Word on the street, a carpark in Leicester…the site of one of the most exciting British archaeological discoveries in the 21st century? Really? Who would have thought it? On Monday 4th February 2013, scientists confirmed that they have indeed uncovered the grave of Richard III, the English king killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.
In response, I was asked to write this blogpost about some of the most extraordinary archaeological finds ever. I’m a history student and as such I can appreciate the role of the archaeologist and their importance to the study of material culture. This should be easy…
I start chatting away to my friend who is studying archaeology and anthropology and ask her to give me some inspiration.
I was lost… Quite honestly, I just had Indiana Jones in mind.
Ummm. Right. I suddenly realise that to pick a few of the greatest archaeological finds is going to be more of a challenge that I initially thought.
The possibilities are infinite. Just google it and you will see for yourself. After all, the study of the human past… there is quite a lot there.
So, to narrow things down, do I go with historical archaeology, ethnoarchaeology, biological archaeology, or do I stick with British finds? Browsing the Internet for just 10 minutes the discoveries I made were incredible. I have picked some of what I liked best.
Here are a few of the amazing finds that I have dug up (…sorry):
1) The Dead Sea Scrolls
A collection of 972 scrolls found on the shore of the Dead Sea between 1946-56. They consist of biblical as well as extra-biblical documents but are traditionally divided into three groups: ‘Biblical’ manuscripts (copies of texts that can be found in the Hebrew Bible), ‘Other’ manuscripts (known documents from the Second Temple Period that were not included in the Hebrew Bible) and ‘Sectarian’ manuscripts (previously unknown documents that outline the rules and beliefs of groups within greater Judaism).
The manuscripts themselves have been dated to a timespan between 408BC to 318 CE.
Without going to deeply into this, consider the creation and circulation of these documents around 1000 years ago… Wow.
2) The Terra Cotta Warriors
This terracotta army was buried with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huan in 210-209BC in the hope that it would protect the emperor in the afterlife.
It was discovered in 1974 by local farmers in the Lintong District of Xi’an. Current estimates put the number of soldiers at over 8,000 and that doesn’t include the chariots and cavalry horses!
How long did it take to make all of these I wonder…?
3) The Mount Owen Moa
Found in the 1980s in New Zealand this is a complete foot of a Megalapteryx didinus. It was a form of flightless bird, native to New Zealand and it is thought that most, if not all, of the species had died out as a result of overhunting by the Maori by 1400.
This foot has been tested and is actually 3000 years old…. Yep. No need to say more. Amazing.
4) The Oldest Shoes
I love shoes. I look forward to the day when I have the money I can buy a pair of Christian Louboutins (keep dreaming Maddie).
Now it may not exude the style of some Louboutins but this 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe is extraordinary. Found in Armenia in 2010, it shows that even half a millennia ago, protecting the foot (and the importance of accessorising?!) was understood.
- 5. Oetzi the Ice man
Found in 1991, the whole genome sequencing of the human remain of Oetzi was completed in 2012. It is a mummified corpse of a man who was killed over 5,000 years ago in the Italian Alps. Analysis of his DNA provided not only a unique window into Oetzi’s own life, but more importantly into ancient European migration patterns.
How they glean this information from analysis of a 5000-year old corpse is beyond me but the fact that we have such remains in our hands today is mind-blowing. Just think- 5000 years ago Oetzi was walking around like me and you!
I have no idea whether these are considered to be the greatest archaeological finds of our time but in a field all about discovery, the research for this blog was just that for me.
Have a look for yourself and see what you can uncover…