greece ( Wikimedia Commons )

By the end of November, Schliemann’s excavation of the shaft graves revealed that they contained the remains of several Mycenaean chiefs, five of whom wore gold face masks. In a telegram sent to King George of Greece, Schliemann proudly declared: “With great joy I announce to Your Majesty that I have discovered the tombs which the tradition proclaimed by Pausanias indicates to be the graves of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthos.” Schliemann claimed that one of the remains belonged to Agamemnon himself, hence the gold mask on his face was called the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’.

The golden death mask

The mask was a death mask, and made of a thick sheet of gold hammered against a wooden background. A sharp tool was used later to chisel the finer details. The mask is said to depict the face of a man with “an oblong face, wide forehead, long fine nose and tightly closed thin lips.” The details of the eyebrows, moustache and beard were indicated with repousse. Near the ears, two holes were made so that the mask could be held over the deceased’s face with twine. Of the five gold masks, this was the only mask showing a bearded man, hence Schliemann’s conclusion that it had belonged to Agamemnon.

Agamemnon sitting on a rock holding his scepter, Fragment of the lid of an Attic red-figure lekanis by the circle of the Meidias Painter (410–400 BC) ( Wikimedia Commons )

Although Schliemann’s discovery was indeed remarkable, it would later come into question. The strongest evidence against his claim is that it would later be shown that the graves discovered by the German archaeologist predated the Trojan War by at least 300 years. Thus, it would have been impossible that the owner of the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ was the legendary Greek ruler. Nevertheless, it is still possible that the graves belonged to the Mycenaean elite.


Art History: Mask of Agamemnon

Trail are two archeologist who challenge the authenticity of the mask. They have come up with arguments that try to prove the mask is a forgery. Some scholars claim that their arguments are not valid and lack scholarly reasoning to support their arguments. Some scholars believe that the mask is a mixture of different styles from different places and times, No one can really tell it the mask is authentic or fake. I believe that the mask was edited by Schlemiels and his men. The mask of Agamemnon is not authentic due to its lack of Mycenaean qualities that would price its authenticity.

The mask to Agamemnon is not authentic therefore it was edited by Schlemiels and his workers. The mask of Agamemnon was found in Shaft Grave V by Schlemiels on the Treasury of Auteur it is one of the most famous artworks that have been found. The mask of Agamemnon is a gold funeral mask. It was made using the reposes© method. This technique makes it look like it was hammered The hair on the mask looks like it was engraved. The mask is crooked. The ears are not in proportion, the moustache looks like it Vass put on wrong and everything on this mask looks wrong. The beard on the mask is V shaped.

Most funerary masks are flat, but this one is not.. The mask is three dimensional and it looks like the ears were cut out rather than made together with the rest of the mask. The hair on the mask is Wary detailed one can almost see every strand Of his beard. The eyes on the mask appear to be open. The eyelids are made in a way that makes the eyes seem to be both open and closed at the same time. Compared to the mask of Agamemnon, other objects found in the graves look Mycenaean and authentic, One example is image three, which is the inlaid dagger, was found in grave A Mycenae, Greece, 1600-1500 BCC.

The dagger is about nine inches long. It is made of different metals such as gold, silver, and Nellie: Nellie is a chemical that is rubbed into the needle- like cut to make the texture of the dagger, The daggers were difficult to make, and are very detailed. One depicts a scene to a lion hunt the lions look heraldic and symbolic, this explains why they were found in graves because only important officials were buried with expensive ornaments. The lions on the dagger are in the flying gallop pose, which is a convention started by the Minoans then adapted by the Mycenaean.

The figures on the dagger are wearing shorts but not helmets and carrying a shield. I believe the figures represent the people buried in the graves, because they look heroic and important people were buried in the graves. It is possible that Schlemiels made a similar assumption in finding the mask of Agamemnon since he was a Trojan soldier. The two artworks described beforehand are different even though they are claimed to be from the same civilization. Figure three shows more Mycenaean qualities than the mask of Agamemnon.

Most Of the Mycenaean metal works were not made Of pure gold. Like the inlaid dagger, most of them were mixed with metals like silver. They are both inlaid but the dagger has signs of the Mycenaean convention of depicting animal scenes. It is believed that the funerary mask Schlemiels found is a forgery. The funerary mask does not look like some of the other Mycenaean gold funerary mask, A local reporter of the Argils News reported the “mask had no mustache”. Compared to figure two found in shaft grave A, the facial features on mask of Agamemnon does not match all the others.

It is believed the facial hair does not look Mycenaean. According to Harrington Spencer the mouth on figure is short and thick with ill defined lips and no discernible chin, but the mask of Agamemnon has a wider mouth, thin lips and a well define chin. The eyes on the mask of Agamemnon are different from the other masks found in the shaft graves of Mycenae. The eyebrows on figure two are nothing in detail, but the eyebrows on the mask of Agamemnon the look as if they have been engraved on the mask.

The eyelids on the mask of Agamemnon seem to be open, while those on figure two are closest Schlemiels edited the mask because it does not have any similarities with other metal work found in Mycenae. The mask looks too reflect compared to the Other masks found in the grave it looks like it was made at a later date. It is not severely faded like the other artworks found in the shaft graves Of Mycenae. The Mycenaean’ did not make their metalwork purely out Of gold. Most of their artwork was made with different metals, such as silver and bronze.

I believe the mask was edited because the mask Of Schlemiels found was believed to be made of pure gold and according to Calder “no ancient object was ever made Of pure gold”. Some scholars like David Trail’, have questioned the authenticity of the mask of Agamemnon and requested for the object to be tested. Trail has asked for it to be tested to see if the mask is really made of gold but his request has been denied. If the mask is said to be authentic, then why has it not been tested? The answer is not known.

Fifth mask is believed to be an authentic piece, then it should be tested, Testing the mask to know if it is pure gold does not ruin the mask instead testing it will enable scholars to find out the truth about the mask’s authenticity, Some Scholars believe Schlemiels planted the mask. The dates at which the mask was found bring about questions as to whether the mask is a forgery or not. According to Calder “the Mycenae excavations took place between August seventh and December third 1876, the mask was discovered November 30. Only three days before the site was closed”.

It seems like the mask was planted in the grave to be found. Why would Schlemiels close the site right after he found the mask of Agamemnon? It might be that he planted the mask in the grave so he would become famous for finding the mask of Agamemnon. It could have been that Schlemiels was looking for a plan to advance his career and in order to do that he planted the mask and got his fame from supposedly finding it. It is claimed the excavations oeuvre closed on November 26th and 27th His absence could have made it possible for him to plant the mask.

Some archeologist do not believe that Schlemiels planted the mask, instead they claim that “it is difficult to see how the insertion Of the mask could have been achieved when Schlemiels was working under the constant supervision of Pantsuits Astigmatism the director Of Antiquities, Who was assisted from November 28 by other archeologist sent from Athens, and by a guard of Greek soldiers on the site”. Under this strict supervision it is highly doubtful that Schlemiels planted the mask in the grave so he could find it.

Due to the reasons stated beforehand, believe the mask of Agamemnon was edited because it does not relate to other Mycenaean art. It is different compared to the other artworks found in grave A and a. The mask of Agamemnon does not follow the convention of Mycenaean art. Trail states that ‘the mask of Agamemnon does not show any trace to Mycenaean norm or convention”. According to Calder ‘the mask of Agamemnon is stylish and innovative. It is far away from the Mycenaean convention and looks fairly new. Believe the mask of Agamemnon was altered by Schlemiels.

There is not much prove that shows that it was edited, but the ask does not look authentic. William Calder and David Trail try to prove that the mask is a forgery, but they do not have substantial evidence to support their argument. It looks like avgas made in a hurry, and ancient artworks were not made purely of gold. Also believe the mask was edited because Schlemiels was not an honest man, he admitted that he bought some of the objects he claimed to hue found. The mask of Agamemnon should be removed from textbooks because archeologist do not have enough information on it is based on observations and on an individual’s perception Of it.

