2009's top 10 most exciting discoveries in archaeology

16:28, December 18, 2009      

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Archaeology, a U.S. magazine, recently issued a list of the year's top ten most exciting discoveries.

Lord of Ucupe, Peru

A discovery in the village of Ucupe of an array of gilded copper masks, shields, and diadems in the tomb of a local lord that strongly resemble those excavated in elite tombs up to 25 miles away.

First domesticated horses, Kazakhstan

The world's first broncobusters, it seems, hailed from Central Asia. New research proves that herders from the steppes were the first to tame horses 5,500 years ago. Researchers from the U.S., Britain, and Kazakhstan, including archaeologist Sandra Olsen of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History compared the Botai bones with those from two sites occupied by nomadic horse hunters at the same time as Botai and one from the Bronze Age (1200-900 B.C.), by which time horses had clearly been domesticated.

Early irrigators, Arizona

At the site of Las Capas outside Tucson, archaeologist James Vint of Desert Archaeology Inc. and his colleagues excavated an enormous network of canals and fields stretching over as many as 100 acres and dating to 1200 B.C. It is the oldest documented irrigation system in North America.

Anglo-Saxon Hoard, England

In July 2009, the largest-ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold was found buried in a farmer's field in Staffordshire, central England.

Popol Vuh Relief, Guatemala

While investigating the water collection system at the city of El Mirador in northern Guatemala's Peten rain forest, a team of archaeologists led by Richard Hansen of Idaho State University uncovered a sculptural panel with one of the earliest depictions of the Maya creation story, the Popol Vuh.

World's first zoo, Egypt

Strange animal burials at the ancient Egyptian capital of Hierakonpolis point to the existence of a large, exotic menagerie around 3500 B.C.

Iron Age Priestesses, Crete

The discovery of a powerful female bloodline--uninterrupted for nearly 200 years--in the Iron Age necropolis of Orthi Petra at Eleutherna is illuminating the role of women in the so-called "Dark Ages" of Greece.

Earliest Chemical Warfare, Syria

In a narrow tunnel under the fortress-city of Dura (now Dura-Europos) in the eastern Syrian Desert, 20 Roman soldiers met their fate defending the city from the Sasanian Empire. The archaeologists who found them in the 1930s assumed they had died in a tunnel collapse, but University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James thinks they met a more unusual demise--as victims of chemical warfare.

Palace of Mithradates, Russia

For the past four decades, archaeologist Vladimir Kuznetsov of the Russian Academy of Sciences has worked at Phanagoria, an ancient Greek city on the Black Sea that was home to Mithradates VI. The king of Pontus from 119 to 63 B.C., Mithradates was the most powerful king in Asia Minor during the first century B.C. Often called Rome's greatest enemy, he fought three wars against the Roman republic.

Rubaiyat Pot, Israel

Although vessels inscribed with Persian verses have been found elsewhere in regions once under ancient Persia's cultural influence, this is the first time such a discovery has been made in Israel.

Archaeology magazine contributes to this article.
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