When they aren't digging up ancient graves or unearthing the body parts of early human ancestors, archaeologists are combing the Earth for clues about how the people who came before us lived, worked, played, and died.
This month, researchers in South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East have found evidence of everything from secret fortresses to the capitals of vanished civilizations, entire underground cities, and even ancient recipes.
Together, the findings provide a fascinating look into the thriving communities that preceded us.
The corner of a lost civilization found deep in the Honduran rain forest
(NCALM/University of Houston)
Some 1,000 years ago in the middle of Honduras, a thriving populace once built giant statues, homes, and even a complex network of irrigation channels and reservoirs.
The flourishing enclave, uncovered using laser scanning technology by a team of researchers from the University of Houston, was likely part of a network of other dwellings throughout this part of the Honduran rain forest. Together, these sites would have formed an active community that bustled with hundred of people long before the arrival of European explorers.
So far, the researchers have already found evidence of the tips of more than 50 objects, including giant stones possibly used for construction purposes, the head of a large statue resembling a combination of a werewolf and a jaguar, stone seats for ceremonies, and containers that had been intricately etched with the figures of vultures and snakes. They estimate the community was active in sometime between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1400.
A secret fortress of Genghis Khan found in southwest Mongolia
Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire, the largest of its kind in history, stretched from the Sea of Japan to as far west as Arabia and from Siberia to as far south as India and Iran.
How did he come to control such a vast domain?
A team of archaeologists recently uncovered a clue that may help answer that question: A secret fortress that may have been used to help expand the empire during its westward march toward Europe.
The large fortress, located near what was once rich farmland and key parts of the silk trade route, would have played a key role in providing supplies and carrying information to the Mongolian army as they expanded west.
Inside the fortress, which measures about the size of three football fields and was likely built in 1212, researchers uncovered a vast array of Chinese pottery, wood fragments, and animal bones.
The oldest-ever-preserved beer from an 1840s shipwreck
Ever wonder what a bottle of 170-year-old beer would smell like?
Thanks to the recent discovery of a shipwreck off the coast of Finland, you don't have to keep guessing.
A team of researchers uncorked two bottles of the 19th-century-brew in early March, unleashing powerful odors of cabbage, burnt rubber, over-ripe cheese, and sulfur. When chemists analyzed the bottles' contents, they found the cause of the stench: bacteria that had likely been growing inside the bottles for decades, taking over any malty, beer-like smells they may once have had.
Bacteria aside, the beer probably tasted much like the beers we drink today, according to the researchers' chemical analysis of its other ingredients. Both brews were produced with hops but had a bit more of a rose-flavoring compound than we might be used to.
An ancient Celtic prince unearthed from his lavish tomb
Some 2,500 years ago, an ancient prince got a lavish burial in France.
His body was recently uncovered inside his chariot, along with pottery and a gold-tipped drinking vessel decorated with intricate images of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and revelry.
The prince is not buried alone, however.
The burial site, located a few hours' drive south of Paris, houses many other ancient bodies. Nearby, researchers recently uncovered another grave dating to about 800 BC holding the body of an ancient warrior and his sword and a woman with bronze jewelry, Tia Ghose wrote in a recent post for LiveScience.
The tombs build on existing evidence that the Celtic and Mediterranean peoples exchanged goods. Mediterranean merchants were thought to have used Greek pottery frequently as gifts, contributing to the Celts' growing wealth inland.
A vast, underground city found in central Turkey
(Wikimedia Commons)Deep in central Turkey in a region successively ruled by Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, more than a hundred square miles of once-hidden passages snake beneath the ground.
The subterranean tunnels link thousands of underground homes and temples. Archaeologists who first discovered the hidden city in 2013 estimate the network once housed up to 200 villages and was most likely occupied until around 5,000 years ago, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
This March, a team of archaeologists and engineers began mapping the details of the underground terrain using machinery that sends radar pulses beneath the surface. Once it's mapped completely, the Anatolian government plans to open the area to the public.
Uncovered: A 250-year-old pretzel and other pastries
(BLfD/Thomas Stöckl/Bavarian State Conservation Office)
Archaeologists recently unearthed a pretzel that was likely served up sometime around 1765 in the southern German state of Bavaria. It could be the oldest surviving remnant of the doughy snack ever discovered in Europe.
Ancient traces of food are tough to find — once they're discarded, edible goods are quickly consumed by small animals and bacteria. But this pretzel was unique because it had been burned. The carbon in the burned remnant preserved it against the forces of time.
While digging for other remains in the city of Regensburg, archaeologists also found a handful of blacked rolls and other pretzel bits that suggests they were tossed from a bakery that was once located there, reports the Guardian. Carbon dating suggests the toasty treats were baked sometime between 1700 and 1800.
A hoard of ancient coins and jewelry in northern Israel
(Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)
In the middle of their underground adventure in northern Israel, a group of amateur cavers accidentally discovered a stockpile of ancient coins and jewelry from the time of Alexander the Great.
Along with the stash of 2,300-year-old coins and silver rings, bracelets, and earrings, archaeologists who later excavated the site uncovered pottery dating back as far as 6,000 years.
Officials from the the Israel Antiquities Authority think people living in the area at the time may have stashed the valuables in the cave during the period of political turmoil that followed Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC.
This wouldn't be the first time someone stumbled across a mass treasure trove in the area. In February, amateur divers accidentally discovered a store of 2,000 gold coins off the coast of the ancient harbor city of Caesarea.
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