Accessible Art History
2021 Archaeological Discoveries
Welcome to the first blog post of 2022! Following tradition here at Accessible Art History, I’m going to cover five exciting archaeological discoveries from the previous year! It is truly amazing that, even in the 21st century, we are still making important historical discoveries that help us to understand the past. These are just five of those discoveries, there are tons more! I cover at least one every month on the Accessible Art History newsletter. Make sure to sign up using this link so you don’t miss out! So, without further ado, let’s dive into some fascinating archaeological discoveries!
Discovery 1: Crusader Sword
In October, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that a 900 year old sword was discovered on the sea bed off the Carmel coast. Shlomi Katzin was diving near his home when he spotted the sword and other Crusader era artifacts peeking out from the sand.
Although it was encrusted with sea life, the IAA stated that it was in near perfect condition and, due to its four foot length, likely belonged to a Crusader knight. However, it is possible it belonged to a Muslim soldier as the straight sword was a popular weapon across cultures.
This remarkable discovery is undergoing conservation and study at IAA laboratories. Eventually, the goal is to put it on public display for all to enjoy!
Discovery 2: Evidence of Roman Crucifixion
Despite its place in popular knowledge, there is little archaeological evidence of crucifixion in the days of the Roman Empire. One example, a heel bone with a nail through it, was discovered in Israel in 1968. Fifty three years later, another such bone was found in the United Kingdom. Studies indicate that it was from a man between the ages of 25-35. His bones, especially his legs, showed that he worked as a manual laborer, possibly a slave. Even worse, there is evidence that he was chained to a wall for a long period before his execution.
The skeleton was found in a mass grave with forty eight other bodies. There is no evidence of the man’s crimes, but Roman authorities reserved crucifixion for the most heinous crimes against the state, like rebellion and treason. This heel bone, despite its size, can tell us a lot about this practice and the Roman Empire during the 3rd-4th century CE.
Discovery 3: Golden City in Egypt
One of the largest ancient Egyptian cities ever discovered was unearthed by mistake this year! Egyptologists were actually looking for the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Tutankhamun along the west bank of the Nile in Luxor when they stumbled upon the city. It is well preserved and contains houses, streets, and city walls.
According to hieroglyphic inscriptions, the city was called tehn Aten, or “dazzling Aten” and was founded by Pharaoh Amenhotep III. He was the grandfather of Tutankhamun and the father of Akhenaten (the heretic pharaoh who turned Egypt into a monothestic society.) It was likely abandoned during Akhenaten’s reign because he moved Egypt’s capital to his city of Amarna, 250 miles away from Luxor.
Aten was Egypt’s main administrative and industrial center. Despite being over 3000 years old, it has been remarkably preserved and will enlighten Egyptologists for years to come!
Discovery 4: Bronze Age Map
This next discovery actually started over one hundred years ago, in 1900. A seven-by-five-foot schist slab was discovered in Brittany, France. It is incised with criss crossing lines and repeated symbols. However, it was soon forgotten about in the collection of France's National Archaeology Museum.
In 2021, Clément Nicolas, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University and his team decided to study the stone after being intrigued by photographs. This was no small feat as it weighs almost a ton! After examining the stone, the team realized that the slab’s left edge resembles the shape of the Odet River Valley, which is close to where the stone was discovered. It also matches several other landmarks in the area!
The slab map dates from 2150 to 1600 B.C.E., making it the oldest map ever discovered in Europe! There is a small square in the center of the piece. This has led archaeologists to believe it was made by a small group staking their claim on the area.
Discovery 5: World’s First Artists
These children were likely Neanderthals or members of the related Denisovan species, due to the time period. This date was determined by testing mineral deposits, specifically uranium. Isn’t it amazing how science and history can come together to help us learn about the past?
These are only five of the dozens of stories that broke during 2021. They remind us that we are learning about the past every day! I wonder what this year will hold!