While many may think history is either literally or metaphorically set in stone, new discoveries have the ability to change and challenge our conception of the past entirely.
Here are 6 recent discoveries that may completely alter what history textbooks have to say about our ancestors.
UPDATE 4/10/13: This living listcle has been updated to include the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.
1. The Black Death: Not bubonic after all
The unearthing of skeletons in London Crossrail excavations three years ago found teeth containing DNA from plague bacterium dating back to the 14th century when the Black Death struck.
This new evidence, after years of extensive research by forensic scientists and archeologists, suggests that what we’ve been taught about the plague may have been wrong all along: it was not spread by rats, but by air, because only a pneumonic infection could have spread and killed so many so fast.
2. Cannibalism in Jamestown
The skull and shin of a 14 year old girl dubbed “Jane” by researchers bore chop and cut marks that indicated careful postmortem removal of meat by an experienced butcher.
While cannibalism was referenced in several accounts of struggling Jamestown settlers, physical evidence of this disturbing occurrence was announced in 2013 – making it, in fact, the only evidence of cannibalism by Europeans in any European colony.
3. Chemical warfare: (Much) older than WWI
Though most people might associate chemical warfare with WWI, and more recently, the violent civil war in Syria, evidence announced in 2009 found that Ancient Persians used chemical weapons on Romans in AD 256.
This discovery is the oldest physical evidence of chemical warfare, and indicates that the Persians used a mixture that produced toxic gases including sulphur dioxide and complex petrochemicals to wipe out 20 tunnelling Roman soldiers in a matter of minutes.
4. Buddha’s Birthday
Up until recently, all that was known about Buddha was textual and oral accounts of his life. Though historians speculated on the years of his birth and death, in 2013 archaeologists discovered the first physical evidence that he was, in fact, a man of sixth century B.C.E.
This discovery of a tree shrine in Nepal, a site which many believe was the birthplace of Buddha, predates any known Buddhist sites by 300 years – a rare discovery that could prove to alter Buddhist religious history.
5. Vanishing Europeans
2013 research shows that 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, there was a radical change in the genetic makeup of European people, suggesting that some kind of mysterious event lead to a huge turnover in population.
The findings, drawn from DNA analysis of skeletons unearthed in central Europe, confirmed that an agricultural revolution brought migrations into Europe 7,500 years ago, but also point to a major incident that would have replaced the population’s genetic markers entirely – a mystery that researchers are itching to solve.
6. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife
A faded fragment of papyrus that caused some controversy when unveiled by historians in 2012 has been tested by scientists to the conclusion that it is likely not a forgery, as was believed, but of ancient origin in both paper and ink.
Skepticism of the document was partially based on its controversial message, which stated “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” and “she will be able to be my disciple,” the New York Times writes. The message indicates not only that Jesus could have been married, but that there could be female disciples, inflaming the debate over the possibility of female priests.
Though there is obviously no conclusive evidence that would call for inclusion of the writing in scripture, the opinion that the document is of ancient origin opens up new perspective and possibility regarding life in Biblical times.