Here are a few facts to know about the adventurous Patrick Hunt. He's a Stanford archaeologist who has spent more than a decade trying to unravel the mystery of how Hannibal, the great ancient military leader, crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with 25,000 men and 37 elephants. (Listen on iTunes to the course he gave on this adventure, and get more info below). He has broken more than 20 bones while doing fieldwork, fought off kidnappers, and twice survived sunstroke-induced blindness. And now he has just published an exciting new book called Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History. It's published by Penguin/Plume and starts shipping tomorrow. I asked Patrick what makes these discoveries — ranging from the Rosetta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Machu Picchu — so important. Below he gives us a brief glimpse into what makes each discovery historically significant and fascinating. Read on, and check out his captivating new book for the fuller picture.
Patrick Hunt: "First I should say that not every archaeologist would agree that these are the ten most important discoveries of all time. On the other hand, the ten stories retold in this book are often regarded as among the most exciting archaeological discoveries of the modern era (since 1750). And no one would deny that these ten vital discoveries have forever changed the world of archaeology, transforming how and what we know about ancient history. Let me tell you a little about them.
1) Rosetta Stone: This exciting discovery in 1799 was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and unlocking the history of the ancient world texts. It provides a window into the real history of Egypt rather than an imaginary one; all other decipherings of ancient languages since the Rosetta Stone's initial decoding in 1822 are based on its precedents. (See photo here.)
2) Troy: Its discovery and excavation beginning in 1870 proved once and for all that Troy was not just a myth based on Homer; Troy was a historical site where real people lived and fought. Its earliest excavator, the oft-maligned and often-unethical Heinrich Schliemann has been mostly credited — right or wrong — as being the "Father of Archaeology" and his techniques became the foundation of archaeological research, however greatly improved, afterward.
3) Nineveh and the Royal Assyrian Library: This riveting find beginning in 1849 by Austen Henry Layard, a sleuth of antiquity, eventually unearthed a whole lost library of cuneiform texts, including ones not only from ancient Assyria but also from far older Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and other great civilizations. This had a very significant impact on world literature, introducing such seminal works as the Epic of Gilgamesh.
4) King Tut's Tomb: The dramatic opening of this royal tomb in 1922 — sought for years by a determined Howard Carter — was the first time in millennia a pharaoh's tomb had actually been found intact; its treasure gave the world a unique opportunity to actually account for staggering Egyptian royal wealth. [Dan's note: National Geographic has a nice web site on this archaeological find.]
5) Machu Picchu: The remarkable high jungle mountain discovery in 1911 of the remote Lost City of the Inca by Hiram Bingham made it possible for the world to finally see an undisturbed Inca royal city mysteriously abandoned on a mountaintop but neither conquered nor changed by the colonial world. (See photo here.)
6) Pompeii: Preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and not dug out for almost two millennia, Pompeii (probably accidentally found by a farmer digging a well) is the single most important Roman site in the world; its artifacts offer the largest and fullest record of life in a Roman city. Pompeii's misfortune is our great fortune. It preserves a city with thousands of objects virtually unchanged. (See images here.)