From Biblical Layers to Neanderthal Dietary Secrets: The Best Archaeology Stories of 2017

Revisit 12 months of amazing discoveries, from human remains where none were expected to a vast pagan sanctuary in northern Israel to a long-lost Byzantine city: Dig a little deeper with our review of the year

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Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The year 2017 was a banner year for archaeological discovery. It will also go down as the year we realized how little we understand our own history: “How 2017 Rewrote the Book on Human Evolution.”

Jebel Irhoud Man: This primitive skull found in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco had originally been thought to be Neanderthal. Recent analysis indicates it's a Homo sapiens skull dating to around 300,000 years ago.
This primitive skull found in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco had originally been thought to be Neanderthal. Recent analysis indicates it's a Homo sapiens dating to around 300,000 years ago.Credit: Ryan Somma from Occoquan, USA

In the face of the mounting evidence, we had to junk some pet theories – one being that Homo sapiens evolved in east Africa some 200,000 years ago. In June, a modern skull about 315,000 years old was discovered on the other side of the continent, in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. It had some archaic traits but was clearly human. A new theory arose: Homo sapiens didn’t suddenly spring into being in some sub-Saharan Eden, but evolved all over the continent.

Another theory to bite the dust in 2017 was that all men alive today arose from a single mass exodus from Africa around 65,000 years ago. One snag is finding much earlier skeletons of Homo sapiens in Eurasia. Maybe they are remains of earlier human migrations that went extinct, but traces of archaic DNA have been detected in some peoples existing today. Also, there is the nature of the man-beast, who a couple of hundred thousand years ago, wouldn’t be likely to traipse en masse after some prehistoric, beetle-browed Moses, but meandered in small, nomadic hunting-gathering groups: “Man Has Been Trickling Out of Africa for 120,000 years, Archaeologists Say”

Or could Homo sapiens be even older? In “400,000-year-old ‘School of Rock’ Found in Prehistoric Cave in Israel,” Ariel David suggests that, based on unexpectedly complex stone-tool work, modern man may have begun to evolve much earlier than thought.

And in other spheres too; here are some of the best archaeology stories of 2017.

December

Archaeology of Dogs: Were They First Domesticated in the Middle East?
Maybe.
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The ancient dog cemetery in Ashkelon, dating to about 2,500 years ago, at which at least 1,400 graves of individual dogs have been discovered.
The ancient dog cemetery in Ashkelon, dating to about 2,500 years ago, at which at least 1,400 graves of individual dogs have been discovered.Credit: Roee Shafir and Assaf Oron

How the Canaanites of Hazor Grew Rich from Farming Dainty Sheep, Not Goats Like Everybody Else
Nobody else was imprudent enough to farm beasts prone to catching disease, flopping over and dying.
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Sheep bones found at Hazor from 3700 years ago
Sheep bones found at Hazor from 3700 years ago: Everybody else back then cultivated goats.Credit: Dr. Nimrod Marom

Major Early Christian Church Found in Beit Shemesh
Splendid mosaics, iconic Christian architecture and crosses found when digging to build a new neighborhood.
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A cross on a pillar base, found in a 4th century church discovered in Beit Shemesh
A cross on a pillar base, found in a 4th century church discovered in Beit ShemeshCredit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the IAA

Archaeological Enigma Resolved: Meteorites Were the Origin of All Things Iron Predating the Iron Age
No, there was no precocious smelting.
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November

Fortress of Ashdod Yam. Behind it is southern Ashdod
Fortress of Ashdod Yam. Behind it is southern AshdodCredit: Kobi Refaeli

Archaeologists May Have Found Long-lost Byzantine City
Azotos Paralios, or Ashdod Yam, identified thanks to a groveling Latin dedication.
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Archaeologists Startled to Find Remains of Pregnant Woman Buried in King Solomon’s Mines
Given that the Timna copper mines are in an armpit of the Negev, archaeologists thought the site couldn’t support a community but was occupied by male miners. Not so.
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The massive mound of stones that covered the tomb of an Egyptian woman who died some 3,200 years ago in the ancient copper mines of Timna.
Stones cover the body of the first remains of a woman found at King Solomon's Mines in Timna - and she was pregnant.Credit: Central Timna Valley Project

Are 4-million-year-old Stone-knife Marks on Bones a Croc?
Observing the marks that crocodile bites leave on bones indicates that ‘evidence’ of stone-tool use in Ethiopia millions of years ago is nothing of the sort.
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Lioness in basalt
Lioness in basalt, found at Tell el-ArajCredit: Dr. Mordechai Aviam

Perfect Lioness Carving From 1,500 Years Ago Discovered in a Pile of Dirt in Israel
Some people wouldn’t notice an elephant statue in the room. Others glance at a pile of dirt and see ancient carvings of cats.
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Incense burner from 2,200-year-old Edomite temple found in Israel: Picture shows the stone burner, with carving of a bull's head, sitting on a tabletop of some sort. The picture was taken outside but the background is obscure.
Two cultic incense altars from a 2,200-year-old Edomite temple found in IsraelCredit: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority

Drone Spots 2,200-year-old Edomite Temple in Israeli Live-fire Zone
Latest in the series: Only in Israel.
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Earliest Evidence of Eggplants in Israel Found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem Garbage Pit
Saba ganouche?
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A researcher puts ancient seeds found in a dump in Jerusalem into test tubes, which contain, from the left, lentils, various pumpkins, fig, Christ’s thorn jujubes and eggplant.
A researcher puts ancient seeds found in a dump in Jerusalem into test tubes, which contain, from the left, lentils, various pumpkins, fig, Christ’s thorn jujubes and eggplant.Credit: Eliyahu Yanai/City of David

2,000-year-old Sundial Changes Perception of Ancient Rome
One day around 2,000 years ago, a Roman named Marcus Novius Tubula ordered an elaborate sundial.
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Earliest Wine in World Found in 8,000-year-old Neolithic Georgia
Prehistoric Caucasians may also have, inexplicably, invented the unsteady giant wine jar.
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The sundial
The sundial ordered by Marcus Novius TubulaCredit: Faculty of Classics, Cambridge University

October

Biblical Record of Eclipse 3,200 Years Ago May Rewrite Pharaonic Era in Ancient Egypt
Joshua said the sun and moon stood still, but there are other explanations.
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Ancient model of a grain silo, discovered in the the rectangular "cultic" room, Tel Dan
Ancient model of a grain silo, discovered in the the rectangular "cultic" room that some interpret as an Aegean sanctuary.Credit: Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology

Family Finds Roman-era Stables Beneath Their Garden
And then arrests were made for looting.
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September

Startling Genetic Diversity Indicates That Ancient Papuans Didn’t Even Mix With Each Other
They came over 50,000 years ago, scattered into the highlands and lowlands, and that was that.
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Oldest Evidence of Food-Storage Ritual: 7,200-year-old Model of Silo Found in Israel
Why would anybody in their right mind build an elaborate toy storage facility over 7,000 years ago?
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Israelite Refugees Found High Office in Kingdom of Judah
As we discover from seals with Israelite, not Judahite, names found in Jerusalem.
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A modern bas-relief depicting St. Peter and St. Paul baptizing their jailers in the Roman prison.
A modern bas-relief depicting St. Peter and St. Paul baptizing their jailers in the Roman prison.Credit: Ariel David
Dr. Joe Uziel with the seals discovered in the City of David
Dr. Joe Uziel with the seals discovered in the City of David during the 2017 digging season. The seals date to the First Temple era.Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

August

The Real Ark of the Covenant May Have Housed Pagan Gods
If there was an ark, who brought it to the Temple in Jerusalem – King David or, as the archaeological evidence is starting to indicate, King Josiah? And what exactly was in it?
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Archaeologists Reveal Secrets of Roman Prison That Held Both Christian Saints and Jewish Rebels
One of the world’s oldest and most terrifying prisons, reserved for ancient Rome’s fiercest enemies – now open for you.
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1,500-year-old ‘Boutique Hotel’ Found in Jerusalem
And it was cheesy then, too.
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Mosaic found by the Damascus Gate: 'In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction' (Translation by Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem)
'In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction'Credit: Assaf Peretz, IAA

Scientists Debunk Claim That Copper Smelting Was Invented 8,500 Years Ago in Turkey
Based on observation that “green is pretty.”
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The palace at Knossos.
The palace at Knossos. Minoan architecture and art had been so advanced that historians assumed they came from somewhere else.Credit: Bernard Gagnon

It’s All Greeks to Me: Mystery of Where the Minoans Came From Solved
Three guesses: a) Outer space b) Turkey c) They were there all along.
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July

Bodies Discovered in Biblical Gezer From Fiery Destruction 3,200 Years Ago
The pharaoh boasted of burning Gezer to the ground. He really did.
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An adult on its back, arms above the head, from the destruction of Gezer by Egypt's Pharaoh Merneptah 3,200 years ago.
An adult on its back, arms above the head, from the destruction of Gezer by Egypt's Pharaoh Merneptah 3,200 years ago.Credit: Tandy Institute for Archaeology

Unique Kiln Used by Judean Potter Fleeing the Romans Found in Israel
Thing is, this guy set up shop selling oil lamps 1,900 years ago that were not of the local style.
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The Babylonian destruction layer in the City of David
The Babylonian destruction layer in the City of David is the dark bit with bits of embedded pottery around the middle of the picture.Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, Courtesy of the City of David Archive

