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Archaeology Magazine has published its top ten discoveries for 2021. Source: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

Archaeology Magazine’s Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries 2021

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The top 10 ancient discoveries for 2021 have been announced by Archaeology Magazine . For the last 70 years Archaeology Magazine has been published by the Archaeological Institute of America and this most recent top 10 list will be published in the January/February 2022 issue this week.

The most significant find of 2021 was Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Golden City. But among the oldest were the 23,000-year-old footprints discovered in New Mexico and the world's oldest artwork which was discovered in Tibet.

The list also included the earliest leatherworking tools from Morocco, the oldest animal artwork, the oldest map ever discovered and a study demonstrating how Vikings landed in America four centuries before Christopher Columbus, celebrating the achievements of ancient navigators. Historical violence was made obvious with the inclusion of a mass grave of 25 crusaders discovered in Lebanon, and once again in a slave tag from 1853 discovered in Charleston, South Carolina.

Copper slave tag discovered on the College of Charleston campus in South Carolina. (College of Charleston)

Copper slave tag discovered on the College of Charleston campus in South Carolina. ( College of Charleston )

Darkness and Light of Times Past in Archaeology Magazine Top Ten

The square, copper slave tag dated 1853 from Charleston, South Carolina, permitted slaves to work away from their owners within the city limits of Charleston. This find is deemed so important because this was the only US city to issue this type of permit. Daily Mail explained that the slave owner would have paid anywhere from $10 to $35 for the tag. Marley Brown, associate editor of Archaeology Magazine , said the slave tag “had to be included” or the individual who used it may have been “lost to time and to the dehumanizing system of enslavement.”

The discovery of Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Golden City is at the top of the list because it is the largest ancient city ever to be uncovered in Luxor, located between Rameses III 's temple at Medinet Habu and Amenhotep III's temple at Memnon. Human and animal burials along with rare jewelry, pots and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III were all unearthed. Betsy Brian, Professor of Egyptology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore USA, said the lost city is “the second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun.”

Painted artifact found during the discovery of Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Golden City, one of Archaeology Magazine’s top ten discoveries in 2021. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

Painted artifact found during the discovery of Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Golden City, one of Archaeology Magazine’s top ten discoveries in 2021. ( Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

Mammoths, Giant Ground Sloths and Dire Wolves Also Made the List

In September, British and American archaeologists working at Alkali Flat, a dry lakebed at White Sands National Park, discovered a collection of footprints dating back 23,000 years. These footprints also made the Archaeology Magazine list. The researchers say these prints indicate “activity of play, and of different ages coming together” and that they offer a glimpse into what life was like during the Upper Paleolithic Era, which began about 40,000 years ago. The prints were not only left by human children and adults, but also from mammoths, giant ground sloths and giant dire wolves.

Discovered on a rocky outcrop in Quesang, Tibet, five hand and footprints date back almost quarter of a million years and represent the “ world's oldest artwork ,” three to four times older than any artworks discovered in Indonesia, Spain or France. In Saudi Arabia, a life-size camel represents the “oldest animal artwork in history” and dates back about 8,000 years. Furthermore, the “oldest leather working tools” made from animal bones were discovered in Contrebandiers Cave near the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

Overhead view of the Saint-Bélec slab, a discovery which made it into Archaeology Magazine’s top ten discoveries for 2021. (Denis Glicksman / Inrap)

Overhead view of the Saint-Bélec slab, a discovery which made it into Archaeology Magazine’s top ten discoveries for 2021 . (Denis Glicksman /  Inrap)

Mapping, Charting and Delineating the Ancient World

A team of French scientists made the Archaeology Magazine list for their discovery of the so-called Saint-Bélec Slab in Western Brittany, France. This 4,000-year-old prehistoric stone map features “repeated motifs joined by lines to give the layout of a map.” Archaeology Magazine also lists the Viking settlement in Newfoundland which represents European contact with the New World 470 years before Christopher Columbus. Also on their list is a rock dating from the age of Emperor Claudius in AD 49 that once marked the city limits of ancient Rome is also on the top 10 list.

While the slave tag reminds of past horrors, the discovery of the two mass graves discovered in Lebanon brings it into sharp focus. Containing 25 tortured bodies of 13th century Crusader knights, the researchers discovered evidence that these soldiers had “died at the end of swords, maces and arrows.” As if that wasn’t brutal enough, their charred bones indicated that they were thrown into a pit and burned while still alive.

Top image: Archaeology Magazine has published its top ten discoveries for 2021. Source: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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