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Dig it: A look back at the past year in archaeology

Even though politics and health news often made the headlines, several archaeological discoveries occurred in 2021

Despite lockdowns and many other difficulties that dominated 2021, archaeologists diligently continued to work at uncovering the past.

Even though politics and health news often made the headlines, several archaeological discoveries occurred in 2021.

Here are just five of the stories you might have missed last year:

Dating the Norse occupation at L’Anse aux Meadow

While this first one isn’t a new site — it was first excavated in the 1960s — it has long been thought this Newfoundland location’s occupation by early Norse explorers took place between the 10th and 11th centuries.

Thanks to a known solar storm that occurred in A.D. 992, researchers were able to identify increased levels of radioactive carbon-14 in the trees used to create the settlement.

By counting the number of rings that grew between this flare and the trees being felled for construction, archaeologists were able to pinpoint that the settlement was built in A.D. 1021.

Oldest known footprints in North America uncovered

New Mexico is now the site of the oldest known footprints in the Americas after they were discovered in White Sands National Park.

Researchers have determined this site has had a human presence for more than two millennia. Using radiocarbon dating, archaeologists were able to “read” seed layers above and below the tracks to determine that the footprints were made more than 23,000 years ago.

This period, known as the Last Glacial Maximum, was the apex of the last glacial period.

Mass grave of Crusaders

In Sidon, Lebanon, the remains of 25 young men were uncovered. They were killed while defending the Christian-held region.

Belt buckles worn by French crusaders and a coin dating between 1245 and 1250 helped archaeologists confirm the soldiers were killed during an attack in 1253. Wounds found on the back of the men’s upper bodies suggest they were killed by fighters on horseback, possibly while fleeing.

While the Crusades were an especially bloody period in history, this is only the second archaeologically documented mass burial from the Crusades.

Maya neighbourhood created to mimic Teotihuacan uncovered at Tikal

Using light detection and ranging software (LIDAR), archaeologists working on the Mayan city of Tikal documented a previously unknown area.

Upon further inspection, it became apparent the neighbourhood was designed to copy the most powerful and largest city in the Americas — Teotihuacan.

Researchers have known the two cities were in contact long before Teotihuacan conquered Tikal around 378 BCE.

However, this proves a more intimate relationship between the two cities long before that.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

A 3,000-year-old shark attack victim

Archaeologists uncovered an adult male skeleton at the Tsukomo burial site in Japan, a known prehistoric hunter-gatherer cemetery from the Jomon period.

The man sustained injuries to his arms, legs, stomach and chest, suggesting the incident was fatal. X-ray computed tomography (CT) allowed experts to reconstruct the attack and map the man’s wounds.

Researchers J. Alyssa White and Rick Shulting stated that “the man may well have been fishing with companions at the time, since he was recovered quickly. And, based on the character and distribution of the tooth marks, the most likely species responsible was either a tiger or white shark.”

Buffy Johnson is archaeology co-ordinator with the Skeetchestn Natural Resources Corporation. Dig It is KTW’s regularly published column on the history beneath our feet in the Kamloops region. Interested in more? Go online to