This year saw a number of significant discoveries in the field of archaeology.
Perhaps some of the most interesting have involved innovative technology that has allowed archaeologists to dig deeper than before, such as the discovery of an ancient temple, now underwater, in a sunken city off Egypt’s coast and an ancient Greek catacomb found below the southern Italian city of Naples. Others, however, have been directly tied to current events, among them, the ancient Greek city Cyrene which emerged after floods devastated Libya.
Some early settlements like a Neolithic monument and a mysterious sanctuary were identified on Scotland’s Isle of Arran and in the Netherlands’ town of Tiel, respectively, offering deeper understandings of their ancient societies. There were also culturally significant treasures revealed like a 3,000-year-old sealed corridor in a massive Chavin temple complex in Peru, sixty mummified bodies that were found in two tombs in the ancient Egyptian city Luxor, and, while not a discovery, the Vatican’s reopening of an ancient Roman necropolis to the public.
While these have all been important, there are a selection that stood out among the rest. Below is a look at the ten archaeological finds that are likely to have an impact not just this year, but on our understanding of human history for years to come.
57,000-Year-Old Neanderthal Markings Found in a Sealed French Cave
Scientists analyzed hundreds of wavy lines, dots, and faint striations—known as finger flutings—left on the longest and most even wall of an ancient cave in La Roche-Cotard in France’s Loire Valley. The markings seem to have been made by Neanderthals sweeping and pressing their fingers across a thin brown film on the limestone walls. It is unclear, however, what they mean. Made more than 57,000 years ago, these are the oldest identified Neanderthal markings thus far.
4,500-Year-Old Lost Ancient Palace Unearthed in Iraq
A lost palace from the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu was found using drone photography in southern Iraq. There, archaeologists identified the subsurface remains of a previously unknown large complex at the Tablet Hill site in the present-day city Tello. The team found the Eninnu temple, the main sanctuary of the Sumerian god Ningirsu, the namesake of the ancient city. Prior to this discovery, the temple was only known by ancient inscriptions found at the site 140 years ago.
Prison Bakery Found at Pompeii
Archaeologists at Pompeii Archaeological Park identified the remains of a prison bakery where enslaved people were locked up with donkeys and forced to grind grain for baking bread. The cramped room contains only small windows secured with iron bars at the top of the wall. The floor still has indentations remaining from the animals that would have walked together, blindfolded, for hours in coordinated labor. These discoveries shed additional light on enslaved conditions in the ancient world. It is “a space in which we have to imagine the presence of people of servile status,” Pompeii’s director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said in a statement. “It is the most shocking side of ancient slavery […] reduced to brute violence”.
The Oldest Pearl-Fishing City Discovered in the Arabian Gulf
The world’s oldest-known pearl-fishing city was unearthed by archaeologists on the island of Al-Siniyah off the coast of Umm Al Quwain in the United Arab Emirates. The 12-acre fishing city, about 30 miles northeast of Dubai, likely had thousands of residents and was active year-round between the late sixth century and the middle of the eight century, ahead of Islam’s arrival to the area. This is the first time archaeological evidence has confirmed their existence, which until this point was only documented in ancient texts.
1,800-Year-Old Roman City Unearthed in Luxor, Egypt
A complete residential Roman city, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, was uncovered by Egyptian archaeologists in Luxor. This latest settlement is the “oldest and most important city found on the eastern bank of Luxor,” according to Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. There, the team discovered a number of residential buildings, as well as two pigeon towers to house carrier birds and metal workshops, as well as a hoard of pots, tools, and bronze and copper Roman coins inside the workshops.
An Ancient Housing Complex was Uncovered at Chichen Itza in Mexico
A group of structures, believed to have been part of an elite housing complex, are the first known residences within Chichen Itza’s city limits. The complex includes an entrance arch, the House of the Snails, the House of the Moon, and the Palace of the Phalluses. Chichen Itza is a complex of Maya ruins in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula begun in the 5th century CE. The city, which was ruled by Maya elite and served as a place of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya particularly during times of drought, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the world.
Foundations of Harriet Tubman’s Birthplace Identified in Maryland
Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist and social activist who, after escaping slavery herself, used the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad to bring others to freedom. The home belonging to Tubman’s father Ben Ross was found on private property near Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The home’s brick foundation of was excavated, along with hundreds of small items including buttons, pottery fragments, a West African spirit cache, and a glass heart-shaped stopper, which was typically placed in front of the fireplace to prevent the entrance of bad spirits.
New Moai Statue Found on Easter Island
A new Moai statue was unearthed on the remote Chilean volcanic island Easter Island. The stone-carved statues were originally created by a native Polynesian tribe more than 500 years ago. This is the first to be discovered in a dry lake bed, as a result of climate change. After a volcanic eruption damaged the statues in 2022, the possibility of identifying more is of historical significance to the native Rapa Nui community and tourists alike. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ancient Wari Ritual Complex Uncovered in Southern Peru
Archaeologists found a 1,200-year-old ritual complex built by the Wari empire at the Pakaytambo site in southern Peru. The D-shape temple complex was erected on a large platform in a strategic location among the Andean highlands and coastal valleys of Arequipa, along a prehistoric transit route. Several hundred years before the rise of the Incan Empire, the Wari people civilization controlled much of present-day Peru through a linked series of complex, major centers between the 6th and 10th centuries.
Ancient Roman Town in Central Italy Calls the Fall of the Empire into Question
The ancient Roman town Interamna Lirenas survived 300 years longer than previously believed, leaving experts to question the impact of the Empire’s collapse in the 3rd century CE. Archaeologists unearthed the remains of a roofed theater, market locations, warehouses, and a river port from what was a flourishing, adaptable town.