Although much of the world has been in lockdown for several months now, there have still been many exciting discoveries in the fields of history and archaeology that have been announced. Just this month new archaeological sites have been found and research has changed our knowledge of things we thought we previously knew. So here are ten pieces of news I wanted to share with you all.

The remains of an ancient Aztec palace have been discovered in Mexico City.

Whilst undertaking renovations in a stately building in Mexico City, basalt floor slabs were discovered. Now, archaeologists say that excavations indicate this was the palatial home of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. They believe the site was formerly the palace of Aztec ruler Axayácatl before being razed by the conquistadors and rebuilt to suit their needs. This dates the site to at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Read more about the discovery here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-53397164

The floor of the palace found in Mexico City. Image via BBC.


Flint figurines are thought to be early depictions of real people.

Flint figurines dating to c. 7500BC have been found at Kharaysin, northeast of Amman in Jordan, which are now believed to depict real people who lived nearly 10,000 years ago. More than 100 of the flint shapes were found at the site and it is now believed that the strange shapes which are consistent across the figurines must depict something, and one of the most plausible explanations is that they are supposed to depict human beings. As they were found in the funerary area of the site where human burials took place it is thought they could represent the dead. Read more about the interpretations of the flint figurines here: https://www.livescience.com/grave-figurines-early-human-portrayal.html

A collection of the flint figurines believed to depict real human beings, via Live Science.


The first excavation of a Viking Ship in Norway for over a century has begun.

Although Norway is famous for its Viking ancestors, only three well-preserved Viking ships have been found in the country, as wooden finds rarely survive. Two years ago a ship was discovered in Gjellestad in the south-east of the country via radar, and archaeologists are finally excavating it. The ship is around 65 feet long and was found alongside a large number of burial mounds and longhouses. The dig is expected to last five months. Read more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-53204948?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c1038wnxyy0t/archaeology&link_location=live-reporting-story

The radar scan of the ship, found two years ago. Via the BBC.


A giant chalk figure in England has been re-dated from the prehistoric period to the medieval period.

The Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, England, has been a tourist attraction since the Victorian period. The giant – which features a 35-foot penis – was first mentioned in historic records in 1694, but for a long time the figure was thought to be prehistoric, or perhaps Roman in origin. However, new research into the makeup of the chalk has discovered snail shells that coincide with the creation of the chalk outline – and this species of snail did not reach England until the 13th or 14th centuries. Whilst this has disappointed some, it only deepens the mystery of the giant’s creation and what its meaning and purpose was. Read more here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/snail-shells-reveal-englands-180-foot-cerne-abbas-giant-not-prehistoric-180975274/

The Cerne Abbas Giant, via the National Trust.


An Ice Age mining camp has been discovered in submerged caves in Mexico.

This month, a study has been published detailing the results of research and excavation in a series of submerged caves in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The caves were discovered in 2017 but what was astonishing was what divers found within:  ice age mining artifacts, including tools, mining pits and stone markers. There are even charcoal remains of fires made by the miners. It is believed that Indigenous people of the Yucatan Peninsula used the caves between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago to mine for red ochre, used for a variety of activities including rock paintings, burials and possibly even insect repellent. Read more about the incredible discovery here: https://www.livescience.com/ice-age-mining-cave-mexico.html

The charcoal remains of a fire made by Indigenous miners over 10,000 years ago. Via Live Science.


The face of a man who died in Siberia 1,700 years ago has been revealed.

The Tashtyk people lived in Siberia between the first and fourth century AD and buried their dead with painted gypsum death masks over their faces. A CT scan has just been done of a rare male survival (men usually being cremated) revealing his face behind the mask. He is the only Tashtyk mummy found so far with tattoos, and he also has a large scar on his face that has been sewn up as well as a large trepanning hole in his skull. The scan reveals tantalising new information and research leads to follow. Read more about it here: https://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/this-tattooed-tashtyk-man-was-found-half-a-century-ago-yet-now-for-the-first-time-we-can-see-his-lifelike-face/

The skull of the Tashtyk man, with the death mask still attached. Via Siberian Times.


Early Christianity in Scotland is being re-assessed.

The earliest evidence of Christianity in Scotland is a Latin-inscribed stone dating to the fifth century found in Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway. The priory of the town was previously believed to have been founded around the same time by Saint Ninian. However, new analysis suggests that the monastery may not have been founded until two centuries later. Interestingly, the seventh-century monks were buried in hollowed out tree trunks. The site may have long been a meeting-place for high-status Christians. Read more here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-53267412?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c1038wnxyy0t/archaeology&link_location=live-reporting-story

One of the coffins made from a hollowed tree trunk. Via the BBC.


Divers in Italy have found a shipwreck which could be a famous 16th century galleon.

The Santo Spirito and Santa Maria di Loreto was one of the largest Italian merchant vessels of its time, but it sank off the coast of northern Italy in 1579. Earlier this year divers discovered a shipwreck near Porto Pidocchio which turned out to be an extremely rare find: only five ships of this type have been found in that area. If the wreckage proves to be the Santo as expected, then it will be the first Renaissance-era vessel discovered with its hull timbers still intact. Further investigations are now taking place. Read more about the ship here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/16th-century-italian-shipwreck-found-near-portofino-180975248/

An image of the wreckage from the Comune di Camogli, via Smithsonian.


The remains of a medieval cat has been found in Kazakhstan that shows it was a house pet.

Although cats have lived alongside humans semi-domesticated for thousands of years, generally they were not kept as pets until relatively recently. However, recent analysis of a cat skeleton from a medieval village in southern Kazakhstan show that the animal was kept as a pet. This was an unusual practice for the Oghuz people who lived in the area and researchers have suggested that the cat may be a sign of cultural exchange brought about by contact with Silk Road traders. Read more here: https://www.archaeology.org/news/8848-200710-silk-road-cat

The remains of the pet cat, which had lost all of its teeth. Via Archaeology.org.


The earliest known photograph of a Maori person has been identified.

The earliest surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. Now, Australian researchers have identified a daguerreotype (early photograph) dating to 1846 which depicts a Maori young man, Hemi Pomara. This pre-dates the previous earliest photograph of a Maori person by 6 or 7 years. Hemi was born around 1830 and was kidnapped by a British trader in the 1840s. He became an object of Victorian intrigue, and was toured around England. Learn about the photograph and Hemi’s life here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/newly-discovered-portrait-might-be-oldest-known-image-maori-person-180975227/

The 1846 daguerreotype of Hemi Pomara, the earliest known photograph of a Maori person. Via Smithsonian.


We hope you have enjoyed learning some of the fascinating pieces of news in history and archaeology this month. Which pieces were your favourite?

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