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:


When was the death mask of Agamemnon made?

This is answered comprehensively here. Correspondingly, what does the mask of Agamemnon look like?

The mask was created by hammering gold into a thin leaf over a wooden form. It is three-dimensional and includes cut-out ears, full detailed facial hair, and eyelids that appear open and closed simultaneously. Because of its uniqueness it has come to be representative of gold-work from the age.

when did Agamemnon die? When Menelaus's wife, Helen, was taken to Troy by Paris, Agamemnon commanded the united Greek armed forces in the ensuing Trojan War. Upon Agamemnon's return from Troy, he was killed (according to the oldest surviving account, Odyssey 11.409&ndash11) by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife Clytemnestra.

Hereof, what was the purpose of Mycenaean death masks?

commemoration of the dead Funerary masks were frequently used to cover the face of the deceased. Generally their purpose was to represent the features of the deceased, both to honour them and to establish a relationship through the mask with the spirit world. Sometimes they were used to force&hellip


Interview: Ancient Greek golden death-masks of Mycenae still engulfed in mystery, says archaeologist

A visiter views exhibits at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, June 7, 2021. The imposing golden mask of Agamemnon welcomes visitors at the National Archaeological Museum here, standing out among other finds from the royal cemetery of the ancient city of Mycenae on the Peloponnese peninsula dating back to the 16th century BC. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

ATHENS, June 16 (Xinhua) -- The imposing golden mask of Agamemnon welcomes visitors at the National Archaeological Museum here, standing out among other finds from the royal cemetery of the ancient city of Mycenae on the Peloponnese peninsula dating back to the 16th century BC.

The five in total funeral golden masks and the full face and body coverings of an infant displayed here are still engulfed in mystery, and are a unique case in ancient Greece, Dr. Constantinos Paschalidis, curator of Antiquities at the National Archaeological Museum, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

When German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the elegant mask with the intense facial characteristics in 1876, he was certain he had found the tomb of Mycenaean king Agamemnon mentioned in Homer's epic poem Iliad.

The mask was later dated four centuries before the legendary Trojan War, but is still world-famous as Agamemnon's mask.

"Nowadays we say that it is a conventional name. Agamemnon is a literature person, like Romeo and Juliet. He never existed as a historical person, but we love such connotations, therefore we keep the name due to the romantic aspect of archaeology," Paschalidis said.

Most of the Mycenaen masks at the museum are rather simple and do not depict individual features with the exception of Agamemnon's, which is more or less the portrait of a man who died at the age of around 30, he noted.

The man was bearded, with a mustache and a long "Greek" nose, and whoever he was, he was buried as a king, with all honors, covered with gold, the expert said.

The Mycenaen death-masks are very precious and rare objects which were created for very important people, both men and women, he said. Three of them depict men and two women. A few meters further are the golden sheets covering the face and body of a baby, girl most likely, some months old.

All the items belong to a single or two generations and don't have much of chronological difference between each other.

The sheets of pure gold of some 24 carats in nowadays terms were hammered from the backside. The repousse technique was used to form the shape, according to Paschalidis.

"There is a huge question regarding the wealth and the gold of Mycenae. Actually, we don't know where it came from and how it started," he told Xinhua.

"We know that these people used to be poor farmers and cattle breeders for centuries, living in the Argolide (region) or the Peloponnese (peninsula) in general and within one generation or one generation and a half around the year 1,600 BC they became extremely wealthy, extremely rich and they started burying their dead covered with gold and exotic materials coming from all over the known or unknown world of that time," he added.

Together with the precious objects that came from Crete island, from other regions of the Balkan peninsula, from Egypt or the Baltic Sea, it seems that also new, fresh and extravagant ideas like covering the faces of dead with gold, reached Mycenae by 1,600 BC.

"We don't know where exactly the idea came from and who brought it, but it looks like they never had such a tradition before, it only happened in this royal cemetery with these people and it ended with these people. We don't have a tradition going on in the later centuries. Therefore, we consider this phenomenon a unique phenomenon which has to do with Mycenae and these five dead plus the baby, the royal girl," Paschalidis said.

