Photograph by Ken Geiger
Nearly a third of all National Geographic grants have gone toward archaeological fieldwork across the globe. Our grantees have unearthed evidence of China's earliest rice production, located ancient shipwrecks off Africa, explored Egypt's Giza plateau, and much more. The first archaeology grant went to Hiram Bingham in 1912 to excavate Machu Picchu-Peru's once lost Inca city. Four years later Neil M. Judd was awarded a grant to begin his excavation of the ancient Anasazi culture's Pueblo Bonito site in New Mexico. In 1938, after receiving the first of 18 grants, Matthew Stirling ventured into the lowlands of Mexico and uncovered colossal stone heads of the ancient Olmec culture.
More recently the Society has supported much of the work of pioneer underwater archaeologist George Bass, as well as that of another premier nautical archaeologist, Robert Ballard. National Geographic has also supported Naguib Kanawati's excavations at Akhmim in Egypt, enabling Kanawati to—among other things—correct many of the errors in the early-1900s documentation of hieroglyphs.
We are committed—as we have been for more than a century—to supporting new archaeology projects around the world.
Sun temple, astronomical observatory, calendar—many investigators have tried solving the riddle posed by that famous circle of stones standing in southern England. Today Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues might be getting tantalizingly close. The results of their excavations in the surrounding fields are now suggesting that Stonehenge originally served both as a permanent abode for the ancestral dead and as a renowned place of healing.
Photograph by Michael Melford
The aqueduct that brought it freshwater might be Caesarea Maritima's most spectacular ruin. But the city that the biblical King Herod had built on Israel's Mediterranean shores was, above all, a seaport. A series of excavations there in the 1980s, led by archaeologist Robert Hohlfelder, revealed its harbor to be one of the largest and most sophisticated in the ancient world. Geo-archeologist Beverly Goodman has since discovered that a tsunami struck it sometime in the first or second century A.D., probably hastening its decline.
Photograph by Simon Norfolk
Envoys bearing tribute march eternally up a ceremonial staircase in the spectacular ruins of Persepolis, capital of the once mighty Achaemenian Empire, which during the time of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.) had dominated the civilized world. Today Assyriologist Matthew Stolper of the University of Chicago is spearheading a drive to clean, conserve, and digitally capture the tens of thousands of crumbling clay tablets found in the ruins, which once comprised the empire's administrative archives.
Colossi of Memnon
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett
The fabled Colossi of Memnon have loomed over the Egyptian desert near Luxor for nearly 3,500 years. But it was only in the 1970s that an archaeologist actually studied these twin statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III from a modern engineer's perspective. Using neutron activation analysis, Robert Fleming Heizer discovered that the stone quarries from which they were hewn were located near Cairo, hundreds of miles away. Though weighing nearly a thousand tons apiece, they were probably transported by barge to their present site via a canal dug through the desert.
Photograph by David Alan Harvey
Perched dramatically on seaside cliffs jutting off of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the ancient ruins of Tulum once overlooked an important pre-Columbian port. As the distinguished Mexican archaeologist Pilar Luna first demonstrated in the mid-1980s, its most prominent structure, known for years as El Castillo, was most likely not a citadel but rather an ingeniously designed navigational beacon, so situated that the view of the lamps in its windows told sailors how and when to work their craft safely through the reefs.
Photograph by Bobby Model
Prehistoric granaries tunneled into the face of Nankoweap Canyon, an offshoot of the Grand Canyon, were among the sites surveyed and excavated by anthropologist Douglas W. Schwartz, who in the 1960s pioneered the archaeological investigation of the famous landmark. Working in both the tremendous gorge itself and on its adjoining North Rim, he discovered pictographs, building foundations, and even the remains of cleverly constructed waterworks.
Photograph by Paul Chesley
Still serene despite centuries of war and neglect, the great Cambodian temple of Angkor Wat was once the heart of the great Angkor Empire, which flourished from the 9th through the 16th centuries. Archaeologists like Roland Fletcher have recently been transforming our understanding of that realm. They have discovered just how densely populated it once was. Using airborne imaging radar systems, they have found evidence that urbanized landscapes employing sophisticated water delivery systems once sprawled out for hundreds of miles in every direction.
Photograph courtesy AFP/Getty Images
Closed to outsiders for centuries, Afghanistan had by 1931 opened enough to admit the Society-supported Citroen-Haardt Transasiatic Expedition. Using half-tracked vehicles, the expedition was in the midst of achieving the first motorized crossing of Asia from the Mediterranean to the Yellow Sea. When the team arrived in Afghanistan's stunning Bamian Valley, National Geographic's Maynard Owen Williams unlimbered a large-format camera and made the first color photographs ever taken of the giant 6th-century Buddhist statues in their cliffside niches.
Photograph courtesy AFP/Getty Images
Incensed when in 2001 the Taliban government destroyed the two great statues, Afghan archaeologist Zemaryali Tarzi has since been searching for a third one, the buried Sleeping Buddha of Bamian, a reclining figure that ancient texts claim is a thousand feet long. So far he has found the remnants of a smaller such figure beneath a nearby temple but continues his search for the larger one, if only, he says, to "highlight the archaeological importance of a site many thought had been destroyed forever."
Photograph by Richard Nowitz
Petra, hidden in a deep gorge in Jordan, was once described as "the rose red city half as old as time." Yet it is still young compared to neighboring Iron Age settlements. Whereas the façade of its famous Treasury was carved some two thousand years ago, archaeologist Thomas E. Levy has been working in the nearby Wadi Faynan, which was a center of copper mining, on a practically industrial scale, a thousand years earlier still. NGS/Waitt grantee Kyle Knabb also led the first systematic archaeological survey of another site close by, Wadi Feid.
Photograph by Michael Melford
Though called simply the "Peruvian Expeditions 1912-15," they rank among the most important field projects in the annals of National Geographic because they represent its first adventures in archaeology. Led by Professor Hiram Bingham, the scene of these initial endeavors could not have been more spectacular: a cloud-wreathed Andean peak, where together with Yale University the Society undertook the original excavation of that "Lost City of the Incas," Machu Picchu.
Photograph by Roger Ressmeyer
Pompeii and Herculaneum were two ancient Italian cities that were not slowly buried beneath the sands of time. They were instead entombed beneath tons of rock and ash blasted out of nearby Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Many inhabitants fled toward the Mediterranean seafront, as Dr. Sara Bisel poignantly discovered when she excavated Herculaneum in the 1980s. She found human beings frozen in positions of terror, though turned to ash, and skeletons still garbed in jewelry and wrapped protectively around the bones of their children.
Photograph by Martin Gray
The eleven colossal stone heads that Matthew Stirling unearthed from the steamy jungles of southern Mexico were the first sign that a previously unknown civilization, eventually called the Olmec, were buried beneath the soil. Spading away between 1938 and 1942, he excavated a basalt-pillared tomb, a jaguar-faced sarcophagus, and troves of jade artifacts that put such hamlets as La Venta and San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán permanently on the archaeological map.
Photograph by Ira Block
In 2006, while excavating in a mud-brick Moche culture pyramid at El Brujo in northern Peru, John Verano was amazed to find the tattooed mummy of a young woman who had died some 1,500 years ago. Finding that the mummy was surrounded by sumptuous grave goods, Verano likened the discovery to that of King Tut's tomb in Egypt.
Photograph by Martin Gray
When archaeologist Kenan Erim first saw the site in Turkey where the classical city of Aphrodisias once stood, it was a tumbled ruin, weed-choked and overgrown. But over the next two decades (1966-1988), his painstaking excavations revealed an astonishingly complete city—a "miracle in marble" with plazas, public baths, and a Temple of Aphrodite (above)—that flourished for seven centuries before wars and earthquakes forced its abandonment.
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