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Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014

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Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
by Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   December 25, 2014 06:10am ET




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Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 Amphipolis-mosaic
[url=http://pinterest.com/pin/create/button/?url=http%3A//www.livescience.com/49231-coolest-archaeological-discoveries-2014.html%3Fcmpid%3D558802&media=http://i.livescience.com/images/i/000/072/950/original/amphipolis-mosaic.jpg?1419281238&description=This colorful mosaic%2C showing Persephone%27s abduction by Hades%2C was uncovered at the Amphipolis tomb in Greek Macedonia.]Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 PinExt[/url] This colorful mosaic, showing Persephone's abduction by Hades, was uncovered at the Amphipolis tomb in Greek Macedonia.
Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
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Thanks to the careful work of archaeologists, we learned more in the past year about Stonehenge's hidden monuments, Richard III's gruesome death and King Tut's mummified erection. From the discovery of an ancient tomb in Greece to the first evidence of Neanderthal art, here are 10 of Live Science's favorite archaeology stories of 2014.
1. An Alexander the Great-era tomb at Amphipolis
Rarely do archaeological digs attract so much attention in real time. But at Amphipolis, an ancient coastal city in northern Greece, the discovery of a lavish 2,300-year-old tomb has created a national frenzy. In August, state archaeologists broke through the entrance of a huge burial mound that's been billed as the largest of its kind in the Greek world. (Its perimeter measures about 1,600 feet, or 490 meters.) [See Photos of the Ancient Tomb at Amphipolis]

xcavators found broken sphinxes, two female statues called caryatids, a remarkably intact mosaic floor and some skeletal material, which is awaiting analysis. It's still unclear who was buried inside the tomb, but some have speculated that it could be someone from Alexander the Great's inner circle.
2. Stonehenge's secret monuments
Capping a four-year survey of the landscape around England's Stonehenge, researchers reported that they found signs of at least 17 previously unknown Neolithic shrines. The big announcement — which was accompanied by TV specials on the BBC and Smithsonian Channel — could change the way historians have thought of Stonehenge.
"Stonehenge is undoubtedly a major ritual monument, which people may have traveled considerable distances to come to, but it isn't just standing there by itself," project leader Vincent Gaffney, an archaeologist at the University of Birmingham, told Live Science in September. "It's part of a much more complex landscape with processional and ritual activities that go around it." [See Images of Hidden Stonehenge Monuments]
3. A shipwreck under the World Trade Center
In the summer of 2010, archaeologists in New York discovered a school-bus-size shipwreck in an unlikely place: the site of the World Trade Center, still under construction after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. This year, tree-ring researchers who were studying the ship's fragile timbers announced that they had uncovered new details about the vessel.
The ship was likely built in 1773, or soon after, in a small shipyard near Philadelphia, according to the study, which was published in the journal Tree-Ring Research. What's more, the ship's timbers may have originated from the same white oak forest where wood was harvested to build Philadelphia's Independence Hall, the researchers said.
4. Richard III's twisted spine, kingly diet and family tree
Once lost to history, the skeleton of Britain's King Richard III was found under a parking lot in 2012, and since then, the monarch's remains have been a boon for scientists who study centuries-old DNA, diet and disease. Among this year's findings, scientists reported that they found a mitochondrial DNA match between Richard and two of his living relatives, offering further confirmation that the bones really belong to the king. A model of Richard's misshapen spine showed that he suffered from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
Isotopes locked in Richard's teeth and bones revealed that the king ate (and drank) quite well during his two years at the throne. And, after a much-delayed autopsy, researchers also determined this year that Richard likely died a quick death on the battlefield; they found two wounds on the back of Richard's skull that were likely candidates for the fatal blow.
5. A teenager in a "black hole"
At the bottom of an underwater cave called Hoyo Negro (Spanish for "Black Hole") in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, divers discovered a near-complete skeleton of a teenage girl. Dubbed "Naia," the girl was found alongside unlikely gravemates: saber-toothed cats, pumas, sloths and bears. Researchers think Naia and the animals likely fell to their deaths 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, before the pit filled with water when the world's glaciers started melting.
Scientists also found that DNA from Naia's remains resembled modern Native American DNA. The discovery, which was reported in May in the journal Science, could help solve the long-standing debate over the identity of the first Americans. [In Photos: Human Skeleton Sheds Light on First Americans]
6. Syria by satellite
The paralyzing political situation in Syria has become somewhat of a test for satellite archaeology. Shut out of the war-torn country, archaeologists have turned to aerial images to learn about the state of Syria's ancient ruins. So far, their findings have been grim.
Five of Syria's six UNESCO World Heritage sites show "significant damage," and some buildings are now "reduced to rubble," according to an analysis of satellite images by the nonprofit and nonpartisan American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Meanwhile, the American Schools for Oriental Research was given a $600,000 grant from the U.S. State Department to fund a Syrian Heritage Initiative for a year. At the organization's annual meeting last month in San Diego, researchers with the initiative reported that 63 of the 400 archaeological sites they analyzed exhibited war-related looting.
7. Jesus' wife?
This story might be more of an "undiscovery." In September 2012, Harvard University divinity professor Karen King announced the sensational finding of a small papyrus fragment written in Coptic. The text contained references to a "Mary" and the translated line, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife, she will be able to be my disciple.'" The suggestion was that Mary Magdalene may have been Jesus' wife — or that some people in ancient times at least believed she was his wife.
Biblical scholars had aired their suspicions about the authenticity of the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" because of problematic features, such as bad handwriting and grammatical errors. And earlier this year, a Live Science investigation revealed that the papyrus has a flimsy provenance. The anonymous owner of the papyrus claims to have purchased the document from a now-deceased man whose family said he never collected antiquities. The text is looking more and more like a forgery.
8. Mummy cheese
The world's oldest known cheese was found this year, tucked away on the bodies of 3,800-year-old mummies in northwest China's Taklamakan Desert. Scholars had previously uncovered archaeological clues suggesting that cheese making began as early as the sixth millennium B.C., but actual samples of ancient cheese are hard to come by.
Archaeologists found clumps of a yellowish substance on the chests and necks of mummies during recent excavations in China's Xiaohe Cemetery. A chemical analysis showed that these blobs were really cheese. These dairy treats would have been nutritious, easily digestible and quite similar to yogurtlike kefir, according to the study in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The cheese was presumably left in the graves as a snack to be enjoyed in the afterlife.
9. King Tut's 3,300-year erection
Researchers have long noted several anomalies of King Tutankhamun's embalming. The young pharaoh was buried in a lavish tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings without a heart, an excessive amount of black oils and goolike resins were applied to his body, and his penis was mummified erect at a 90-degree angle. A recent study in the journal Études et Travaux suggests that King Tut's unusual burial was part of a deliberate effort to fight a religious revolution unleashed by his father.
King Tut's father, Akhenaten, is famous for trying to introduce monotheism to Egypt. He wanted religion to center on the worship of the Aten, the sun disc, and destroyed images of other gods. King Tut, meanwhile, was trying to bring back polytheism during his reign. To emphasize that return to tradition, Tut's embalmers may have tried to make the king look like Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, who is often depicted with an erect penis to evoke his regenerative powers.
10. Artists like us?
Sometimes, big discoveries come in small packages. This year, two separate studies of tiny, simple etchings cast doubt on whether modern humans are really the only Homo species to have created art. A geometric carving on a rock in the back of a cave in Gibraltar may have been created by Neanderthals, the closest known relatives of modern humans, some 40,000 years ago, according to one study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers who tried to recreate the gridlike etching said this carving wasn't the accidental byproduct of butchery, but rather an intentional design.
Earlier this month, another group of scientists in Java, Indonesia, reported in the journal Nature that they found a series of slashes and an "M"-shaped zigzag" on a shell that's between 540,000 and 430,000 years old. They attributed the scribbles to Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. In both cases, it's unclear what meaning (if any) the "artwork" held, but the studies suggest our human ancestors and extinct relatives were capable of abstract thinking.
Follow Megan Gannon on TwitterFollow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 2014-top-10-archaeological-discoveriesThis year has been a year of spectacular discoveries in archaeology, from 4,000-year-old sunken ships, to enormous megalithic stones, mysterious man-made ditches, the oldest known examples of cave art in the world, a monumental tomb in Greece, and even a newly revealed pharaoh of Egypt.
Advances in technology also enabled the discovery of hidden Maya temples in the jungles of Mexico, hundreds more structures in the Stonehenge landscape, and new understandings of the human genome.
It is almost impossible to narrow down one year of magnificent findings to ten, so we have chosen to feature ten discoveries of 2014 that revealed striking new information about our ancient past.
10. 4,000-year-old sunken ship found in Turkey is among oldest in the world
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 2014-top-10-archaeological-discoveries
An excavation at the port of Urla underwater archaeological site in Turkey revealed a sunken ship that is believed to date back 4,000 years. The surprising discovery is the oldest known shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean, and is also among the oldest known shipwrecks worldwide.
The port of Urla, which served the ancient Greek settlement of Klazomenai, sunk following a natural disaster, probably an earthquake, in the 8th century BC, making the area popular for underwater research.
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 10%2Bancient-sunken-ship--turkey
Numerous sunken ships have already been found in Urla, ranging from the 2nd century BC to the Ottoman period. Uncovering a ship that is believed to date back to around 2,000 BC, is incredibly rare and significant and an important milestone for archaeology.
9. Newly dated Asian cave drawings rewrite history of human art
A study published in October 2014, in the journal Nature, revealed that more than 100 ancient paintings of hands and animals found within seven limestone caves on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, are as old as famous prehistoric art in Europe.
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 09%2Basian-cave-drawings
The research showed that humans were producing rock art by 40,000 years ago at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world.
Maxime Aubert, study lead and archaeologist and geochemist of Australia’s Griffith University, explained that before this discovery, experts had a Europe-centric view of how, when, and where humans started making cave paintings and other forms of figurative art.
However, the fact that people in Sulawesi were also producing art at the same time suggests that either human creativity emerged independently at about the same time around the world, or when humans left Africa they already had the capacity and inclination for art.
8. Mysterious Man-Made Ditches Predate Amazon Rainforest
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year revealed that a series of mysterious lines and geometric shapes carved into the Amazonian landscape were created thousands of years ago before the rainforest even existed.
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 07%2Bman-made-ditches-brazil-Parana
The purpose of the massive earthworks and who created them remains unknown, and scientists are beginning to realise just how much there still is to learn about the prehistoric cultures of the Amazon and life before the arrival of Europeans.
The unusual earthworks, which include square, straight, and ring-like ditches, were first uncovered in 1999, after large areas of pristine forest was cleared for cattle grazing. Since then, hundreds of the earthen foundations have been found in a region more than 150 miles across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil’s Amazonas state.
Until recently, it was believed that the earthworks dated back to around 200 AD. However, the latest study has revealed that they are, in fact, much older. Study author John Francis Carson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, explained that sediment cores had been taken from two lakes near the major earthwork sites.
These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can reveal information about the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.
The results revealed that the oldest sediments did not come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. Rather, they showed that the landscape, before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, looked more like the savannahs of Africa than today’s lush rainforest.
The earthworks predate the shift from savannah to rainforest, which reveals that the creators of these ditches carved them before the forest moved in around them.
7. Largest known megalithic block from antiquity revealed at Baalbek
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 07%2Bmegalithic-block-baalbek
A new analysis conducted by the German Archaeological Institute at the ancient stone quarry of Baalbek/Ancient Heliopolis, in Lebanon, calculated the size and weight of an enormous monolith, and concluded that it is the largest known stone block ever carved by human hands.