"If one dares to propose something we may say that covering the faces of the dead was a trait which happened in Egypt at that time in the Second Transitional period to the New Kingdom, but then again this doesn't look Egyptian at all. Therefore, keeping the answer strict and archeologically, let's say, correct, we may say it's an open question and a mystery," the curator said.

The masks of Mycenae were offerings to the deceased and not gifts to the gods, he noted.

Paschalidis warmly welcomed the latest great archaeological discovery at the Sanxingdui Ruins site in China's Sichuan Province, where this spring archaeologists unearthed hundreds of objects, including gold masks, dating to about 1,200 BC.

"The recent finds in Sanxingdui ancient city in Sichuan Province is great news for the whole archaeological world and we all feel very happy and excited about it," he said.

"This is a great great find and event. Although China and the Aegean and Mycenae, Sichuan and Mycenae, are very far away, we cannot have a direct connection between these two, but one may see that this is more or less a huge archaeological discovery and it is a huge joy and a cause for celebration for the archaeologists over the world," Paschalidis said. Enditem


Questioning the Mycenaean Death Mask of Agamemnon - History

A woman at the Badisches Landes museum in Karlsruhe Castle looks at a golden tomb mask, part of the exhibition Mycenae - The Legendary World of Agamemnon, in Germany in 2018. Photo: AFP

The imposing golden mask of Agamemnon welcomes visitors at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, standing out among other finds from the royal cemetery of the ancient city of Mycenae on the Peloponnese peninsula dating back to the 16th century BC.

The five in total golden funeral masks and the full face and body coverings of an infant displayed at the museum are still engulfed in mystery, and are a unique case in ancient Greece, Constantinos Paschalidis, curator of Antiquities at the museum, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Mistaken identity

When German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the elegant mask with the intense facial characteristics in 1876, he was certain he had found the tomb of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon mentioned in Homer's epic poem Iliad.

The mask was later dated four centuries before the legendary Trojan War, but is still world-famous as Agamemnon's mask.

"Nowadays we say that it is a conventional name. Agamemnon is a literature person, like Romeo and Juliet. He never existed as a historical person, but we love such connotations, therefore we keep the name due to the romantic aspect of archaeology," Paschalidis said.

Most of the Mycenaen masks at the museum are rather simple and do not depict individual features with the exception of Agamemnon's, which is more or less the portrait of a man who died at the age of around 30, he noted.

The man was bearded, with a mustache and a long "Greek" nose, and whoever he was, he was buried as a king, with all honors, covered with gold, the expert said.

The Mycenaen death masks are very precious and rare objects which were created for very important people, both men and women, he said. Three of them depict men and two women. A few meters further are the golden sheets covering the face and body of a baby, a girl most likely, a few months old.

The sheets of pure gold, roughly 24 carats in today's terms, were hammered from the backside. The repousse technique was used to form the shape, according to Paschalidis.

"There is a huge question regarding the wealth and the gold of Mycenae. Actually, we don't know where it came from and how it started," he told Xinhua.

"We know that these people used to be poor farmers and cattle breeders for centuries, living in the Argolide [region] or the Peloponnese [peninsula] in general and within one generation or one generation and a half around the year 1,600 BC they became extremely wealthy, extremely rich and they started burying their dead covered with gold and exotic materials coming from all over the known or unknown world of that time," he added.

An open question

Together with the precious objects that came from the island of Crete, other regions of the Balkan peninsula and from Egypt, it seems that also new, fresh and extravagant ideas like covering the faces of dead with gold, reached Mycenae by 1600 BC.

"We don't know where exactly the idea came from and who brought it, but it looks like they never had such a tradition before, it only happened in this royal cemetery with these people and it ended with these people. We don't have a tradition going on in the later centuries. Therefore, we consider this phenomenon a unique phenomenon which has to do with Mycenae and these five dead plus the baby, the royal girl," Paschalidis said.

