A 2,500-year-old stone coffin with well-preserved colour illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus, archaeologists said.
"It is a very important find," Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the island's antiquities department said yesterday. "The style of the decoration is unique, not so much from an artistic point of view, but for the subject and the colours used."
Only two other similar sarcophagi have ever been discovered in Cyprus before. One is housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other in the British Museum in London, but their colour decoration is more faded, Flourentzos said.
The limestone sarcophagus was accidentally found by construction workers last week in a tomb near the village of Kouklia, in the coastal Paphos area. The tomb, which probably belonged to an ancient warrior, had been looted during antiquity.
Flourentzos said the coffin - painted in red, black and blue on a white background - dated to 500 BC, when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.
"The style is very simple, it has little to do with later Classical prototypes and rules," Flourentzos said.
Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey - both hugely popular throughout the Greek world.