Eight mummified children, probable victims of human sacrifice; the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, lost for over a century in Antarctic waters; the remains of woolly rhinos that once roamed southern England. Those are just a taster of some of the amazing finds that researchers have uncovered in the last 12 months. Read on for fascinating insights into what archeologists were up to during the year.
10 Endurance Found
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s feats of polar exploration in the early 20th century are the stuff of legend. One of his quests, the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, set off in the summer of 1914. The ambitious aim was to cross the Antarctic by way of the South Pole. But the , the ship carrying the team to Antarctica, became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea off the Antarctic coast early in 1915.
After months of entrapment, the 28-strong crew’s only option was to abandon the ship and try to reach civilization by whatever means they could. Against the odds, they all managed to survive. Meanwhile, the stricken ship sank beneath the ice. The last anyone saw of the vessel was in November 1915, when Shackleton and his party had abandoned it. Or that was the case until March 2022, when a team using underwater robots found it 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) below the ice of the Weddell Sea. Project leader Dr. John Shears said, “We have achieved what many people said was impossible.”
9 Human Sacrifice
Sometimes archaeological finds can be pretty horrifying, and this macabre 2022 discovery surely falls into that category. Researchers were working on a dig in Peru, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of the nation’s capital, Lima. They were excavating the grave of what’s been described as a “high-ranking person” from pre-Incan times, about 1,000 to 1,200 years ago. This individual, aged about 25 or 30 and perhaps a wealthy merchant, had been mummified.
But something else emerged from the tomb. The excavators unearthed eight mummified children swathed in cloth. One of the team’s leaders, Pieter Van Dalen Luna, said, “The children, according to our working hypothesis, would have been sacrificed to accompany the mummy to the underworld.” In a gruesome ritual common enough in pre-Incan Peruvian societies, people of rank were often buried with victims of human sacrifice.
8 Big Game
British wildlife experts will tell you that the biggest land animal you’re likely to see in their homeland is a red deer. When it comes to predators, foxes and badgers are at the top of the pile. But not so long ago, the British mainland was home to a far richer diversity of animals roaming the wilds of the undeveloped land. That truth was firmly reinforced by an archaeological find announced in February 2022.
According to the principal archaeologist at this dig, this find was not only “a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those involved” but also “a major discovery of national significance” to boot. The excavation in the southern English county of Devon at the site of a new town development revealed the remains of some extraordinary creatures. Mammoths, wooly rhinos, and even hyenas were uncovered, with their bones dating back from 30,000 to 60,000 years ago, around the middle of the last Ice Age.
7 Finding a Goddess
As this discovery shows, it’s not always professional archaeologists that make the most stunning finds. A Palestinian farmer, Nidal Abu Eid, was cultivating his land in Khan Younis, located in the Gaza Strip. Abu Eid told the BBC, “We found it by chance. It was muddy, and we washed it with water.” He might not be an archaeology professor, but he knew he’d found something significant.
Abu Eid continued, “We realized that it was a precious thing, but we didn’t know it was of such great archaeological value. We thank God, and we are proud that it stayed in our land, in Palestine, since the Canaanite times.” And the 4,500-year-old 8.7-inch (22-centimeter) stone head is indeed from the time of the Canaanites. It is the head of Anat, a Canaanite goddess of love and war.
6 Ghost Footprints
In July 2022, archaeologists stumbled across some extraordinary tracks in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert—described as ghost footprints. The barefoot tracks were not, of course, really made by ghosts but by our own ancient relatives, perhaps as long ago as 12,000 years at a time when the last Ice Age was ending. The researchers spotted a few of the footprints by chance as they drove to a site they were working on nearby.
