The Biggest and Best Archaeological Discoveries of 2019
2019 was another exciting year for archaeology. Modern technology and extensive excavations have revealed a slew of fascinating finds – from mummies with masks to a mini Göbekli Tepe, we’ve been fortunate to find out many of the secrets of the past through exceptional discoveries all over the world. We got new insight on dinosaur eggs, the peopling of the Americas, and even a new species of human! The following list is our Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2019.
In January, delighted archaeologists in Mexico found the first temple dedicated to the ‘Flayed Lord’ Xipe Tótec, one of the most important Pre-Columbian deities. The find, which included a stone representation of the god and two sacrificial altars, will help historians and other specialists to better understand pre-Hispanic religion and in particular this fertility god.
One of the fascinating finds was a massive sculpted head discovered in a niche. It took over 30 workers to release the skull from the recess in the wall. Nearby they found a staircase that led to what was once the basement of the pyramid structure. Here archaeologists unearthed a second stone skull and a large sculpted torso.
Xipe Tótec was one of the most important Mesoamerican gods. He was a deity of fertility, spring, metal workers, and renewal. Many victims were sacrificed to the god and he was typically represented wearing the skins of a sacrificial victim, which he would shed to symbolize the renewal of nature. It was believed that if worshipers wore the skins of slain victims they were glorifying the deity and he would bless them with his favors. There are hopes that the site will yield more material remains related to the worship of this rather macabre being. A massive mound near the unearthed temple may reveal even more about the god Xipe Tótec.
50 mummies in a good state of preservation were found within four Ptolemaic burial chambers, which appear to be family tombs, at the Tuna El-Gebel archaeological site in Minya, south of the Cairo.
Mummies of men and women in wrappings, some of which still bore fragments of colored cartonnage, along with 12 children and infants wrapped in linen, or decorated with Demotic handwriting, were found within the chambers. Their identities are still unknown, but the mummification method suggests they held important or prestigious positions.
Some of them were buried inside stone or wooden sarcophagi, while others were buried in the sand, or placed on the floors of the tombs or inside niches. Fragments of papyri unearthed in the grave have helped to reveal the date it was made, which could go back to the Ptolemaic era (305 – 30 BC), the early Roman and Byzantine periods.
Researchers working in a cave in the Philippines claimed to have found a new, previously unknown species to add to human history. They believe that this hominin was probably just under four feet tall, coming to this conclusion through analysis of the fossil remains - an adult’s finger and toe bones, and teeth. The femur bone of a juvenile was also unearthed. The remains are estimated to be about 50,000 years old, a period of time in the Pleistocene when several human species co-existed on the planet.
The new species has been provisionally named Homo luzonensis, and it had some of the same characteristics as modern humans, in particular, its molars. However, it also had characteristics of an earlier species, Homo australopithecus – particularly similar hand and foot bones. The being had ‘long, curved fingers and toes,’ meaning it was as comfortable scrambling up trees as walking upright. This would seem to suggest that it might have descended from an earlier human relative, H. erectus, that somehow crossed the sea to Luzon.
The find is casting doubt on the accepted theory of how humans evolved and spread out over the globe. The first wave of our relatives to leave Africa was made up of H. erectus and the second wave was H. sapiens. It was thought that H. erectus settled in Asia and it was the only human in Asia until the arrival of modern humans. However, the discovery of H. luzonensis, along with the earlier discovery on Flores, have upturned this theory. This may transform the understanding of our evolution.
A 10-year-old boy in China who was out playing near a lake accidently unearthed a fossilized egg that led to the discovery of a dinosaur nest that is 66 million years old. The find was just the latest in a city that has become famed for its number of dinosaurs finds, especially fossilized eggs, Héyuán, in Guangdong province.
Zhang Yangzhe was playing on an embankment near the Dong River under the supervision of his mother when he made the find while trying to find something to crack a walnut with. While digging in the soil, the boy saw what looked like a strange stone, so he dug it up very carefully.
Once alerted to the find, experts immediately confirmed that the strange stone was a fossilized egg. In the following days, they began to excavate the site where Zhang had made his discovery and they found 10 more eggs. They determined that Zhang had found a dinosaur nest because they were all unearthed in a small area.
On the remote and uninhabited pyramid-shaped islet of Daskalio, archaeologists found evidence of a rich cultural and monumental landscape dating from earlier than the Minoan period. The evidence so far is that it was a major religious center created with technical knowledge pre-dating that found at Minoan Knossos by at least 400 years, indicating that it played a significant role in the development of Greek civilization .
The islet had a settlement with metal-working shops, buildings, and even indoor plumbing, and all of this a millennium before the Minoans, who are often thought of as the first European civilization. The distinctive pyramid shape is due to extensive engineering activities. People deliberately exaggerated the pyramidal shape of the rocky outcrop by creating a number of huge terraces. A number of buildings were built upon them, mostly in marble. Some of the buildings were two floors and had staircases and were built using marble. The cultural landscape was built within a four-decade period and based on a single design.
