It’s that time of the year for the highly subjective exercise of determining the “top 10” of books, movies, news stories, and the rest. My contribution is my own subjective list of the most significant discoveries in the world of biblical archaeology in the last 12 months.
I spent this past year creating this list, first by culling through dozens of stories each week to identify the most important for the weekend roundups. This month I read through all of those roundups, with approximately 1,300 news items, to determine what is the best of the best. In all, it is clear that 2022 was a productive year in many ways.
I’ll note, as I usually do, that my own interests incline me to prioritize discoveries related to Israel and the Bible. The most important discoveries that didn’t make my top 10 are listed below as “noteworthy stories.” In addition, given my personal passion for guiding students throughout the biblical world, there are several sections for tourism stories and notable resources. As always, I am indebted to many fine journalists, especially those at The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post. I am grateful to those who pass on to me stories and links. At the end you will find links to other top 10 lists that may help you come up with your own Top 10 for 2022.
Top 10 Discoveries
1. Some 1,500 ivory fragments were discovered in the City of David, dating to the final decades of Judah’s monarchy. Only a few ivory pieces have otherwise been discovered in 150 years of excavations in Jerusalem. These beautiful ivories decorated the furniture of the wealthiest inhabitants of the capital city.
2. A seven-word inscription on an ivory comb discovered at Lachish and dated to about 1600 BC is the earliest Canaanite sentence ever found. “The inscription is a plea, a wish, or a desire that the small comb be successful in getting rid of the irritating lice.”
3. Archaeologists excavating el-Araj discovered a mosaic in the Byzantine church that mentions the “chief and commander of the heavenly apostles,” further strengthening the site’s claim to be Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostle Peter.
4. The first known depictions of Deborah and Jael were discovered in a mosaic in the Jewish synagogue of Huqoq dating to about the 5th century AD. This same synagogue has already produced mosaics depicting the tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, Samson, Daniel’s four beasts, and Alexander the Great.
5. The ancient language of Linear Elamite has been almost completely deciphered, about a century after its discovery.
6. The discovery of bullae in Jerusalem indicates that at the time of Hezekiah there were two central treasuries, one a temple treasury and the other the royal treasury of Judah located at the “Royal Building” in the Ophel excavations.
7. Imported vanilla used to flavor wine was discovered in residue on 6th-century BC jugs in Jerusalem, suggesting widespread trade connections near the end of Judah’s monarchy.
8. Archaeologists uncovered 250 colorful sarcophagi and 150 small bronze statues of gods and goddesses and other antiquities at Saqqara in Egypt.
9. A first-century villa with its own ritual bath was discovered near the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem.
10. The first Roman military amphitheater ever found in Israel was uncovered at Megiddo.
Noteworthy Stories from Jerusalem
According to a new theory, Hezekiah’s Tunnel was fitted with a sluice gate to allow water to flow into the Siloam Tunnel and Round Chamber.
An analysis of remains found under a toilet south of ancient Jerusalem reveals that the people who used it were infected with a variety of parasites.
Gershon Galil claimed he deciphered a stone tablet discovered in Jerusalem with a curse against the city’s governor. The claim has been challenged.
Gershon Galil recently posted on Facebook that he discovered and deciphered several inscriptions in or near Hezekiah’s Tunnel that identify Hezekiah as the maker of the tunnel, give the very day of its construction, and describe other accomplishments of the king that agree with the biblical account. We now await evidence to support his extraordinary claims. (This recent public statement by archaeologists was likely motivated in part by Galil’s Facebook scholarship. See also this follow-up story by The Times of Israel.)
Excavations at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have uncovered rock layers of a stone quarry used for the construction of Constantine’s 4th-century church.
Excavations revealed that part of Jerusalem’s Old City wall was built without a foundation.
Rocco Buttliere built a model of Jerusalem in the 1st century using 114,000 Legos.
Noteworthy Stories from Israel
A massive Roman column base was discovered near the foot of Mount Hermon.
Archaeologists found 44 pure gold coins hidden in a wall at Banias. They date to the last two Byzantine emperors before the Muslim conquest in AD 635.
Byzantine-era mosaics with four inscriptions were discovered at Hippos.
