Shaft tomb

A shaft tomb or shaft grave is a type of deep rectangular burial structure, similar in shape to the much shallower cist grave, containing a floor of pebbles, walls of rubble masonry, and a roof constructed of wooden planks.[1]


The practice of digging shaft tombs was a widespread phenomenon with prominent examples found in Mycenaean Greece; in Bronze Age China; and in Mesoamerican Western Mexico.[2]

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenaean shaft graves originated and evolved from rudimentary Middle Helladic cists, tumuli, and tholos tombs with features derived from Early Bronze Age traditions developed locally in mainland Bronze Age Greece 16th century BCE.[3] Middle Helladic burials would ultimately serve as the basis for the royal Shaft Graves containing a variety of grave goods, which signified the elevation of a native Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade.[4]

The depth of Mycenaean shaft tombs would range from 1.0 m to 4.0 m with a mound constructed for each grave and stelae erected.[5] Archaeological examples include Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B.

Bronze Age China

Shaft graves were utilized by elites from the Shang Dynasty (or Yin Dynasty) during the Bronze Age 1200 BCE of northern China.[2]

Mesoamerican Western Mexico

The Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition or shaft tomb culture refers to a set of interlocked cultural traits found in the present day western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and, to a lesser extent, Colima to its south, roughly dating to the period between 300 BCE and 400 CE. An example is the La Campana archaeological site of the Capacha and subsequent cultures.

See also



  1. Pedley 2011, p. 86.
  2. Kipfer 2000, "shaft grave", p. 508.
  3. Dickinson 1999, pp. 103, 106–107.
  4. Dickinson 1977, pp. 53, 107; Dickinson 1999, pp. 97–107; Anthony 2007, p. 48.
  5. Komita 1982, pp. 59–60.


  • Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05887-0.
  • Dickinson, Oliver (December 1999). "Invasion, Migration and the Shaft Graves". Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 43 (1): 97–107. doi:10.1111/j.2041-5370.1999.tb00480.x.
  • Dickinson, Oliver (1977). The Origins of Mycenaean Civilization. Götenberg: Paul Aströms Förlag.
  • Kipfer, Barbara Ann (2000), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology, New York: Springer, ISBN 978-0-306-46158-3
  • Komita, Nobuo (1982). "The Grave Circles at Mycenae and the Early Indo-Europeans" (PDF). Research Reports of Ikutoku Technical University (A-7): 59–70.
  • Pedley, John Griffiths (2011). Greek Art and Archaeology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-20-500133-0.
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