Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
This year has been a year of spectacular discoveries in archaeology, from 4,000-year-old sunken ships, to enormous megalithic stones, mysterious man-made ditches, the oldest known examples of cave art in the world, a monumental tomb in Greece, and even a newly revealed pharaoh of Egypt. Advances in technology also enabled the discovery of hidden Maya temples in the jungles of Mexico, hundreds more structures in the Stonehenge landscape, and new understandings of the human genome. It is almost impossible to narrow down one year of magnificent findings to ten, so we have chosen to feature ten discoveries of 2014 that revealed striking new information about our ancient past.
An excavation at the port of Urla underwater archaeological site in Turkey revealed a sunken ship that is believed to date back 4,000 years. The surprising discovery is the oldest known shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean, and is also among the oldest known shipwrecks worldwide.
The port of Urla, which served the ancient Greek settlement of Klazomenai, sunk following a natural disaster, probably an earthquake, in the 8th century BC, making the area popular for underwater research. Numerous sunken ships have already been found in Urla, ranging from the 2nd century BC to the Ottoman period. Uncovering a ship that is believed to date back to around 2,000 BC, is incredibly rare and significant and an important milestone for archaeology.
A study published in October 2014, in the journal Nature, revealed that more than 100 ancient paintings of hands and animals found within seven limestone caves on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe. The research showed that humans were producing rock art by 40,000 years ago at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world.
Maxime Aubert, study lead and archaeologist and geochemist of Australia's Griffith University, explained that before this discovery, experts had a Europe-centric view of how, when, and where humans started making cave paintings and other forms of figurative art. However, the fact that people in Sulawesi were also producing art at the same time suggests that either human creativity emerged independently at about the same time around the world, or when humans left Africa they already had the capacity and inclination for art.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year revealed that a series of mysterious lines and geometric shapes carved into the Amazonian landscape were created thousands of years ago before the rainforest even existed. The purpose of the massive earthworks and who created them remains unknown, and scientists are beginning to realise just how much there still is to learn about the prehistoric cultures of the Amazon and life before the arrival of Europeans. The unusual earthworks, which include square, straight, and ring-like ditches, were first uncovered in 1999, after large areas of pristine forest was cleared for cattle grazing. Since then, hundreds of the earthen foundations have been found in a region more than 150 miles across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil’s Amazonas state.
Until recently, it was believed that the earthworks dated back to around 200 AD. However, the latest study has revealed that they are, in fact, much older. Study author John Francis Carson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, explained that sediment cores had been taken from two lakes near the major earthwork sites. These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can reveal information about the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago. The results revealed that the oldest sediments did not come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. Rather, they showed that the landscape, before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, looked more like the savannahs of Africa than today’s lush rainforest. The earthworks predate the shift from savannah to rainforest, which reveals that the creators of these ditches carved them before the forest moved in around them.
A new analysis conducted by the German Archaeological Institute at the ancient stone quarry of Baalbek/Ancient Heliopolis, in Lebanon, calculated the size and weight of an enormous monolith, and concluded that it is the largest known stone block ever carved by human hands.