We explore some of the fascinating archaeological finds that changed the world
By Richard Sutherland in Study Break / Sat February 16, 2013
Uncovering the facts
The most incredible things are often hidden, waiting for someone to discover them, and when it comes to archaeology they can literally be under our noses, albeit a long way down. Whether it’s a monarch or a mechanism, it’s amazing what you can find when you dig around a bit and get your hands dirty.
My kingdom for a car park!
The remains of King Richard III had been missing for over five hundred years; that was until a 2013 excavation of a Leicester City Council car park resulted in an extraordinary discovery. Once the site of Greyfriars, a Franciscan monastic community, exhumed skeletal remains caused a huge stir.
Historically, we’ve always known that Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, but thanks to modern DNA testing we now know his precise injuries. This new information will allow us to study and reassess England’s royal history even further, eventually providing the world with the full story of the last King of the House of York after centuries of frustrating speculation.
Wood is the new stone
Everyone’s heard of Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire built somewhere between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, but in 2009 archaeologists found a wooden circle just a stone’s throw away. The posts are shorter than those of Stonehenge (about 10 feet high compared to up to 22 feet), but the size of the site is similar and around 4,500 years old.
The original function of these arrangements is yet to be worked out, but experts say that multiple sites suggest they acted as prehistoric funeral grounds. Whatever they were originally for, they’re now a favourite for keen Instagram users in the 21st century!
Good old-fashioned science
In 1901, sponge divers accidentally located an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek island. For over a century, a large lump of metal found inside the vessel was considered mysterious but ultimately unimportant, but recent studies have led scientists to believe that it was actually a very early computer.
The device’s intricate mechanisms once informed its operator where the stars and planets should appear in the night sky, aiding navigation. This discovery shows how technical instruments may have been around for far longer than we ever imagined, and how Google Sky Map isn’t quite as innovative as we’d like to believe.
The Romans have always been considered the geniuses of ancient times, and rightly so. However, though known for bringing the world countless innovations, they weren’t the only clever thinkers of their day.
In the 1920s, the remains of twenty Roman soldiers were found buried in Syria. Recent scientific studies show that the fighters didn’t even get round to fighting, but instead died from asphyxiation from a particularly nasty cocktail of sulphur dioxide and petrochemicals, pumped down into the tunnel by the opposing Persians. The result was a rather grisly but mercifully swift death, with the tunnel becoming the Romans’ tomb for millennia.
Chemical warfare is never pleasant, but this information helps modern day historians to build a better picture of the ancient world – it would appear that strategic masterminds were present in every land, all working to keep their own civilisations on top.
A never-ending search
Though we’re always thirsty for more knowledge, when it comes to archaeology the worst result would be to have nothing left to discover. Thankfully there are plenty of mysteries yet to be cleared up, from the legendary Atlantis to that elusive Holy Grail: the human race has an awfully long way to go before the history books stop being written.
You never know, perhaps one day we’ll unearth the remains of a dragon, a Cyclops, or Lewis Carroll’s terrifying Jabberwock. But in the meantime let’s stick to finding the bones of Alfred the Great, because old King Dicky could probably do with some royal company.