"If one dares to propose something we may say that covering the faces of the dead was a trait which happened in Egypt at that time in the Second Transitional period to the New Kingdom, but then again this doesn't look Egyptian at all. Therefore, keeping the answer strict and archaeological, let's say, correct, we may say it's an open question and a mystery," the curator said.

The masks of Mycenae were offerings to the deceased and not gifts to the gods, he noted.

Paschalidis warmly welcomed the latest great archaeological discovery at the Sanxingdui Ruins site in China's Sichuan Province, where in 2021's spring archaeologists unearthed hundreds of objects, including gold masks, dating to about 1200 BC.

"The recent finds in Sanxingdui ancient city in Sichuan Province is great news for the whole archaeological world and we all feel very happy and excited about it," he said.

"This is more or less a huge archaeological discovery and it is a huge joy and a cause for celebration for archaeologists all over the world," Paschalidis said.


Alberti’s Window

I have just started to read David A. Traill’s book Schliemann of Troy: Treasury and Deceit. The book functions as a biography and critique of Heinrich Schliemann, the archaeologist who excavated Troy and Mycenae. In this book, Traill argues that the so-called “Mask of Agamemnon” (a funerary mask excavated in Grave Circle A (southern burial shaft grave V) in Mycenae, ca. 1600-1500 BC, see left) could possibly be a 19th century forgery. 1 One of Traill’s main reasons is this the only discovered Mycenaean mask which shows facial hair. In addition, the upturned “handlebar” mustache looks like it was added later it seems like the original mustache was created to turn down at the ends of the mouth. Traill does also posits, however, that this mask could be authentic but then Schliemann added the “handlebars” in order to give the mask a more authoritative appearance. 1

Not all scholars accept this idea that the mask is a forgery, but it is accepted that this is not the mask of the fabled king Agamemnon, even though Schliemann had imagined and wished such a thing. If Agamemnon was a real person, he would have lived about 300 years after this mask was made.

Interestingly, though, some think that this mask (shown above) is the not the one which Schliemann originally identified as the mask of Agamemnon. Oliver Dickinson believes that Schliemann was referring to a different mask found in the same shaft grave (called “NM 623″, from northern burial in shaft grave V, see below right). 3

To support his argument, Dickinson cites a telegraph by Schliemann (translated into English) which reads: “In the last tomb three bodies, one without ornaments. Have telegraphed to Nauplia for a painter, to preserve the dead man with the round face [italics for emphasis]. This one is very like the picture which my imagination formed of Agamemnon long ago.” 4

Since only three burials were discovered in grave shaft V (and one of the burials had been presumably robbed, since it was devoid of goods), these two masks are the only ones by which we can compare Schliemann’s statement. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this second mask (NM 623) has a round face, whereas the other face could hardly be called “round.” Could this be the mask that Schliemann originally identified as the “Mask of Agamemnon”? It certainly seems possible to me.

1 David A. Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasury and Deceit (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 169-172.
2 Ibid., 172.
3 See Oliver Dickinson, “The ‘Face of Agamemnon,'” Hesperia 74, no. 3 (July – Sept. 2005): 299-308.

So many archaeologists have a beef with Schliemann in both a professional and personal sense (even if they met him) that I tend to shy away from debate related to him or his discoveries. Unfortunately–for both us and Schliemann–it's impossible to tell exactly what went on during his excavations.

That being said, the so-called Mask of Agamemnon doesn't exactly exude an ancient flavor, does it?

Although one has to hand it to Schliemann. For all his lack of training and care, he certainly was productive. Sometimes the most influential archaeology is done by those who aren't concerned about dotting i's and crossing t's.

Wow, very cool it seems like a valid point for the mask being forged. It seems like the upwards pointed mustache is a more modern style.

Heidenkind, when reading the Dickinson article I realized how difficult it is to trace what happened during Schliemann's excavations. It seemed like Schliemann wasn't even sure what he originally claimed about certain artifacts. How frustrating!

But you're right, Jon, Schliemann was a very influential archaeologist. We owe a lot to him and his work.

