Archaeological News

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The latest news in Archaeology.

Treasure trove of gold and jewels recovered from a 366-year-old shipwreck in the Bahamas

A treasure trove of gold coins, gemstones and jewels was recently uncovered at a 366-year-old Spanish shipwreck.

In an effort to conserve what's left of the ship and its prized cargo, an international team of preservationists and underwater archaeologists has been working to recover objects from the shipwreck, which sits in the Atlantic Ocean about 43 miles (70 kilometers) off the coast of the Bahamas.

Known as the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas ("Our Lady of Wonders" in Spanish), the 891-ton (808 metric tons) galleon was traveling between Spain and Colombia in 1656 to pick up a cargo of silver when a navigational error caused it to collide with another vessel in the Spanish fleet. The accident forced the ship to run aground on a coral reef; an estimated 600 of the 650 people onboard died in the crash, the organization said in a statement. More than three centuries later, the wreckage is spread across 8 miles (13 km) of the ocean floor. Read more.

Examination of recently discovered wreck from the 17th century

While conducting a routine measurement in the Trave river, the Kiel-Holtenau Waterways and Shipping Authority (Wasserstraßen- und Schifffahrtsamt/WSA) discovered a ship at a depth of eleven meters. Researchers from Kiel University spent eight months examining the puzzling construction. The result: what they had found was a nearly 400-year-old ship from the Hanseatic period with 150 barrels on board—a unique find in the western Baltic region.

What is left of the ship are wooden beams and large parts of the cargo. They are covered in mussels and must have lain there in the murky water of the Trave river for centuries. "Independent dating of the ship's timbers in three different laboratories revealed that the ship must have been constructed in the mid-17th century," said Dr. Fritz Jürgens of the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology at Kiel University. Read more.

In a first, coin bearing zodiac found off Israel's coast

Israel's Antiquities Authority said Monday it has discovered a rare 1,850-year-old bronze zodiac coin during an underwater survey off the coastal city of Haifa.

The coin bears the image of the zodiac sign Cancer behind a depiction of the moon goddess Luna.

Experts say the coin was minted in Alexandria, Egypt, under the rule of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, who ruled between the years 138–161 A.D. It is part of a series of 13 coins depicting the 12 zodiac signs and one of the entire zodiac wheel.

The antiquities authority said it was the first time such a coin has been found off the Israeli coast. Read more.

Tomb of ancient Egyptian mercenary commander found in Egypt

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a 2,600-year-old tomb belonging to a man of high status: a "commander of foreign mercenaries" named "Wahibre-mery-Neith."

The tomb's embalming cache, found in 2021, includes more than 370 pottery storage jars containing materials used in the commander's mummification, making it the "largest embalming cache ever found in Egypt," a team of Egyptian and Czech researchers said in a statement. The tomb is buried at Abusir (also spelled Abū Ṣīr), a few miles south of the giant necropolis at Saqqara.

Grave robbers stole Wahibre-mery-Neith's mummy in antiquity, but archaeologists located remains of his sarcophagus that have hieroglyphs inscribed on them. The glyphs give his identity and quote part of chapter 72 of the Book of the Dead that describes "the resurrection of the deceased and his departure to the afterlife," according to the statement. Read more.

Ice age children frolicked in 'giant sloth puddles' 11,000 years ago, footprints reveal

More than 11,000 years ago, young children trekking with their families through what is now White Sands National Park in New Mexico discovered the stuff of childhood dreams: muddy puddles made from the footprints of a giant ground sloth.

Few things are more enticing to a youngster than a muddy puddle. The children — likely four in all — raced and splashed through the soppy sloth trackway, leaving their own footprints stamped in the playa — a dried up lake bed. Those footprints were preserved over millennia, leaving evidence of this prehistoric caper, new research finds.

The finding shows that children living in North America during the Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) liked a good splash. "All kids like to play with muddy puddles, which is essentially what it is," Matthew Bennett, a professor of environmental and geographical sciences at Bournemouth University in the U.K. who is studying the trackway, told Live Science. Read more.

Signs of cancer found in mysterious 'pregnant' Egyptian mummy

A mysterious mummy of an ancient Egypt woman, who may have been pregnant when she died, likely also had cancer, according to researchers. Deformities in the mummy's skull suggest a sizable tumor behind the left eye, but further tests are required to confirm that the tumor was cancerous.  

The unusual mummy, who has been dubbed the "Mysterious Lady," likely came from the ancient Egyptian city Thebes (modern-day Luxor). It dates to around the first century B.C. but was found sealed in the sarcophagus of a male priest. After recently opening the sarcophagus for the first time, researchers with the Warsaw Mummy Project in Poland, were surprised to find the remains of an unknown female inside. They soon began analyzing the body for clues as to why she had been sealed in someone else's coffin.  

In April 2021, researchers from the project released a study claiming that CT scans of the Mysterious Lady had revealed the remains of a fetus inside her womb, making her the world's first known pregnant mummy. Read more.