Located at an altitude of approximately 1,170 meters in the Beqaa valley, Baalbek is known to have been settled from at least 7,000 BC, with almost continual settlement of the Tell under the Temple of Jupiter, which was a temple since the pre-Hellenistic era.
During the period of Roman rule, Baalbek was known as Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”), and housed one of the largest and grandest sanctuaries in the empire. One of the most awe-inspiring features of Baalbek are the incredible megalithic foundations of the Temple of Jupiter.
The temple was built on platform of stones that are among the largest building blocks seen in the whole world. How they were cut so finely and moved into place has defied explanation, particularly considering the blocks are known to have weighed over 1000 tons.
The gigantic blocks used in the foundations of the Temple of Jupiter came from a nearby quarry located around 800 meters (2,600 ft) from the temple.
The limestone quarry houses two massive building blocks that never made it to the temple – one weighing about 1,240 tons, and the other, known as the “Hajjar al-Hibla,” or The Stone of the Pregnant Woman, weighs about 1000 tons.
But the German archaeological team found a third building block next to the Hajjar al-Hibla stone and underneath it. Still partially buried, the monolith measures measures 19.6 meters (64 feet) in length, 6 meters (19.6 feet) in width, and at least 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height. Its weight has been estimated at 1,650 tons, making it the largest known stone block from antiquity.
6. 500,000-year-old engraved shell challenges previous beliefs about human ancestors
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 06%2Betched-shell-Java-homo-erectus
Research conducted on a mollusk shell, dated to between 430,000 and 540,000 years, found over a century ago on the Indonesian island of Java, revealed that it contains the oldest engraving ever found and that it was almost certainly etched by a Homo erectus, an early human ancestor that emerged around 1.9 million years ago and became extinct around 150,000 years ago.
The discovery challenged preconceived notions about human ancestors, showing that, like Homo sapiens, they produced abstract design or perhaps even an early form of written communication.
Josephine Joordens, a post-doctoral researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, published a paper in December 2014 in the journal Nature, revealing that the discovery provides evidence for symbolic activity and shows that “engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control.”
While to many this may seem unsurprising, the finding challenges conventional perspectives about the evolution of human behaviour.
5. Oldest-known Human genome sequence sheds light on interbreeding with Neanderthals
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 05%2Boldest-human-genome-neanderthals
A study published in the journal Nature in October 2014 revealed the DNA results from a 45,000-year-old leg bone from Siberia, producing the oldest genome sequence ever carried out for Homo sapiens – nearly twice the age of the next-oldest known complete modern human genome.
The results have helped pinpoint when Homo sapiens first interbred with Neanderthals, and adds more pieces to the puzzle of ancient human migration across the world.
The ancient leg bone was found in 2008 on the left bank of the river Irtysh near the settlement of Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. The human femur was sent to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where testing was conducted.
The results revealed that the DNA of the “Ust’-Ishim Man” contained 2% DNA from Neanderthals, roughly the same proportion that can be found in modern Europeans today. This reveals that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans must have occurred prior to the age of the Ust’-Ishim Man.
While previous estimates suggested the interbreeding may have occurred as early as 36,000 years ago, scientists have now revised their estimates to between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.
The research team also compared the genetic sequence of Ust’-Ishim man with the genomes of 50 different groups of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The results indicated that this man was equally closely related to present-day Asians and to early Europeans.
This suggests that the population to which Ust’-Ishim man belonged diverged from the ancestors of present-day Europeans and Asians before, or around the same time, that these two groups separated from each other.
4. New Pharaoh Discovered in Egypt – Introducing King Seneb Kay
In January, 2014, archaeologists in Egypt discovered the burial place and the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3600 years ago.
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 04%2BSeneb-Kay-egypt
The skeleton of King Seneb kay (also written Senebkey) were uncovered at South Abydos in Sohag province, about 500 kilometres south of Cairo, by a University of Pennsylvania expedition working with the government.