Archaeologists have uncovered a Hellenistic farmstead in eastern Galilee that was abandoned in haste. They also found a significant agricultural settlement dating to the time of David and Solomon.
Some evidence has emerged for a first-century synagogue at Chorazin.
A tomb marker for “Jacob the proselyte” was discovered in the Jewish necropolis at Beit Shearim. This inscription from the 4th century AD is rare evidence for a convert to Judaism at this popular ancient cemetery.
Archaeologists claim they have discovered a tiny Hebrew curse inscription on a folded lead tablet discarded on Mount Gerizim. This artifact has not been published, and so I can’t tell if it qualifies as a “top 10” discovery yet. For more, see the original press conference, an overview by Nir Hasson, comments by Christopher Rollston, Aren Maeir, Shawn Zelig Aster, James Davila, and Bryan Windle. (See, again, the recent public statement by archaeologists against sensational claims made absent peer review.)
Archaeologists found what they believe to be the door of a gate complex at Shiloh.
Excavations began at Kh. Tibnah, possibly Joshua’s city of Timnath-heres.
Archaeologists discovered an intact burial cave from the 13th century BC on the Palmachim Beach south of Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, the cave was plundered while it was being excavated.
Scientists have identified the earliest use of opium in a 14th century BC burial pit at Tel Yehud.
A beautiful Byzantine mosaic floor was discovered in the Gaza Strip.
A new study suggests that the mining operations in the Timna Valley and Faynan thrived in the 10th century because of good management.
A very rare papyrus fragment with paleo-Hebrew writing from the time of King Josiah and his sons was returned to Israel several decades after it was sold to an American tourist. There are questions about its authenticity.
A new study by Israeli scientists and archaeologists argues that archaeomagnetic dating will provide secure dating for archaeological material previously difficult to date. This may be especially useful for the Hallstat Plateau (800-400 BC) when radiocarbon techniques are less helpful.
Other Noteworthy Stories
Egyptian archaeologists working in Saqqara made the unusual discovery of a complete sarcophagus in its original tomb, one that belonged to the treasurer of Ramses II.
One of the iron daggers in King Tut’s tomb apparently came from a meteor that landed in Syria.
Syria announced the uncovering of a large, remarkable 1,600-year-old mosaic depicting scenes of the Trojan War.
Extraordinary 2,700-year-old rock carvings were discovered in Mosul.
Seven very fine wall reliefs from the time of King Sennacherib were discovered in Nineveh.
Archaeologists found the VIP seats of the ancient amphitheater of Pergamum.
In recent years, work has been carried out in about 40 theaters in Greece.
Remains of a bridge over the Tiber built by Emperor Nero have been exposed by historically low levels of the river.
Top Stories Related to Tourism in Israel
After 10 years of work, the alleyways in Jerusalem’s Old City are now accessible to wheelchairs and another system for the visually impaired has been installed.
A $40 million renovation project was completed this year at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum.
The plan to build a cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City is moving forward after numerous petitions against it were rebuffed by Israel’s supreme court.
The first bicycle tunnel in Israel was built as part of the Jerusalem Ring Path encircling the capital city.
A new visitors center being built at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade south of Jerusalem’s Old City will incorporate some impressive technology.
A Byzantine-era mosaic floor from a Christian basilica in Nahariya has been restored and will be opened to the public.
A renovation project on an ancient Samaritan priestly residential compound is the first step in making the Mount Gerizim archaeological park more welcoming to tourists.
A brush fire cleared the overgrowth at Tel Gezer but did not cause damage to the archaeological ruins.
With the return of its featured mosaic, the Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center was dedicated.
A facelift to the Ashkelon National Park included reconstruction of fifty massive marble columns, the return of five marble statues, and the display of several magnificent 4th-century AD Roman sarcophagi.
Israel plans to build hotels, guest villas, and a conference center on manmade islands in the Dead Sea.
Plans to build a red heifer farm for Christian tourists were furthered with the arrival in Israel of five perfectly red heifers.
Top Stories Related to Tourism Outside Israel
Jordan is planning to spend $100 million to develop the baptismal site at the Jordan River, including construction of a biblical village, restaurants, and a museum.
Cyprus opened its first underwater archaeological park, giving scuba divers a look at one of the best-preserved harbors from the ancient world.
