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Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2022

Hercules Statue Philippi
Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2022. Image: Hercules Statue uncovered in Philippi, Northern Greece. Credit: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The top archaeological discoveries have once again been identified, as is customary at the end of each year, by experts. Archaeologists have relentlessly searched for new findings given ongoing excavations and continued analyses of existing artifacts and physical remains to uncover hidden secrets and meanings.

Archaeology involves the study of human history and prehistory. While some archaeologists study human remains, animals, ancient plants, and stone tools among other things, others specialize in technologies that find, map, or analyze archaeological sites.

Significant archaeological discoveries of 2022 range, for instance, from miniature masterpieces of art carved in semi-precious stones to fascinating inscriptions and lost cities. Below are the top ten archaeological discoveries of this past year.

Marble head of Hercules’ statue from the Antikythera shipwreck

This discovery was announced by scientists on June 19th, when they reported what was believed to be the marble head of Hercules found along with a trove of other artifacts related to the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece.

The findings were discovered after massive rocks weighing several tons were lifted out of the sea and exposed parts of the shipwreck that were previously not visible. Hundreds of works of art, including bronze and marble statues, were discovered. These now fill galleries at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The wreck was unintentionally located by Greek sponge divers close to the island shore of Antikythera in 1900. They spent a whole year salvaging its treasures with the help of the Hellenic Navy.

Hercules head antikythera wreckage
The marble head of a statue thought to belong to the demigod Hercules was discovered. Credit: Greece Ministry of Culture

Large funerary building and Fayum portraits

On December 1st, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt announced the discovery of Greek and Roman artifacts found at the Garza village archaeological site, where experts have been carrying out excavations since 2016.

The finds are believed to be from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods and include portraits and mummies in addition to a funerary building dating as far back as the 3rd century BC.

According to researchers, the discovery of the portraits was historically significant because it has been over 110 years since such Fayum-style portraits were last found.

It was also noted that the socioeconomic status of the mummies varied, as indicated by the mixed quality of embalming techniques and funerary decorations observed at the site. Greek and Demotic written records gave the research team further clues as to the economic and religious status of each mummy.

Fayoum greek and roman portraits and mummies in Egypt
Portraits like these decorated the burial sites of mummies in Fayum. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

World’s oldest straws

A set of ancient gold and silver tubes dating back to about 5,500 years ago was unearthed in the North Caucasus in Russia. According to experts, they could be the world’s oldest surviving drinking straws.

Measuring 3.6 feet (1.1 meters) each in length, the eight tubes were discovered in the Russian city of Maykop in 1897 during an excavation of a prehistoric burial mound, which also turned up the remains of three individuals and hundreds of artifacts including beads, weapons, and tools.

The tubes were made of segments joined together, and they date to the fourth millennium BC with four of the tubes also featuring gold or silver bull figurines that have been slid onto them.

Experts have previously suggested the tubes may have been used to support a canopy used in the funeral procession. Otherwise, they may have also been scepters. A team of experts in Russia, however, said they were likely to be straws for drinking beer from a shared pot.

The tubes are now on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Oldest Straws - The design of the ‘sceptre’ components from the Maykop tomb
Oldest Straws – The design of the ‘sceptre’ components from the Maykop tomb Credit: Antiquity Publications

Mexico Aztec objects and offerings from Templo mayor

Excavations conducted at the foot of Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Aztecs, yielded the discovered ritual deposits containing over 2,500 wooden objects.

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.

The finds were unearthed by archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). They are believed to have been deposited by priests to dedicate the site to the Aztec gods.

Most of the wooden objects were from different species of pine, whilst white cedar, cypress, tepozán, and ahuehuete have also been identified. Many of these still have traces of blue, red, black, and white pigment on the surface.

The excavations of the ritual deposits also uncovered botanical remains such as: flowers, birds, mammals, marine animals, sea cucumbers, copper and gold objects, and flint and ceramic pieces.

Mexico Wood Artifacts
Aztec objects and offerings – Wood Artifacts Credit: Templo Mayor Project INAH

First sentence written in Canaanite language

An ancient ivory comb with an inscription was discovered by Israeli archaeologists dating back 3,700 years ago. The evidence revealed that the finding may be the earliest example of a sentence in Canaanite alphabetical script.

The inscription urged people during that time to comb their hair and beards so they could avoid catching lice. The sentence includes seventeen letters that can be interpreted as: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

According to experts, the discovery will increase people’s knowledge of the Canaanite alphabet invented around 1800 B.C. It is said to have been the foundation of all alphabetical systems including Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Cyrillic.