Gold Viking ring unexpectedly found in stash of 'cheap jewelry' from online auction

A large, gold Viking ring crafted from twisted metal strands turned up in a very unexpected place: a heap of cheap jewelry a woman in Norway purchased at an online auction. Archaeologists think the ring may be more than 1,000 years old and once belonged to a powerful Viking chief.

Mari Ingelin Heskestad, who lives in western Norway, told the Bergensavisen(opens in new tab), a daily newspaper in Bergen, that she'd found the gold ring among several pieces of cheap jewelry and trinkets that were being auctioned together online.

She said she'd bought the bundle, packed into an old cardboard banana box, because she was interested in one of the other pieces. But when she received the assortment in the mail, the ring immediately stood out.

"It was bright and gold. It looked very special, was roughly made," Heskestad told the newspaper in Norwegian. "I reacted to it being so heavy. It glistened and stuck out among the other jewelry."

Excavation of graves begins at site of colonial Black church

Archaeologists in Virginia began excavating three suspected graves at the original site of one of the nation's oldest Black churches on Monday, commencing a months long effort to learn who was buried there and how they lived.

The First Baptist Church was formed in 1776 by free and enslaved Black people in Williamsburg, the colonial capital of Virginia. Members initially met secretly in fields and under trees in defiance of laws that prevented African Americans from congregating.

A total of 41 apparent burial plots have been identified. Most are 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) long and up to 2 feet (0.61 meters) wide. The soil is discolored in places where holes were likely dug and filled back in. Only one grave appears to be marked, with an upside-down empty wine bottle.

Before excavations began Monday, a private blessing was held. Read more.

Unique sword casts new light on Viking voyages across the North Sea

The sword was found in three pieces by two metal detector enthusiasts, independent of each other, in the Jåttå/Gausel area in Stavanger, already renowned for the grave of the so-called Gausel queen. Found in 1883, it is considered to be one of the richest women's graves from the Viking Age.

Like the women buried in the Oseberg ship, the Gausel queen had rich artifacts from the British Isles with her in her grave.

The sword would have been one of the most spectacularly ornamented and heaviest types of swords from the Viking Age. The blade is missing, but the hilt has unique details in gold and silver, and exquisite details not previously known.

Only about 20 such swords have been found in Norway—out of a total of around 3,000 Viking sword finds. Read more.

Ancient hoard of gold Roman coins discovered in plowed UK field

A cache of gold coins found buried on farmland in the United Kingdom has caught the attention of coin experts, who have linked the treasure trove to the Roman Empire.

So far, metal detectorists have discovered 11 coins on a remote stretch of cultivated field located in Norfolk, a rural county near England's eastern coast, and experts remain hopeful that more could be unearthed in the future.

Damon and Denise Pye, a pair of local metal detectorists, found the first of several gold coins in 2017, after local farmers finished plowing the soil at the end of the harvest season, which made the land prime for exploration. The haul has been dubbed "The Broads Hoard" by local numismatists (coin specialists and collectors), for its geographic location near The Broads, a network of rivers and lakes that run through the English countryside. Read more.

1,600-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery holds speared man and wealthy woman

A wealthy pagan burial ground, dating from the first years of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain during the fifth century A.D., has been uncovered near London ahead of a high-speed rail project, known as High Speed 2 (HS2).

The new discoveries, which include more than 100 skeletons, are among the most important archaeological finds made along the HS2 route, which will eventually link the English cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester. Other findings in recent years include a Roman market town; dozens of decapitated skeletons and a 2,000-year-old wooden pagan idol, Live Science previously reported.

"When we find Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, they're likely to be a few individuals, or sometimes 20 or 30," Rachel Wood, the lead archaeologist for HS2 contractor Fusion JV, told Live Science. "But here we've got 141. It's not the biggest ever, but it's certainly up there." Read more.

Human bones used for making pendants in the Stone Age

In the Stone Age, pendants with potent symbolism were made from animal teeth and bones, adorning clothes or accessories and serving as rattles. Human bones were also used as a raw material for pendants, as demonstrated by a study where burial finds dating back more than 8,200 years were re-examined after 80 years.

Appearing in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the finding is quite a sensation, as the objects are simple pieces of bone with one or several grooves cut into them. In a previous study, the bones were classified as animal bones.

The pendants made of human bone raise many questions: Whose bones were they made of and how were the bones acquired? Did the people wearing the pendants know whose bones they were made of? Did the origin of the bones make a difference? Read more.

'Deepest shipwreck': US WWII ship found off Philippines

A US navy destroyer sunk during World War II has been found nearly 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) below sea level off the Philippines, making it the world's deepest shipwreck ever located, an American exploration team said.

The USS Samuel B Roberts went down during a battle off the central island of Samar on October 25, 1944 as US forces fought to liberate the Philippines—then a US colony—from Japanese occupation.

A crewed submersible filmed, photographed and surveyed the battered hull of the "Sammy B" during a series of dives over eight days this month, Texas-based undersea technology company Caladan Oceanic said. Read more.

