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Top 10 Discoveries of archaeology 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

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Paestum, Italy. Photo by Oliver Bonjoch.

 

www.archaeology.org

imageTop 10 Discoveries of 2011

Volume 65 Number 1, January/February 2012

Years from now, when we look back on 2011, the year will almost certainly be defined by political and economic upheaval. At the same time that Western nations were shaken by a global economic slump, people in the Middle East and North Africa forcefully removed heads of state who had been in power for decades. “Arab Spring,” as the various revolutions have collectively been named, will have far-reaching implications, not just for the societies in which it took place, but also for archaeology. No year-end review would be complete without polling archaeological communities in the affected areas to determine whether sites linked to the world’s oldest civilizations, from Apamea in Syria to Saqqara in Egypt, are still intact. Our update appears here.

Of course, traditional fieldwork took place in 2011 as well. Archaeologists uncovered one of the world’s first buildings in Jordan. In Guatemala, a Maya tomb offered rare evidence of a female ruler, and, in Scotland, a boat was found with a 1,000-year-old Viking buried inside.

We also witnessed the impact that technology continues to have on archaeology. Researchers used a ground-penetrating radar survey of the site of a Roman gladiator school to create a digital model of what it may once have looked like. And scientists studying an early hominid have taken their investigation online by tapping the scientific blogging community. The team is seeking help to determine if they have actually found a sample of fossilized skin that appears to be more than 2 million years old. These projects stand as clear evidence that as cultures around the world undergo sweeping changes, so too does the practice and process of archaeology.

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Viking Boat Burial
Ardnamurchan, Scotland

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Neolithic Community Centers
Wadi Faynan, Jordan

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Open Source Australopithecus
Malapa, South Africa

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First Domesticated Dogs
Předmostí, Czech Republic

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Rare Maya Female Ruler
Nakum, Guatemala

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Gladiator Gym Goes Virtual
Carnuntum, Austria

 
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Ancient Chinese Takeout
Shaanxi/Xinjiang, China

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War Begets State
Lake Titicaca, Peru

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Atlantic Whaler Found in Pacific
French Frigate Shoals, Hawaii

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Arab Spring Impacts Archaeology
Libya/Egypt/Tunisia/Syria

Sites Under Threat

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Altamira Cave

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Pompeii

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Texas

 

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Top 10 Discoveries of 2010

Volume 64 Number 1, January/February 2011

Decades from now people may remember 2010 for the BP oil spill, the Tea Party, and the iPad. But for our money, it’s a lock people will still be excited about the year’s most remarkable archaeological discoveries, which we explore (along with one "undiscovery") in the following pages.

This was the year we learned that looters led archaeologists to spectacular and unparalleled royal tombs in both Turkey and Guatemala. An unexpected find brought us closer to Pocahontas, and an underwater archaeological survey in the high Canadian Arctic located the ill-fated HMS Investigator, abandoned in 1853.

Archaeologists weren’t just busy in the field, though. A number of breakthroughs happened in the lab, too. A new radiocarbon dating technique was perfected this year that will allow scientists to date artifacts without harming them.

Laboratory analysis of the bones of a close relative of Lucy revealed how early hominins walked. And anthropologists in Germany announced startling news about the Neanderthal genome that might send you scrambling to submit your own DNA for sequencing.

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The Tomb of Hecatomnus
Milas, Turkey

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Paleolithic Tools
Plakias, Crete

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Royal Tomb
El Zotz, Guatemala

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Early Pyramids
Jaen, Peru

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HMS Investigator
Banks Island, Canada

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Decoding the Neanderthal Genome
Leipzig, Germany

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Child Burials
Carthage, Tunisia

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"Kadanuumuu"
Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia

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1608 Church
Jamestown, Virginia

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Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating
College Station, Texas

Undiscovery of the Year
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Clovis Comet
North America

Sites Under Threat

For the third year, we also highlight five threatened sites that remind us of how fragile the archaeological record is. They include an ancient city in Iraq that is eroding into the Tigris and a painted cave in Egypt that’s being slowly destroyed by well-meaning tourists.

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Hunter-Gatherer Landscape
California

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Underwater Shipwrecks
Massachusetts Bay

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Allianoi
Turkey

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Cave of the Swimmers
Egypt

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Ashur
Iraq

But it’s not all bad news out there. One of the most alarming stories this year out of the American Southwest was the news that as part of a cost-cutting measure the Arizona state government closed Homolovi Ruins State Park. The closing raised fears that the park’s significant cluster of Ancestral Puebloan villages dating from A.D. 1260 to 1400 would be left more vulnerable to looters. But at press time we learned the Hopi Tribe signed an agreement with the state to reopen the park. An innovative government-tribal partnership will allow the descendants of the people who once lived at Homolovi Ruins to safeguard its future.

