Six archaeological finds to rival Tutankhamun’s tomb


From the Terracotta Army to the ‘Hobbit’ of Flores, these are the discoveries that experts say are more important than finding Tutankhamun’s resting place


November 2, 2022

Ancient chariots from the Yinxu site in China

Imaginechina Limited/Alamy

Archaeologists have made many amazing discoveries over the years. These changed the way we think about how our species became the only human being on the planet, how civilizations arose across the world, and how international trade began.

As the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time – the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt – new scientist asked archaeologists working at sites scattered around the world, from Greece to Indonesia, to name finds they believe are even more significant.

Mycenae burial circle

At the end of the 19th century, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated a circle of six royal tombs in the citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. He found a trove of golden treasures from the 16th century BC, including the “Mask of Agamemnon”, which Schliemann says was worn by the mythological ruler of Mycenae, who fought in the Trojan War. It’s unlikely, but the discovery “has revolutionized our understanding of the Mediterranean”, says Jack Davis at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, revealing the previously unknown Aegean civilizations that preceded historic Greece.

The Mask of Agamemnon discovered in Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann.  The mask is a gold funerary mask, found on the face of a body located in a burial shaft.  Schliemann believed he had discovered the body of the legendary Greek leader Agamemnon

The Mask of Agamemnon, one of Mycenae’s most famous finds

World History Archive/Alamy

Terracotta Army and Yinxu Ancient Site

In 1974, workers digging near the city of Xi’an, China discovered a life-size clay soldier ready for battle. Archaeologists soon found an entire terracotta army guarding the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang from the 3rd century BC. Flad Rowan at Harvard University highlights the site as well as Yinxu, the last capital of the Shang dynasty (see photo at top of page). This city, which dates from the late 2nd millennium BC and is therefore much older than the Terracotta Army, revealed a golden age of early Chinese culture, including palaces, a flood control system and inscribed oracle bones – the earliest evidence of Chinese writing. Language. Both “were real discoveries of things and stories long forgotten,” says Flad.

Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army began to emerge in the 1970s

Melvyn Longhurst China/Alamy

Hoxne Hand Axes

In 1797, the antiquarian John Frere wrote to his colleagues describing sharpened flints discovered by masons in Hoxne, England. The stones lay 4 meters deep, next to the bones of huge unknown animals and beneath layers apparently once at the bottom of the sea. of today’s world”. His discovery of what we now know to be Paleolithic hand axes “revealed the long-term and profound human past for the first time,” says Mike ParkerPearson at University College London, “challenging the biblical notion that the world was created in 4004 BC.

Hoxne Hand Axes

Stone Age hand axes were discovered in Hoxne, England in the late 18th century

Science History Images/Alamy


This Bronze Age shipwreck, found off the coast of Turkey in 1982, is “one of the great underwater discoveries”, according to Brendan Foley at Lund University in Sweden. Once described as “Wall Street in a boat», he transformed the understanding of historians of the time by revealing an astonishing network of commercial contacts. The wreck’s vast cargo represented at least 11 different cultures and included weapons, jewelry, ostrich eggs, resin, spices and copper ingots from as far away as Egypt, Cyprus and the United States. ‘Asia.

Replica of the wreck of Uluburun II

A replica of the wreck of the ship Uluburun, a ship lost in the Mediterranean during a Bronze Age storm


The “Hobbit” of Flores

Shock discovery of tiny humans who once lived on the Indonesian island of Flores was the ‘JFK moment’ of modern archaeology, says Adam Brumm at Griffith University in Australia, in the sense that the scientists on the ground still remember where they were when they heard the news. The tiny bones, discovered in a cave in 2003, showed that individuals (later called Homo floresiensis) grew to just over a meter tall and lived alongside giant lizards. For Brumm, “it was an electrifying and totally unexpected find”.

Homo floresiensis

Homo floresiensis, an ancient human species that surprised everyone

Cicero Moraes et al. (CC BY 4.0)

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