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.”
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.
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.
Major Early Christian Church Found in Beit Shemesh
Splendid mosaics, iconic Christian architecture and crosses found when digging to build a new neighborhood.
Archaeological Enigma Resolved: Meteorites Were the Origin of All Things Iron Predating the Iron Age
No, there was no precocious smelting.
Archaeologists May Have Found Long-lost Byzantine City
Azotos Paralios, or Ashdod Yam, identified thanks to a groveling Latin dedication.
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.
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.
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.
Drone Spots 2,200-year-old Edomite Temple in Israeli Live-fire Zone
Latest in the series: Only in Israel.
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.
Earliest Wine in World Found in 8,000-year-old Neolithic Georgia
Prehistoric Caucasians may also have, inexplicably, invented the unsteady giant wine jar.
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.
Family Finds Roman-era Stables Beneath Their Garden
And then arrests were made for looting.
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.
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?
Israelite Refugees Found High Office in Kingdom of Judah
As we discover from seals with Israelite, not Judahite, names found in Jerusalem.
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?
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.
1,500-year-old ‘Boutique Hotel’ Found in Jerusalem
And it was cheesy then, too.
Scientists Debunk Claim That Copper Smelting Was Invented 8,500 Years Ago in Turkey
Based on observation that “green is pretty.”
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.
Bodies Discovered in Biblical Gezer From Fiery Destruction 3,200 Years Ago
The pharaoh boasted of burning Gezer to the ground. He really did.
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.
Archaeologists Find Destruction Left by Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem
Some 2,600 years ago, the Babylonians razed Jerusalem. Now the remains have been found.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brightly Dyed, 3,000-year-old Textiles From King David-era Found in Timna
We like red. They liked red.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.