Top Ten Historical and Archaeological Discoveries of 2015
2015 was another great year for archaeological and historical research. Amazing discoveries were made all over the world and provided more windows into the lives of our ancestors. Studies that intertwined myths and legends with science created spectacular results, and showed us how the past and present continue to be connected. This year, the Top Ten list of Historical and Archaeological Discoveries is based on the articles that Ancient Origins’ readers chose to view time and again.
Mesoamericans could create liquid mercury by heating mercury ore, known as cinnabar. They used it to decorate jade objects and color the bodies of their royalty. Traces of mercury have been found at three other sites, two Maya and one Olmec, around Central America, but none in such large quantities as that discovered beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.
A shocking discovery was made in February, when researchers studied a Chinese Buddha statue - the mummified remains of a Buddhist monk. The monk is believed to be Chinese master, Liuquan of the Chinese Meditation School, who died around 1100 AD. The finding may reflect an example of self-mummification where monks undertook years of grueling rituals to mummify themselves to death. The practice was also widespread in Japan, starting over 1,000 years ago and continuing until it was banned in the 19th century.
The Basque people have been an enigma to anthropologists for years. With a unique language, traditions, and customs, Basque origins have long been a mystery. Researchers now believe they have finally pinpointed the beginnings of this special group of people - from the results of a study of eight ancient skeletons found in a cave in northern Spain.
The results of DNA analysis suggest that prehistoric Iberian farmers are the closest match to the modern Basques. This new information contradicts the previously held belief that the Basque ancestors we earlier groups of pre-agricultural hunter gatherers. Furthermore, the scientists claim that the ancient ancestors to the Basques arrived in the region, mixed with some other farmers and hunter gatherers…and then were isolated.
Scholars in Wales discovered that parts of one of the most important books in Welsh history was erased and some of the texts on its animal-skin pages overwritten. The book is titled The Black Book of Camarthen and includes Arthurian stories, Christian prayers, and poetry.
A man who owned the book in the 16th century, probably Jaspar Gryffyth, erased verse, doodles, and marginalia that had been added to the manuscript over the centuries as it changed hands. Using photo-editing software and ultraviolet light to examine the vellum pages, the scholars revealed poetry that is unknown in the Welsh canon. The poems are fragmentary, but they hope with further analysis they can read the text, which they think is the ending of a poem on a preceding page and a new poem at the bottom of the page.
Archaeologists made a rare discovery near the small town of Città della Pieve, near Perugia in Italy – a 2,400-year-old sealed and untouched Etruscan tomb. The burial chamber contained sarcophagi and a wealth of grave goods, providing a fascinating window into the mysterious civilization that disappeared around two millennia ago. The contents of the discovered tomb have been transferred to a museum in Città della Pieve in order to conduct restoration and further study. There are plans to display the findings to the public in the near future.
The marble sarcophagus contained a male skeleton and bears a long inscription, including the name “Lars”, which may refer to the individual inside the coffin. The sarcophagus covered with plaster also contained an inscription, however, the coffin was damaged in a collapse that occurred in antiquity and the inscription is now in thousands of fragments. Nevertheless, the sarcophagus remains sealed and archaeologists expect to find another skeleton inside.
A team of Czech archaeologists discovered a tomb in an ancient Egyptian necropolis that belongs to a Pharaonic Queen, who ruled around 4,500 years ago and was previously unknown to historians. The tomb was found in Abu Sir, often called the ‘site of the forgotten kings of the 5th Dynasty’.
The tomb belongs to a wife of Neferefre who was named Khentakawess III. Two previous queens of Neferefre with the same name had already been identified, but a third queen was not known about. Al-Damaty said it was the “first time we have discovered the name of this queen who had been unknown before the discovery of her tomb”. He added that her name and rank had been inscribed on the inner walls of the tomb. Archaeologists found around 30 utensils, 24 made of limestone and four of copper, inside Khentakawess III’s tomb.
The oldest known Egyptian leather manuscript, dating back some 4,000 years, was rediscovered at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after it was pulled from a dusty, old storage box, where it had been lost for around 70 years. The precious text contains fine quality depictions of supernatural beings which predate the famous drawings of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
The manuscript measures 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length, making it the longest text ever found. “Taking into account that it was written on both sides, we have more than 5 meters (16.4 feet) of texts and drawings, making this the longest leather roll from ancient Egypt.” The text is adorned with high-quality colorful drawings of divine and supernatural beings.
The ancient text, which dates from the late Old Kingdom to the early Middle Kingdom (2300 – 2000 BC), is a religious manuscript and contains spells that would most likely have been recited by a priest, and an illustrated composition of temple rituals that would have also been adapted for funerary use.
Archaeologists believe that the discovery of liquid mercury in a subterranean tunnel beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan, Mexico, may represent an underworld river that leads the way to a Royal tomb or tombs. The remains of the kings of Teotihuacan, some of the most powerful rulers of the pre-Hispanic world, have never been found. Such a discovery would be monumental as it would unravel many of the mysteries surrounding this ancient civilization.
Talk of a maze of underground tunnels beneath the Colonial city of Puebla in Mexico have long been disregarded as mere urban legend. However, city authorities confirmed that their existence is real. Believed to date back as early as 1531, when the city was founded, the subterranean tunnels reach up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in length beneath the historic center of the city.
The tunnels were well-used. “Churches were communicating in secret alleys, there is a network of the main monasteries, from Santo Domingo, San Agustin, La Merced to San Javier.” said Sergio Vergara Bermejo. The tunnels were also used during the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when Mexican troops faced the French army and were victorious.
The plan is to transform the newly-discovered subterranean world into a tourist attraction so visitors can learn more about the stories and legends of this historic city. However, for now, the exact location of the tunnels is being kept secret.
An enormous row of 90 megalithic stones was found buried beneath the prehistoric super-henge of Durrington Walls earthworks, only one mile from the world-famous site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. The huge line of megalithic stones lies 3 feet (91.4 cm) underground and was discovered through the use of sophisticated radar equipment. The finding is believed to have been a huge ritual monument.
The row of megalithic stones formed the southern arm of a c-shaped ritual enclosure, which faced directly towards the River Avon, the rest of which was made up of an artificially scarped natural elevation in the ground. The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. “The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story.”
A Spanish-Italian archaeological team, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, made an incredible discovery in the necropolis of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, on the West Bank at Thebes, Egypt – an enormous ancient reproduction of the mythical Tomb of Osiris as described by Egyptian legend, complete with multiple shafts and chambers. Inside the tomb complex, researchers found a carving of Osiris and a room with a wall relief depicting a demon holding knives.
“The symbolism of Osiris is very evident here, since all the elements recalling the mythical Osiris tomb are present, a big staircase 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) long with a 4 meter (13.1 feet) high ceiling at the bottom leading to the Netherworld and another one leading directly to the Osiris statue, which is therefore at a higher level and ideally isolated on ‘his island.’” Alvarez Sosa explained that the tomb is of "great importance" because “the burial chambers contain dead who slept their eternal sleep under the god of the dead, Osiris."