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New Golden House Room

Rome, Italy


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Top Ten Italy Domus Aurea FrescoA small crack in a vaulted ceiling led archaeologists to a new room of the Domus Aurea, or “Golden House,” the immense pleasure palace built by the emperor Nero after a fire devastated Rome in A.D. 64. After Nero’s death, the Domus Aurea was seen as the emperor’s folly, and the structure’s interior was completely filled in. A public park for all Romans to enjoy was built on top. It was not until the fifteenth century that, quite by accident, the vast property was rediscovered. Since then, the Domus Aurea has been the site of exploration, excavation—and nearly constant restoration. During one such restoration project, archaeologists found the new room, which is covered in frescoes. “It was very emotional for us to find a previously unknown room, or maybe one that we had lost track of,” says archaeologist Alessandro d’Alessio of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage. The frescoes depict a centaur and other mythological figures, a whistle-like instrument, decorative plants, and a column topped with a golden bowl and sphinx that has given the space its name, the “Room of the Sphinxes.”

Peruvian Mass Sacrifice

Pampa la Cruz, Peru


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Top Ten Peru Feather HeaddressTop Ten Peru Sacrificed Child trimmedMore than 230 children and nearly 400 llamas—along with evidence that suggests they were part of three distinct mass sacrificial events—have been discovered at the coastal site of Pampa la Cruz. The first of these events dates to around A.D. 1250, and is thus the earliest mass child and animal sacrifice in the region. Similar mass sacrifices have been found from later dates in the same area, and have been interpreted as offerings to the gods by the local Chimu people in response to the destruction wrought by El Niño events. But archaeologist Gabriel Prieto of the University of Florida believes the earliest Pampa la Cruz sacrifice may have had a political purpose. “It’s intriguing that this first sacrificial event occurred at exactly the time the Chimu were conquering people such as the Lambayeque, who lived in the valleys to the north,” says Prieto. “It’s fascinating to imagine that the victims may have been Lambayeque citizens brought here to celebrate those victories.”


Another possible interpretation is that the sacrifice was meant to honor Taycanamo, the legendary founder of the Chimu, who is said to have come from the sea and walked south to found the Chimu capital of Chan Chan around A.D. 1000. Pampa la Cruz overlooks the exact spot where he is thought to have landed.

Tomb of the Silver Dragons

Arkhangai, Mongolia


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Top Ten Mongolia Silver Dragon Figures HorizontalTop Ten Mongolia Equestrian OrnamentIn north-central Mongolia, archaeologists have unearthed two lavish tombs built for nobles of the Xiongnu Empire. A nomadic people who dominated the eastern Eurasian steppes from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D., the Xiongnu frequently waged war against China’s Han Dynasty (206 B.C.– A.D. 220). To defend against these incursions, the Han built fortifications that eventually became part of the Great Wall. Both of the Xiongnu tombs, which were excavated by a team from Ulaanbaatar University and the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, contained sumptuous grave goods. In the larger tomb, researchers found wooden boxes that held silver rings, jade belt hooks, and a pair of gilded silver dragons that may once have served as handles on a vessel. The smaller tomb contained the remains of a man buried with a horse-drawn carriage, 15 horse heads, and 19 silver equestrian ornaments, each depicting a unicorn deity. The team also recovered part of a jade-decorated sword from this grave, the first to be found in a Xiongnu tomb.

Denisovans at Altitude

Xiahe, China


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Top Ten China Baishiya Karst CaveSome 40 years ago, a Buddhist monk uncovered a mandible in Baishiya Karst Cave, more than 10,000 feet above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. The specimen has now been dated to 160,000 years ago, and analysis of proteins from its teeth indicates that it belonged to a member of the hominin species known as Denisovans. These elusive ancient humans were previously known only through fragmentary remains of several individuals, all of which were found in southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave, which is just 2,300 feet above sea level and almost 1,750 miles northwest of Baishiya Karst Cave. “This mandible reveals that Denisovans were geographically distributed much more widely and at higher altitude than we previously thought,” says archaeologist Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University.


Top Ten China Denisovan MandibleEarlier studies of Denisovan genetic material had detected a mutation that fosters survival in low-oxygen environments found in extremely high-altitude locations such as the Tibetan Plateau. This same mutation has been identified in present-day Tibetans, and the discovery that Denisovans once inhabited the region may explain how they obtained this life-preserving adaptation.

Norman Conquest Coin Hoard

Chew Valley, England


Thursday, December 05, 2019

Top Ten England Chew Valley Silver PenniesOn October 14, 1066, William the Conqueror (r. 1066–1087) defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, Harold Godwinson (r. 1066), at the Battle of Hastings, ushering in Norman rule. According to British Museum researchers, the discovery in southwest England’s Chew Valley of a cache of more than 2,500 silver pennies from the reigns of both kings underscores the political uncertainty of the years surrounding the Norman Conquest.


Top Ten England Chew Valley King PenniesMost of the 1,236 coins in the hoard that feature Harold’s face were minted in southeast England, which indicates steadfast allegiance to him in the region despite the coming threat of William’s invasion. By contrast, all 1,310 coins featuring William were issued after his Christmas Day coronation, suggesting that by that point his claim to the throne was generally recognized. One coin minter seems to have taken advantage of the tumultuous period following Harold’s death. Two “mule” coins, struck with Harold’s visage on one side and William’s on the other, represent this sneaky minter’s attempt to avoid the expense of purchasing fresh dies to produce new coinage, as was required every few years. All together, the hoard’s coins—some cut into quarters or halves to make smaller denominations—would have been more than sufficient to purchase at least 500 sheep.