The Coolest Archaeological Finds of 2016
From talking mummies to creepy ancient burials, the year in archaeology offered some astounding discoveries.
Credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
From creepy burials to sunken ships, Bronze Age ancestors of Rodin's "The Thinker" and "speaking" mummies, this year offered extraordinary insight into the past.
But 2016 has also been a year of disappointments. Egyptian authorities faced embarrassment after supporting the theory that a secret room existed in the tomb of King Tut. Such a room would have concealed "one of the most important finds of the century" — the tomb of Queen Nefertiti.
After much excitement, more detailed scans earlier this year showed that no secret room existed in the tomb of the boy pharaoh.
Still in Egypt, experts raised doubts over a claim that the Great Pyramid at Giza contains two unknown voids or cavities. Investigations using innovative techniques such as infrared thermography, and "cosmic ray" muon detectors are expected further explore that claim in 2017.
Here are some of our favorite archaeology stories of this year.
Egypt's Oldest Writings
Despite some disappointments, Egypt remained an archaeological hot spot in 2016. Authorities unveiled 30 papyri which contain the oldest known examples of Egyptian writing, dating back 4,500 years.
Found within caves in the ancient Red Sea port of Wadi al-Jarf, the papyri provide insight into the lives of workers in the port during the reign of fourth dynasty King Khufu, also known as Cheops, for whom the Great Pyramid of Giza was built as a tomb.
The hieroglyphs reveal that workers and employees at Wadi al-Jarf participated in the construction of the pyramid.
Other findings included the remains of a 4,500-year-old funerary boat which was uncovered near the Abusir pyramids, a 3000-year-old mummy resting inside a perfectly preserved brightly colored wooden sarcophagus and a remarkable 3,400-year-old necropolis. Consisting of dozens of rock-cut tombs, it was unearthed at the quarry site of Gebel el Sisila, north of Aswan.
King Tut's Blade Made of Meteorite
Some of the most intriguing finds of 2016 were made in labs outside Egypt. Using non-invasive, portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a team of Italian and Egyptian researchers found that King Tut was buried with a dagger made of an iron that literally came from space.
They confirmed that iron of the dagger placed on the right thigh of King Tut's mummified body has meteoric origins.
Queen Nefertari's Dismembered Legs
In another breakthrough, a pair of 3,200-year-old mummified legs were identified as belonging to Queen Nefertari. She was the first and favorite wife of the mighty warrior pharaoh Ramses II.
The legs had been on display at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy when an international team of researchers led by Frank Rühli, head of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, made the stunning identification.
Nefertari's mummy was ripped to pieces and tossed around by ancient robbers, so her remains were believed to have been lost forever. Nefertari is the only queen from the Ramesside era to have been identified so far.
A Bronze Age settlement in the UK county of Cambridgeshire stands as one of the most compelling finds of 2016. Dubbed Britain's "Pompeii," the site provided vivid insight into domestic life 3,000 years ago.
The settlement was home to several families who lived in a number of circular wooden houses built on stilts above a river. It was abandoned in haste 3,000 years ago as a giant fire destroyed the houses. The dwellings fell into the river, where thick silt and clay preserved the contents.
The archaeologists found an extraordinary time capsule buried just over six feet below the ground surface. Finds include clothing, jewelry, tools, furniture, textiles, abandoned meals still in the cooking pots and the the oldest, largest, most complete wheel ever found in Britain.
3,000-Year-Old Cooking Mistake
Food was again in the spotlight in 2016.
Evidence for one of the most common mistakes in the kitchen — burning food — was found in a 3,000-year-old clay pot that was excavated in central Jutland, Denmark, at the bottom of what was once a waste pit. The clay vessel, in near mint condition, contained burned cheese and was possibly thrown in a moment of anger over the cooking mistake.
Such cooking accidents were likely avoided by those using the "Cumanae testae" or "Cumanae patellae" — pans produced more than 2,000 years ago in the from the city of Cumae, about 12 miles west of Naples. Archaeologists found the site where such pottery, featuring a red coating that prevented food from sticking to the pan, was produced. They were the precursors of non-stick pans.
While 340-year-old Roquefort cheese was found in a Swedish shipwreck on the bed of the Baltic, turf cutters working in an Irish peat bog unearthed a 2,000-year-old lump of butter, which also smelled like a strong cheese.
Chemical analysis of prehistoric hearths, revealed that salmon has been on the American menu for 11,800 years. The dating confirms central Alaska as the earliest site of salmon consumption in the Americas.
As for drinking, researchers analyzing ancient pottery jars in China, found that barley might have been the "secret ingredient" in a 5,000-year-old beer recipe.
Oldest Known Dress
Among the list of world's firsts discovered this year were the oldest known dress, a stained shirt produced more than 5,000 years ago, and the oldest ground-edge stone axe, whose discovery in Australia pushed back the Aborigenal technology to between 45,000 to 49,000 years ago.
The year also brought the discoveries of the world's oldest gold artifact — a tiny bead unearthed in Bulgaria which archaeologists believe is 6,500 years old — and the oldest snowshoe. Found in the Italian Alps, it looks amazingly modern even though it dates back 5,800 years.
Huge Ancient Ship Graveyard
A discovery in a small Greek archipelago stands as this year's most significant finding in underwater archaeology.
Investigation of the Fourni archipelago, a collection of 13 islands and islets located between the eastern Aegean islands of Samos and Icaria, revealed 23 ancient wrecks, which add to 22 other wrecks identified in 2015. The discovery confirms the Greek site as the ancient shipwreck capital of the world.
Still in Greece, archaeologists unearthed a human skeleton dating back to 2,000 years ago on the Antikythera shipwreck. Dubbed the "Titanic of the ancient world," the vessel sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera, in southern Greece.
Found by Greek sponge divers more than 100 years ago, the wreck contained a mysterious "Antikythera mechanism" — a complex, geared astronomical calculator known as the world's oldest computer.
The remains, which most likely belonged to a young man, could yield the first DNA from an ancient shipwreck victim.
Ötzi the Iceman's Voice
Mummy research produced important findings for modern clinical medicine.
Researchers rewrote the history of smallpox by analyzing the mummified remains of a 17th-century child from Vilnius, Lithuania.
The disease had long been thought to have appeared in human populations thousands of years ago, but the child mummy, which turned to contain the oldest known sample of the variola virus that causes smallpox, now challenges that timeline,placing it between 1643 and 1665.
One of the most spectacular investigations involved Ötzi the Iceman, whose voice was reconstructed by scientists with the "best possible approximation."
Presented during a major congress to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the 5,300-year-old mummy, the experiment aimed to discover the tone of the Iceman's Stone Age vowels.
Ötzi broke his silence with a deep male voice. He spoke Italian — but just vowels, as you can hear here
Shackle-Bound Skeleton in Etruscan Burial
Creepy finding abounded in 2016. Discoveries spanned from the remains of footless children around the ruins of an ancient temple on Peru's northern coast to Iron Age skeletons buried in southeastern Turkey with several previously slaughtered and butchered turtles.
'Vampire' burials with holes in the spine to nail the bodies into the ground and prevent any attempt to rise from the grave were uncovered in Poland, while 2,500-year-old skeletons were uncovered in Siberia with their heads severed and placed by the knees.
But perhaps the most intriguing finding was the shackle-bound skeleton found in in central Tuscany.
The finding appears to be the first case of an Etruscan burial containing a shackled individual. Almost five pounds of iron bound the man's legs, while a heavy iron collar was wrapped around his neck.
The burial revealed rather disturbing side of the Etruscan people, traditionally seen as a fun-loving and eclectic civilization.
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