Subscribe to Archaeology

Top 10 of the Decade

Homo Naledi

Rising Star Cave, South Africa, 2015

By JASON URBANUS

Friday, December 18, 2020

Decade South Africa Homo NalediWhen the strange skeletal remains of more than a dozen early hominins were uncovered in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, they challenged the story of human origins. The fossils perplexed scholars, as their anatomical features combined modern human and ape-like characteristics. Their shoulders and curved fingers were adapted to climbing trees, but their long, slender legs and foot shape suggested that these hominins walked on two feet. Their skulls were similar to those of modern humans, but their brain cavities were less than half the size. University of Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and colleagues determined that the bones represent a previously unknown human species, now called Homo naledi. Recent dating of the bones indicates that Homo naledi lived around 230,000 to 330,000 years ago, almost a million and a half years later than initial estimates. This means that the species was not only a distant cousin of modern humans, but also a neighbor living at the same time. “It’s remarkable,” says Berger. “Until naledi, we thought modern humans were alone in Africa at this time.”

Laser Scanning

Angkor, Cambodia, 2015

By JASON URBANUS

Friday, December 18, 2020

Decade Cambodoa Angkor LidarThe countryside surrounding the Khmer Empire’s capital of Angkor is blanketed with thick jungle, which has hindered archaeological investigation for more than a century. However, laser scanning technology was finally able to do what researchers couldn’t and peer through the dense vegetation, revealing unknown urban settlements and hundreds of hidden archaeological features. “Had you been there a thousand years ago, the forest wouldn’t have existed,” says Damian Evans of the French School of Asian Studies. “You would have seen a vast, bustling metropolis of wooden dwellings and fields stretching off in every direction.” The 3-D images captured in 2015 were the result of the most extensive archaeological scanning project ever undertaken. Evans’ team surveyed 737 square miles of terrain at the heart of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. The images captured a complex system of roads, canals, and dams that attest to the civilization’s scale, sophistication, and remarkable ability to engineer Cambodia’s challenging landscape.

Mummification Workshop

Saqqara, Egypt, 2018

By JASON URBANUS

Friday, December 18, 2020

Decade Egypt Mummy WorkshopMummification is among the best-known religious practices of the ancient Egyptians, yet apart from a few textual descriptions and tomb paintings, very little is known about the facilities where this process took place. That changed when archaeologists discovered a unique series of rooms dating to the Saite-Persian period of the mid-first millennium B.C. “The whole complex could be looked upon as a funeral home of sorts that provided the service of mummification along with burial compartments and equipment,” says Ramadan Hussein of the University of Tübingen. The facility includes a subterranean chamber at the bottom of a 40-foot-deep shaft that was used by embalmers. There, they laid bodies out on a rock-cut bed, drained them of fluids, and prepared them for burial. Hussein’s team also found ceramic vessels labeled with substances’ names and instructions for how each should be used in the mummification process. Just feet from the embalmer’s room, the team located a 100-foot-deep shaft that contained six different tombs holding 59 mummies.

Grave of the “Griffin Warrior”

Pylos, Greece, 2015

By JASON URBANUS

Friday, December 18, 2020

Decade Greece Pylos Combat AgateOne of the greatest archaeological discoveries in Greece over the past 50 years was made at Pylos by University of Cincinnati archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker. The grave of the “Griffin Warrior” held the remains of a powerful man who died around 1450 B.C. and was buried alongside 1,500 precious objects, including silver cups, bronze weapons, ivory combs, and gold rings. “The more we study the assemblage, the more amazed we are by how rare and exotic this unique group of artifacts is,” say Davis and Stocker. The most exquisite artifact is one of the smallest: a 1.4-inch-long carved almond-shaped agate sealstone depicting three warriors. Davis and Stocker believe the gem was made on Crete. “Our understanding of the closeness of the relationship between Pylos and the Minoans of Crete has grown,” they say. “As we look more closely at certain artifacts, particularly the sealstones, we realize that they were likely produced by Minoan craftsmen and display typical Minoan iconography. Other artifacts in the grave, however, are very mainland in their appearance.” To read more about the Griffin Warrior's grave, go to “World of the Griffin Warrior.”

Regio V Excavations

Pompeii, Italy, 2018

By JASON URBANUS

Friday, December 18, 2020

Decade Italy Pompeii Regio VAlthough Pompeii has been almost constantly excavated since the mid-eighteenth century, around one-third of the city still remains buried beneath 20 feet of volcanic debris from the A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Archaeologists do not often get a chance to work in the unexcavated areas. However, when a large section of volcanic debris in a neighborhood known as Regio V began to collapse, authorities had no choice but to remove more than a quarter acre of material, revealing long-hidden parts of the Roman city. Streets, houses, and workshops were exposed for the first time in almost 2,000 years. Vibrantly colored frescoes, still bright and radiant, look as if they have just been painted. Archaeologists also retrieved a number of bodies of people who were not fortunate enough to escape the deadly eruption, including 11 found huddled together in one room of a newly explored house. Excavations continue… To read more about recent excavations of Pompeii, go to “Digging Deeper into Pompeii’s Past.”

Advertisement

Advertisement

IN THIS ISSUE


Advertisement


Advertisement