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Top Archaeological Discoveries of 2022

Updated: Mar 7

Today I will be sharing the top 10 discoveries in the world of archaeology for 2022. I personally love archaeology so this is something that I love to share. I'll try not to overload with information but rather just take the minimum amount of information to show what the discovery was and where it was located.


I took this list from Archaeology Magazine. I am not going to include photo's as they can be found on the Archaeology Magazine website.


 

Inside A Pharaoh's Coffin - Cairo, Egypt


It’s not every day that scientists have the opportunity to look inside the coffin of a member of ancient Egyptian royalty—and to do so without opening it might seem impossible. But the sarcophagus containing the pharaoh Amenhotep I (reigned ca. 1525–1504 B.C.) has now been virtually opened and the mummy inside virtually unwrapped, revealing a wealth of new information about one of Egypt’s great rulers. Amenhotep I’s mummy, which was found in 1881, is one of very few known royal mummies that have not been unwrapped in modern times. During the Victorian era, wealthy patrons threw many exclusive mummy unwrapping parties. “The mummy was never unwrapped because scholars at the time thought it was too beautiful to destroy,” says radiologist Sahar Saleem of Cairo University, who led the project. Using noninvasive CT scanning, Saleem has generated 3-D images of the pharaoh’s mask, bandages, body, and face. “To see the pharaoh’s face after 3,000 years and how much he resembled his father, Ahmose, was very moving,” she says.


Amenhotep I’s mummy was not found in its original burial location but in the ancient town of Deir el-Bahari, where it was part of a cache of mummies, many of them royal as well. These mummies had been collected during the 21st Dynasty (ca. 1070–945 B.C.) by priests who rewrapped and reinterred them in new coffins. Many of the cache’s mummies had been badly damaged by tomb robbers before being collected. Saleem’s scans show that the priests who rewrapped and reinterred Amenhotep I’s mummy carefully reattached his head with a resin-treated linen band. His neck had been broken, likely when looters tore off a necklace. They also rearranged his broken left arm, covered a hole in his stomach, and placed gold amulets inside. “The study provides evidence for the great care taken by the priests of the 21st Dynasty in reburying the mummy of Amenhotep I, preserving the golden ornaments, and placing many amulets inside,” Saleem says. “This restores confidence in the goodwill of the priests to rebury the royal mummies to preserve them, contrary to modern allegations that the goal was to steal the ornaments.” She was also able to see that the pharaoh’s right arm had been folded over his chest in its original mummification position. “Folding the arms on the chest became characteristic of royal mummies to make them resemble Osiris, god of the afterlife,” Saleem says. “Amenhotep I’s mummy is the first example of this style of mummification, which later became standard for all ancient Egyptian mummies.”

 

Aztec Offerings - Mexico City, Mexico


Innovative preservation techniques and advanced microscopy are revealing new insights into the creation and symbolic significance of a remarkably well-preserved collection of 2,550 wooden artifacts unearthed by a team of archaeologists led by Leonardo López Luján at the foot of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs, or Mexica. The finely carved objects, which include scepters, ear flares, nose and finger rings, and miniature masks and weapons, were buried between 1486 and 1502 as ritual offerings. All the items are associated with deities the Mexica venerated in the temple—the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, and the rain god, Tlaloc. Priests deposited the wood items in stone boxes that also contained marine shells, plants, and animal and human bones. “Most of the offerings were waterlogged or had a very high level of humidity,” says Templo Mayor Project conservator Adriana Sanromán. “This preserved the wooden objects, but has also caused them to deteriorate.” While the waterlogged conditions helped to preserve the wood and traces of painted decoration on many of the items, chemical processes have weakened the wood structures, leading to cracks and other deformations over the centuries since the offerings were buried.


In the course of their ongoing efforts to stabilize the artifacts and prevent further damage, Sanromán and her colleague María Barajas submerge them in increasing concentrations of a synthetic sugar mixture, which displaces the water in the wood’s cell structure. They then dry the artifacts and remove any excess sugar. This complex, multistage conservation process can take up to a year. By scrutinizing tiny wood samples under a scanning electron microscope, the researchers have identified different species of wood Mexica artisans used to create the offerings. Most of the objects sampled were carved from pine harvested in the forests of central Mexico, while others were fashioned from mesquite, fir, cypress, alder, or butterfly bush. “All of these are soft woods that made it easy to carve these very detailed miniature objects,” Barajas says. Although sculptors’ choice of specific wood types may have depended in part on availability, their selections seem to have held religious significance as well. “We think that certain species of wood were chosen for both their physical qualities and their symbolic meaning,” says Templo Mayor Project archaeologist Víctor Cortés. “For example, Huitzilopochtli was associated with mesquite, and Tlaloc with pine.”