Archaeologists Find Destruction Left by Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem
Some 2,600 years ago, the Babylonians razed Jerusalem. Now the remains have been found.
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Large Pontic amphorae that date to the Roman Period, found in the Fourni archipelago.
Large Pontic amphorae that date to the Roman Period, found in the Fourni archipelago.Credit: Vasilis Mentogianis

Pirates, or Storms? Archaeologists Find Ships Graveyard in Greek Archipelago
Discovery of eight more ancient wrecks by Fourni brings count of ships sunk off this uninhabited island to 53.
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On the Banks of the Jordan River, Neanderthals Ate Smelly Turtles 60,000 Years Ago
Why? Hunting an elephant with spears is exhausting and dangerous, while hunting down a tortoise involves seeing it, bending over and picking it up.
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June

Archaeologists Find Monumental Mikveh at King Herod’s Palace in Jordan
Vast and probably highly necessary purification bath found in Machaerus – King Herod’s fortress in Jordan, where Salome danced and John the Baptist was killed – which was razed by the same Roman legion that destroyed Masada.
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Two re-erected columns—one Doric (right) and one Ionic—stand tall atop Machaerus with the Dead Sea in the background. The Doric column is shorter, stumpier and with a plain capital. The Ionic column is taller, slenderer and with a fancy scroll capi-tal.
Two re-erected columns, one Doric (right, stumpier) and one Ionic, standing atop Machaerus with the Dead Sea in the background.Credit: Courtesy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus

Skulls From 11,500-year-old Ancestor Cult Found in Oldest Temple in the World
Maybe they worshipped ancestors. Or maybe they just really liked hanging skulls on the wall in Gobekli Tepe.
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A tentative reconstruction of a modified skull from Göbekli Tepe.
A tentative reconstruction of a modified skull from Göbekli Tepe.Credit: Gresky / DAI
Microscopic magnification (x60) of woolen textile from Timna dyed in red and blue stripes (photo taken with Dino-Lite microscope),
Microscopic magnification (x60) of woolen textile from Timna dyed in red and blue stripes (photo taken with Dino-Lite microscope).Credit: Dr. Naama Sukenik, Israel Antiquities Authority

Brightly Dyed, 3,000-year-old Textiles From King David-era Found in Timna
We like red. They liked red.
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Archaeologists Uncover 1,700-year-old Roman Villa With Stunning Mosaics in Libya
Ptolemaic-era manse shows Achilles dressed as a girl. Find out why.
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May

Tomb of Unknown Saint Found in Israel, Archaeologists Deduce
A church in ancient Hippos-Sussita contained a mysterious sarcophagus with a hole drilled into the stone, through which the faithful could have touched the deceased. Or poured olive oil on it. Who knows?
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Homo naledi skull from the Lesedi Chamber, in the Rising Star cave system near the sea in South Africa. The bones found in the cave have been dated to 226,000 and 335,000 years ago, younger than the archaeologists had anticipated.
Homo naledi skull, younger than the archaeologists had anticipated. Credit: John Hawks, Wits University

Pre-humans Buried Their Dead 300,000 Years Ago, Cave Finds Indicate
Bones of small-brained hominins called Homo naledi were discovered in incredibly hard-to-reach chambers in a vast cave system in South Africa, leading to the theory that they were ceremoniously burying their dead a quarter-million years ago.
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April

Archaeologists Find Roman Emperor’s 1,900-year-old Summer Home in Turkey
So much for images of lounging nobles being fed grapes by seminude servants.
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March

The archaeological dig at the southern end of the Circus Maximus. The marble columns in the foreground are remains of the Arch of Titus. The tower behind it was part of a medieval fortification
Circus Maximus, Rome: The marble columns in the foreground are remains of the second Arch of Titus. The tower behind was part of a medieval fortification.Credit: Ariel David

Second Monumental Arch of Titus Celebrating Victory Over Jews Found in Rome
Gloating, much? It wasn’t enough for the Romans to enslave the Jews, plunder Judea, conquer Jerusalem, destroy the Temple and then erect a massive triumphal arch to commemorate those feats of war for millennia to come: They had to build a second, even larger monument to celebrate their victory.
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February

The Legend of the Amorites
Why were the biblical peoples so terrified of migrant shepherds that they described them as raw-meat-eating, ancestor-abusing giants?
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January

Iklaina tablet, with government record, written in Linear B.
Iklaina tablet, with government record, written in Linear B.Credit: Michael Cosmopoulous

Unknown Monumental Palace Rewrites Ancient Greek History
Major discoveries that Iklaina was no backwater, but a major Mycenaean center predating complex polities in Greece by centuries.
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Archaeologists Find Vast Pagan Sanctuary Outside Roman City in North Israel
The archaeologists were looking for a bathhouse-theater, as archaeologists do. What they found was mounting evidence of a vast pagan worship complex, adoring the Roman gods, in Hippos-Sussita.
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The northwest church at Hippos
The northwest church at HipposCredit: Concordia University Northeast Insula Project

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