Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
Located at an altitude of approximately 1,170 meters in the Beqaa valley, Baalbek is known to have been settled from at least 7,000 BC, with almost continual settlement of the Tell under the Temple of Jupiter, which was a temple since the pre-Hellenistic era. During the period of Roman rule, Baalbek was known as Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”), and housed one of the largest and grandest sanctuaries in the empire. One of the most awe-inspiring features of Baalbek are the incredible megalithic foundations of the Temple of Jupiter. The temple was built on platform of stones that are among the largest building blocks seen in the whole world. How they were cut so finely and moved into place has defied explanation, particularly considering the blocks are known to have weighed over 1000 tons.
The gigantic blocks used in the foundations of the Temple of Jupiter came from a nearby quarry located around 800 meters (2,600 ft) from the temple. The limestone quarry houses two massive building blocks that never made it to the temple – one weighing about 1,240 tons, and the other, known as the “Hajjar al-Hibla,” or The Stone of the Pregnant Woman, weighs about 1000 tons. But the German archaeological team found a third building block next to the Hajjar al-Hibla stone and underneath it. Still partially buried, the monolith measures measures 19.6 meters (64 feet) in length, 6 meters (19.6 feet) in width, and at least 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height. Its weight has been estimated at 1,650 tons, making it the largest known stone block from antiquity.
6. 500,000-year-old shell engraved by Homo erectus challenges previous beliefs about human ancestors
Research conducted on a mollusk shell, dated to between 430,000 and 540,000 years, found over a century ago on the Indonesian island of Java, revealed that it contains the oldest engraving ever found and that it was almost certainly etched by a Homo erectus, an early human ancestor that emerged around 1.9 million years ago and became extinct around 150,000 years ago. The discovery challenged preconceived notions about human ancestors, showing that, like Homo sapiens, they produced abstract design or perhaps even an early form of written communication.
Josephine Joordens, a post-doctoral researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, published a paper in December 2014 in the journal Nature, revealing that the discovery provides evidence for symbolic activity and shows that “engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control.” While to many this may seem unsurprising, the finding challenges conventional perspectives about the evolution of human behaviour.
A study published in the journal Nature in October 2014 revealed the DNA results from a 45,000-year-old leg bone from Siberia, producing the oldest genome sequence ever carried out for Homo sapiens – nearly twice the age of the next-oldest known complete modern human genome. The results have helped pinpoint when Homo sapiens first interbred with Neanderthals, and adds more pieces to the puzzle of ancient human migration across the world.
The ancient leg bone was found in 2008 on the left bank of the river Irtysh near the settlement of Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. The human femur was sent to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where testing was conducted. The results revealed that the DNA of the “Ust’-Ishim Man” contained 2% DNA from Neanderthals, roughly the same proportion that can be found in modern Europeans today. This reveals that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans must have occurred prior to the age of the Ust’-Ishim Man. While previous estimates suggested the interbreeding may have occurred as early as 36,000 years ago, scientists have now revised their estimates to between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.
The research team also compared the genetic sequence of Ust’-Ishim man with the genomes of 50 different groups of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The results indicated that this man was equally closely related to present-day Asians and to early Europeans. This suggests that the population to which Ust’-Ishim man belonged diverged from the ancestors of present-day Europeans and Asians before, or around the same time, that these two groups separated from each other.
In January, 2014, archaeologists in Egypt discovered the burial place and the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3600 years ago. The skeleton of King Seneb kay (also written Senebkey) were uncovered at South Abydos in Sohag province, about 500 kilometres south of Cairo, by a University of Pennsylvania expedition working with the government.