One of our most-read stories of 2022 wasn’t a new opening, revamped interior or far-flung travel destination – it was an ancient engineering ‘miracle’ unearthed by archaeologists in Egypt. The 4,300 ft long tunnel was part of a temple complex rumoured to be Cleopatra’s last resting place, proving the ancient world still has plenty of secrets to be revealed.
Other major archaeological discoveries this year included mummies with golden tongues, Peruvian geoglyphs, the columns of a snake goddess’ temple, and a gladiator’s amphitheatre in Switzerland (possibly the last one ever built).
We’ve honed in on some of the ancient spaces (re)discovered this year across the globe.
A 5,000-year-old home in Yangshao Village, China
In China’s Henan Province, the foundations of an ancient house believed to be 5,000 years old were unearthed during an excavation, revealing it was constructed from rammed earth. Thought to date back to the neolithic Yangshao culture – which was active in the Yellow River basin as far back as 3000 BC – the ancient house also contained various artefacts, including a jade axe, which offers hints about the community that once inhabited the site. Read more.
The Great Giza Pyramid went digital
Technology has made the last remaining ancient wonder of the world accessible to the metaverse for the first time. The Giza Pyramid is around 4,500 years old and was built using 2 million limestone blocks for Pharoah Khufu during the period known as the Old Kingdom. Its three interior chambers, plus passages and hallways, have been digitally scanned for Giza.Mused – a collaboration between Harvard University’s Giza Project and Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiques. Users can now take a digital self-guided tour of its subterranean spaces and hidden chambers.
An underwater Maya kitchen in Belize
Archaeologists working at an underwater site in Paynes Creek National Park in Belize discovered four underwater pole-and-thatch huts – three kitchens, one a residence – that offer insight into the Maya’s use of salt in cooking and trade. Ta’ab Nuk Na is the largest of the national park’s 10 known salt complexes, which archaeologists theorise would have provided enough salt to preserve and flavour food for up to 24,000 people. The structures’ timber posts date from 650 to 800 CE and are said to have been preserved by anaerobic peat in the mangrove roots. You can read more from archaeologist Heather McKillop in the journal, Antiquities.
An ‘engineering miracle’ in Egypt
Archaeologists working at the Taposiris Magna, an ancient temple dedicated to Osiris, outside Alexandria, announced the discovery of a mysterious tunnel beneath the site in November 2022, calling the 4,300-ft-long subterranean passage an ‘engingeering miracle’. The structure dates from Ptolemy II’s reign, between 280 and 270 BC, but had been buried in mud and seawater over hundreds of years by earthquakes. It is thought that the passage might lead to the burial chambers of Cleopatra VII and Anthony, the location of which is still a mystery.
Queen Neith’s tomb
Still in Egypt, the tomb of a previously unknown queen was discovered in November at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, along with 300 coffins and 100 mummies. ‘We have since discovered that her name was Neith, and she had never before been known from the historical record,’ Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities, told Live Science. It is amazing to literally rewrite what we know of history, adding a new queen to our records.’ Excavations at the site uncovered 22 interconnected tunnels believed to date from the New Kingdom, from 1570 BCE and 1069 BCE.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance was found
In March, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust announced it had located the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous ship Endurance, which disappeared into the Weddell Sea in 1915 after being crushed by ice. The wreck was located by the Endurance22 Expedition at a depth of 3,008 metres, using Saab’s Sabertooth hybrid underwater search vehicles.
‘This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen,’ said Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration on the expedition. ‘It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see “Endurance” arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.’ Dan Snow’s award-winning podcast History Hit does an excellent deep dive into the lost ice ship – and the expedition to find it.
Buddhist temple caves in India’s Madhya Pradesh
In the Tala range of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in India’s central state, Madhya Pradesh, archaeologists discovered 12 previously unknown Buddhist caves. Inside caves, archaeologists discovered 26 temples furnished with 46 sculptures, Brahmin inscriptions, stupas and water structures, as well as coins and what look like stone board games. The sacred spaces date from the 2nd to 5th century BCE and have been protected by the reserve’s indigenous tiger species. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) wrote on Twitter: ‘The time period of the findings covered the reigns of the kings Shri Bhimsena, Maharaja Pothasiri, Maharaja Bhattadeva’, and have been traced to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
The summer house of Genghis Khan’s grandson
An ancient palace believed to be the summer home of Genghis Khan’s warrior grandson, Hulagu Khan, was discovered during excavations in Turkey’s Van province in the Çaldıran district. Khan was a military leader and ruler of the Mongol Ilkhanid State (which swept across Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Dagestan, and Tajikistan), and he is believed to have built the palace in the 1260s, shortly after his most famous military victory, the sacking of Baghdad in 1258. Ersel Çağlıtütuncigil of the Izmir Katip Çelebi University Turkish-Islamic Archeology Department is leading the excavations at the site, which is still being verified, according to ArtNews.
The lost Parthian city of Natounia
High in Iraq’s Zagros Mountains, archaeologists announced the discovery of an ancient fortress believed to be part of the lost Parthian city of Natounia. The site, known as Rabana-Merquly, was actually discovered 13 years ago though it was only published in the journal Antiquity in July 2022. Among the ruins were ancillary buildings such as barracks and a Zoroastrian sanctuary thought to be dedicated to the goddess Anahita. A rock carving of a life-size man was also found on a rock face at the site.
Spain’s Stonehenge appeared from a reservoir
Back in August 2022, extremely dry weather revealed what archaeologists dubbed the ‘Spanish Stonehenge’ in the Valdecanas Reservoir on the Tagus River in Spain. The Dolmen of Guadalperal were actually discovered by German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier in 1926, but they’re normally submerged in water after Francisco Franco commissioned the reservoir in 1963. For just the fifth time, the 100 or so dolmen were visible as water reserves dropped below 28%, allowing the opportunity to study the mysterious stones. Dolmen are prehistoric structures made from two or more megalithic stones or menhirs, and some are up to six feet tall with engravings. Reuters has more on the phenomenon.
The last gladiator arena?
During the construction of a new boat house on the Rhine River, around 45 miles outside of Zurich, archaeologists discovered the oval outline of a gladiator amphitheatre dating back 1400 years. The shape and size of the arena are reminiscent of those built at the end of the Roman empire, suggesting it could be among the last gladiator arenas ever built. Smithsonian has more on the remarkable discovery, including the objects that helped date the site to the 4th century.