Never before heard of in ancient Egyptian history, King Seneb kay’s name was found inscribed in hieroglyphics written inside a royal cartouche – an oval with a horizontal line at one end signalling a royal name. King Saneb kay was found in a wooden sarcophagus inside a badly damaged stone tomb with no roof.
He was originally mummified but his body was destroyed by ancient tomb robbers and only his skeleton remained. No funerary goods were found in the tomb, which confirms it had been looted in ancient times.
“This was the first time in history to discover the king,” said Ali Asfar, Head of Antiquities for the Egyptian government.
3. Archaeologists Discover Two Long Lost Ancient Maya Cities in Jungle of Mexico
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 03%2BRio-Bec-Campeche-Mexico
In an amazing discovery in the jungles of Mexico, archaeologists uncovered two ancient Mayan cities, including ruined pyramid temples, palace remains, a monster mouth gateway, a ball court, altars, and other stone monuments. One of the cities had been found decades ago but all attempts to relocate it had failed.
The other city was previously unknown and is a brand new discovery, shedding new light on the ancient Mayan civilization. Expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), explained that the finding was aided by aerial photographs of the tropical forest of central Yucatan in the state of Campeche, Mexico.
Some anomalies were noticed among the thick vegetation of the forest and so a team was sent in to investigate further. Archaeologists were stunned to discover an entire city in an area between the Rio Bec and Chenes regions, extending some 1,800 miles, which are characterised by their Classic architecture dating to around 600 to 1,000 AD.
Sprajc explained that both cities “open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities.”
2. Spectacular Macedonian tomb and human remains unearthed in Amphipolis, Greece
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 02%2Bamphipolis-tomb-reconstruction
Archaeologists excavated a spectacular Macedonian tomb in Kasta Hill, Amphipolis, dating to the period of Alexander the Great (4th century BC), resulting in the discovery of human remains which are currently undergoing testing.
Kasta Hill lies in what was once the ancient city of Amphipolis, conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 BC.
Experts have known about the existence of the burial mound in Amphipolis, located about 100km northeast of Thessaloniki, since the 1960s, but work only began in earnest there in 2012, when archaeologists discovered that Kasta Hill had been surrounded by a nearly 500-meter wall made from marble.
Several months ago, archaeologists discovered a path and 13 steps leading down from the surrounding wall. It was then that they uncovered a limestone wall protecting and concealing the entrance of the tomb of Amphipolis.
Behind the wall, archaeologists revealed two marble sphinxes, both headless and missing their wings, but these were recovered during excavations.
Bit by bit, the grand tomb began revealing the secrets that had lain hidden for 2,300 years, including two magnificent caryatid statues, a detailed mosaic depicting the Abduction of Persephone, and a secret vault containing a limestone sarcophagus with human remains. Archaeologists are due to announce the discovery of the tomb’s occupant in one month’s time.
1. Radar finds HUNDREDS more megalithic monuments, chapels, and shrines around Stonehenge
Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014 01%2Bmegalithic-monuments-chapels-shrines-stonehenge
In a groundbreaking news release in September 2014, archaeologists revealed the results of a four-year-long project to map the hidden landscape beneath the surface of the Stonehenge environs, and what they found was nothing short of amazing.
Through their high-tech devices they could see a landscape teeming with burial mounds, chapels, shrines, pits, and other structures, which had never been seen before.
The biggest surprise was a 330 metre long line of up to 60 buried stone pillars, inside the bank of a large, bowl-shaped feature called Durrington Walls, Britain’s largest henge, which sits beside the River Avon.
The discovery dramatically alters the prevailing view of Stonehenge as the primary site in the landscape. Instead it presents the Salisbury Plain as a an active religious centre with more than 60 key locations where ancient peoples could carry out sacred rituals and fulfil their religious obligations.
“This is not just another find,” said Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham. “It’s going to change how we understand Stonehenge.”
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