As archaeological discoveries continue to amaze researchers around the world, modern humans gain a better understanding of the cultural and spiritual makeup of ancient civilizations. Here are a few of the latest archaeological finds.
Although archaeology may seem like it involves sifting through dirt in search of ancient treasures, most of the work happens in labs. These magazines share some of the latest archaeological news from around the globe.
Archaeologists Discover A 31,000-Year-Old Leg
Archaeology news are fascinated by the materiality of things, from the smallest traces, such as microscopic shapes preserved in clay, to the largest structures, like Mayan pyramids. These discoveries, in addition to historical texts, help them understand the way people lived at specific times and places. Since prehistoric societies did not leave behind written records, archaeologists use artifacts to learn about their everyday lives and their beliefs and values.
The discovery of a 31,000-year-old leg buried in a cave in Indonesia has rewritten human history. The skeleton, unearthed by researchers in the Liang Tebo limestone cave in East Kalimantan province of Borneo, shows that hunter-gatherers had advanced medical knowledge, allowing them to perform successful surgical amputations. It predates the next oldest amputation by 24,000 years, according to a study published this week in Nature.
Experts believe the person was amputated to deal with severe injuries, and the fact that a bone fragment inside the foot and the lower part of the leg have healed together suggests the operation was done carefully. The findings also suggest that the person survived his or her amputation, which would have been a life-changing event for an ancient human.
Researchers speculate that the person was wounded by a wild animal or that his or her leg was cut off as punishment for some crime. But they could not rule out another possibility, which is that the person was able to live with only one leg thanks to this complex surgery.
The team led by Tim Maloney, a research fellow at Australia’s Griffith University, made the discovery while excavating the cave. It took them 11 days to dig through the rock debris that covered the skeleton to reach it. The scientists measured the ages of teeth and burial sediment to determine that the remains were at least 31,000 years old. This is the oldest evidence of amputation, and it rewrites the timeline for when complex surgeries became available. (Britannica Premium subscribers can read more about the science of this find here.) The researchers hope to return to the site to explore other burials, and they are particularly interested in learning about the person’s life before his or her injury.
Ancient Poop Reveals People’s Diets
Researchers have been excavating poo to learn more about people’s diets for years. They’ve sifted through toilets from all over the world, from the Middle East to Scandinavia, to reconstruct snapshots of food and health in bygone centuries. But poop doesn’t just reveal what people ate – it also tells researchers about their gut microbiomes and the types of parasites that may have invaded their bodies.
For example, a team of scientists recently examined 19 pieces of preserved feces, or “coprolite,” unearthed from a dung heap at the Stonehenge settlement at Durrington Walls around 2,500 BC, where builders likely lived while constructing the iconic monument. They discovered that the lemon-shaped eggs of parasitic worms, called capillariid worms, were present in human and four dog coprolites. Because these tapeworms infect cows, which Neolithic people herded for meat, it’s likely that the people living at Durrington Walls ate a lot of animal organs and fed their dogs the leftovers.
The same research team also analyzed shards of ceramic and sandstone fragments that were found in the poop samples. The shards matched a glazed pottery jar that was unearthed nearby in the settlement and dated back to about 2,300 BC. The jar and shard were decorated with similar motifs, including swirling patterns and animals in a ring of fire. This finding supports the theory that the jar and fragments were part of a ritual vessel.
Another piece of the puzzle was provided by a pair of ancient teeth that were discovered at the settlement. Analysis revealed that the teeth were from a cow, suggesting that the inhabitants of the settlement probably ate meat and drank milk. The teeth were also shaped differently than modern cattle, which suggests the occupants of the settlement had a domesticated cattle herd rather than wild ones.
The scientists used a variety of methods to examine the poop, from sequencing DNA to measuring organic substances known as lipids. Lipids are less prone to being contaminated by other microorganisms than DNA, and they can provide valuable clues about the organisms that produced the coprolite.