And Matt, I agree. The upturned mustache does seem like a more modern style.

Jon, we call it treasure hunting actually.
I agree that he was influential etc but you can't really do archeology without training and care.


What was the purpose of Mycenaean death masks?

The main purpose of the death mask from the Middle Ages until the 19th century was to serve as a model for sculptors in creating statues and busts of the deceased person. Not until the 1800s did such masks become valued for themselves.

Also Know, what were Egyptian death masks made out of? After that Egyptians used, so called, cartonnage, a material made from papyrus or linen and soaked in plaster and then molded on a wooden mold. That was, of course, a cheap variant intended for lower class. Royal death masks were made from precious metals, first of all - gold or gold leaves on bronze.

Subsequently, question is, what does the mask of Agamemnon represent?

The quantities of gold and carefully worked artifacts indicate honor, wealth and status. The custom of clothing leaders in gold leaf is known elsewhere. The Mask of Agamemnon was named by Schliemann after the legendary Greek king of Homer's Iliad. This mask adorned one of the bodies in the shaft graves at Mycenae.


Interview: Ancient Greek golden death-masks of Mycenae still engulfed in mystery, says archaeologist

A visiter views exhibits at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece, June 7, 2021. The imposing golden mask of Agamemnon welcomes visitors at the National Archaeological Museum here, standing out among other finds from the royal cemetery of the ancient city of Mycenae on the Peloponnese peninsula dating back to the 16th century BC. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

ATHENS, June 16 (Xinhua) -- The imposing golden mask of Agamemnon welcomes visitors at the National Archaeological Museum here, standing out among other finds from the royal cemetery of the ancient city of Mycenae on the Peloponnese peninsula dating back to the 16th century BC.

The five in total funeral golden masks and the full face and body coverings of an infant displayed here are still engulfed in mystery, and are a unique case in ancient Greece, Dr. Constantinos Paschalidis, curator of Antiquities at the National Archaeological Museum, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

When German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the elegant mask with the intense facial characteristics in 1876, he was certain he had found the tomb of Mycenaean king Agamemnon mentioned in Homer's epic poem Iliad.

The mask was later dated four centuries before the legendary Trojan War, but is still world-famous as Agamemnon's mask.

"Nowadays we say that it is a conventional name. Agamemnon is a literature person, like Romeo and Juliet. He never existed as a historical person, but we love such connotations, therefore we keep the name due to the romantic aspect of archaeology," Paschalidis said.

Most of the Mycenaen masks at the museum are rather simple and do not depict individual features with the exception of Agamemnon's, which is more or less the portrait of a man who died at the age of around 30, he noted.

The man was bearded, with a mustache and a long "Greek" nose, and whoever he was, he was buried as a king, with all honors, covered with gold, the expert said.

The Mycenaen death-masks are very precious and rare objects which were created for very important people, both men and women, he said. Three of them depict men and two women. A few meters further are the golden sheets covering the face and body of a baby, girl most likely, some months old.

All the items belong to a single or two generations and don't have much of chronological difference between each other.

The sheets of pure gold of some 24 carats in nowadays terms were hammered from the backside. The repousse technique was used to form the shape, according to Paschalidis.

"There is a huge question regarding the wealth and the gold of Mycenae. Actually, we don't know where it came from and how it started," he told Xinhua.

"We know that these people used to be poor farmers and cattle breeders for centuries, living in the Argolide (region) or the Peloponnese (peninsula) in general and within one generation or one generation and a half around the year 1,600 BC they became extremely wealthy, extremely rich and they started burying their dead covered with gold and exotic materials coming from all over the known or unknown world of that time," he added.

Together with the precious objects that came from Crete island, from other regions of the Balkan peninsula, from Egypt or the Baltic Sea, it seems that also new, fresh and extravagant ideas like covering the faces of dead with gold, reached Mycenae by 1,600 BC.

