The Best Archaeological Discoveries of 2020 Around The World

We’re heading towards the end of 2020 now, and what a year it’s been! But, despite a global pandemic, archaeologists have continued to share with us some awesome new discoveries.

From the tropical rainforests of South America to the dramatic landscapes of Norway, join us as we reflect on some of the best archaeology that made the news headlines this year…

1. An ancient ochre mine hidden deep underwater in Mexico

Investigating the underwater site // Source: ScienceNews

A now-submerged series of cave systems in Mexico was revealed to be hiding a wealth of archaeology this year. Underwater archaeologists investigated the three cave systems and found the oldest known ochre mine in the Americas, believed to date back as far back as 12,000 years ago! Ochre was a favourite of our ancient ancestors, who used to use the red pigment for all sorts of things be it practical or, the archaeologist’s best friend: ritual.

How did they manage to date the cave? Well, the caves would have been pretty dark back in the day, and without torches the people mining them relied on firelight to help them out. The wood from these fires was still in situ in the cave today and gave archaeologists the perfect opportunity to get some radiocarbon dates.

2. An ancient city, rediscovered in Mexico

A map of the ancient city detailing points of archaeological interest // Source: Charles Golden et al

It was a wonderful year for Mexican archaeologists! Another fantastic find has to be the home of an ancient Maya kingdom that was rediscovered near Chiapas. The city, which has been called Lacanja Tzeltal, has been the subject of researchers for over 20 years. Now they can call the search quits, and they’ve got some pretty juicy archaeology to look into. Loads of Maya sculpture has been uncovered within the capital, detailing a combination of myth and factual information that archaeologists hope will tell us a lot about the people who once lived here. You can read more in the journal article.

3. An extravagant Viking ship burial in Norway

The dig in action // Source: BBC

In Norway, archaeologists began excavating a something super exciting: a buried longship found at the ancient site of Gjellestad. Not only is this awesome because it looks amazing, but it’s also a super rare find. In fact, it’s the first time in nearly a hundred years that something like this has been found.

While most of the wood has decomposed, the iron nails will help archaeologists to understand the original lay out of the massive ship. There’s even some thought that this is connected to a burial, since it was found in pretty close proximity to a famous cremation burial at Jell Mound. But so far, no human remains have been uncovered. We’ll be keeping an eye out to see what else they uncover!

4. One for all the cat lovers… an ancient cat carved onto a hillside in Peru

An ancient kitty carved onto the hillside in Peru // Source: BBC

Turns out we’re not the only ones who loved our little feline friends; this year archaeologists uncovered another of the famous (and mysterious) Nazca lines in Peru, this time depicting a cat. There’s a whole bunch of these designs, created about 2,000 years ago, that have been drawn into the desert floor. They’re not small either, the cat alone measures a whopping 37m in length!

This cute figure was nearly lost due to erosion, but now it’s been restored and is there for any visitors to see. What an amazing site!

5. A secret discovery that finally came to light in Colombia

The ancient artwork faces the camera // Source: Ella Al-Shamahi (on The Guardian)

Uncovered a year ago, but keep quiet until now was a collection of prehistoric rock art found deep in the Amazon rainforest in Colombia. This site is extra special because of the number of images, literally tens of thousands have been discovered, making it one of the largest ever found.

Interestingly, one of the ways archaeologists have suggested a date for this ancient gallery is by looking at the animal depicted, a lot of them are actually now-extinct species. By tracking when they disappeared, we can get a rough date for the site. So far, it’s been suggested to be up to 12,500 years old.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming Channel 4 documentary detailing its discovery!

6. Something a little closer to home… a high status warlord in Berkshire

You might have read our article earlier this year about a super important warrior burial discovered in Berkshire. It’s believed the individual is a high-status warlord from the 6th century. What was exciting about this find is that it has the potential to completely change our understanding of early medieval Britain.

Why? Well, it brings a whole new level of importance to the area of the mid-Thames basin where it was found. Historians now believe there was a lot more going on here than we ever thought previously. Pretty cool right?

7. A very moving Roman discovery at Pompeii

The two Roman individuals // Source: BBC

This year the Roman city of Pompeii gave archaeologists even more to think about after they uncovered the remains of two males who were killed in the infamous volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago. Interestingly, we’ve been able to infer a lot from the remains, about who these individuals were and how they might be connected.

One man, presumed to be wealthier, seems to be about 30 to 40 years old. Whereas the other was only 18 to 23. Additionally, the vertebrae of the younger man show signs of a life of manual labour. How can they tell? Well, bones can often be damaged over time through intense physical strain.

Like previously at this remarkable site, casts were made of the individuals from the impression their bodies left in the ash. So, we can see their final resting place, making this a very poignant find.

8. The original location of the famous Stonehenge bluestones

Stonehenge // Source: Wikimedia Commons

Stonehenge is probably one of the most famous archaeology sites ever. So, it’s pretty cool that we still have so much left to uncover. This year, there was a remarkable discovery concerning the famous bluestones. Analysis of the rock’s composition showed that there were probably sources from an outcropping about 2 miles away from where archaeologists previously thought.

They seem to be from a site known as Carn Geodog in Wales. While this is a super awesome find, it actually raises a load more questions because it means previous theories about how they might have moved the stones are pretty unlikely. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this incredible site as technology helps us to unlock more and more answers …

9. Dozens of coffins at Saqqara, Egypt

Saqqara necropolis // Source: Wikimedia commons

Just south of Cairo, Egypt, archaeologists made a massive discovery. Quite literally. A grand total of 59 coffins were discovered earlier this year that date back around 2,500 years. And not only that, but apparently there’s still more to come!

All of these internments were found at the Saqqara necropolis, and are mostly made up of priests and clerks. As to be expected with anything Egyptian, the preservation was practically perfect due to a seal implemented in the burial process. We archaeologists really are grateful for those ancient traditions!

10. A site to outdate even Göbekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe // Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ever heard of Göbekli Tepe?  This ancient site has been hailed as the world’s oldest temple for years now. Tucked away in southern Turkey and dating back as far as 12,000 years, this beautiful site is thought to have been a place to worship the heavens. But, it’s fame might be diminishing a bit now that archaeologists have managed to find a site that outdates even this prehistoric wonder.

Karahan Tepe is a site that was found over 20 years ago but only recently excavated. While it shares some basic features, from what we know so far it seems to predate Göbekli Tepe. Research is still ongoing, but this is definitely one to add to your travel bucket list if you’re an archaeology fan!

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Georgina Cole

Written by Georgina Cole

Ginny is a Community Archaeologist with DigVentures and recent Durham University graduate. She has a passion for speaking to the public and she especially loves British archaeology and forensics. In keeping with archaeological tradition, when she isn’t in the trenches you can often find her grabbing a pint at the local pub!

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