In 1999, two men with metal detectors unearthed one of the most significant finds of modern archaeology: the Nebra Sky Disc, a 30-cm bronze disc inlaid with gold depicting the sun, moon, stars (including the Pleiades), and arcs that apparently represent sunrise and sunset at the solstices at Mittelberg Hill in Germany, and a holy sun boat symbol, dating from 1600 BCE or earlier. Because the illicit finders sold the disc on the black market, skepticism about its authenticity abounded for several years before scientific investigations confirmed it was a legitimate find and possibly the oldest concrete depiction of astronomical phenomena ever found. (The looters were seized by police in a sting operation in a bar in Switzerland, sentenced to prison, appealed, and got longer sentences.) [more inside]
About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea. The confrontation can’t be found in any history books—the written word didn’t become common in these parts for another 2000 years—but this was no skirmish between local clans. Thousands of warriors came together in a brutal struggle, perhaps fought on a single day, using weapons crafted from wood, flint, and bronze, a metal that was then the height of military technology.
Archaeologists have discovered one of the richest Mycenaean Greek tombs ever found: a mostly intact shaft grave in Pylos dating from 1600-1400 BC. [SLNYT]
In 1986, workers in Sichuan province in China were digging for clay for bricks when they stumbled onto an archaeological treasure: a major site for a Bronze Age civilization previously only guessed at. The civilization, called Sanxingdui (wikipedia), had an art style unlike any other Chinese civilization previously encountered. Archaeologists had suspected there was a major city in the area since an early jade find in 1929 and a team went to work immediately, unearthing burial pits and gorgeous artifacts. (More history of the site.) An exhibit of treasures from Sanxingdui is on display in Houston until September; a permanent display can be found at a museum dedicated to the culture in Chengdu. Meanwhile, archaeologists continue to discover more of the city (warning: autoplay video) and even the remains of some of the inhabitants.
Trading Gold: Why Bronze Age Irish Used Imported Gold “The results of this study are a fascinating finding. They show that there was no universal value of gold, at least until perhaps the first gold coins started to appear nearly two thousand years later. Prehistoric economies were driven by factors more complex than the trade of commodities – belief systems clearly played a major role.” [more inside]
The British Museum has published on its frequently informative blog a call for citizen archaeologists to help digitize its Bronze Age Index via a crowd-sourcing site called MicroPasts, which uses the open source PyBossa crowd-sourcing framework that also powers Crowdcrafting. The results will eventually be integrated with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (previously), which features a gigantic image database of finds categorized by period (e.g. Bronze Age or Medieval) and object type (e.g. coins or brooches).
To celebrate what is turning out to be Greek Week on the blue and the recent excavation of a Philistine city in Jordan, please enjoy a field guide to the Sea Peoples of the late Bronze Age, full of information about their possible origins, their invasions of Egypt and the Near East, their armaments, their ships, and their diverse and impressive headwear.
To imagine the scale, picture this: almost every city in Western Europe and North America destroyed. Not reduced, not scaled down. People-don't-live-here-anymore-just-ruins destroyed.Between about 1200 and 1150 BC, civilization in the northeastern quadrant of the Mediterranean collapsed. Mycenae and the other Iliad-era Greek city-kingdoms; the Hittite Empire; the Levantine possessions of New Kingdom Egypt—cultures which had flourished for five hundred years fell and dispersed within a single lifetime, their palaces razed, their every city toppled, burned, and abandoned. [more inside]
On a winter night in 373 or 372 BC, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami destroyed and submerged Helike (or Helice), the principal Greek city on the southwest shore of the Gulf of Corinth. Also destroyed was the temple of the Heliconian Poseidon, the god of earthquakes and the sea. The destruction of city was foretold by several events, including the appearance of some "immense columns of flame" (Google books), which have since been classified as a type of earthquake lights. The submerged ruins of the city disappeared slowly, as centuries later tourists could still see the walls beneath the water. Silt finally covered the ruins, turning the ocean into land again. The city, once a founding member of the Achaean League, was lost and remembered only in writings. A coin from Helike was discovered in 1861, but it wasn't until 2001 that not one but two ancient cities were discovered, including an entire Early Bronze Age town, dating from about 2400 BC. [more inside]
Another major site buried by Vesuvius (but in the Bronze Age 1750BC!) has been discovered. Experts say it could be the world's best preserved early Bronze Age village. Among the items found were the bones of hams, a hat decorated with the teeth of a wild boar and a cage which had been raised six feet off the ground - probably to protect it from dogs - containing the remains of pregnant goats. Before this we had only holes in the ground where stakes had been, to show us what a Bronze Age village had been like.
Iceman the Bronze Age hunter whose 5,300-year-old frozen body was discovered in the Alps.. cause of death found.. ``Maybe there was a combat, maybe he was in a battle. There is a whole series of new implications. The story needs to be rewritten.''