The world’s largest mosaic is now open to the public underneath the newly built Antakya Museum Hotel (in biblical Antioch on the Orontes).
Restoration work on the ancient Greek theater at Laodicea was completed.
Hierapolis’s Plutonium (aka “gate to hell”) opened to tourists for the first time. The vapors are still deadly, but visitors can approach the gate “from a safe distance” to peek into the portal to the underworld.
Major progress has been made in the project to recreate a harbor for ancient Ephesus.
Notable Resources of 2022: Books
Women and the Religion of Ancient Israel, by Susan Ackerman (Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)
Encyclopedia of Material Culture in the Biblical World: A New Biblisches Reallexikon, edited by Angelika Berlejung (Mohr Siebeck)
Under the Yoke of Ashur: The Assyrian Century in the Land of Israel, by Mordechai Cogan (Carta)
Connecting the Dots: Between the Bible and the Land of Israel, by John DeLancey (Stone Tower)
Tiglath-Pileser III, Founder of the Assyrian Empire, by Josette Elayi (SBL Press)
The Ishtar Gate of Babylon: From Fragment to Monument, by Helen Gries (Schnell & Steiner)
Excavating the Evidence for Jesus: The Archaeology of Christ and the Gospels, by Titus Kennedy (Harvest House)
Paul and Asklepios: The Greco-Roman Quest for Healing and the Apostolic Mission, Christopher D. Stanley (The Library of New Testament Studies)
King of the World: The Life of Cyrus the Great, by Matt Waters (Oxford University Press)
Rose Guide to the Feasts, Festivals, & Fasts of the Bible, edited by Paul H. Wright (Rose)
Notable Resources of 2022: Digital Resources
The Sacred Thread released an initial episode of a forthcoming series, created by Walking The Text and EvolveStudios, that “explores the original context and culture of the Bible.”
Gesher Media released the first episode from its new documentary series, “In Those Days: The Ark Chronicles.”
This was a productive year for my team at BiblePlaces.com as we released seven new volumes in the Photo Companion to the Bible series: 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Revelation (finishing the New Testament!). We also released a music video for Psalm 23.
Losses This Year
Joseph Aviram, long-time director of the Israel Exploration Society
Ghazi Bisheh, excavator of many sites in Jordan
Joseph Blenkinsopp, prolific biblical scholar
Amanda Claridge, archaeologist and author of Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide
Bruce Cresson, director or co-director of excavations at Aphek-Antipatris, Dalit, Ira, Uza, Radum, and Malhata.
Richard Freund, excavator of et-Tell (“Bethsaida”)
Norman Gottwald, Old Testament scholar
Emanuel Hausman, founder of Carta Jerusalem Publishing House
Michael Homan, theologian, archaeologist, and author
Martha Sharp Joukowsky, excavator of the Great Temple in Petra
Burton MacDonald, surveyor of Jordan
John P. Meier, author of the multi-volume A Marginal Jew
Rivka Merhav, pioneer curator of Neighboring Cultures at the Archaeology Wing of The Israel Museum
Robert Miller, archaeologist working throughout the Middle East
Other Top 10 Lists
Gordon Govier counts down his top 10 discoveries in an article for Christianity Today.
Bryan Windle’s top discoveries list at Bible Archaeology Report provides a detailed list of his criteria and explanation for each selection.
Writing for Haaretz, Ruth Schuster identifies some major “Biblical Jewish archaeology” stories of the year, as well as a separate list of “Christian archaeology” stories.
Nathan Steinmeyer lists the top ten biblical archaeology stories of 2022, in no particular order.
Greek City Times lists some significant Greek archaeological discoveries of the year.
Greek Reporter proposes the top 10 discoveries in Greece in 2022.
Art News has selected their top 12 discoveries from all over the world.
CNN lists 15 of the most exciting art and archaeology discoveries of the year.
Gizmodo rounds up the archaeological discoveries from around the world that were the “most significant, bizarre, or just plain fun in 2022.”
Business Insider identifies 12 fascinating discoveries from the ancient world.
The Archaeologist presents their top 10 most fascinating archaeological discoveries in the world in 2022 in video format.
I will add other lists here as I become aware of them.
You can revisit the top stories of previous years with these links: