Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2016: From Lost Cities to Ancient Tombs, Shrines, Maps and Unknown Species
This year has provided an array of exciting, and sometimes puzzling, discoveries for archaeologists and ancient history enthusiasts. Looking back to our most ancient ancestors, a few of the fascinating finds highlighted the fact that Denisovans and Neanderthals were more sophisticated than previously believed, and showed us that the early human family tree is still missing some branches. In 2016, archaeologists used modern technology to digitally unwrap scrolls, faced down terrorists to unearth a Bronze Age city, proved once again that there is more to North America’s ancient past than just Clovis points, revealed Dublin Hellfire club secrets, and discovered what may be the oldest map in the world. If that’s not enough, a teenager also gave them all a run for their money by pinpointing the location of a lost Mayan city.
You’ve shown us which of these amazing finds delighted and amazed you the most. So, here are the Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries that you chose to view and share time and again.
A University of Kentucky professor and his team further deciphered the writings in the ancient En-Gedi scroll - the first severely damaged, ink-based scroll to be unrolled and identified noninvasively. Through virtual unwrapping, they revealed it to be the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book - Leviticus - ever found in a Holy Ark. They discovered and restored text on five complete wraps of the animal skin scroll, an object that likely will never be physically opened for inspection.
"This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay," Professor Brent Seales said, "There are so many other unique and exciting materials that may yet give up their secrets - we are only beginning to discover what they may hold.”
A November announcement showed that a dark chunk of blazing rock exposed in the hollow of the curious hill behind the Hellfire Club in Dublin served as a convenient border to many bonfires over the centuries. It passed thousands of years unnoticed. However, a team of archaeologists found that the mound was the remains of an ancient tomb, and that the ordinary looking dark stone was carved with symbols and designs that are over 5,000 years old. Although nobody can be sure at this moment if more stones of the same archaeological significance and art are now lying under a road through the mountains, archaeologist Neil Jackman calls this find “a tantalizing glimpse of what the original tomb may have looked like,” and remains optimistic about future findings.
Reports of archaeological discoveries are also pouring in lately from Scandinavia. In one intriguing find, a puzzling stone was uncovered in a ditch on Bornholm, a Danish island in the Baltic Sea. It could be one of the earliest maps in human history. The recent find, however, was not complete. It is made up of two pieces and one is still missing. The stone was discovered during archaeological excavations at the Neolithic shrine Vasagård, where scientists have previously unearthed similar ancient stones inscribed with rectangular patterns filled with different rows of lines and shading.
Archaeologist Flemming Kaul acknowledges that the interpretation of the map stones could be somewhat controversial, and expects to find more in the near future that will give us a better idea of their role and significance. As Kaul said, "About 20 years ago, after the first solar stones were found, I wrote about it for Skalk – and even the editor of the magazine didn't believe it. Now, after 20 years, we have found more than 200 solar stones, and they are one the most important things from Bornholm; so let's wait a couple of years to see if there are more map stones to come."
Archaeologists believe they have found a shrine dedicated to the Viking king Olaf Haraldsson in Trondheim, Norway. The team discovered the foundations of a wooden church where the body of the Viking king may have been enshrined after he was declared a saint. Preliminary dating indicates the structure was built in the 11th century.
During the excavation, the archaeologists uncovered a small rectangular stone-built platform at the building’s east end which may be the alter where St. Olaf’s coffin was placed in 1031. A small well was also found which could be a holy well associated with the saint. As the excavation’s director Anna Petersén concluded, “This is a unique site in Norwegian history in terms of religion, culture and politics. Much of the Norwegian national identity has been established on the cult of sainthood surrounding St. Olaf, and it was here it all began!”