Israel Antiquities Authority
This seal, bearing the inscription: "to Elihana bat Gael," is rare because it belonged to a woman.
2015 has been a year of compelling discoveries. From sunken ships to megalithic stones, colorful mosaics to intact tombs, 2015 gave us a rich view into the past. Here are some of our favorite archaeology stories of this year.Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014
LBI ArchPro, Juan Torrejón Valdelomar, Joachim Brandtner
A new monument just two miles from Stonehenge stands as one of the most impressive finds of the year. Dubbed "Superhenge
," it is one of the largest stone monuments in Europe. It consists of a row of huge stones arranged in an arena-like C-shape and dating back to 4,500 years ago. The site lies buried three feet beneath a thick, grassy bank at a Stone-Age enclosure known as Durrington Walls. The finding shows that Stonehenge wasn't standing in splendid isolation on the edge of Salisbury Plain. On the contrary, it was the center of a large and rich ceremonial landscape.'Superhenge' Found Buried Near Stonehenge
Thomas Stockl/Bavarian State Department of Monument and Sites
Food was again at the center of the archaeologists' investigation as the wreck of a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman ship was found off the Liguria coast in Italy. The vessel was laden with thousands of jars containingthe ketchup of the ancient Romans
— a pungent, fish-based seasoning known as garum. A baking mistake 250 years ago made it possible to recoverthe world's oldest pretzels
. Unearthed in Germany beneath the floor of structure long known to be a bakery, the two pretzels were totally carbonized but looked similar to today's product. It is believed the baker forgot the pieces in the oven and afterwards he threw them away in a hole under the floor.World's Oldest Pretzel Found in Germany
Scientific Reports/Creative Commons
Analysis of a Paleolithic stone tool provided the most ancient evidence of the processing of oat, revealing thatthe world's oldest flour
was made from oat some 32,000 years ago. Eight fossilized peach endocarps, or pits, were found near a bus station in China. They arethe oldest peach pits
, dating back more than two and a half million years. Identical to modern ones, the pits show that peaches were a popular snack long before the humans arrived on the scene.Oldest Peach Pits Found in China
This year will be also remembered for one of the most stunning Iron Age discoveries of the past century. Archaeologists in northwestern France unearthedthe tomb of an Iron Age Celtic prince
who was buried with his chariot at the center of a huge mound. Standing near the small village of Lavau, in northwestern France, the mound, 130 feet across, was dated to the 5th century BC. The 2,500-year-old tomb featured at its center a 150-square-foot burial chamber, housing the deceased and his chariot. Items found in the tomb included a large bronze-decorated wine cauldron, most likely made by Greek or Etruscans craftsmen. Measuring about 3.2 feet in diameter, the cauldron has four circular handles decorated with bronze heads that depict the Greek god Acheloos.Impressive Tomb of Celtic Prince Found in France
Soprintendenza Archeologia dell'Umbria
Anotherstunning, intact tomb
was found at the end of the year in Tuscany. A farmer opened a void in the earth while working with his plow in a field near Città della Pieve, a small town some 30 miles southwest of Perugia, bringing to light a rare undisturbed Etruscan tomb. The 2,300-year-old burial revealed a 16 square-foot rectangular chamber with two sarcophagi, four finely sculpted marble urns and various grave goods. One of the sarcophagi, made from stone, bears a long inscription.The urns contained cremains, while one male skeleton was visible in one sarcophagus. The use of alabaster marble, the style of the burial and clues from the inscription suggest the burial belongs to an aristocratic family from the nearby Etruscan stronghold of Chiusi. A mysterious marble head, clearly broken at the neck level, was also found. It portrays the beautiful real-size face of a young man, but its meaning remains obscure.Intact, Packed Etruscan Tomb Found
Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Biblical archaeologists made a major discovery as they solved one of Jerusalem's greatest mysteries -- the location of the biblicalGreek fort known as Acra
. Built by the Greek King Antiochus IV more than 2,000 years ago and mentioned in Jewish biblical sources, the fortress has been sought for over 100 years. The remains were unearthed in a parking lot in Jerusalem after 10 years of excavations and included a section of a massive wall, which was the base of an imposing tower measuring 66 feet long and 13 feet wide. The wall's outer base was coated with layers of soil, stone and plaster -- a specially designed slippery slope meant to keep attackers away. Among the ruins, the archaeologists also discovered lead slingshots, bronze arrowheads and stone catapults, all stamped with a trident, which symbolized the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (215-164 BC). The stronghold withstood all attempts at conquest and only in 141 BC was it conquered by the Hasmonean king Simon Maccabeus, after a long siege and the starvation of the Greek defenders.Ancient Greek Fortress Found in Jerusalem Parking Lot
A discovery in a small Greek archipelago is perhaps this year's most significant finding in underwater archaeology.Twenty-two shipwrecks
were found within an area of just 17 square miles around the small Fourni archipelago, a collection of 13 islands and islets located between the eastern Aegean islands of Samos and Icaria. The finding added 12 percent to the total of known ancient shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters in just 10 diving days, basically revealing what may be the ancient shipwreck capital of the world. Overall, the shipwrecks span from the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.) to the Classical (480-323 B.C.) and Hellenistic (323-31 B.C.) through the Late Medieval Period (16th century). The cargoes revealed long distance trades between the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt in all those periods. The archaeologists have only examined about 5 percent of the archipelago's coastline, and are confident that many more wrecks will be discovered.22 Shipwrecks Found in Single Location in Greece