The engineering, complexity of organization, shipbuilding, and metal-working needed to achieve the building of such a place indicates that this civilization was already quite advanced by this time, indicating the culture had existed and had been developing for hundreds of years or more. This political entity was at least contemporaneous with, and may have influenced the development of the Minoans in Crete and later the Mycenaeans.
3,800 years ago, the people living in what is now called Vichama, Peru carved snakes and human heads into their walls alongside depictions of emaciated people. They were starving and dying and hoped a water deity would finally be lenient and send them some rain to let their friends, family, and neighbors survive.
Their pleas were apparently answered; according to experts who unearthed a carving of a human-like toad inside a ceremonial complex. In traditional Andean belief, a depiction of a toad can be used as a symbol for rain. The toad figure is shown wrapping its hands around a human face below, which suggests that the people of Vichama were waiting for, or receiving, the rainfall that was so desperately needed.
Vichama is one of the archaeological sites pertaining to the Caral civilization, the first known civilization of the Americas. It lasted until around 1800 BC when Caral was abandoned, possibly due to climate change. However, the people living in Vichama apparently were better equipped and prepared, so they survived.
This year, archaeologists made what could be a pivotal discovery in the populating of the Americas. Their find challenges previous dominant theories of when and how the first people arrived. The discoveries suggest humans inhabited the Americas much earlier than thought, lending credence to the theory that people migrated to the continent not by a land bridge , but by sea.
The finds were made in a remote area known as Cooper’s Ferry in a valley on the banks of the Columbia River in Western Idaho. It is now believed to be one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Americas. Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian analysis results indicate people began occupying the area between 16,560 and 15,280 years before present.
The finds in Idaho show that the Clovis people were not the first and they demonstrate that humans were probably living in America before an ice-free corridor opened up into the lower part of the continent about 14,000 years ago. This new evidence raises questions about how humans arrived on the continent at this time, as the Beringia land bridge was still covered by ice and is believed to have been impassable. The find is thus lending credence to the idea that the first inhabitants of North America arrived by sea.
In November, archaeologists announced the discovery of a Neolithic-era temple with three almost-intact stelae similar in form to the famous Göbekli Tepe – the world’s oldest known temple. The ancient temple was unearthed in the Ilısu neighborhood of Dargeçit in southeastern Turkey’s Mardin province and archaeologists estimate that it was built 11,300 years ago.
This ancient spiritual center was also active in the same era as the famous Göbekli Tepe, which is considered the birthplace of early civilization and the oldest temple on earth. The 861 square foot (80 square meter) temple also shares certain features with Göbekli Tepe – it has smaller versions of the pillars, symbols, and architecture.
The team unearthed the 11,000 year-old temple walls that were made of rubble and held in place with a hardened clay base, but they haven’t yet reached the base of the structure. They also found four stone stelae, three of which were described as being “very well preserved” but “no figurative inscription” was found on any of the four stelae.
Archaeologists working on the Spanish holiday island of Majorca (Mallorca) made a surprising discovery in September - a 3,200-year-old sword at a Bronze Age site that was unearthed at the Talaiot del Serral de ses Abelles archaeological site in the municipality of Puigpunyent.
The team was preparing the location to be opened as a museum for visitors when they unearthed the sword. Two archaeologists at the site picked up a rock and they saw something protruding from the ground. They believed that nothing else would be found because the site had been thoroughly excavated and the megalith had been looted in the ancient past, by Romans and others.
Despite being over 3000 years old the weapon is in good condition. It is one of the few weapons from that era found on the island. The find is allowing experts to have a better understanding of the mysterious Tailiotic culture and it demonstrates that weapons were used as offerings at talaiots, which were places of religious worship .
In July, Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities announced that marine archaeologists diving at the ancient submerged city of Heracleion (named after Hercules who legend claimed had been there) off the coast of the Nile Delta discovered the remains of a temple, docks, and boats containing ancient treasures.
Known as Thonis in Egypt, and submerged under 150 feet of water, the city sits in what is today the Bay of Aboukir, but in the 8th century BC when the city is thought to have been built, it would have been situated at the mouth of the River Nile delta where it opened into the Mediterranean Sea.
The dive team found a “clutch of new ports” which effectively extends their map of the ancient sunken city “by about two-thirds of a mile” and they have also added to their mapping of Canopus, a second submerged city close to Heracleion. What’s more, one of the scores of ancient ships at the site from the fourth century BC was found to contain crockery, coins, and jewelry.
Top Image: One of the mummies found in the Tuna El-Gebel burial site. (Ministry of Antiquities) Head and torso of god Xipe Totec found at Ndachjian–Tehuacán archaeological site. (Melitón Tapia/ INAH) A sword from the Talaiotic civilization has been found in Mallorca, Spain. (Diario de Mallorca) Carvings made by people in Vichama, Peru 3,800 years ago suggest rain arrived just in time. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú ) Temple remains found at Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk - Frank Goddio/ Hilti Foundation / Egyptian Antiquities Authority)