 

The Birth of Venus - Willendorf, Austria


For more than a century since the 30,000-year-old stone sculpture known as the Venus of Willendorf was found on the banks of the Danube River in its eponymous village, many unknowns have swirled around the 4.3-inch-tall figurine. But the lingering mystery of where the material used to make the sculpture originated has now been solved, opening new avenues of research into how far people of the Gravettian period (ca. 30,000–22,000 years ago) traveled. Using a technique called high-resolution micro-computed tomography, a team led by Gerhard Weber of the University of Vienna scanned the figurine. Several other figurines with which it was found were made of ivory, but the Venus was fashioned from oolitic limestone, a type of sedimentary rock whose composition varies greatly by location. “Oolite acts like a kind of geological fingerprint,” Weber says. The team expected to find that the stone had been sourced within 100 miles of Willendorf. Instead, to their surprise, they discovered that it had come from some 450 miles away, near Sega di Ala in the Italian Alps. The researchers believe the figurine was likely carved there before being carried across the mountains. “While this journey could have taken years, decades, or centuries,” says Weber, “finding a way through the Alps might not have been as big a barrier in the Ice Age as we always imagine.”


The high-resolution scans also allowed researchers to see details of structural components of the sculpture that have always been puzzling. They now know that hemispherical cavities on the surface of the limestone were once filled by limonites, or iron oxide concretions, that likely fell out during the carving process because they are harder than the limestone. One of these cavities is in the center of the figurine’s stomach where the navel should be. “There are some traces, such as furrows from a tool, that suggest this limonite could have been removed intentionally, which would mean the artist already had a very precise idea of the later shape of the figurine,” says Weber. “That would tell us a lot about these Paleolithic people’s thinking.”

 

World's Oldest Straws - Maikop, Russia


A novel interpretation of eight gold and silver tubes discovered in southern Russia dating to around 3500 B.C. suggests that they may be the world’s oldest drinking straws. The tubes were found alongside one of three skeletons in a burial mound known as the Maikop kurgan, which was excavated in 1897. The richly furnished mound also contained hundreds of other artifacts, including ceramic vessels, metal cups, weapons, and beads made of semiprecious stones and gold. The tubes, which are hollow and measure around 3.7 feet long and just under a half inch in diameter, were originally thought to have been scepters or poles used to support a canopy.


Viktor Trifonov, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the History of Material Culture, suspected the tubes might have had a very different purpose. He thought they may have been used as straws in a communal drinking activity of a sort depicted in Mesopotamian artwork discovered in present-day Iraq dating to the fourth millennium B.C. To test his hypothesis, he focused his investigation on the tubes’ silver tips, which are perforated in a manner that might help filter a beverage’s impurities. Trifonov analyzed the residue from one of these tips and revealed the presence of barley starch granules, fossilized particles of plant tissue, and a pollen grain from a lime tree, possible evidence that the tubes were used to imbibe barley beer. He believes the practice of sipping a libation with one’s compatriots in this manner likely originated in Mesopotamia and then spread to the area around Maikop.

 

Neolithic Hunting Shrine - Jibal al-Khashabiyeh, Jordan


In the deserts of southeastern Jordan around 9,000 years ago, hunters erected a stone shrine that is one of the earliest ritual structures ever unearthed. A team led by archaeologists Mohammad Tarawneh of Al-Hussein Bin Talal University and Wael Abu-Azizeh of the French Institute of the Near East discovered the shrine in a Neolithic campsite near a network of “desert kites.” Desert kites consist of pairs of rock walls that extend across the landscape, often over several miles, and converge on an enclosure where prey such as gazelles could be herded and then easily dispatched. The team previously established that the kites near the shrine date to the Neolithic period (12,000 to 7,000 years ago in Jordan) and have now discovered clear evidence of the shrine’s connection to these enormous hunting installations.


