For a year in which most excavations were cancelled, it was remarkably fruitful for archaeology in general. Some of that is owing to the continuation of certain excavations such as rescue projects sponsored by the government. In other cases, discoveries made in previous years were only announced in 2020.
The following list prioritizes archaeological discoveries closer in time and place to the biblical record. It was prepared from a survey of the year’s roundups, without consulting other lists (see below for links to those).
In addition to the top ten, I have included a good number of additional discoveries, primarily as a reminder of just how many interesting finds were made in a year that might otherwise be considered a loss.
1. Three royal (Proto-Aeolic) capitals were discovered south of ancient Jerusalem, providing beautiful evidence of a building that once served Manasseh or Josiah.
2. A large administrative complex dating to the time of Kings Hezekiah and Manasseh was discovered two miles south of the Old City. Finds included more than 120 LMLK jar handles.
3. A stone measuring table and several dozen stone weights were discovered in a plaza along the first-century AD street from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. Archaeologists believe that the area it was found served as the Jerusalem’s central market.
4. Archaeologists have published a report that they have discovered a “massive Iron II temple complex” at Moza, in use from 900 to 600 BC.
5. A well-preserved complex at Horvat Tevet, near Afula in the Jezreel Valley, served as a royal estate for Israel’s kings.
A seal impression of an official of King Jeroboam II has been discovered. It is a smaller version of the famous seal found at Megiddo in 1904 (and later lost). UPDATE (Aug 2021): This item is actually a common tourist replica.
7. A Canaanite temple was discovered during excavations of Lachish.
8. More than 100 sarcophagi from the Ptolemaic period have been discovered at Saqqara in Egypt.
9. Archaeologists working in Kurdistan have exposed ten new rock inscriptions from the reign of Sargon II.
10. A subterranean complex was chiseled out of the bedrock near the Western Wall before Jerusalem was conquered in AD 70.
Discoveries by young people:
- A 9-year-old discovered a First Temple-era gold granule bead during wet sifting of earth from the Temple Mount.
- A 6-year-old found a unique, 3,500-year-old depiction of a Canaanite prisoner and his victorious warden.
- A 7th-grader walking near Caesarea after heavy rains discovered a Byzantine inscription.
Small finds in Jerusalem:
- A gem stone featuring a portrait of the god Apollo was discovered in debris sifting of soil coming from an ancient drainage channel in the City of David.
- A two-shekel weight from the Iron Age was discovered in excavations near the Western Wall.
- A Persian-period seal and a seal impression were found in Jerusalem.
More discoveries in Jerusalem:
- Archaeologists have found a ritual bath from the first century at the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.
- Excavations in the old Givati parking lot in the City of David have continued this summer, with archaeologists uncovering a building destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
More discoveries in Israel:
- An oil lamp workshop from the 4th century AD, first found in the 1930s, has been rediscovered at Beth Shemesh. This is the Late Roman equivalent of finding the LMLK production center.
- Archaeologists have discovered a fortified building in the Golan Heights that dates roughly to the time of David and may have belonged to the kingdom of Geshur.
- Excavations at Caesarea Philippi (Banias) revealed the remains of a Byzantine church as well as a 2nd or 3rd century AD altar with a Greek inscription written by a pilgrim to the god Pan.
- A border stone from the Roman period was discovered in the Golan Heights with a Greek inscription reading, “A border stone between Amatiya [or Amatira] and Kfar Nafah.”
- Archaeologists have discovered a copper-ore smelting furnace in Beersheba from the Chalcolithic period, making it the oldest known to date.
- Archaeologists working at Azekah may have found traces of the Assyrian siege ramp used to conquer the city in 701 BC.
- A Canaanite fortress from the time of the judges was discovered near Kiryat Gat.
- A team excavating Khirbet a-Ra‘i discovered a rare “smiting god” figurine and a bronze calf figurine from the 12th century BC.
Top Stories Related to Tourism:
For shopkeepers and tour operators in the Old City of Jerusalem, COVID-19 has been worse than all the wars. The situation was no better at Petra.
The last land mine was removed from the Jordan River baptismal area near Qaser al-Yahud.
Israel is moving forward on plans to extend the high-speed train line to a station near the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Opposition continues against Jerusalem’s plan for a cable car to the Old City. One study claims that buses and shuttles are a better solution.
Israel has announced the creation of seven new nature reserves in the West Bank: Ariel Cave, Wadi Og, Wadi Malha, the Southern Jordan River, Bitronot Creek, Nahal Tirza, and Rotem-Maskiot.
A new outdoor archaeological exhibit was created in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, featuring 180 items previously scattered around the area.
$40 million will be spent to upgrade the Tower of David Museum, with a plan to double the size of the current museum, including the addition of seven new galleries, a new sunken entrance visitor center outside the Old City walls, and a multi-sensory experience in the Kishle excavations.
The Acropolis in Athens is undergoing a number of renovations to improve safety and enhance the experience for visitors.
Notable Resources of 2020:
Eric H. Cline, Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon
J. Daniel Hays, A Christian’s Guide to Evidence for the Bible: 101 Proofs from History and Archaeology
Titus Kennedy, Unearthing the Bible: 101 Archaeological Discoveries That Bring the Bible to Life
Joel P. Kramer, Where God Came Down: The Archaeological Evidence
Bob Rognlien, Recovering the Way
Appian Media, “Lessons from the Land: The Gospels,” a 13-part video series aimed at elementary-aged students
Bible Land Passages, “Caesarea by the Sea: Rome’s Capital in Israel,” a 20-minute documentary featuring 3D digital models
Biblical Israel Ministries and Tours, Biblical Israel by Air, with 69 minutes of drone footage of beautiful sites
The Complete ibiblestock Video Library includes more than 4.5 hours of footage.
The Photo Companion to the Bible:
- 1 Samuel (3,000 photos)
- 1 Corinthians (1,700 photos)
- 2 Corinthians (800 photos)
The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 20: Western Mediterranean (1,400 photos)
Losses This Year:
Gordon Govier identified Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2020 in a report for Christianity Today.
Bryan Windle provides his list of the top ten discoveries in 2020.
Lawrence Schiffman wrote about discoveries made in 2020 for Ami Magazine.
Ruth Schuster summarizes the top biblical archaeology stories for Haaretz (premium).
Israel365News posts their top 10 archaeological finds in 2020 that are confirmed in the Bible.
Gizmodo has created a slideshow of about a dozen intriguing archaeological discoveries in 2020.
The Greek Reporter reviews the top ten most spectacular Greek archaeological discoveries of 2020.
The archaeology website Arkeofili suggests the top 10 archaeological finds in Turkey and North Cyprus in 2020.
Gulf News lists 38 archaeological highlights, organized by continent and date announced.
HeritageDaily identifies the 10 most prominent archaeological discoveries of 2020.
Archaeology magazine’s top 10 discoveries of the decade includes finds from Greece and Egypt, but nothing from Israel, Jordan, or Turkey.
You can revisit the top stories of previous years with these links: