Ten Amazing Archaeological Discoveries
Last year we saw some incredible discoveries in the field of archaeology – from ancient myths proven true, to evidence of ancient technology, and findings that have solved enduring mysteries, such as the death of Tutankhamun. Here we present what we believe are the top ten archaeological discoveries of 2013, excluding those relating to human origins which are in a different section.
Archaeologists uncovered the incredible remains of a complete Thracian carriage and two horses that appear to have been buried upright. The horses and carriage were found in a Thracian tomb along with other artefacts in the village of Svestari in north-east Bulgaria. The carriage, complete with two wheels, seat and boot, has been dated to 2,500-years-old and is thought to have belonged to Thracian nobility, judging by the imported goods found in nearby graves. Sadly, it appears that the chariot was placed in a narrow hole with a sloping side to allow horses, decorated with elaborate harnesses, to pull it into its final resting place, after which they were killed. Experts reached this conclusion after noticing that the horses were still attached to their harnesses and to the carriage. The Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting a large area in Central and Southeastern Europe who were known to be fierce warriors and horse-breeders who established a powerful kingdom in the fifth century BC.
In March of this year, a group of archaeologists in Turkey made a spectacular discovery – the ‘Gate to Hell’, also known as Pluto’s Gate, which was known in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition as the portal to the underworld. Now archaeologists have recovered two unique marble statues which acted as guardians for a deadly cave. One depicts a snake, a clear symbol of the underworld, the other shows Kerberos, or Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of hell in the Greek mythology. The ‘Gate to Hell’ which marked the entrance to a cave in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis was, according to ancient accounts, “full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death,” wrote the Greek geographer Strabo (64 BC – 24 AD) “I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.” According to Francesco D'Andria, professor of classic archaeology, who led the team that made the discovery back in March, these descriptions were accurate. The cave was described in historic sources as filled with lethal mephitic vapours and this appears to be true. It is no wonder the cave was provided with guardians to warn off any unsuspecting visitors.
A group of scientists and historians made an incredible discovery relating to some writings made on parchments that were produced in medieval times. Using cutting-edge technology, the researchers found that the parchment had once contained ancient philosophical writings that had later been washed off and over-written. Using multispectral imaging, scientists were able to recover the original text, shedding new light on the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity. The uppermost layer of text dates to the thirteenth century and comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament. However, through an amazing stroke of luck, it was discovered that beneath this text there had originally been some writing by the well-known ancient Greek writer, Euripides, and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle, which dated back to the fifth century. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, said the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University. The research being undertaken, named the Palamedes Project, aims to create a critical edition of the two important manuscripts featuring the newly discovered and unexplored Greek texts, made readable using the latest forms of technology.
King Antiochus 1, ruler of Commagene from 70 BC to 36BC, an ancient Armenian kingdom, was a most unusual king. He claimed descent from Greek conqueror Alexander the Great on his mother’s side, and from the Persian King Darius the Great on his father’s side. But what was particularly salient about this king was his unerring pride and his over-extended ego. Antiochus 1 claimed he had a special relationship with the gods and instituted a royal cult with the clear intention of being worshipped as a god after his death. He commissioned the construction of a magnificent religious sanctuary on Mount Nemrut (Nemrud Dagi), a 2,100 metre high mountain where people could come and pray to him. Antiochus wanted his sanctuary to be in a high and holy place, close to the gods in order to be in rank with them, and high enough that the whole kingdom could see it and remember him. At the peak of the Mount, workers constructed a pyramid-like tomb where King Antiochus requested to be preserved for all eternity. An inscription refers to the summit as a sacred resting place where Antiochus, the ‘god king’ would be laid to rest and his soul would join those of other deities in the celestial realm. Little had been recovered or excavated from the great mound atop Mount Nemrut until recently when a group of archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to examine the site. They discovered a pyramidal-shaped chamber with a box-like object (about 6 foot long) in the centre. Could this be the sarcophagus and final resting place of Antiochus the god king? It seems highly likely. Archaeologists are now waiting in anticipation for permission from Turkish authorities to excavate the site.