An Accidentally Opened Tomb Reveals Treasures
As if Egypt wasn’t already having enough fun, a tomb that was accidentally opened in 2018 has given archaeologists a chance to study some truly amazing treasures. The discovery of nine ancient tombs was made by accident when a 2018 rainstorm flooded an area in the southern city of Luxor, revealing gilded couches, shrines, and thrones from the Ptolemaic Dynasty (320 BC – 30 BC).
Archaeologists have since been working on the site to find more clues about the people who were buried there. So far, they’ve unearthed a number of ceramics and bronzes, as well as a number of other items that may prove helpful in understanding more about the inhabitants who were buried there.
However, the most interesting item so far has been a large wooden coffin. It’s thought that this might have been a mummy. The reason is because it was found along with other weapons, including a bow and arrows. The fact that the mummy was also buried with weapons suggests that the inhabitants of this tomb were either soldiers or sailors.
This isn’t the first time that a tomb was accidentally opened and revealed treasures. The famous archaeologist Howard Carter was responsible for discovering and opening King Tut’s tomb. He was rumored to have been cursed by the Egyptian gods because of his involvement in the burial. However, his health problems seemed to stem more from the strain of digging and moving a dead body than from any curse that might have been laid upon him.
But not all treasures that are discovered accidentally get to be enjoyed for long. In 2009, a man named Terance Castle was out tending to his farm in Suffolk County, England when he unearthed a heavy metal container. He contacted the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is responsible for cataloging treasure found in England and Wales, to report his discovery. What he got in return was something much more valuable than the gold coins that he originally found.
The container was actually a longship that had been buried there more than 1,000 years ago! It was a rich grave, which contained an Anglo-Saxon helmet, a lyre, medieval gold belt buckles, and Byzantium silverware.
An Ancient Shipwreck In The Mediterranean
A team of archaeologists working along the continental shelf near Tunisia and Italy spotted something unusual. A scattering of objects littered the seafloor—and the artifacts told a story. Those ships, which date from 100 BCE to 200 CE and around the turn of the century, were probably merchant vessels that ran into trouble in the treacherous waters.
They sank in the area known as Keith Reef, which touches the surface of the Mediterranean at some points and is bordered by Sicily and Tunisia. The archaeologists who explored the site found some of the wrecks’ cargo, including ceramics and building materials. They also uncovered coins, figurines, and other items that point to a fascinating trading network.
The team’s research showed that the vessels were probably en route from Cyprus to the Aegean and carried copper ingots, which are among the earliest industrial products ever made. The typology of the ingots suggests that the ship was a Roman-era merchant ship. The crew most likely ran into a storm while on the voyage, leading to the ship’s demise.
Maritime (or underwater) archaeology was only pioneered in the mid-20th century, but it continues to shed light on history. This discovery of an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Cyprus, for example, could help researchers understand the breadth and scale of ancient trade in this region.
This latest find dates back to the Hellenistic era, which lasted from the death of Alexander the Great until the last days of the Roman Empire. The shipwreck was loaded with transport amphoras—large clay jars that held food and liquids—and other cargo, like ropes and wooden combs. It’s one of the best-preserved discoveries to date.
The discovery suggests that even after the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land, traders from the West continued to visit the area. These traders brought goods from other parts of the Mediterranean and also bought local produce, such as olives, oranges, and grapes. The researchers hope to study the full cargo of the shipwreck to better understand the people and places involved in the thriving maritime trade.
In conclusion, recent archaeological discoveries continue to shed light on our ancient past, revealing fascinating insights into the lives of past civilizations and the complexities of human history. As technology and methodologies improve, the field of archaeology remains an ever-evolving frontier, enriching our understanding of the world’s cultural heritage.
- What is archaeology?
Archaeology is the scientific study of past human cultures and societies through the analysis of artifacts, structures, and other physical remains. It aims to reconstruct and understand the behavior, lifestyles, and development of ancient civilizations, helping us to learn from our history and preserve our cultural heritage.
- How do archaeologists date ancient artifacts and sites?
Archaeologists use various dating methods to determine the age of artifacts and archaeological sites. These methods include radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), stratigraphy (study of layers of sediment), and thermoluminescence dating. By combining these techniques, archaeologists can establish chronological sequences and interpret the timeline of human history.