10 Extraordinary Archaeology Finds of 2018 From Around the World

From sunken German U-boats to Crusader-era coins to Egyptian tombs and everything inbetween
December 21, 2018 Updated: December 21, 2018

2018 has seen significant discoveries in the field of archaeology around the world. Professional and amateur archeologists have made groundbreaking finds and updated our understanding of historical events. As we continue to make more sense of our past, there are still (and always will be) countess things to learn. In this fascinating list, we present to you 10 of the most awe-inspiring archaeological and historical finds of the year.

10. Wreck of the most advanced Nazi u-boat

In April this year, during a project mapping shipwrecks in the North Sea and Skaggerak Strait, the Sea War Museum Jutland discovered the wreck of a Nazi U-boat lying 11 miles north of Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town.

Of all weapons possessed in the Third Reich’s arsenal, the submarine-type vessel known as the U-boat was one of the most feared. Throughout WWII, some 1,165 U-boats were built at German shipyards, and were responsible for roughly 70 percent of all Allied naval losses. The Type XXI U-boat was hailed as a marvel of German military engineering. 118 Type XXIs were built, but only two actually saw service. This particular Type XXI, U-3523, is believed to have been sunk by a British bomber with depth-charges on May 5, 1945, the day after German surrender.

© Sea war Museum Jutland

9. The oldest human painting

The earliest known painting created by humans was discovered at a coastal cave in southern South Africa. Scrawled on a piece of rock, the painting resembling a hashtag was dated back some 73,000 years.

This mysterious piece of art was unearthed at Blombos Cave, a site about 180 miles east of Cape Town. As early as 100,000 years ago, the cave was inhabited by hunter-gatherer groups that also crafted colored shell beads and other stone tools. The find is credited to the research team of Professor Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Bergen, who has been leading excavations at Blombos Cave since 1991.

© Nature

8. The oldest bread that predated agriculture

We’ve long thought that bread, as a by-product of agriculture, could not have existed before 8,000 BCE, when humans first started farming in groups. But the discovery of the remains of a flatbread baked 14,400 years ago gives what we know about the development of agriculture for a good spin.

In July of this year, a group of European researchers, including experts from University College London and The University of Cambridge, analyzed the flatbread unearthed at a site called Shubayqa 1, located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan. The inhabitants of Shubayqa 1, known as the Natufians, formed communities and lived a life of hunting and gathering. It remains to debate how the Natufians were able to produce high-quality bread that bears similarities to those that would be produced at various sites around Turkey and Europe four millennia later.

© Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

7. Crusader-era gold coins

A stash of extremely rare gold coins dating back some 900 years was found by archaeologists in the Israeli city of Caesarea in December. The researchers believed they once belonged to a wealthy family fleeing conquest on the eve of the bloody Crusade of 1101.

The small but valuable cache of 24 gold coins was discovered between two stones in a 1.5-meter-deep well. By all appearances, the valuables were hidden in haste by someone who intended to retrieve them later but never returned. When the port city of Caesarea was captured by the combined force of Baldwin I of Jerusalem and his Genoese ally in May 1101, nearly all of its inhabitants were either slain or taken as slaves.

Getty Images | JACK GUEZ

6. The headless Pompeii Man 

In the summer of 79 AD, the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted. The nearby Roman city of Pompeii, along with its 10,000 residents, was buried under a blanket of volcanic ash in the course of one night. The rediscovery of Pompeii started in the 18th Century and continued to today, providing fascinating insights of both art and history.

During a new dig in May, a headless skeleton was unearthed at the Pompeii archaeological site. It appeared to reveal a man who was crushed by the huge stone that had fallen on top of him. A month later, however, Italian researchers located the open-mouthed skull near the man’s body, and it is believed that the unfortunate Roman died from asphyxiation due to hot gas and volcanic matter.

© Parco Archeologico di Pompei

5. King ‘Bluetooth’s’ treasure

Arguably the most well-known Scandinavian leader of the Viking Age, Danish King Harald “Bluetooth” was admired for his wealth and power. He united all Danish tribes, led the Danes to victory on the battlefield against the Norwegians and Germans, and brought Christianity to his kingdom. He even has a wireless technology as his namesake.

During a treasure-hunt with metal detectors last January, amateur archaeologist Rene Schön and 13-year-old treasurer hunter Luca Malaschnitschenko discovered silver pieces on Rügen, Germany’s largest island in the Baltic Sea. With help from professional archaeologists, they continued to unearth more remarkable artifacts linked to King Harald “Bluetooth,” which included necklaces, pearls, rings, more than 600 silver coins, and even a Thor’s hammer.

© Getty Images | STEFAN SAUER

4. The body of Cao Cao

Featured as a central character in the classic Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” Cao Cao is one of the most celebrated figures of Chinese history. Amidst the chaos of the civil war following the collapse of once-mighty Han Empire, Cao Cao emerged as a likely candidate to unify China. Unfortunately, he was too painfully short-lived to see his ambition achieved.

Although the resting place of the legendary warlord was discovered as early as December 2009, it was not until April this year that his body was finally found. Experts of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology confirmed that the remains of an adult male in his sixties was found at a huge mausoleum site that supposedly belonged to Cao Cao. A popular legend holds that Cao Cao, in order to prevent looters from disturbing his peace after death, made 72 separate burial sites with 71 of them being decoys.

© Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology

3. New Nazca Lines

Peru’s Nazca Lines are mysterious, linear figures etched onto the earth’s surface covering a macro scale. These huge drawings depict: a spider, hummingbird, monkey with a spiral tail, as well as geometric shapes that are hard to make sense of. Many wild theories about how and why the ancient Peruvians made them have been fielded since their discovery.

In April of this year, Peruvian archeologists discovered more than 50 new examples of figures that were so large they could be only seen from above with help of drones. Some of them could date back from 500 BC to 200 AD, suggesting that centuries before the Nazca people created their figures, inhabitants of the nearby region were experimenting with making the massive geoglyphs.


2. The oldest intact shipwreck

A fully-intact ancient vessel was found resting on the bottom of the Black Sea in October by researchers from Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project. The lack of oxygen and depth of 1.2 miles have prevented the ship from being disturbed for the last 2,400 years. It is by far the world’s oldest intact shipwreck.

The ship is believed to have been an ancient, Greek merchant vessel. It bears surprising similarities to the ship painted on the side of the ancient Greek “Siren Vase.” That work, which dates from about the same period, depicts the scene of Odysseus resisting the song of Sirens by tying himself to the ship’s mast.

© Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP)

1. 4,400-year-old Egyptian tomb in Saqqara

Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced on Saturday, December 15 that an Egyptian archaeological mission has unearthed a tomb buried 5 meters under the sand at Saqqara, a town located 19 miles south of Cairo, known for its numerous pyramids. The tomb has been sealed for nearly 4,400 years, and there was no sign of looting or vandalism.

The contents of the tomb were preserved exceptionally well. The walls of the gigantic tomb are covered with paintings, sculptures, and inscriptions. The hieroglyphs inside the tomb indicate the name and title of the deceased: Wahtye, a high-ranked priest who served King Neferirkare, who briefly ruled Egypt during the Old Kingdom in the 5th dynasty. Buried with him were his wife, Weret Ptah, and his mother, Merit Meen.

© Getty Images | KHALED DESOUKI