Words can't begin to explain the archaeological year that was 2018. But, given that it's our job to do so, we'll attempt to wrap up all the crazy shenanigans that the ancient world tried to pull on us, from the downright bizarre reason these Peruvian skeletons are missing their feet to the 50,000-year-old mammoth tiara that may have belonged to the Denisovans. Notably, this year was also one of biblical proportions. Archaeologists found an exceptionally early painting of Jesus in an ancient Israeli church that they believe to be around 1,500 years old while the Museum of the Bible had a few hiccups with their Dead Sea Scrolls. (Big surprise, they were fake.) Just last month, archaeologists believed they finally found Greece's lost city of Tenea.
What we're trying to say is this: it was really, really difficult to pin down just a handful of the most news-worthy and remarkable archaeological stories of this year. Without further ado, we introduce to you the most meme-tastic and Internet-trendy stories of 2018 as determined in no particular order and by no scientific means of measurement, whatsoever.
Pompeii Skeleton Of “Unluckiest Guy In History” Was The Internet’s Favorite Meme
As if it’s not bad enough to die in an apocalyptic volcanic eruption, making the list for 2018’s best archaeological meme just added a boulder-sized cherry on top.
A man who fled Pompeii mid-eruption became a viral Internet meme after archaeologists found him in a position that made it appear as if he had been smashed to death by a massive falling rock in a feat worthy of a standing ovation by Wile E. Coyote himself. The gent made the Internet rounds for about a month before archaeologists working at the Pompeii site realized the initial analysis was likely wrong. After having managed to remove the giant rock from the ground, researchers found the man’s skull and upper body were intact, making it unlikely that he was killed by a rogue rock blasted from the nearby Mt. Vesuvius. Instead, he probably died from asphyxia caused by the pyroclastic flow.
Everything About That Giant Black Sarcophagus
When archaeologists in Egypt accidentally discovered a mysteriously massive black granite unmarked sarcophagus, the entire Internet made the same joke.
Fortunately for us, when archaeologists actually opened the stone coffin it didn’t contain a sinister evil ready to unleash a damning curse on the world – but the ooey-gooey, sludgy mess that followed was just as bad. According to officials, sewage had leaked into the coffin from a nearby road leaving three skeletons to rest in the red stew-age. (That led to another disgusting Internet thread deemed worthy of its own article.) Further analysis revealed a rather grim history behind those buried in the coffin that includes the story a young woman and two young men who appeared to have been placed on top of each other in subsequent burials, one of which had been the recipient of a surgical procedure known as trepanation (making holes in the skull).
Roman-Era Erotica Graced The Modern World With Its Twisted Sense Of Sensual Humor
Throughout the history of humanity, it appears people have had a knack for displaying their love of, well, love. Just last month, an unearthed fresco discovered in Pompeii captured a sensual – albeit uncomfortable – love scene between the legendary Queen Leda and, uh, a swan. The bird was really the Greek God Zeus in disguise, who fell into Leda’s arms for protection from a predatory eagle and subsequently seduced her (though some interpretations suggest rape) on the same night she laid with her husband, the Spartan King Tyndareus, resulting in two eggs that hatched a bunch of famous children.
Similarly, a mosaic-tiled bathroom floor recently discovered in the home of a wealthy ancient Roman displayed dirty jokes in the form of Greek myths delicately told in 2,000-year-old art depicting homosexual sex between another bird-disguised Zeus and his young “boy-toy” Ganymedes.
Apparently, our knack for potty humor is nothing new.
People Kept Finding Teeth – And Lots Of Them – In The Darndest Places
Not just once, but on two separate occasions construction workers found more than 1,000 teeth (yes, human teeth) during renovations in two different corners of the world. In August, excavation crews working at an Australian metro tunnel uncovered a trove of century-old human teeth buried alongside precious coins and other cool artifacts. Two months later, a team of construction workers in the state of Georgia found another 1,000 human teeth in the wall cavity of a commercial building.
While it sounds like something out of an episode of American Horror Story, both instances have a relatively mundane explanation. Old documents show that the two sites were the former locations of early 20th-century dentists who had a habit of casually tossing out their patients’ extracted teeth.
