The Most Intriguing Archaeological Discoveries in 2014

What did Noah's ark look like? When did man tame fire? Was David's Citadel really found and who fixed that wrestling match 2,000 years ago? All this and so much more in these choice picks from the Haaretz archaeology section in 2014.

Olivier Fitoussi

A 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablet goes on display at the British Museum – and describes Noah's ark as a round coracle, not the cruise-ship type thing portrayed by artists and Hollywood. BTW, the beloved of the god in this artifact wasn't "Noah" but the Mesopotamian king Atrahasis, and the god is Enki, not Elohim, but otherwise the stories are strikingly similar, including the animals' embarking two by two.

Also in January:
Pharaoh unknown to science, if not to robbers, found

Hump stump solved: Camels arrived in region much later than biblical reference

Fossil dung study indicates: Ancients in Negev had advanced economy

Israeli fire discovery sheds new light on rise of human culture

That's Israel for you – can't build a road without finding an ancient village. This one dates back to the Second Temple period. It appears to have been rather well-to-do: the houses, which were occupied from 530 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., each have several rooms and a courtyard. The town peaked in the third century BCE, following the reign of Alexander the Great, and was abandoned towards the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.


Also in February:
Inside the pit of the world's oldest barbecue

A 9,000-year-old 'wand' of cow bone, with two human faces engraved on it, was found near an ancient burial site in southern Syria. It dates from the late 9th millennium BCE. The wand was found near a burial site where 30 headless skeletons had previously been discovered. Other findings at the site indicate that its inhabitants were some of the world's first farmers.



Also in March:
Lying about Leviathan: Archaeologists find the earliest fish tales

A 15-centimeter long corroded metal stonemason's chisel was found while digging at the lower base of the Western Wall. The chisel's head had become flattened from being repeatedly banged on rock. Eli Shukron, an archaeologist working for the Israel Antiquities Authority, suspects a builder working on scaffolding at one of the higher levels of the Wall dropped the thing and couldn't be bothered to climb down and retrieve it, and it became covered by rubble and stayed that way for 2,000 years. Or maybe he did climb down but couldn't find it.



Also in April:
New study proves hanky-panky between Neanderthals and humans

3,300-year-old coffin from time of pharaohs found in northern Israel

Document shows ancient wrestling match was fixed 

Cold case: Did archaeologists find the last Maccabean king, after all? 

An Israeli archaeologist, Eli Shukron, claims to have found the legendary citadel captured by King David in his conquest of Jerusalem. Based on pottery findings, the uncovered edifice is 3,800 years old, i.e., it was built 800 years before King David would have captured it from the Jebusites. Nu. The construction features massive walls of 5-ton stones stacked 21 feet wide, and Shukron says he found a water shaft that could be the one David sent his army through. Critics say there's no clear proof.



Also in May:
Fort found was home quarters to Roman infantry unit wielded to vanquish the Jews

Amazing what you can find when you do a good clean out. Bristol University in Britain learned this firsthand when researchers discovered a box containing materials from archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley's dig of the Sumerian city of Ur tucked away on top of a cupboard. Researchers determined that the box's contents were 4,500 years old — consisting of pottery, seeds, carbonized apple rings and animal bones — and had come from a tomb at an excavation in Iraq. No one knows how the material got to Bristol, which had no connection to the dig.

An analysis of the plaque on prehistoric teeth found in Sudan shows that over 7,000 years, from the era of hunting-gathering to agrarian society, the people chewed on a weed that tasted revolting – sedge. It gave them carbohydrates and possibly more importantly, killed the bacteria that cause cavities. Archaeologists surmise that the ancient people were aware of this property, which is why they ate the sedge in the first place. It certainly wasn't for the taste.



Also in July:
Nero's revolving restaurant really existed, archaeologists prove

A cache of bronze coins dating from the Jewish Revolt against Rome was discovered while excavating a previously unknown ancient village, that had been discovered while expanding the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The 114 coins bear a Sukkoth motif: lulavs between two etrogs. Around the image is the inscription in Hebrew “Year Four”, that is - the fourth year of the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (69/70 CE). On the reverse side, the coins bear a telling inscription, "For the redemption of Zion." The Jewish Revolt failed, by the way, again, leading to the destruction of the Temple by the vengeful Romans on Tisha B’Av.



Also in August:
Mideast's most ancient metal object found in Beit She'an Valley

'Naked runner' sheds light on a little-known art of ancient Rome

Ancient Edomite metalworkers were elites, not slaves

This one is controversial, but some grooves found carved into rock in a Gibraltar cave, that couldn't be natural, have been associated with Neanderthals; i.e., they too had the capacity for abstract expression. Some feel the marks could have been made by homo Sapiens, but supporters of the Neanderthal origin theory argue that other technology found at the site has been associated exclusively with Neanderthals.



Also in September:
3,300-year-old 'Titanic of the Med' gives invaluable clues to Mideast's past

Israeli archaeologists excavating a mikveh from the Second Temple period were surprised to find graffiti on its ceiling, carved there by rather pedantic Australian soldiers during World War II: “Cpl” and the names “Scarlett” and “Walsh,” helpfully augmented with the initials “RAE,” the numbers “NX7792” and “NX9168” and a date: May 30, 1940. Evidently the 1,900-year-old mikveh, which was carved out of the bedrock, and the cistern that fed it were open to the elements at least until the 1940s, say the archaeologists.



Also in October:
Archaeological find sheds light on the cause of the Bar Kochba Revolt

Archaeologists in Greece uncover mosaic dating back to Alexander the Great

Tut tut. Seven Egyptians who discovered the remains of a 3,400-year-old temple underneath their home were arrested by the police for illegal excavation. The diggers found huge limestone blocks, engraved with hieroglyphs, dating to the reign of King Tuthmose III of the New Kingdom era in Egyptian history (16th-11th centuries BCE). Thing is they weren't supposed to hack away at their discovery themselves, they were supposed to tell the authorities.



Also in November:
Assyrian Empire was destroyed by drought and crowding, study says

Cult fiction: Pagan relics don't mean Tel Burna was temple to Baal

Absorbed into the walls of the clay pots in which it was stored, the olive oil found at Ein Zippori, in a massive Early Chalcolithic site discovered serendipitously when widening a road, is the oldest ever found anywhere in the world. Aside from the oil, the 8,000-year old site also features houses, and multiple cultic areas with stunning finds, including animal bones and stone palettes (typically about 10x10 centimeters in size) carved with two-dimensional animal motifs.



Also in December:
2,800-year old farm house uncovered in Rosh Ha'Ayin

Debate rages: When did man tame fire? 350,000 years ago on Carmel, says archaeologist

'Homely' ancient rock adds to proof of King David's existence

Fragment of 1,600-year old glass bracelet with menorah motif found

Archaeologists find evidence of 60,000-old auroch hunt

Ancient clay seals from biblical era found

Archaeologist cracks mysterious message on Jerusalem prison wall

Ancient Jewish tombstone found repurposed in 19th century Muslim mausoleum