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Top Archaeological Finds of 2017

1. Mysterious gates in Saudi Arabia

This fall, archaeologists reported the discovery of about 400 rectangular stone structures, called gates because they resemble field gates, in Saudi Arabia. The longest of these structures is about 1,700 feet (518 meters) long — longer than four NFL football fields back to back. A few of the gates were found on the sides of lava domes. After the news of the discovery was reported on Live Science, the government of Saudi Arabia invited the archaeologists to take low-flying aerial photographs of the gates and other archaeological sites. The images the archaeologists took were.

2. New Dead Sea Scrolls cave

In February, archaeologists reported that they had discovered a cave that once contained Dead Sea Scrolls near the site of Qumran, in the West Bank. Most of the scrolls that the cave once held had been plundered decades ago, although a blank scroll was found. The archaeologists said that this was the 12th cave found near Qumran that held Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists are searching the desert near Qumran, and it’s possible that they will uncover a 13th cave in 2018. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written around 2,000 years ago and include some of the earliest known copies of the Hebrew Bible.

3. Pyramid for a princess?

Archaeologists in Egypt discovered a 3,800-year-old pyramid that bears the name of the pharaoh Ameny Qemau. Curiously, it is the second pyramid known to bear his name; the first was found in 1957, just 2,000 feet (about 600 meters) from the newly discovered pyramid. A wooden box found in the burial chamber of the newly discovered pyramid bears the name of the pharaoh’s daughter, Hatshepset, who had the same name as Egypt’s famous female pharaoh. One of Ameny Qemau’s predecessors may have built the pyramid, and Ameny Qemau may have taken the pyramid over, put his own name on it and used it to bury his own daughter, Egyptologists said.

4. Oldest Homo sapiens skeletons

The oldest known skeletons of Homo sapiens were identified a cave in Morocco, scientists reported in research published this year. Consisting of three adults, one teenager and one child, they date back around 300,000 years and thus push the origins of Homo sapiens back by about 100,000 years, the researchers said. The findings also suggest that H. sapiensmay have originated throughout the entire African continent rather than just East Africa. The scientists said the five individuals looked similar to modern-day humans.

5. A Grecian Artifact Evokes Tales From the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’

This 3,500-year-old gemstone shows a warrior standing over a slain enemy while plunging a sword into another warrior’s neck. It was buried in a tomb of a warrior in Pylos, Greece, along with about 3,000 objects. The details on the gemstone are so intricate that it takes a microscope to see all of them. While the tomb itself was first found in 2015, it has taken time to excavate, clean and analyze all of the artifacts, and the discovery of this particular treasure was announced in 2017.

6. First infertility diagnosis made 4,000 years ago discovered in cuneiform tablet in Turkey

This 4,000-year-old tablet reveals what may be the earliest known prenuptial agreement between a wife and her husband. Written in Assyrian, the contract stipulates that if the wife, Hatala, does not give birth to a child within two years of marriage, then she will buy her husband, Laqipum, a female slave who will produce a child for the couple. The contract also states that if Laqipum divorces Hatala, he must pay her five mina (a unit of weight) of silver, and if Hatala divorces Laqipum, she must pay him five mina of silver.

7. Oldest evidence of trigonometry

A 3,700-year-old tablet reveals that the Babylonians, not the Greeks, were the first to study trigonometry, the mathematics of triangles. The tablet has descriptions of 15 right triangles, the angles of inclination decreasing for each triangle the researchers found. These descriptions form part of a trigonometric table that made the study of trigonometry remarkably simple. Researchers were impressed by the simplicity of the tablet and said that modern-day math teachers may want to consider using a similar approach when teaching trigonometry.

The discovery “opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education,” said study co-author Norman Wildberger, an associate professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “The mathematical world is only waking up to the fact that this ancient but very sophisticated mathematical culture has much to teach us.”

The Babylonians may have used their knowledge of trigonometry to construct palaces and pyramid-shaped structures called ziggurats, the researchers said.

8. Archaeologists discover remains of ancient Aztec temple & ball court

Archaeologists discovered a large circular temple, dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatlin. The remains were uncovered behind the city’s colonial-era Roman Catholic Cathedral in the heart of Mexico City.

The temple was built between 1486-1502 during the reign of the Aztec Emper Ahuizotl, predecessor of the famed Moctezuma II, whom Hernan Cortes defeated during the conquest of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors. Only part of the ball court has survived, comprising of a staircase and section of a spectator stand. Estimates place the court at around 50 meters (165 feet) long.

9. Tomb of early classic maya ruler found in Guatemala

The tomb of a Maya ruler was excavated last summer at the Classic Maya city of Waka’ in northern Guatemala.

The tomb, discovered by Guatemalan archaeologists of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project (Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’, or PAW), has been provisionally dated by ceramic analysis to  300-350 A.D., making it the earliest known royal tomb in the northwestern Petén region of Guatemala. El Perú-Waka’ is about 40 miles west of the famous Maya site of Tikal near the San Pedro Martir River in Laguna del Tigre National Park. In the Classic period, this royal city commanded major trade routes running north to south and east to west.

10. Mysterious void in Great Pyramid of Giza could finally reveal how pyramids were built

Particles from outer space have helped uncover a mysterious void deep inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest pyramid in Egypt.

Researchers made the discovery using high-tech devices that typically are used only for experiments in particle physics. (That’s the study of particles smaller than atoms.) The detectors scouted for particles streaming from outer space through the ancient structure’s thick stone. This search turned up a previously unknown empty space, or void. That unknown chamber is the first major structure discovered inside the roughly 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid since the 19th century. It could be the greatest discovery of all time.


Pasquale Barile

Pasquale Barile, freelance egyptologist and writer, deals with ancient languages and genesis of civilization. Founder and President of the Ancient World Society and HistoryLab, conducts an intensive research, divulging and teaching activity in history. He is a member of the EES (Egypt Exploration Society) and SE (Société d'Égyptologie). He lives in Bologna, Italy.

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