 

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Top 10 Discoveries of 2009

Volume 63 Number 1, January/February 2010

ARCHAEOLOGY’s annual list of the year’s most exciting discoveries–from North America’s earliest canals to evidence for chemical warfare at a Roman outpost in Syria–highlights sites, artifacts, and scientific studies we feel most enrich our knowledge of the past.

Archaeology is an incremental science, and "eureka" moments are rare. Often the most significant advances result from many years of research. For instance, we feature the work of archaeologists who have dug for four decades at a second-century B.C. Greek city in southern Russia. They were only recently able to identify a large structure at the site as the palace of King Mithradates VI, a legendary foe of Rome.

Two elite tombs excavated this year are on the list, one belonging to a Moche lord in Peru and the other to a family of Iron Age priestesses on Crete. Meanwhile, graves of exotic animals now emerging at the Predynastic Egyptian capital of Hierakonpolis show that the city’s rulers kept extensive menageries–the world’s first zoos.

We hope 2009’s remarkable finds inspire you to make your own connections with the past, and whet your appetite for the discoveries to come.

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Lord of Úcupe
Úcupe, Peru

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First Domesticated Horses
Botai, Kazakhstan

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Early Irrigators
Tucson, Arizona

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Anglo-Saxon Hoard
Staffordshire, England

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Popol Vuh Relief
El Mirador, Guatemala

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World’s First Zoo
Hierakonpolis, Egypt

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Iron Age Priestesses
Eleutherna, Crete

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Earliest Chemical Warfare
Dura-Europos, Syria

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Palace of Mithradates
Kuban, Russia

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Rubaiyat Pot
Jerusalem, Israel

As always, there were many more significant discoveries than our "Top 10" list allowed for. Here are five more of the year’s most important finds. Maybe we should just call it the "Top 15 Discoveries of 2009."

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Sophisticated Cave Dwellers

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Orkney’s Neolithic "Cathedral"

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A Lost City in Istanbul

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Qatna’s Royal Sepulchre

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Earliest Cherokee Script?

Sites Under Threat in 2009

For the second year in a row, we’ve included a list of endangered sites around the world, ranging from the acropolis at the Hellenistic city of Barikot in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley to a prehistoric stone mound in Alabama that was destroyed during construction of a Walmart megastore. Go to list…

 

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Top 10 Discoveries of 2008

Volume 62 Number 1, January/February 2009

For some archaeology buffs, 2008 will always be the year of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And we have to admit we were glad to see Indiana back in action again after a 20-year absence (we loved it when he name-checked legendary Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe). But we did have some quibbles with the film; let’s just say we’re not big fans of the theory that aliens invented agriculture and leave it at that.

We also got more letters on our "Indy Spirit Awards" (May/June 2008), a list of archaeologists who embody the adventurous ethos of Indiana Jones, than we have for any other story in years. Most of them took us to task for failing to mention one or another larger-than-life archaeologist. We got enough background from these letters for a decade of profiles.

But as much as crystal skulls were the year’s most prominent "artifacts," we’re more likely to remember 2008 as the Year of the Earliest North American Coprolites (ancient human feces), or perhaps the Year of the Imperial Roman Marble Heads (two were unearthed in central Turkey). Both stories made our list of the most important discoveries of 2008.

Here you will find the other discoveries that really excited us, along with our first annual list of endangered archaeological sites—ranging from the great Indus city of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan to the rock art of Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon.

Sadly, reports of site destruction seem to be just as frequent as announcements of important finds. That’s why we were heartened to learn that the world’s earliest oil paintings had been identified in caves in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, where the Taliban dynamited two colossal Buddha statues in 2001. Even with the world’s heritage disappearing at an alarming rate, there are still amazing discoveries to be made.

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Sacred Maya Blue
Chichén Itzá, Mexico

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Wari Masked Mummy
Lima, Peru

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Kuttamuwa’s Soul
Zincirli, Turkey

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American Genes
North America

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Oldest Oil Paintings
Bamiyan, Afghanistan

 

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First European
Atapuerca, Spain

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Earliest Shoes
Tianyuan Cave, China

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Portuguese Indiaman
Namibia

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Imperial Colossi
Sagalassos, Turkey

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Origins of Whaling
Chukotka Peninsula, Russia

Listing the top or best discoveries for any year is somewhat problematic, and 2008 is no exception. In some cases, we haven’t been able to verify what could be major discoveries. In others, the findings were made over a period of years, so that pegging them to 2008 is not really appropriate. And there’s the basic fact that, while there was broad consensus, all of us at ARCHAEOLOGY had favorite discoveries or breakthroughs that our colleagues on the staff were not overwhelmed by. So, here is a selection of other important stories we considered for inclusion on the list, but for one reason or another did not.

