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Researchers find 1st evidence of multiple people buried in Tomb of Nestor's Cup

The Tomb of Nestor's Cup on the Italian island of Ischia is named for a wine cup featuring one of the earliest surviving inscriptions in the Greek language. Photo by Gigante et al./PLOS ONE
The Tomb of Nestor's Cup on the Italian island of Ischia is named for a wine cup featuring one of the earliest surviving inscriptions in the Greek language. Photo by Gigante et al./PLOS ONE

Oct. 6 (UPI) -- An analysis of burnt bone fragments in the 8th century Tomb of Nestor's Cup has revealed that the cremains of not one, but at least three humans were buried at the site in Italy, scientists announced Wednesday.

The tomb, discovered in 1954 and on the island of modern-day Ischia, was long believed to contain the cremains of a young person about 10 years old to 14 years old at death. The archaeological site on what was previously called Pithekoussai, was notable because of a broken wine cup that featured one of the earliest surviving examples of Greek writing.

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It read, in translation: "I am Nestor's cup, good to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway desire for beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize him."

Researchers at the University of Padua, Italy, conducted a microscopic analysis of the remains to try to answer the question of who was buried with the famed cup.

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"A vast body of literature has attempted to explain the unique association between the exceptionality of the grave good complex, the symposiac and erotic evocation of the Nestor's Cup inscription with the young age of the individual buried with it," the research article, published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, read.

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The researchers studied 195 burnt bone fragments, determining at least 45 belonged to animals, including goats and possibly dogs. The animals were likely buried with the human remains to act as food or companions.

Of the 130 human bone fragments, the scientists were able to identify characteristics of varying life stages, indicating at least three individuals' cremains were buried in the tomb.

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The article said the discovery raises even more questions about the tomb. Researchers have been unable to determine the identity of those buried in the tomb, their age at death, how they died or why they were buried with the cup.

"Our research rewrites the history and the previous archaeological interpretation of the Tomb, throwing new light on funeral practices, culture and society of the Greek immigrants in the ancient West Mediterranean," the authors, led by Melania Gigante, said in a statement.

"We are sure that our study can be a new methodological step toward the reconstruction of the life-history of people in ancient times, even in case of poor preservation and/or complexity of the skeletal assemblage," they said.

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