Panorámica de Teotihuacan (image via José Luis Ruiz / Flickr)
Archaeologists may be a bit closer to solving one of the greatest ancient Mesoamerican mysteries:
Who ruled the ancient city of Teotihuacán, and where are they buried?
Small remote-controlled robots have led the team excavating the ruins to a cache of around 50,000 objects — from intricately carved sculptures to obsidian blades to jewelry — in a tunnel underneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent that is now believed to lead to the royal tombs.
One of the feathered serpent heads that decorated the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (image via Jami Dwyer / Wikimedia)
Although Teotihuacán was once one of the largest cities in the world, with an estimated 125,000 residents at its peak, little is known about it.
It was established around 100 BCE and is believed to have lasted until the 7th century CE, when it was abandoned.
The city was an industrial hub and achieved great wealth as a center for the obsidian trade, and the ruins now cover 32 square miles of temples, pyramids, and residences.
It is not known what the city was called by those who built and lived in it; the Aztecs gave it the name Teotihuacán, which means something like “The Place Where Men Become Gods.”
A mysterious royal tomb in Greece may hold a relative or associate of Alexander the Great, portrayed here in a mosaic from Pompeii. Photograph by Araldo de Luca, Corbis
Heather Pringle, for National Geographic
Suspense is rising as archaeologists sift for clues to the identity of the person buried with pomp and circumstance in the mysterious Amphipolis tomb in what is now northern Greece.
The research team thinks the tomb was built for someone very close to Alexander the Great—his mother, Olympias; one of his wives, Roxane; one of his favorite generals; or possibly his childhood friend and lover, Hephaestion.
Over the past three months, archaeologist Katerina Peristeri and her team have made a series of tantalizing discoveries in the tomb, from columns sculpted masterfully in the shapes of young women to a mosaic floor depicting the abduction of the Greek goddess Persephone.
The tomb’s costly artwork all dates to the tumultuous time around the death of Alexander the Great, and points to the presence of an important person.
Alexander himself was almost certainly buried in Egypt. But the final resting places—and the rich historical and genetic data they may contain—of many of his family members are unknown.
The excavation at Amphipolis is bound to add a new chapter to the history of Alexander the Great and his family, a dynasty as steeped in intrigue, conspiracy, and bloodshed as the fictional Lannisters in the popular television series Game of Thrones.
Among Alexander’s family, “the king or ruler who ended up dying in his bed was rare,” says Philip Freeman, a biographer of Alexander the Great and a classical historian at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
To understand these palace intrigues, one must begin with Alexander’s father, Philip II, who ascended the throne of ancient Macedonia in 359 B.C. At the time, Macedonia was a modest mountain realm north of ancient Greece, but Philip had big dreams.
He transformed Macedonia’s army from a band of ragtag fighters into a disciplined military machine, and he armed it with a deadly new weapon, the sarissa, a long lance designed to keep enemy troops from closing in on his phalanxes.
The Nebra Sky Disk photographed in Basel, Switzerland, in 2006 – Dbachmann via Wikipedia
Henry Westphal is tired. It’s July 4, 1999, a Sunday. He and a friend are climbing the Mittelberg or “Central Hill,” a small mountain near Nebra, in central Germany.
Both men know of ancient ruins located here. Equipped with two metal detectors, they hope to find something of value.
Westphal stops to rest for a couple of minutes. It’s a hot day and he’s out of shape.
Suddenly his metal detector starts beeping wildly. He brushes some leaves aside with his shoe but can’t make out anything. The detector’s display reads, “OVERLOAD.”
With a pick, Westphal scrapes at the dry ground. Under a few inches of soil, the pick hits something hard several times.
Together the two treasure-hunters dig a small pit. They find several objects: two decorative swords, two ax heads, a chisel, and two bracelets. The objects are piled beside a large, round disk oriented upright in the ground.
Through the dirt sticking to the disk, a faint golden shimmer is visible.
The men take the objects, cover up the hole, and drive home. That night they go to a bar to celebrate the unusual and obviously valuable find. What neither of them knows is that the dirty disk would turn out to be a one-of-a-kind, 3,600-year-old artifact, later declared to be one of the most important finds of the 20th century.
After soaking the disk in a bathtub filled with water and dish soap for several days, Westphal sells it together with the other objects to an art dealer for 31,000 Deutsche marks (about 19,000 U.S. dollars at the time).
The dealer knows the items are worth more and tries to sell them to several museums. The museums decline, realizing that trading in this ancient find is illegal. The disk ends up on the black market.
In May 2001, Harald Meller, the new state archaeologist in Saxony-Anhalt, hears about the disk. Photos show it’s in bad shape; Westphal had accidentally damaged it with his pick and inexpert cleaning.
Meller, the State Criminal Investigation Office, and other officials come up with a plan to get the objects back. Like Indiana Jones, Meller knows that a find like this belongs in a museum.
The item of interest, now known as the Nebra Sky Disk, is a five-pound* plate of bronze inlaid with dozens of gold symbols. The gold figures include a lunar crescent, a large circle, and 30 small circles.
After studying the disk for many years, archaeologists have concluded that it is the oldest and accurate diagram of the sky ever found. The disk was a carefully made map used both for practical and religious purposes.
One of the most important components of the disk is a tight group of seven stars placed between the lunar crescent and the large circle denoting the full moon.
They represent the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a cluster of stars visible with the naked eye to people in the Northern Hemisphere. The Pleiades were known to, depicted by, and followed with interest by ancient cultures around the globe.
Three new mosaics were recently discovered in the ancient Greek city of Zeugma, which is located in the present-day province of Gaziantep in southern Turkey.
The incredibly well-preserved mosaics date back to 2nd century BC.
Zeugma was considered one of the most important centers of the Eastern Roman Empire and the ancient city has provided a treasure trove of discoveries with 2000-3000 houses in remarkably good condition.
Photograph via iefimerida.gr
Up until 2000 the ancient city was completely submerged underwater until a project to excavate the area received funding from a number of sources.
There are still many areas of Zeugma—a city once home to nearly 80,000 inhabitants—left to excavate, including 25 houses still underwater.
It’s exciting to think of what other discoveries remain to be found.