Archaeologists dig through the faint traces of the past to learn more about human history. And 2013 was a big year for new archaeology finds.
From royal tombs to the mysterious vanished inhabitants of Europe, here are some of the strangest and most exciting archaeology finds of the year.
1. Richard III bones
In February, researchers announced a grave suspected of harboring the bones of King Richard III did indeed hold the royal’s remains. The tomb was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Since then, a host of studies have revealed more about the once-reviled, crippled king’s life and death. It turns out Richard III may have been a control freak who spoke with a lilt and was subjected to painful scoliosis treatment. And after several bruising head injuries, the king was buried in a hasty grave without any ceremony, analysis of the skeleton revealed.
2. Royal squash?
Last year researchers announced that a gourd emblazoned with images from the French Revolution contained the blood of the beheaded King Louis XVI of France. Legend had it that a bystander at the execution sopped up his blood with a handkerchief and then stashed the bloody relic in a decorative squash. Blood from the squash seemed to match blood from a head reputed to be that of King Henry IV, Louis’ relative and also a member of the Bourbon royal lineage.
But a study in 2013 cast doubt on the royal origins. The study revealed the male lineage in the head and the different one in the bloody squash could not have come from the Bourbon line; that the two men were not related; and that whoever bled on the handkerchief likely had brown eyes, not baby blues like Louis XVI.
3. Prince … oops!
It made big news when it first came out: Archaeologists had unearthed the tomb of an Etruscan warrior prince, carrying a lance and lying next to his wife. Only it turned out that the archaeologists made a mistake: A skeletal analysis showed the Etruscan warrior prince was a princess, and her lance was likely a sign of high status, not warlike ways. The finds revealed the trouble with making assumptions based on the objects found in tombs and graves everywhere.
4. Oldest rock art
In a dried-up lake in the Nevada desert, archaeologists unearthed signs of ancient rock art that dates to between 10,500 and 14,800 years ago. The rock art is the oldest in North America by several thousand years. But much remains unknown about the enigmatic lines and grooves carved into the limestone near Winnemucca Lake. Scientists aren’t sure about the meaning of the rock art, though the images do seem quite similar to the second-oldest rock art in North America, which was found in Oregon.
5. War’s destruction
On the archeological front, some of the news was devastating. Syria’s civil war has imperiled its rich archaeological heritage, and reports of damage continued to trickle out this year. Satellite imagery revealed that the ancient Roman city of Apamea was so riddled with looting holes it looks like “the surface of the moon,” one archaeologist told LiveScience in September. The ancient city of Ebla, which contains a trove of thousands of cuneiform tablets, was thoroughly looted. And fighting in Aleppo and Beirut has damaged ancient mosques in the region.