The shrine was built as a scale model of a kite, and one of two standing stelas found in the structure bears a stylized depiction of a desert kite. The team also unearthed a large stone altar with a number of incisions near a hearth. “One hypothesis is that the stone altar was used for butchering gazelle carcasses in the context of ritual activities carried out within the shrine,” says Abu-Azizeh. “The ritual performance most likely invoked supernatural forces for successful hunts.” A surprising cache of some 150 marine fossils was also found in the shrine, but the collection’s purpose remains unknown.

 

Earliest Maya Calendar Date - San Bartolo, Guatemala


An inch-wide image of a deer’s head discovered at the base of a pyramid in the ancient city of San Bartolo is the earliest known notation from the 260-day Maya ritual calendar, which is still in use today. Translated by a team including archaeologists David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin and Skidmore College’s Heather Hurst as “7 Deer,” the glyph represents a date and was painted around 250 B.C. as part of a mural decorating one of the pyramid’s interior walls. Eleven fragments of the mural bearing early Maya writing have been found, but the 7 Deer date is the only hieroglyphic inscription that has been deciphered thus far.


The team believes the glyph was painted by a scribe working in an artistic and literary tradition that was already quite old by the third century B.C. “The 7 Deer date has a graceful calligraphic quality,” says Hurst. “You can see the delicate flicks of the brushwork used to paint it.” Hurst explains that the day sign functioned as a kind of caption, perhaps marking an important date related to the role the pyramid played as part of a larger astronomical observatory. Stuart points out that 7 Deer is one of the dates the Maya still use to mark the beginning of the solar year. “It’s a New Year’s date,” he says. “This had to tie into the function of the pyramid as a kind of solar observation deck in the jungle.”

 

Tomb of the Craftworkers - Huarmey, Peru


At the site of El Castillo de Huarmey on the northern coast of Peru, a team led by archaeologist Miłosz Giersz of the University of Warsaw has unearthed a tomb containing the remains of a man who occupied a powerful position in the Wari Empire (A.D. 650–1000). The Wari controlled most of present-day Peru, relying on a combination of military aggression and irrigation projects to win the favor of local people. The man in the tomb was found wrapped in a mummy bundle, with the remains of six others in chambers nearby—likely another man, two women, and three adolescents whose sex has yet to be determined. “They were obviously members of the elite because we found them buried with important artifacts—gold and silver earspools, which were the elite regalia,” says Giersz. “But what is really interesting is that the men do not appear to have been warriors.”


While the majority of high-status men in Wari iconography are portrayed bearing weapons, the men as well as the women in this tomb appear to have been highly skilled craftspeople. The man in the bundle was buried along with textiles, painted leather, and baskets in different phases of production. Archaeologists also found a range of raw materials to make baskets, including reeds, colorful cotton and wool thread, cords of various sizes and colors, and balls of resin used as glue. Giersz notes that both the men and women in the tomb have marks on their bones caused by the sort of repetitive use of the hands typical of crafting, but no sign of trauma from combat. Their remains also show indications of serious physical disabilities such as bone loss due to osteoporosis, lack of mobility, and severe tooth decay. These conditions, says Giersz, may explain why the men in the tomb were unsuited to be warriors. The tomb is close to an enormous mausoleum discovered by Giersz in 2012 containing the remains of 58 high-status Wari women. The newly discovered tomb is the first to include high-status Wari male craftworkers.

 

On The Origin of Cities - Lagash, Iraq


The traditional model of early Mesopotamian urban development holds that cities were compact settlements that expanded out from a central monumental religious complex. However, a recent remote-sensing survey of the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash in present-day southern Iraq has established that it was composed of several discrete sections, each bounded by walls or waterways. The survey was conducted by University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Emily Hammer in conjunction with Lagash Archaeological Project directors Holly Pittman and Augusta McMahon. It included drone photography of the entire 750-acre site. The results revealed that some of the people of Lagash, which dates largely to the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), lived on a pair of elongated mounds, each surrounded by substantial walls. One of these mounds, in the east, measured 100 acres, and the other, in the west, covered 220 acres. People also lived on an unwalled mound in the north that spanned 140 acres and was crisscrossed by waterways. A much smaller fourth mound in the northeast was dominated by a large temple.