"We don't know where exactly the idea came from and who brought it, but it looks like they never had such a tradition before, it only happened in this royal cemetery with these people and it ended with these people. We don't have a tradition going on in the later centuries. Therefore, we consider this phenomenon a unique phenomenon which has to do with Mycenae and these five dead plus the baby, the royal girl," Paschalidis said.

"If one dares to propose something we may say that covering the faces of the dead was a trait which happened in Egypt at that time in the Second Transitional period to the New Kingdom, but then again this doesn't look Egyptian at all. Therefore, keeping the answer strict and archeologically, let's say, correct, we may say it's an open question and a mystery," the curator said.

The masks of Mycenae were offerings to the deceased and not gifts to the gods, he noted.

Paschalidis warmly welcomed the latest great archaeological discovery at the Sanxingdui Ruins site in China's Sichuan Province, where this spring archaeologists unearthed hundreds of objects, including gold masks, dating to about 1,200 BC.

"The recent finds in Sanxingdui ancient city in Sichuan Province is great news for the whole archaeological world and we all feel very happy and excited about it," he said.

"This is a great great find and event. Although China and the Aegean and Mycenae, Sichuan and Mycenae, are very far away, we cannot have a direct connection between these two, but one may see that this is more or less a huge archaeological discovery and it is a huge joy and a cause for celebration for the archaeologists over the world," Paschalidis said. Enditem


Questioning the Mycenaean Death Mask of Agamemnon - History


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Mask of Agamemnon - a gold funeral mask probably of a Mycenaean king called the "Mask of Agamemnon" by Heinrich Schliemann - f ound in shaft grave V of Grave Circle A - Second half of 16th century BC - Athens National Archeological Museum

Heinrich Schliemann excavated at Mycenae and discovered a number of gold death masks. This one he decided must be Agamemnon, the Greek king of the Trojan War of The Iliad . He said that he had looked in the face of Agamemnon and that his skull had disintigrated when he touched it. Though an extraordinary find, it was too old to be the death mask of the famous king, even a Mycenaean king of this name existed, which is far from certain.

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Introduction

The Mask of Agamemnon is a gold funeral mask discovered at the ancient Greek site of Mycenae. The mask, displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, has been described by Cathy Gere as the “Mona Lisa of prehistory”. [1]

German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the artifact in 1876, believed that he had found the body of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans in Homer’s epic of the Trojan War, the Iliad, but modern archaeological research suggests that the mask dates to about 1600 BC, predating the period of the legendary Trojan War by about 400 years.


Authenticity

In the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the authenticity of the mask has been formally questioned. Archaeology magazine has run a series of articles presenting both sides of the debate. By the time of the excavation of the Shaft Graves, the Greek Archaeological Society had taken a hand in supervising Schliemann's work (after the issues at Troy), sending Panagiotis Stamatakis as ephor, or director, of the excavation, who kept a close eye on Schliemann.

Proponents of the fraud argument centre their case on Schliemann's reputation for salting digs with artifacts from elsewhere. The resourceful Schliemann, they assert, could have had the mask manufactured on the general model of the other Mycenaean masks and found an opportunity to place it in the excavation.

The defending advocate(s) point out that the excavation was closed on November 26–27 for Sunday holiday and rain. It was not allowed to reopen until Stamatakis had provided the work with credible witnesses. The three other masks were not discovered until the 28th. The Mask of Agamemnon was found on the 30th.

A second attack is based on style. The Mask of Agamemnon differs from three of the other masks in a number of points: it is three-dimensional rather than flat, one of the facial hairs is cut out, rather than engraved, the ears are cut out, the eyes are depicted as both open and shut, with open eyelids, but a line of closed eyelids across the centre, the face alone of all the depictions of faces in Mycenaean art has a full pointed beard with handlebar mustache, the mouth is well-defined (compared to the flat masks), the brows are formed to two arches rather than one.

The defence presented prior arguments that the shape of the lip, the triangular beard and the detail of the beard are nearly the same as the mane and locks of the gold lion-head rhyton from Shaft Grave IV. Schliemann's duplicity, they claim, has been greatly exaggerated, and they also claim that the attackers were conducting a vendetta.