Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! We may be a few weeks into 2023, but for this post, we are actually going to look back to 2022. Last year was an amazing year for discoveries in the art history and archaeology worlds! I cover several stories every month in The Curated Corner newsletter, so I thought I would share some of my favorites in this video. Of course, there were tons more stories, but I had to narrow it down to my top five! Otherwise, we would be here until next year! So, to learn more, keep on reading!
Egypt’s New Queen
For centuries, Ancient Egypt has captured the public imagination. Grand pyramids, massive statues of pharaohs, and of course, mummies have brought this civilization to life. Amazingly, new discoveries are still being made all the time! In 2022, Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities, announced the discovery of a pyramid related to a previously unknown queen. It was discovered near Saqqara, a famous site filled with burials from nearly every period of ancient Egyptian history. Her name is Queen Neith and finding her literally rewrites what we know about royal history. We are still waiting to hear from Egyptologists on who she was and what dynasty she was a part of, but it was an exciting discovery nonetheless.
In the summer of 2022, archaeologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced an exciting discovery out of a dig site in Israel. While working in a village called Huqoq, near the sea of Galilee, they discovered two mosaics that date to around 1400 years ago! They depict two Old Testament heroines, Deborah and Jael. These pieces were uncovered in a synagogue that dates from the late 4th or early 5th century CE. This is an astounding discovery because it is the first time that this scene from Chapter 4 has been discovered in a synagogue and the first time we see Deborah and Jael in Jewish art!
Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf is one of the most famous works of prehistoric art. She is a small (4.3
inches or 10.9 centimeters) statue of a woman, with exaggerated breasts and hips, but no distinguishing facial features. This year, a team from the University of Vienna used a technique called high-resolution micro-computed tomography to try and determine where she came from.
The Venus of Willendorf is made of oolitic limestone. This type of rock can have a variety of compositions, depending on where in the world it is from. Using this technique, researchers were able to determine that the stone used to carve the statue was from nearly 450 miles away from Willendorf in the Italian Alps. This opened up a realm of possibilities about Neolithic travel and cultural exchange!
The Mayans used a 260 day ritualistic calendar. Amazingly, it is still in use today in some parts of central America! This year, archaeologists working near the base of a pyramid in the ancient city of San Bartolo, Guatemala, discovered a small glyph. Upon first glance, it seems to be an image of an animal, made with fine brush strokes. However, when archaeologists took a closer look, they were able to decipher its meaning: 7 Deer. This was a reference to a date, akin to the Mayan New Year. What makes this find so remarkable is its age. The glyph was dated to 250 BCE, making it the oldest Mayan calendar ever discovered!
The Etruscans were a civilization that predated the Romans on the Italian peninsula. Many of
their traditions were assimilated into Roman culture, which is how art historians are able to study them. This is because much of the Etruscan language has been lost to history and their bronze statues were melted down. However, this year, a huge discovery was made that helps us to understand the Etruscans more than ever before! While working on a site of ancient thermal baths outside Siena, Italy, archaeologists uncovered 24 bronze statues, thousands of coins, and other buried artifacts dating from the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE! The mineral rich mud helped to keep these statues preserved, some in near perfect condition! This is the largest cache of Etruscan and Roman artifacts ever found and helps us to understand how the two cultures worked together!
These are just five of the amazing discoveries that took place in 2022! It is amazing how the historical record is constantly shifting and updating as we learned more about the past. I can’t wait to see what 2023 brings! What was your favorite discovery? Let me know in the comments!