Further investigation using ground penetrating radar uncovered a total of 88 footprints. Researchers reckon they belonged to a band of adults and children, with the youngest child perhaps just 5 years old. These ancient people were walking across what were then extensive wetlands. One of the archeologists, Anya Kitterman, said that these ancient footprints were a “once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”
5 A Royal Shipwreck
It’s May 6, 1682, and the Duke of York is sailing aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Gloucester. He’s an important man, next in line for the throne if anything happens to his brother, the current monarch, Charles II. But disaster strikes as the ship sails off the North Sea coast of England. The vessel becomes stranded on a sandbank and begins to sink. As the waves close over it, as many as 250 of the 330 passengers and crew aboard perish.
And that was the last anyone saw of the Gloucester until 340 years later when keen divers, brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, discovered the wreck. They had set out to find the Gloucester but, after four fruitless years, were on the point of giving up when their discovery came. Lincoln told the BBC, “It was awe-inspiring and really beautiful. It instantly felt like a privilege to be there; it was so exciting.” And the Duke of York? Providentially he survived, succeeding to the British throne as James II in 1685.
4 Historic Phallus
It might well be the most commonly scrawled piece of crude graffiti in the entire history of humanity. We’re talking about the instantly recognizable stylized representation of the male genitals. As this particular archaeological find shows, the familiar phallus symbol has been around at least since ancient Roman times.
This formidable 18-inch (45-centimeter) phallus is actually a carved relief sitting proudly on a large lump of rock, part of a ruined building in southern Spain. Iberians originally lived at this site, but Romans took it over some 2,200 years ago. Lead archaeologist Andrés Roldán said, “It was common to put [phallic symbols] on the facades of houses, and soldiers carried small phallic amulets as symbols of virility. But this one is unusually large.”
3 40 Mistresses
Some of Syria’s archaeological treasures have taken a terrible beating because of the civil war that’s raged in the unfortunate nation in recent years. But in 2022, researchers unearthed a stunning Roman mosaic, and despite dating back some 1,600 years, it’s astonishingly well preserved. The mosaic, measuring 65.5 by 20 feet (20 by 6 meters), is located in the central Syrian town of Rastan.
The gorgeous artwork shows various mythological scenes described by the ancient Greek poet Homer in his epic works The Iliad and The Odyssey. Hercules can be seen putting the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, to the sword. Also included is the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, accompanied by his 40 mistresses. The building where the mosaic was uncovered was in the hands of rebel fighters for a period. They even tried to sell it, thankfully, without success.
2 USS Samuel B. Roberts
The U.S. Navy ship Samuel B. Roberts went to the bottom of the Philippine Sea during the Battle off Samar in October 1944. And yes, in this case, “off” is correct. The ship was sunk by the Japanese after an intense battle during which the Samuel B. Roberts was pitched against overwhelming odds. When she sank, there were 224 men aboard .and 89 lost their lives. The remaining crewmen were rescued after spending 50 hours in the water. 
Texan businessman Victor Vescovo was the man behind the discovery, using his own two-man submarine, the Limiting Factor. Describing the battle in which the American ship sunk, Vescovo said, “It was just an extraordinary act of heroism. Those men—on both sides—were fighting to the death.” The Samuel B. Roberts lies at a depth of 22,621 feet (6,895 meters), making her the deepest shipwreck ever discovered. The second deepest wreck ever found was the USS Johnson at 21,180 feet (6,460 meters). She, too, was lost at the Battle off Samar and was also discovered by Vescovo.
10 24 Etruscan Bronze Statues
It comes as something of a surprise to learn that one effective way to preserve a bronze statue over many centuries is to immerse it in a mix of boiling water and mud. But archaeologists found not just one but 24 stunning bronze statues at an ancient Italian spa, San Casciano dei Bagni. It’s believed the beautifully wrought statues are more than 2,000 years old.
It was the Etruscans who constructed a network of spas in this area of Tuscany near the city of Siena. After the Etruscans, the Romans further developed the complex, and hot pools at the site are still used today. But why did these remarkable statues end up at the bottom of a muddy pool? Archaeologists believe that wealthy citizens may have placed the statues in the hot springs as offerings to the ancient gods.