This article critically explores the century-long history of research into a particular set of archaeological finds. The ‘princely graves’ – funerary assemblages dated to the early Iron Age (seventh to fifth centuries BC) containing, among other things, luxurious objects produced in Archaic Greek workshops – are known from various parts of temperate Europe, and were first recorded in the central Balkans region by the end of the nineteenth century. By their very nature, these finds pose several important theoretical and methodological problems, one of them being the need to bridge the divide between the procedures of prehistoric and classical archaeologies. The first attempts to account for these exceptional finds, in Europe as well as in the Balkans, were guided by the culture-historical procedure, typical of the archaeological investigation of the time. During the 1960s New Archaeology brought about the notion of chiefdom as a tool to account for the Iron Age societies. The concept was introduced into research on the central Balkan finds, proving successful in overcoming the shortcomings of the previous explanations, but at the same time creating new ones, encapsulated in the critique of the evolutionary approach. This review of research into the ‘princely graves’ concludes in proposing several new lines of inquiry, already introduced in the European archaeological theory: issues of group identity and individual actors, and phenomenological approaches to time and space.