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Ice Age Figurines
Zaraysk, Russia

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Reclining Buddhas
Bamiyan, Afghanistan

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Mammoths: Hitting
a Genetic Wall?

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Our Melting Heritage

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Human TB—
Tracking a Disease

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Can You Help
Identify this Roman?

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History Writ (and
Painted) Large

Under Threat

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Even as major discoveries were made throughout the year, important sites worldwide were threatened with imminent destruction. Our list is just a sampling of those that will be lost without intervention on an international scale. Go to list…

Digital Archaeology 2.0

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As more and more data go online, both laypeople and scholars are experiencing the world of archaeology in a way that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Read more…

 

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Top 10 Discoveries of 2007

Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008

Hardly week goes by without a major archaeological discovery or the publication of a radical new theory about the human past. Reducing a year’s worth of these stories to the 10 most important was a tall order, especially since our intent was to go beyond the headlines and select those we thought made a significant impact on the field–ones that will be talked about for decades.

With that in mind, here are our picks for the 2007’s most important finds…

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Solar Observatory at Chankillo, Peru

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Nebo-Sarsekim Cuneiform Tablet

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New Dates for Clovis Sites

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Early Squash Seeds, Peru

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Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use

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Urbanization at Tell Brak, Syria

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Lismullin Henge, Tara, Ireland

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Polynesian Chickens in Chile

 

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Homo habilis & Homo erectus

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Greater Angkor, Cambodia

Of course, we couldn’t agree on our own top ten, and many of us lobbied for stories that didn’t make the final cut. So, we have added here nine of 2007’s other most important finds…

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Baby Mammoth, Russia

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Alexander’s Isthmus, Tyre, Lebanon

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Ötzi’s Final Moments, Italy

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Neolithic Mural, Syria

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Imperial Standards, Rome

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Building the Great Pyramid, Giza

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Paleolithic Tools, India

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5,800-Year-Old Mass Grave, Syria

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Polynesian Breakthroughs

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Top 10 Discoveries of 2006

Volume 60 Number 1, January/February 2007

How do you know it’s been an extraordinary year in archaeology? When the discovery of the earliest Maya writing and a 2,500-year-old sarcophagus decorated with scenes from the Iliad don’t crack ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 list:

1. Valley of the Kings Tomb
KV63 was the first tomb to be excavated in the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun’s in 1922. The chamber held seven 18th Dynasty coffins.

2. 3-Million-Year-Old Child
After years of chiseling tiny bones out of sandstone blocks from Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, paleontologists announced the discovery of a nearly complete Australopithecus afarensis child (see "The New Face of Evolution").

3. Olmec Script
A stone block uncovered in the 1990s in Veracruz, Mexico, was shown to bear the first definitive proof that the ancient Olmec had a writing system, the oldest in the New World (see "What We Learn").

4. Irish Bog Psalms
In a peat bog near Dublin, bulldozer operator Eddie Fogarty found a book of Pslams, the first early medieval manuscript discovered in Ireland in 200 years.

5. Peru’s Temple of the Fox
Dating to 2200 B.C., an Andean temple was found with unprecedented astronomical alignments, including a facelike disk that frowns at the sunset on the first day of the harvest.

6. China’s "Guest Worker"
DNA analysis of bones found near the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi (r. 247-221 B.C.) shows the remains belonged to a Persian man, likely a captive forced to work on the emperor’s tomb (see "Worker from the West").
Recently doubts have been raised concerning the results of this DNA analysis. See "China’s DNA Debate" for more about it.

7. Tomb of the Roaring Lions
Grave robbers led Italian authorities to the oldest tomb paintings in the western Mediterranean. The seventh-century B.C. Etruscan scenes feature fanciful lions (see "Flights of Fancy").

8. Lost Kingdom of Tambora
The discovery of a modest house buried by an 1815 volcanic eruption in Indonesia presented the first evidence of the Kingdom of Tambora.

9. Scythian Mummy
A burial mound in the Mongolian Altai Mountains yielded the 2,500-year-old frozen remains of a blond Scythian warrior in full regalia.

10. Brazilian Stonehenge
A circle of some 130 granite blocks in the Brazilian state of Amapa was hailed as a possible 2,000-year-old winter solstice marker.

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