Ghostly Genes, Gal Gadot and Stone Balls: Best Archaeology Stories of 2020

On human evolution: cooking before fire, storing perishables before electricity, counterfeiting before money, enigmatic footprints in Saudi Arabia, moon gods and shamans and so much more

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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The way we were
The way we wereCredit: frantic00 /
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

So much for our assumption of superiority. If we were created by a deity, when did they do it – before or after we mixed with other hominin species? Neanderthals and Denisovans were joined in our genome by whispers of at least one super-archaic hominin, we learned this year. These other-humans may have been quite like us, the burial of a Neanderthal toddler suggests. And all these humans may have had something else in common beyond grieving: stone balls. And cooking, albeit in hot springs. Indeed we are constantly surprised by how advanced the archaics were - read all about that, and the archaeological logic in Gal Gadot as Cleopatra, prehistoric freezers, early counterfeiting and stoned rock artists in the best archaeology stories of 2020 in Haaretz.

Ghostly Genes From Super-archaic Hominin Found in Late Human Species

Small-brained creature interbred with the common ancestor of Neanderthals and Denisovans, then half a million years later with Denisovans too – and you may have traces in your DNA

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350,000-year-old Turning Point in Human Evolution Found in Israel 

Analysis of a single rock used to abrade materials, probably hides, indicates sophistication in tool use much deeper in time than had previously been thought

Footprints Show Humans Reached Saudi Arabia Almost 120,000 Years Ago – or Did They? 

The fossil evidence doesn’t show any other Homo species around at the time but there’s very little of that fossil evidence and Neanderthals were in Israel then, which isn't far off

Fossil footprints interpreted as having been made by modern man in Saudi Arabia 120,000 years agoCredit: Gilbert Price

Neanderthals Buried a Toddler 41,000 Years Ago in France 

The jury’s still out on non-sapiens mortuary rites, but the evidence is building that at least some Neanderthals ritually interred their dead

Archaeologists Solve Mystery of Prehistoric Stone Balls 

Shaped stone spheres were part of early humanity’s toolkit for over two million years, but what exactly they were used for has remained an enigma. Until now

What archaic humans were doing with their stone balls: ReenactmentCredit: Ella Assaf

Archaic Humans May Have Cooked 1.7 Million Years Ago – in Hot Springs 

More than a million years before we discovered ‘fire,’ meat-eating archaic humans living in Olduvai Gorge were in proximity of hot springs and may have discovered the wonders of boiling their prey

Gal Gadot as Cleopatra Makes Archaeological Sense 

DNA analysis has shown that the closest relatives of ancient Egyptians are today’s Levantines, so Israeli Gal Gadot as Cleopatra is a pretty good match

Gal Gadot in a scene from "Wonder Woman 1984." Credit: Clay Enos,AP

Human Figure Detected on 14,000-year-old Burial Slab in Israel 

The Natufians were the first to bury their dead in cemeteries, albeit in shallow graves, and mysterious slabs were placed in and above some graves. One found in Raqefet Cave bore an enigmatic engraving that may hint at elaborate ritual

A Tooth Changes Everything We Know About Humans Reaching Europe 

Remains of a modern human 45,000 years old found in the Balkans show our ancestors coexisted with Neanderthals in Europe for around 8,000 years

Doggerland Wasn’t Destroyed by Tsunami but by Climate Change 

Part of the now-submerged Doggerland survived the mega-tsunamis triggered by the Storegga Slide

Sediment layers left by the tsunami that drowned Doggerland once and for allCredit: Stozy10

Prehistoric Rock Artists Were Stoned, Archaeologists Finally Prove 

Altered states of consciousness have been posited for the artists of antiquity and finally archaeologists have found the smoking datura 

Prehistoric Scandinavian Hunter-gatherer Culture Wasn’t One. It Was Two 

Maglemose culture of prehistoric Denmark and southern Sweden wasn’t a continuum, but consisted of different peoples with different technologies, archaeologists suggest

Humans overlapped with Neanderthals much longer than thought

We may have overlapped with Neanderthals for thousands of years in the coastal caves of Western Europe, though that isn’t where our Neanderthal genes came from

Lapa do Picareiro Cave, Portugal where early modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for about eight thousand yearsCredit: Jonathan Haws

Counterfeiting Began Even Before Money Was Invented

Evidently there always was one born every minute, and as the great civilizations around the Mediterranean collapsed 3,000 years ago, silver became extremely hard to obtain

Early Humans Used Ash as Their ‘Freezer’

Archaeological analysis of 300,000-year-old stone tools from Qesem Cave shows hominins treated food and animal hides with wood ash from their fires in order to preserve them for a rainy day 

Moon God Stele Discovered at Sacred High Place in Northern Israel 

About 3,000 years ago, it seems the people in what may have become the Jewish village of Bethsaida saw invaders coming and carefully buried their sacred icons


The Last Stand of Homo Erectus

Homo erectus died out far later than thought. Redating a site in Java shows survival until just over 100,000 years ago

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