There were many important archaeological discoveries in 2022. Researchers found evidence of prehistoric animation, one of the earliest known Buddhist temples and ancient Egyptian mummy portraits showing living images of the deceased – discoveries that captivated people across the globe. In this countdown, Live Science takes a look at 10 of the most important archaeological stories from 2022.
1. Mummy portraits
Archaeologists with Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities discovered two complete mummy portraits along with half-complete and incomplete portraits in a cemetery at the ancient city of Philadelphia, about 120 kilometers southwest of Cairo. These realistic portraits date back around 2000 years.
While mom portraits can be seen today in museums around the world, many were dug up by looters; the newly discovered paintings are the first mummy portraits found in a scientific excavation since British archaeologist Flinders Petrie uncovered portraits in the 1880s. Researchers hope the new findings will help them learn more about mummy portraits, as the new findings were unearthed during an archaeological dig and therefore were examined using modern scientific methods.
2. Underground city
A hidden underground city may have housed up to 70,000 people under the ancient city of Midyat in Turkey, archaeologists discovered. While only about 5% of the underground city has been excavated so far, the finds include water wells, grain storage silos, remains of houses, a Christian church and what appears to be a synagogue with a Star of David symbol on the wall. Coins and oil lamps found in the underground city suggest that it was in use in the second and third centuries AD. During this time, Roman Empire controlled the area and persecuted Christians, and it is possible that some people fled to this underground city to escape persecution.
3. Early Buddhist temple
Archaeologists working in Swat Valley, Pakistan found a Buddhist temple dating to the middle of the second century BC. making it one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world. Buddhism was founded by Siddhārtha Gautama, who lived from about 563 BC. to 483 BC, which means that this temple dates to a few centuries after his death. Found in the town of Barikot, the uncovered remains of the temple so far include a ceremonial platform topped by a cylindrical structure that housed a stupa, a conical or dome-shaped Buddhist monument.
4. Destruction in Ukraine
The Russian invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022 has resulted in damage, destruction or theft of a number of objects and cultural heritage. To name just a few examples the world’s largest plane, originally designed to carry a Soviet space shuttle, was destroyed in the opening days of the invasion. Occupation forces also took a number of artifacts from the Melitopol Local History Museum in Ukraine, including 2,300-year-old Scythian gold objects as well as 300-year-old silver coins and antique weapons.
Not even the dead have been spared. Before withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Kherson in November, Russian occupation forces took the body of Grigory Potemkin (lived 1739 to 1791) from his tomb in the city. Potemkin, a nobleman, was a favorite of the Russian empress Catherine the Great and served as both governor and general. Media reports suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin admires the figure and wanted his forces to remove the body and bring it to Russia.
5. Prehistoric cartoons
A research team studying a cave in southern France found that prehistoric animal carvings were placed in such a way that light and shadows would interact with them to make it look like the animals were moving. “When you get this dynamic light over the surface, suddenly all these animals start moving; they start flickering in and out of focus,” Andy Needham (opens in a new tab), an archaeologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. The area can be dated back around 15,000 years, and the carved animal animations long predate the earliest moving images, which did not debut until the 1800s.
6. 9,000-year-old sanctuary discovery
A 9,000-year-old shrine discovered in Jordan’s eastern desert contains a number of remarkable artifacts: at least two large stones with carvings of human facial features, an altar and hearth, animal figures, stone tools and even marine fossils. Several full-sized dragons – a type of trap for catching groups of animals – were found near the shrine, and it is possible that rituals at the shrine were performed in the hope of good hunting. While the area is now a desert, it is possible that it was wetter at the time the sanctuary was built.
7. Thousands of pits near Stonehenge
Scientists conducting an electromagnetic induction survey discovered thousands of pits near Stonehenge. The results indicate that there may be 415 large pits that measured more than 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter and about 3,000 smaller pits. The oldest excavated pit was around 10,000 years old and contained the remains of stone tools that may have been used for hunting. At the time, many animals roamed the Salisbury Plain, including aurochs (Bos primigenius), a now extinct species of cattle.
Only a small number of the pits have been excavated so far. Some may have been used for hunting, like the 10,000-year-old pit, while others may have had ceremonial purposes.
8. Old sanctuary
In the municipality of San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany, Italy, archaeologists found what appears to be the remains of an ancient sanctuary. It may have been used by both the Etruscans and the Romans. The Etruscans were a people who flourished in Italy during the first millennium BC, but their cities and territory were gradually taken over by the Romans and their culture absorbed by them. One team found more than two dozen well-preserved bronze statues dating to 2000 years ago. In addition, archaeologists found bronze carvings of individual body parts and organs, and 5,000 coins made of goldsilver or bronze.
At least some of the statues depict gods, including Apollo, a deity revered by both Greeks and Romans who was associated with the sun; and Hygeia, a goddess associated with healing. Some of the statues had Latin or Etruscan inscriptions carved on them.
9. chalk sculpture
A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture, which the British Museum called “the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years,” was found near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire. It was discovered next to a chalk ball and bone needle inside the grave of three children.
The burial dates back to a time when Stonehenge was built. The new findings are evidence that people across Britain were engaged in similar artistic practices at the time. For example, the sculpture is similar to three other sculptures found in 1889 near the village of Folkton, about 15 miles (24 km) away from Burton Agnes. The bone pin found with the sculpture is similar to pins found buried with people inside Stonehenge, and the chalk ball is similar to another object found at Bulford, near Stonehenge.
10. Roman mosaic
In Syria, archaeologists revealed a massive, colorful mosaic dates back approximately 1600 years. It depicts scenes from the Trojan War, a legendary conflict between Greeks and Trojans. It also shows scenes depicting the gods Hercules and Neptune. The mosaic is about 65.5 feet long and 20 feet wide (20 x 6 m) and was found in Rastan, a town near Homs, by archaeologists from the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, a Syrian government agency. The mosaic was found inside an ancient building whose purpose is unknown, although one idea is that it was a public bathhouse. Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since 2011 that has seen many of its archaeological sites looted, damaged or destroyed.