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Archeology: The Telltale Art

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The British monarch Richard III died in battle in 1485, but, for centuries, no one knew where his body ended up. In 2012, a team of archaeologists finally found it—under a parking lot. That's right! Well, how did a king end up at a parking lot? 

King Richard died during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, which ended the War of Roses, and he was buried at Greyfriars Church in Leicester. The church was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.  Modern historians compared maps and determined the location. Then, they tested through DNA to verify the identity of the remains. The site is now a protected monument. His remains have answered a few questions about this famous monarch. Shakespeare wrote that he was a "poisonous bunch-backed toad." However, archeological evidence shows that he only has a common form of scoliosis (a curving of the spine), and it was definitely not noticeable.  


In 2022, archeologist were excited to discover an ancient 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple in Swat Valley of Pakistan. Luca Maria Olivieri, an archaeologist at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, was the leading archeologist for the excavation. The finding is significant because it is a testament to how the region of Gandhara was a cultural crossroads between Asia and Europe as early as the time of Alexander the Great. Furthermore, several other temples have been found in Swat Valley since 1955 and prove the theory of a street of temples. The artwork showcased a unique Greco-Buddhist style, which featured Buddhist subjects with Greek techniques. 


In 2003,  Mary Pappen Jr, an aboriginal girl found ancient footprints in Mungo National Park of New South Wales Australia. In fact, the footprints were of hunters 20,000 years ago. Scientists have since found 700 footprints and analyzed the steps to gain insights on how these people lived, including a child, family and groups of hunters. Steve Webb, a biological archaeologist, calculates that one of the hunters was running at 37km/ hour. Currently, the world record belongs to Usain Bolt which times as 37.6 km/hour. Even though, a Sports Illustrated article mentioned that elite athletes have been

recorded to be faster at certain times in their run, that ancient hunter was pretty darn fast. Webb says, "if you weren’t fit in those days, you didn’t survive.” Either way, it's so interesting to know so much about someone just by their footsteps. 

Advancements in technology, such as 3D scans and photogrammetry, have given scientists new ways to examine the world of Pompeii. Professor Eric Poehler from the University of Massachusetts is one notable Pompeii that has been studying the famous ancient city for many years. He learned that Pompeii has a network of one- way streets, based on wear on stone curbs made as carts brushed against them. Additionally, did you know that Pompeii was the ancient capital of fish sauce during Roman times? Pompeii was well-known for its fish sauce. According to filled-in vats on the south side of town, historians learned that Pompeii's fish sauce business dwindled 


because of globalization and imports of cheaper and larger quantities of fish sauce from Spain.  Later Umbricius Scaurus, a local businessman, transforms Pompeii into industrial-scale production and becomes wealthy. Just Imagine him sitting in his luxurious courtyard decorated with ads of his fish sauce business. Moreover, the people of Pompeii ate very well with abundant meat and seafood (songbirds, fish, sea urchins, shellfish and pork). Scientists broke into the molecular composition of the meat, to gain insights into their diet and learned they actually fed different pigs different diets.


Furthermore, after Vesuvius erupted, the people of Pompeii were frozen in time buried under layers of volcanic ash. After their bodies decomposed, scientists were able to fill in the cavities in the ash to study the victims and learn of their last moments. 3D photogrammetry allows archeologists to study their very expressions before being buried alive. To preserve this ancient city, which now receives millions of travelers a year, scientists are doing a 3D scan of the city to have a digital replica, so things can be studied even after they are gone. This makes me wonder if I would like a 3D scan of my childhood home? Or should all important heritage sites be scanned, so they can live in the digital world for future generations? 

Let's look at some of the most famous archeological relics and how they were found and how did they impact our understanding of history!

The Rosetta Stone is a stele (monumental slab) composed of granite inscribed with three versions of a royal decree issued in Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty.  It has the same decree in three languages: the top and middle texts are in hieroglyphic and Demotic script, and the bottom is ancient Greek. It was the first trilingual text uncovered in the modern times. Thus, its discovery was instrumental in helping historians and archeologists interpret hieroglyphics. It was found near the town of Rosetta on July 1799 by French officer Pierre-François Bouchard during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. When the British defeated the French, they took over this artifact, and since 1802, it has been exhibited at the British Museum. It remains the most visited artifact of the Museum. It used to be displayed an open metal case but since 2004, it has been sealed in a glass case because of too many visitors touching it. 

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Bank (then part of Jordan) between 1946 and 1956 by Bedouin shepherds and a team of archeologists. The practice of storing worn-out sacred manuscripts in earthenware vessels buried in the earth or within caves is related to the ancient Jewish custom of genizah. Originally, the Bedouins did not know of its value and sold them for approximately $28, or $340 in 2021 to different collectors. Later, it gained recognition from archeologist John C. Trever of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).  In total, 972 manuscripts were found in Qumran as scrolls or fragments. For example, in the fourth cave they found15,000 pieces. G.L. Harding, director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, began working on piecing the fragments together but did not finish this before his death in 1979.

In the past, these precious and fragile scrolls have been exhibited internationally behind glass, of course, in the United States and United Kingdom, but since 2011, exhibition has slowed down because the Israeli Antiquities Authorities are working to digitize the scrolls and place them in permanent cold storage.  

As the world's largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur is a huge Mahayana Buddhist temple in Central Java, Indonesia. It was constructed in the 9th century and later abandoned in the 14th century, due to the decline of Hindu and the rise of Islam. It was found in1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who had a fascination with Java culture and heard from locals about a mysterious temple in the jungle.  Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth, becoming part of local folklore and superstition. After its initial discovery, several Dutch scholars continued the excavation projects and its fame grew with valuable artifacts shipped to museums. But along the way, it also


became a site of looting, even at times with colonial consent, unfortunately.  Since then, it has undergone several major restorations, most recently by the Indonesian government and UNESCO. 

As a major tourist attraction and religious practice site, it is a source of fame, with natural disasters and conflict. There were 2.5 million visitors annually (80% were domestic tourists) in the mid-1990s. Archeologists have noticed about 50% of the stone paths are severely worn out. In 1985, it was the site of bombing by Islamic fanatics. In 2006, it also suffered damage due to a giant earthquake. 


Created as burial art, the Terracotta Army is a massive collection of lifelike terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. They were created by craftsmen and artisans from 200s BCE, totally 8,000 soldiers, calvary and chariots. Originally colorful, but once excavated they lose their color in a few minutes. Also, incredibly, no two figures share the exact same features. Historians estimated that it took more than 700,000 workers to build the neocropolis (burial city).

The terracotta army and the gigantic tomb were discovered in 1974 by local farmer Yang Zhifa in Lintong County, outside Xi'anShaanxi, China, while 

digging for a well. Subsequently, it has become a historical monument and museum and strictly managed by the Chinese government, which places very high importance on this archeological site. Currently, only 2 pits are excavated and open to the public for viewing to protect the artifacts, which deteriorate after excavation, because the only way to preserve these artworks is to leave them underground. These historical wonders have exhibited around the world to much acclaim.


AL 288-1, commonly known as Lucy, is a collection of several hundred pieces of fossilized bone representing 40 percent of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. It was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia by Donald Johanson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The Lucy specimen is an early australopithecine and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago.  2016 study proposes that Australopithecus afarensis was to a large extent tree-dwelling, though the extent of this is debated, but it still provide valuable information as a link in evolution.

"Lucy" acquired her name from the 1967 song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team's first day of work on the recovery site. After the public announcement of the discovery, Lucy captured much international interest, becoming a household name at the time.

Lucy became famous worldwide, and the story of her discovery and reconstruction was published in a book by Johanson. Beginning in 2007, the fossil assembly and associated artifacts were exhibited publicly in an extended six-year tour of the United States; the exhibition was called Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia. There was discussion of the risks of damage to the unique fossils, and other museums preferred to display casts of the fossil assembly. The original fossils were returned to Ethiopia in 2013, and subsequent exhibitions have used casts.


Sue is the nickname given to FMNH PR 2081, which is one of the largest, most extensive, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found, at over 90 % recovered by bulk. FMNH PR 2081 was discovered on August 12, 1990, by American explorer and fossil collector Sue Hendrickson, and was named after her. 

After ownership disputes were settled, the fossil was auctioned in October 1997 for US$8.3 million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil until October 7, 2020, when T. rex Stan was auctioned for US$31.8 million. Sue is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

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Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel located in the Eastern Cordillera of southern Peru on a 2,430-meter (7,970 ft) mountain ridge. Often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is the most familiar icon of the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give visitors a better idea of how they originally appeared. By 1976, 30% of Machu Picchu had been restored and the restoration continues.

After it was abandoned (still a mystery), over the centuries, the surrounding jungle overgrew the site, and few outside the immediate area knew of its existence. Several historical evidence point that it was discovered by conquistadors in the 1500s based on labels on maps of Huayna Picchuan and later plundered by German businessman, Augusto Berns.  Its modern re-discovery was in 1911 by American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham from Yale University, who was led to Machu Picchu by a local villager. Unfortunately, conflict arose because local villagers accused Bingham of looting artifacts, but according to Peru Civil Code, discoveries on public land belong to the discoverer.  It is now preserved and managed by the Peruvian government and designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


Petra is probably one of the most iconic historical sites in the world and appeared in many famous movies including Indian Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Petra and is a historic and archaeological city in southern Jordan, between mountains and in a basin with rivers running to the Gulf of Aqaba. The area around Petra has been inhabited from as early as 7000 BC, and the Nabataeans might have settled there and made Petra the capital city of their kingdom as early as the 4th century BC. It became a hub for the incense trade and flourished in the 1st century AD, but it was later abandoned in the Byzantine Era. 

Petra was rediscovered in1812, when Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt visited there. Like many ancient monuments, it was raided of its many treasures by explorers.  Later, in 1929, a four-person team consisting of British archaeologists Agnes Conway and George Horsfield, Palestinian physician and folklore expert Dr Tawfiq Canaan and Dr Ditlef Nielsen, a Danish scholar, excavated and surveyed Petra.  Archaeologist Philip Hammond from the University of Utah visited Petra annually for nearly 40 years. 

On December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.  Since then, preserving this wonderous place has faced many challenges, including erosion, flooding, improper restoration, and unsustainable tourism. Bedouins that lived there have also been relocated.  Many archeological groups with the permission of the Jordan government have worked on projects over the years. 

For fans of the legend Beowulf, this is something exciting. Sutton Hoo is the site of two early medieval cemeteries dating from the 6th to 7th centuries near the English town of Woodbridge. Archaeologists have been excavating the area since 1938, when a previously undisturbed ship burial containing a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts was discovered. The site is important in establishing the history of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia as well as illuminating a  regonal period which lacks historical documentation.

The site was first excavated by Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist, under the permission of the landowner Edith Pretty, but when its importance became apparent, national experts took over. The artifacts the archaeologists found in the burial chamber include a suite of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, a shield and sword, a lyre, and silver plates from the Byzantine Empire.  The site appears as a group of approximately 20 earthen mounds that rise slightly above the horizon of the hill-spur when viewed from the opposite bank. The visitor center contains original artifacts, replicas of finds, and a reconstruction of the ship burial chamber. The site is in the care of the National Trust; most of these objects are now held by the British MuseumDavid M. Wilson of the British Museum has remarked that the metal artworks found in the Sutton Hoo graves were "work of the highest quality, not only in English but in European terms".

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Roar! We all know what T-Rex looks like, or do we? This interesting article beckons us to wonder how scientist re-create ancient species. New paleo-art has T-Rex covered in feathers, which is not what we have previously imagined. Although no T-Rex feathers have been found, it is not impossible, because feathers and tissue do not preserve into fossils. Additionally, there are evidence that point to the existence of feathers. In volcanic ruins of China, where dinosaurs were preserved instantaneously, two tyrannosaurs – close cousins of T. rex – called Yutyrannus and Dilong were covered in feathers. This means that the ancestors of T. rex had feathers, which means T. rex probably did too! Another recent study based on T-Rex thigh bone suggested that the T-Rex might have been three different species. So, even with advanced technology, some things in the past, we may never know. 

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According to the Guardian, "Since the early 19th century, artists have depicted colorful – if sometimes fictional – dinosaurs and prehistoric environments, mingling science with unbridled fantasy. This art is the subject of a new book: Paleoart"  Over the years, their imagination and artistry have shaped our belief about how these ancient creatures looked like.

Dinosaur art is its own special genre and have been around since 1800s.  Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was an artist from the era of the Crystal Palace 1851, who drew dinosaur models on-site of the 

exhibition. Early artist such as  Adolphe François Pannemaker who painted Primitive World infused dinosaurs with mythological settings. Paleo artists not only influenced the appearance of dinosaurs but also created relationships, like the  ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs as dire enemies was a common theme in 19th century art. The image above titled Laelaps was created by renowned artist Charles R Knight known for his depiction of their anatomy and movement. Some artists are so passionate that they immerse themselves in the natural scenery such as Czech artist Burian, who illustrated many books. In the 1970s, Canadian artist Ely Kish was one of the few women in the field and she painted many extinction scenes, echoing society's awareness of climate change. Paleo art is truly a case where the present influences the interpretation of the past. 

Let's look at some common terms in archeology. I love it when WSC gives you a list of stuff to research and identify. Yeah! All 'fun' stuff! 


Excavation - Aka dig is the surgical aspect of archaeology, meaning digging strategically by well-trained experts, layer by layer. Excavations can be classified by their purpose as planned, rescue or accidental.   

Remote sensing - This is a new area of archeology that uses new technology to uncover information without traditional excavation. Common methods include aerial, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and satellite imaging, which uses thermal or Infared capabilities to pinpoint potential sites.

Zooarchaeology - The study of animal remains at archeological sites, including

bones, shells, hair, and DNA.

Archaeobotany - archaeobotany is the study of ancient plant remains to learn

about how people used vegetation for food, fuel, medicine, symbolic and ritual


Carbon dating - Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or

carbon-14 dating ) is a method for determining the age of an object containing

organic material using isotopes of carbon. Carbon-14 has a half life of around

5730 + or - 40 years.

Dendrochronology - Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating 

using tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed in a tree,

providing valuable data about the climate and atmospheric conditions during different periods

in history.


Pseudoarchaeology - Basically means fake archaeology. It is the interpretation of the past

from outside the archaeological science community, which rejects the accepted data

gathering and analytical methods of the discipline, often with exaggerated evidence or

romanticized conclusion.

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