That Time Archaeologists Found A Bunch Of Disturbing Ancient Wooden Statues
This one gave us all a serious case of the willies. A team of archaeologists working in the abandoned ancient city of Chan Chan unearthed 19 anthropomorphic wooden statues thought to be more than 750 years old, though others contend they date back to 1,100 CE. Either way, the statues are the oldest known icons found in the region.
Each statue measured just 70 centimeters (28 inches) high and they are in relatively good condition. Some appeared to be holding staffs and shields while others were decapitated. Those still with heads were found wearing eerie beige-colored clay masks.
All Of The Mummies
If nothing else, 2018 was certainly the year of the mummies. In just one week back in November, archaeologists found two beautifully preserved sarcophagi near the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, two tombs containing multiple bodies (including a couple of mummified children), and another eight limestone sarcophagi each with a mummy inside.
And those aren’t even the most bizarre. Let’s not forget about the Incan sacrificial mummies found wearing clothes colored red with toxic dye, or the 2,000-year-old “sleeping beauty” mummy discovered in the unlikeliest of places (hint: it's in Russia). DNA analysis heralded some pretty epic discoveries, including the oldest evidence of Hepatitis B, found in a small child mummy, while a huge sequencing of the world’s oldest natural mummy changed what we knew about Native American history. Scientists also revealed the sad truth behind the “Atacama Alien” and the importance of this 3,000-year-old heavily tattooed woman in Ancient Egypt.
Whew. What a year.
Knife-For-Hand Prosthesis Found With 1,400-Year-Old Skeleton
Okay, y’all. This list wouldn’t be complete without the knife-for-hand guy Italian archaeologists discovered back in April when they found a skeleton with a knife for a hand. Really, you can’t make this stuff up. Some 1,400 years ago, the man had apparently survived for years after his right forearm was amputated and, because this is medieval Italy we’re talking about, regularly strapped a knife-tipped prosthesis in its place.
While we’re on this bizarre hand theme, let’s bring it back to September when archaeologists in Switzerland found a 3,500-year-old bronze hand with a gold cuff around the wrist. Nothing of the sort had ever been found in this part of Europe and, other than being used as a symbol of power, scientists had no idea what they were dealing with.
The “unique and remarkable” object dubbed the “hand of Prêles” was found last summer in the tomb of an adult man alongside a bronze brooch and hair ornament, as well as the remnants of a gold plate. It’s believed that revealing the identity of this man may hold some clues about this mysterious handsome artifact.
Scientists Discovered 3,000-Year-Old Cheese And Everyone Made The Same Joke
Apparently, archaeology can be a really funny topic. Just like the world thought the gigantic black sarcophagus would lead to the end of the world, Twitter similarly erupted when the world’s oldest cheese was excavated from an Egyptian tomb with attempts to get their hands on the diseased cheese.
*hold my liquified mummy drink while I chow down on some tomb cheese*
To be fair, the hunk of “white mass” estimated at 3,200 years old contained traces of an ancient – and potentially deadly – bacterium known to kill livestock and make people incredibly sick back then and, yeah, today. Brucella melitensis, the bacterium responsible for brucellosis, spreads from animal to animal and can spread to humans typically after drinking unpasteurized dairy products.
When the skeletal remains of a young woman were discovered in a 1,300-year-old grave eight years ago with a hole in her head and a fetus between her thighs, researchers were left scratching their heads.
Back in March, researchers presented what they believed to be a pretty sound explanation for the alarming discovery. Using the length of the fetus’ femur, the team was able to estimate the fetus was around 38 weeks old when the 25 to 35-year-old woman died, making her close to full-term. The fetus only partially emerged from her vaginal cavity and, though it looks like the pregnant corpse gave birth, scientists concluded it was consistent with a phenomenon called post-mortem fetal extrusion or “coffin birth”. Basically, the gases present during the decomposition process caused the fetus to emerge through the vaginal walls. As for the hole in her head, well, it was just another casual case of trepanation. Move along, nothing to see here.