Archaeology: Year in Review

Two Alpine mountaineers and “Ötzi” (the Iceman), the oldest natural human mummy ever found in Europe, September 1991

Among the Top This-and-That lists of 2013, here’s one I think you’ll dig. What were the top discoveries by archaeologists this year, and what have they added to our knowledge of world history? Several of the items in the list compiled by Live Science (see link below) have been featured on this website already over the past year: Richard III’s bones were found beneath a parking lot, ancient rock art was uncovered in the American Southwest, and Syria’s centuries-old architectural heritage was threatened by the civil war. Archaeology magazine’s list includes additional stories of surprising discoveries, such as one on cannibalism at colonial Jamestown—how in the world did we miss that?

When history is literally uncovered, the picture of the past does not always become clearer. History mysteries abound. For every archaeological find that confirms or verifies the historical record, there is one that unsettles it, turns it on its head, or opens up new lines of research. For example, in 2007 a discovery made in Israel was hailed excitedly as the tomb of Herod the Great, the Jewish ruler of Judea under the Romans at the time of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It was Herod who, according to the New Testament of the Christian Bible, ordered the “slaughter of the innocents”—seeking to kill all infant children after learning from the Magi (Wise Men) that a new king had been born in Bethlehem. However, in 2013 two Israeli archaeologists announced grave doubts about just whose tomb had been found.

From pre-Incan Peru to the peat bogs of Ireland, from an ancient Etruscan tomb to the jungles surrounding Angkor Wat in Cambodia, ancient history continues to be unearthed. New computer-aided tools of DNA analysis, forensic reconstruction, and sophisticated aerial mapping make the study of archaeology more fascinating than ever.

Image credit: © Paul Hanny/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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