During 1800 B.C., trouble with lice was considered typical in people’s everyday lives. Archaeologists noted that they have even found microscopic evidence of head lice on the comb.

ivory ancient comb with full sentence
The ivory comb. (Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Birth of the 30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf

Researchers from the University of Vienna in collaboration with Vienna’s Natural History Museum applied high-resolution tomography, which showed that the Venus of Willendorf may possibly originate from a region in northern Italy.

The team expected to find that the stone had been sourced within a hundred miles of Willendorf. However, to their surprise, they discovered that it had come from about 450 miles away near Sega di Ala in the Italian Alps.

Researchers believe the figurine was likely carved there before being carried across the mountains. 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.

The high-resolution scans also allowed researchers to view details of the structural components of the sculpture that have always puzzled scientists.

Experts 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.

The Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf Credit: Bjorn Christian Torrissen CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Ornate collection of ancient bronze statues

Early in November of this year, evacuations in Tuscany, Italy unearthed an exceptional discovery of two dozen Ancient Roman bronze statues. The sculptures depicting Hygieia, Apollo, and other Greco-Roman divinities date back to sometime between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD.

According to Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums in Italy, that fact makes them the “most significant bronzes ever produced in the history of the Mediterranean.”

This was, however, not the first discovery of ancient bronze statues in Italy because excavations in the country have revealed many such artifacts over the years. This includes the Riace bronzes found in Calabria.

According to archaeologists, local artisans created the pieces. Some of them stand at nearly a meter tall. The votive images of pagan gods, young men, and elderly matrons and emperors are etched on the sculptures in exquisite detail. A sleeping ephebe—a young male usually between seventeen and eighteen years old—lies next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a serpent entwined around her arm.

Excavators unearthed the exceptional trove of artifacts at a thermal bath in San Casciano, a relatively unknown hilltop town in the province of Sienna where they had been studying the muddied ruins of a network of ancient Roman baths since 2019. Yet they only recently sighted the partially submerged statues.

Ancient bronze statues at the San Casciano thermal bath site in Tuscany
Ancient bronze statues at the San Casciano thermal bath site in Tuscany. Credit: wantedinrome /Twitter

Wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance discovery

The Endurance22 expedition team announced the discovery of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance off the coast of Antarctica. The Endurance was a three-masted barquentine, dispatched on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917. The aim of that expedition was to eventually make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.

The ship was plagued in ice while navigating the Weddell Sea, drifting in an ice pack until it was eventually crushed and sank. Shackleton and the crew were stranded on the ice in makeshift camps, and used lifeboats to reach the uninhabited Elephant Island.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica in 1921 with the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition, although he died of a heart attack.

The discovery was made at 4:05 pm GMT on March 5th in 3,008 meters of water a hundred years to the day after Shackleton passed away.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance is sitting upright on the seabed and is largely intact, but there is some damage to the forward deck and part of the starboard side. However, the paintwork and the name of the ship, “ENDURANCE,” are still clearly visible.

Most remarkable is the ship’s wheel, which underwater imagery has revealed is in perfect condition on the ship’s well deck at the stern.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance22 Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Tunnel possibly leading to Cleopatra’s tomb found

Archaeologists recently discovered an underground tunnel, which may lead to the long-lost tomb of the Greek Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. This is beneath Egypt’s ancient Taposiris Magna Temple.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery in November, describing the 1,300-meter tunnel located forty-three feet underground as a “geometric miracle.” It was said that it looks similar to the Tunnel of Eupalinos on the island of Samos in Greece.

About twenty years ago, Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist at the University of San Domingo, began searching for Cleopatra’s tomb in Egypt. She was confident after more than a decade of continuous research that Taposiris Magna, dedicated to the god of the dead, Osiris, was a leading candidate for the queen’s burial spot.

Even though work has been ongoing since 2004, the new find is the most interesting to date. Cleopatra was the last ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C.

Cleopatra by Alexandre Cabanel. The Greek queen of Egypt. Credit: Public Domain

An ancient city in Iraq unearthed

The ruins of a 3,400-year-old lost city complete with a palace and a sprawling fort were unearthed in Iraq after extreme drought severely depleted water levels in the country’s largest reservoir, archaeologists announced on Monday.

The Bronze Age settlement, long engulfed by the Tigris River, emerged earlier this year in the Mosul Dam, and researchers raced to excavate the ancient city before the dam was refilled.

The Iraqi ancient city, located in the Kurdistan region at a site known as Kemune, was documented by a team of German and Kurdish archaeologists. The settlement was likely a key hub during the Mittani Empire from 1550 to 1350 B.C., said Ivana Puljiz, a junior professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Freiburg in Germany and a member of the research team.

The discovery was one of the latest examples of how drought conditions fueled by climate change are yielding unexpected finds.

Aerial view of the excavations at Kemune
Aerial view of the excavations at Kemune Iraq Credit: Universities of Freiburg and Tübingen, KAO

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