Five Amazing Archaeological Discoveries
Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! For this post, I thought that it would be both fun and interesting to talk about five important archaeological discoveries. Obviously, there are far more than five discoveries that shaped our understanding of the past. But, I chose ones that I felt had a wide reaching impact, not only for their artistic merits, but for unlocking historical secrets.
The Tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun
On November 4, 1922, Howard Carter opened a tomb that would forever change the world’s knowledge of Ancient Egypt. It was located in the Valley of the Kings and contained the remains, funerary objects, and other goods belonging to Pharaoh Tutankhamun. This was
the first time that a ruler’s tomb had been discovered fully intact. Normally, they had been robbed in antiquity with only a few things left behind!
Inside, Carter found 5,398 objects! Each one was carefully catalogued for further study. In addition, the tomb was decorated with rich paintings depicting Tut’s life and instructions for making it through the netherworld. This discovery was crucial for historians to learn more about the 18th royal dynasty as well as Egyptian burial rites and customs.
Pompeii was once a thriving, Roman coastal town. But that all changed on August 24, 79 CE. On that day, Mt Vesuvius erupted violently and covered the area in hot pumice and ash. It effectively sealed it up and created a time capsule. Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748, but serious excavations didn’t begin until 1860. Today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This discovery has been essential for the study of Ancient Rome. The ash from Mt. Vesuvius formed such a good seal on the town that objects survived the ravages of time. This allowed archaeologists, art historians, and historians to understand how society functioned in the 1st century CE. In most societies, the objects that survived were usually associated with the wealthy and powerful. But in this case, objects from all parts of society were preserved! It unlocked the past in a unique way!
Dead Sea Scrolls
High above the Dead Sea in Israel, there are cliffs riddled with caves. They have been used for a variety of purposes over the centuries, but one of the most popular was as a hiding place for important objects. In 1946, a shepherd discovered several clay jars in one of these caves. They were filled with ancient scrolls, dating from around 408 BCE to 318 CE. These scrolls contained books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and community guidelines for a monastic group (most likely the Essenes)
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls shook the world of biblical scholarship. These were the earliest texts ever found relating to the Hebrew bible. The ones that were previously the oldest dated from the 10th century CE. By studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, historians were able to understand how things changed over the centuries, whether by translation or by different communities.
The prehistoric world is one of the most mysterious to us. Due to a lack of written records (and evidence in general), there is very little that we understand. However, a discovery in Lascaux, France helped to make things a bit easier. A young boy was searching for his dog in 1940 when he stumbled upon a long lost cave entrance. Inside, were hundreds of paintings that dated from the Upper Paleolithic era. They covered the ceilings and walls and represented flora and fauna known from fossil records!
By studying this cave, archaeologists and anthropologists were able to understand a bit more about early human society. Theories on its creations range from hunting magic to a form of record keeping. But, one thing is for certain: The Lascaux Caves represent the fact that humans have always been compelled to create.
Qin Shi Huang (259 BCE. – 210 BCE) was not only the first emperor of China, but he was also a semi mythological figure. But, in 1974, a discovery by a farmer, made him much more real! His tomb was uncovered in said farmer’s field and it has ignited the public’s imagination. The tomb was filled with 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. (There are also other figures, but these are the most famous). The burial site of the emperor has not been excavated because it is highly likely that it is surrounded by mercury!
The remarkable thing about these statues is that they feature a variety of facial expressions and body positions. This is because they were meant to represent actual human beings that would serve the emperor in the afterlife. Archaeologists and historians were able to use these objects to learn more about a society that seemed to exist on a mythical plain
These are only five archaeological discoveries that rocked the world. There are literally hundreds of new ones every year that help us to understand the past better! Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!
Gardner’s Art through the Ages, 12th Edition, Fred S Kleiner
Tutankhamun Mask: Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Pompeii: CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Dead Sea Scrolls (Scroll of Isaiah): Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Lascaux Caves (Hall of the Bulls): Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Terracotta Army: Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons