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.
Remains Of A Viking Ship, Burial Grounds, And Feasting Hall Were Discovered Beneath Fields In NorwayVideo: YouTube
In Gjellestad, Norway, at the site of the Jell Mound, one of the largest burial grounds in Scandinavia, researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have discovered the remains of a Viking ship, feasting hall, and possible "cult house" or temple. They found the 60-foot-long ship - likely the burial site of a Viking king or queen - 20 inches below a farm field in 2018, then announced in 2020 they had used ground-penetrating radar to discover the additional structures nearby.
According to Lars Gustavsen, lead author of the research study, "the site seems to have belonged to the very top echelon of the Iron Age elite of the area, and would have been a focal point for the exertion of political and social control of the region."
The researchers published the results of their study in the journal Antiquity.
Animal Bones In A Mexican Cave Suggest Humans Were In The Americas 20,000 Years Earlier Than Previously ThoughtPhoto: Andrew Somerville / Iowa State University/Used with permission
Archaeologists studying animal bones from a Mexican cave found evidence that suggests the first humans might have arrived in the Americas about 33,000 years ago, which is 20,000 years earlier than previously thought. They published their results in the journal Latin American Antiquity in May 2021.
Andrew Somerville, an assistant professor of anthropology at Iowa State University, said he and colleagues were studying the origins of agriculture in Mexico’s Tehuacan Valley, and wanted to find a date for the earliest human occupation of Coxcatlan Cave, an archaeological site in the area.
They used rabbit and deer bones collected from the cave in the 1960s to establish radiocarbon dates, and found that the bones ranged from 33,448 to 28,279 years old, which was a surprise, because scientists have long thought that the first humans crossed into the Americas 13,000 years ago from the Bering Land Bridge.
“We weren’t trying to weigh in on this debate or even find really old samples. We were just trying to situate our agricultural study with a firmer timeline,” Somerville said. “We were surprised to find these really old dates at the bottom of the cave, and it means that we need to take a closer look at the artifacts recovered from those levels.”
The scientists’ next task is to study whether the bones can be linked to humans; they will search for cut marks or thermal changes (evidence of cooking) that might indicate human handling.
"Pushing the arrival of humans in North America back to over 30,000 years ago would mean that humans were already in North America prior to the period of the Last Glacial Maximum, when the Ice Age was at its absolute worst," Somerville said. "Large parts of North America would have been inhospitable to human populations. The glaciers would have completely blocked any passage over land coming from Alaska and Canada, which means people probably would have had to come to the Americas by boats down the Pacific coast."
Thirteen Sealed Mummy Coffins Piled On Top Of Each Other Were Discovered In Egypt
In September 2020, archaeologists in Egypt discovered at least 13 painted coffins from 2,500 years ago piled on top of one another buried 36 feet below ground. The completely sealed, well-preserved coffins were found in the necropolis (burial ground) of Saqqara in the desert, according to an announcement by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in a Facebook post.
Archaeologists haven't yet opened the coffins, and aren't sure who the deceased figures inside might be. They also think they might find more coffins behind nearby sealed niches.