Groundbreaking Archaeological Finds That Have Been Discovered Since You Were In School

As archaeologists uncover new settlements, dig up previously undiscovered burial sites, and unearth well-preserved ephemera from tens of thousands of years ago, one thing becomes increasingly true: So much of what you learned in school is totally, wildly wrong now.

Massive, sprawling cities have been found in areas that were never thought to be populated; religious structures have changed the way we believe nomadic hunter-gatherers congregated; and new discoveries are constantly throwing off our perceived timeline of human development - forcing scientists to reevaluate what they thought they knew as fact.

From stone spear tips crafted by extinct proto-humans half a million years ago, to an embalmed mummy discovered in Egypt that pre-dates our predictions about mummification - and even the written word - by a thousand years - the last two decades have unearthed literal treasure troves of information that reshape and redefine so much of what we think we know. Here's a look at some of the most mindblowing and groundbreaking recent archaeological finds.


  • A Mummy With A Golden Tongue Was Found In Egypt

    Archaeologists announced in January 2021 that they had discovered a 2,000-year-old mummy with a gold tongue at Taposiris Magna, an ancient excavation site in Alexandria, Egypt, that is thought to be a potential site of Cleopatra's tomb. "Taposiris Magna" means "tomb of Osiris," referring to the Egyptian god; the mummy was found in one of 16 newly found burial shafts at the site.  

    Researchers from the University of Santo Domingo and Egypt led by Dr. Kathleen Martinez found several mummies, including one with an amulet of gold in its mouth in the form of a tongue. According to the Egyptian antiquities ministry, the gold tongue might have been placed there to allow the mummy to speak with Egyptian gods during the afterlife.  

  • The Oldest Fossilized Human Footprints In North America Were Found In New Mexico 

    In 2021, an international team of researchers announced they had discovered the oldest known fossilized human footprints in North America, at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Science, said the footprints date back about 23,000 years, which was during the Ice Age. Previously, scientists thought humans had crossed into North America after glaciers had melted; this study suggests they arrived when ice was in their path. Previous studies also relied on the study of cultural items like tools and conventional fossils; footprints are much more convincing evidence of a human presence.

    Human tracks are usually extremely difficult to date. But the footprints at White Sands, originally found by archaeologist and study co-author Davis Bustos in 2019, could be carbon-dated because they were mixed with sediment and seeds from an ancient grass. 

    Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico who was not part of the study, told The New York Times: "I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years... [T]his is a dream find."


  • A Foot With A Nail Through It Found In England Suggests Rare Evidence Of Crucifixion During Roman Times

    Archaeologists excavating graves at a former Roman settlement in the English village of Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire, in 2017 found a skeleton that at first didn't seem different from the others buried in the same area: It appeared to be a man about 25 to 35 years old, with arthritis and bad teeth. But upon futher examination of the nearly 1,900-year-old skeleton, scientists discovered a nail through the man's heel, indicating he might have been crucified. Researchers believe the finding is rare evidence of ancient crucifixion, and the first such evidence from the UK. 

    Findings about the skeleton were announced in December 2021 and reported in the January/February 2022 issue of British Archaeology magazine. Albion Archaeology, which conducted the excavation, said in a statement that 12 nails were found around the skeleton in a way that suggested the man had been placed on a board, not in a coffin, and a 13th nail was found through his right heel. "While this cannot be taken as incontrovertible proof that the man was crucified, it seems the only plausible explanation," the statement said, adding that the find is "at most the fourth example ever recorded worldwide through archaeological evidence."

    Crucifixion was apparently common during Roman times, but those slain were usually tied rather than nailed to a cross, and if nails were used, they were usually removed. The finding is rare because such victims did not usually receive a proper burial.




  • What Is Believed To Be Largest Underground City In The World Was Found In Turkey

    What Is Believed To Be Largest Underground City In The World Was Found In Turkey
    Photo: erayt /

    Researchers announced in April 2022 that they had found what they believe to be the largest underground city in the world, in southeast Turkey. The subterranean city, called Matiate, is in the Midyat district (pictured) in the province of Mardin. Archaeologists who started exploring a cave at the site found places of worship, silos, water wells, and corridors dating from the second and third centuries CE . 

    Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum and the excavation, told the Daily Sabah the city was used as a hiding place:

    As it is known, Christianity was not an official religion in the second century. Families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome or formed an underground city. Possibly… Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose. It is an area where we estimate that at least 60,000 to 70,000 people lived underground.

    Similar underground cities have been found elsewhere in Turkey, but Matiate is much larger than any of those previously discovered sites.