The explosive history of the 2,000-year-old Pompeii 'masturbating' man

If you were suddenly frozen in time, there are a few things (I'd imagine) you would rather not be caught doing. This is the unfortunate fate many believe to have befallen the "masturbating man" of Pompeii.

In 79 BCE, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was buried in the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius, a volcano located in Italy's Gulf of Naples. The bodies of over 1,000 inhabitants have been frozen in the moment of its eruption—including one suspected to be having his own eruption at the time.

The plaster-cast body of this 2,000-year-old man can still be seen clutching himself tightly with his right hand. The photo was initially shared on Archaeological Park of Pompeii's Instagram in 2017 and quickly exploded across the internet. The masturbating man became an immortalized meme. Read more.

Face of wealthy Bronze-Age Bohemian woman revealed in stunning reconstruction

Researchers have reconstructed the face of a petite, dark-haired woman who was among the richest residents of Bronze-Age Bohemia.

The woman was buried with five bronze bracelets, two gold earrings and a three-strand necklace of more than 400 amber beads. Also entombed with her were three bronze sewing needles. She was part of the Únětice culture, a group of peoples from early Bronze Age Central Europe known for their metal artifacts, including ax-heads, daggers, bracelets and twisted-metal necklaces called torcs.

While it's unclear who the woman was, she was very wealthy, said archaeologist Michal Ernée of the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

"It's maybe the richest female grave from the whole Únětice cultural region," Ernée told Live Science. Read more.

Silver coin featuring famous Viking king unearthed in Hungary

A metal detectorist has discovered a small silver coin marked with the name of a famous Viking king.  However, it was unearthed not in Scandinavia, but in southern Hungary, where it was lost almost 1,000 years ago.

The find has baffled archaeologists, who have struggled to explain how the coin might have ended up there — it's even possible that it arrived with the traveling court of a medieval Hungarian king.

The early Norwegian coin, denominated as a "penning," was not especially valuable at the time, even though it's made from silver, and was worth the equivalent of around $20 in today's money.

"This penning was equivalent to the denar used in Hungary at the time," Máté Varga, an archaeologist at the Rippl-Rónai Museum in the southern Hungarian city of Kaposvár and a doctoral student at Hungary's University of Szeged, told Live Science in an email. "It was not worth much — perhaps enough to feed a family for a day." Read more.

Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off the English coast

The wreck of one of the most famous ships of the 17th century—which sank 340 years ago while carrying the future King of England James Stuart—has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk in the UK, it can be revealed today.

Since running aground on a sandbank on May 6, 1682, the wreck of the warship the Gloucester has lain half-buried on the seabed, its exact whereabouts unknown until brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, with their friend James Little, found it after a four-year search.

Due to the age and prestige of the ship, the condition of the wreck, the finds already rescued, and the accident's political context, the discovery is described by maritime history expert Prof, Claire Jowitt, of the University of East Anglia (UEA), as the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose. Read more.

Broken pieces of rare Viking sword reunited after 1,200 years apart

Two pieces of an ornate Viking sword that had been separated for about 1,200 years have been reunited and still fit together like a puzzle. The pieces were discovered a year apart by amateur treasure hunters in Norway.

The first finding occurred last year, when a metal detectorist in Stavanger, along Norway's west coast, uncovered a small, odd piece of metal while poking around a farm. The man handed the fragment over to the local archaeological museum and was unsure what it was — until this spring, when his friend and fellow metal detectorist unearthed the rest of the artifact nearby. Those two small chunks of metal turned out to be part of a massive Viking Age sword. Read more.

Metal detectorist in UK finds ancient Roman penis pendant

A metal detectorist recently discovered a silver, penis-shaped pendant in Kent, England that was likely worn around the neck to protect a person from misfortune around 1,800 years ago.

Ancient Roman writers such as Marcus Terentius Varro (lived 116 B.C. to 27 B.C.) and Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23 to 79) mention how the phallus and representations of it are thought to have had the power to protect a person from evil. Many depictions of the phallus have been found throughout the Roman Empire and scholars often believe that they were created to avoid bad luck.

The pendant (also called an amulet) is about 1.2 inches (3.1 centimeters) long, with a tiny ring at the top for a string (necklace) to go through. It dates back to a time when the Romans controlled England, between A.D. 42 and 410. Read more.

Colombia shares unprecedented images of treasure-laden wreck

Colombia's army has shared unprecedented images of the legendary San Jose galleon shipwreck, hidden underwater for three centuries and believed to have been carrying riches worth billions of dollars in today's money.

Four observation missions using a remotely operated vehicle were sent to the wreck at a depth of almost 950 meters (3,100 feet) off Colombia's Caribbean coast, the army said in a statement late Monday.

These missions, carried out by the navy under the supervision of the culture ministry, found the galleon untouched by "human intervention."

Cannons partially covered by mud are visible alongside porcelain crockery, pottery, glass bottles and also gold pieces.

A part of the bow can be clearly seen covered in algae and shellfish, as well as the remains of the frame of the hull. Read more.