Hammer was able to detect the details of Lagash’s early layout because the city was largely abandoned by the end of the Early Dynastic period. Thus, unlike many other early cities in the region, it was not built up over the millennia in a manner that would have obscured its original layout. During the Early Dynastic period, the Persian Gulf extended much farther to the northwest than it does today, creating a marshy environment that may have led Lagash’s early inhabitants to settle on stretches of high ground. The gulf retreated southeast, toward its current position, after most of Lagash’s population had departed. “It’s entirely possible that a lot of southern Mesopotamian cities that we see as continuous circular or oval entities only appear that way because they continued to be occupied into the second and first millennium B.C. or even later,” says Hammer. “Because the gulf had retreated, these cities were no longer constrained by waterways and marshy areas, so they could be spatially contiguous. Some of the southernmost Mesopotamian cities may have looked like Lagash at some point in their evolution.”

 

Oldest Buddhist Temple - Barikot, Pakistan


The region of northwest Pakistan known as the Greater Gandhara was a crossroads for the exchange of goods and culture among the civilizations of the Middle East, Central Asia, and India from around the sixth century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. One of the most significant belief systems carried across the region was Buddhism, which was founded in northern India between the late sixth and early fourth centuries B.C. In the Gandharan city of Barikot, archaeologist Luca Maria Olivieri of Ca’ Foscari University and his ISMEO team have discovered a Buddhist temple dating to at least as early as the end of the second century B.C. This makes it the oldest known Buddhist temple in the region and places its construction firmly during the period when Barikot is known to have been a center of Buddhist teaching and a sacred pilgrimage site. “We did not expect there to be Buddhist monuments in the city at such an early stage,” Olivieri says. “Until now, we have not excavated any evidence of Buddhist presence in Barikot dating to before the end of the first century A.D.” The remnants excavated thus far include a 10-foot-high apsidal structure on which a circular shrine was later erected. The building contains an iconic cone-shaped Buddhist stupa. Olivieri’s team was surprised by the building’s shape, which is well known from Buddhist structures in India at this time but is very rare in Gandhara. The team has also found Buddhist sculptures and inscriptions.


In addition to being a religious center, Gandhara was at the nexus of multiple major imperial expansions, including those of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, Alexander the Great, the Mauryan Empire of northern India, and Indo-Greeks from Bactria, or Central Asia, who were in power at the time the newly discovered temple was built. “We are now beginning to realize that, in addition to its strategic importance,” says Olivieri, “Barikot had its own importance for Buddhist communities.”

 

Ship at the Bottom of the World - Weddell Sea, Antarctica


The wreck of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance has been discovered nearly 10,000 feet underwater, at the bottom of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica, where it sank in November 1915. The 144-foot-long, three-masted ship was located some 4.6 miles south of its last estimated position by members of the Endurance22 expedition under the auspices of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. Shackleton aimed to make the first land crossing of Antarctica, but his plans went awry when Endurance got stuck in dense pack ice and the crew of 28 was forced to abandon ship. The men spent months camping on ice floes that carried them northward until they could make their way by lifeboat to uninhabited Elephant Island. Shackleton and several others continued for another 800 miles to the island of South Georgia, where they enlisted help to rescue the rest of the crew.


The same sea ice that doomed Endurance has foiled multiple attempts to locate the ship over the past century, but 2022’s effort was aided by historically low ice levels. When the team viewed video of the wreck captured by a remotely operated submersible, they were struck by its level of preservation, which is largely thanks to the absence of wood-eating parasites in the frigid Weddell Sea. “Never have I seen a wreck as intact or as clean and fresh as the Endurance,” says marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, the expedition’s director of exploration. One of the first items that came into view was the ship’s rudder, which had been ripped off by the ice, allowing water to penetrate the ship, ultimately making it unsalvageable. As the camera panned up, it captured the ship’s name arced across the stern and, underneath it, a five-pointed depiction of Polaris, the North Star. Along with the ship’s wheel, both of her anchors, and the portholes to Shackleton’s cabin, Bound singles out as particularly noteworthy a trio of holes crew members cut through the deck to retrieve supplies from the sinking ship. “They were able to extract three tons of food and straight away they were back on full rations,” he says. “That food lasted all the way until they got to Elephant Island, and I’m pretty confident that it saved their lives.”

 
 

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