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24 Amazing Archaeological Discoveries

Staffordshire hoard

Pieces from the Staffordshire hoard, an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove discovered in 2009.

Pieces from the Staffordshire hoard, an Anglo-Saxon treasure trove discovered in 2009. (Image credit: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In 2009, a man in Staffordshire, England, quite literally struck gold while taking a stroll through the countryside. The man was using a metal detector in a recently ploughed field when he happened upon the largest Anglo Saxon treasure hoard ever discovered.

Archaeologists excavated the hoard, recovering more than 3,500 items made from gold, silver and other metals. Among these items are thousands of pieces of garnet cloisonné jewelry (gold items with inlaid garnet, a red gemstone), golden sword pommels and crosses. Most of the artifacts that make up the hoard are "martial" in nature, or have something to do with warfare, and none of the items are domestic goods, like cups or silverware. This leads researchers to believe that the treasure may have been part of a "death duty," or a collection of valuable gifts that were given to a king upon the death of one of his noblemen.

Most of the items in the Staffordshire hoard date back to the seventh century A.D., and many of the treasures are on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in the U.K. 

Provincial pyramids of Egypt

ancient step pyramid in Egypt

In order to protect the pyramid a fence was built surrounding it. (Image credit: Courtesy Tell Edfu Project at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.)

You've heard of the Great Pyramid of Giza, but what about the step pyramid of Edfu? This ancient structure is about 4,600 years old, making it at least a few decades older than the famous pyramid at Giza.

The once 43-foot-tall (13 meters) step pyramid is one of seven "provincial" pyramids constructed by either pharaoh Huni or Snefru sometime between 2635 and 2590 B.C. These early pyramids are found throughout central and southern Egypt near what were once major settlements. Unlike the pyramids at Giza, the step pyramids do not contain internal chambers and weren't used for burial. In fact, researchers aren't sure what their primary purpose was.

Scholars knew about the pyramid at Edfu long before it was first excavated in 2010. However, recent efforts by archaeologists from the University of Chicago are the first to explore in-depth the reasons for the pyramid's construction and subsequent abandonment not long thereafter.

Madaba Map

Fragment of the oldest floor mosaic map of the Holy Land

Fragment of the oldest floor mosaic map of the Holy Land (Image credit: WitR | Shutterstock)

The Madaba map is the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land (particularly Jerusalem) and is part of a floor mosaic in the Byzantine church of Saint George in Madaba, Jordan. The map was uncovered during renovations at the church in 1884 and dates to somewhere between 560 and 565 A.D. [The Holy Land: 7 Amazing Archaeological Finds]

While the map originally depicted a large swath of the Middle East, from southern Syria to central Egypt, much of the mosaic map was already destroyed when it was first uncovered. However, the part of the map depicting Jerusalem remained in tact and includes an oval-shaped walled city with six gates, 21 towers and several dozen buildings and structures.

Visitors to Madaba can see the map in person, and a copy of the ancient map is also kept at the Archaeological Institute at Göttingen University in Germany. 

The grave of Richard III

richard's grave

The grave where Richard was found (Image credit: University of Leicester)

After centuries of speculation, the grave of King Richard III was finally unearthed in 2012 by archaeologists at the University of Leicester in England. The king, who was immortalized (for better or for worse) in Shakespeare's play "Richard III," died in battle in 1485. Rather than a regal funeral, King Richard's body was reportedly interred at the church of the Grey Friars in Leicester, the location of which was lost to history.

But using historical records, archaeologists were able to narrow down the former location of the church and recover the bones of the late king. In 2015, Richard III was reburied in a marble tomb next to the altar in Leicester Cathedral.