Archaeologists weren't just busy in the field. A number of breakthroughs occurred also in the lab. Investigation with scanning electron microscopy on a 14,000-year-old molar revealedthe oldest known dentistry
, as the infected tooth was partially cleaned with flint tools. A powerful X-ray procedure was perfected which allowed for the first time to read letters hidden insidetwo carbonized papyri
without unrolling them. The scrolls were reduced to lumps of coal by the 750-degree Fahrenheit cloud that wrapped the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum during the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D. Paradoxically preserved forever, the papyri are now stored at the National Library of Naples, making up the only library known to have survived the ancient world. The new technology promises to produce the most significant rediscovery of classical literature since the Renaissance.Oldest Dentistry Found in 14,000-Year-Old Tooth
Mummy research produced some of the most important findings for modern clinical medicine. Researchers foundthe oldest case of heart failure
in the 3,500-year-old mummified remains of an Egyptian dignitary named Nebiri, a "Chief of Stables" who lived under the reign of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmoses III (1479-1424 BC). Using high resolution CT scans, German researchers diagnosedthe oldest case of leukemia
in a 7,000-year-old skeleton. The remains belonged to a female individual who died at 30-40 years and were excavated in 1982 at an early Neolithic site near Stuttgart-Mühlhausen in south western Germany. Amummy in a basket
helped understand the evolution of pathogens. Indeed, genes associated with antibiotic resistance were found in an 11th-century mummy's colon and feces, long before antibiotics were introduced. Coming from Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca empire, the mummy belonged to a woman who had died between 18 and 23 years of age. The find suggests that gene mutations responsible for antibiotic resistance occurred naturally in 1,000-year-old bacteria and are not necessarily linked to the overuse of antibiotics.Oldest Case Of Heart Failure Found In Ancient Mummy
The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, David M. Robinson Memorial Collection
Weird and odd findings in 2015 included the discovery of a250-year-old sex toy
in an ancient latrine in the Baltic city of Gdańsk and the amazingly intact remains of a meditating monk in Mongolia. Covered in animal skin,the mummified body
had been sitting in the lotus position for about 200 years. Awooden sea monster
then emerged from the Baltic sea after lying on the seabed off the southern Swedish town of Ronneby for more than 500 years. The 660-pound figurehead represented a ferocious looking creature with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth. It was carved from the top of an 11-foot-long beam and stood at the prow of the Gribshunden, a 15th-century warship belonging to the Danish King Hans. Anotherunusual breakthrough
was made in a small American museum when a scholar spotted a 2,500-year-old predecessor of DC Comics' Wonder Woman super heroine on a vase painting. Drawn on a white-ground pyxis (a lidded cylindrical box that was used for cosmetics, jewelry, or ointments) the image shows an Amazon on horseback in a battle against a Greek warrior. Much like the fictional warrior princess of the Amazons, the horsewoman is twirling a lasso. The drawing is the only known ancient artistic image of an Amazon using a lariat in battle.2500-Year-Old 'Wonder Woman' Found on Vase
A rare 2,500-year-old seal bearing the name of an "exceptional" woman has been discovered in Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday.
Found in a large ancient building in the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, the seal dates back to the era of the First Temple, which, according to the Hebrew Bible, was constructed by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. and then destroyed 400 years later.
"Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence, and finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon," excavation directors Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, said in a statement.
The seal, made of semi-precious stone, bears the mirror-writing of "to Elihana bat Gael" carved in ancient Hebrew letters. It means "Elihana daughter of Gael."
Such seals were used for signing documents, and were frequently inlaid as part of a ring that was worn by the owner.
"In antiquity they designated the identity, genealogy and status of the owner of the seal," the archaeologists said.
The name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, and there is no other information regarding the identity of the woman, but the fact that she owned a seal shows her high social status.
"She was exceptional compared to other women of the First Temple period: she had legal status which allowed her to conduct business and possess property," the archaeologists said.
Hagai Misgav, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, noted that most of the women's seal that are known today bear the name of the father rather than that of the husband.
"Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family, and not on her husband's family," Misgav said.
"It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage and therefore her father's name was retained; however, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period," he added.
Legal and financial independence for women was a rare thing in those times.
According to the Book of Proverbs, an ideal wife was responsible for providing for the needs of her household when her husband was engaged in public and legal affairs at the city gate.
"She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands … Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land," it stated.
Elihana was one of the few exceptions. Another one was Babatha bat Shimon, a female land owner who had legal status, according to documents from the Second Temple period preserved in the Judean desert.
"But as generally speaking, evidence of legal and financial independence in the bible and archaeology are rare, and it seems that the exception to the rule indeed sheds light on the rule itself," the researchers said.