Forging a sense of wonder and adventure is crucial to a masculine lifestyle. You become what you think about. If you aren’t thinking of the possibilities – the next mountain to climb, the next wall to smash, you aren’t going to become what you want to be.
Archaeology is one of those fields that gives the practitioner a higher chance of eternal fame. If you make an incredible discovery of a heretofore unknown ancient past, the likelihood of your name and accomplishments being preserved in historical annals is far higher than if you program some software for a woke corporation behind a desk. Heinrich Schliemann was a scoundrel, but a romantic one, and his unearthing of Troy guaranteed his own fame would be as eternal as the heroes he loved. Michael Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B guaranteed that his name would last alongside that of Homer himself. No serious student of Egypt will forget William Flinders Petrie’s rigorous and pioneering work in the field, and so on.
With that in mind, which ancient secrets are still out there, awaiting discovery? A surprising amount. A confession of sorts: I’m giving consideration to a career shift. Whenever covid hysteria finally subsides for good, I’m considering going into the field of archaeology.
If I do, here’s what I’d want to find.
#1 Decipher Linear A
As we know, Linear B was deciphered in the 1950s, and revealed as an archaic form of Greek, largely confirming Homer’s version of the Aegean Bronze Age. There is an earlier writing system, however, the non-Greek Linear A. This was the language of the Minoans, who also produced a still earlier system of writing known as Cretan Hieroglyphs.
Some intriguing discoveries have been about Linear A in recent years. For example, Brent Davis at the University of Melbourne discovered the ordering of word types in the Minoan language. Unlike English’s subject-verb-object (“the boy hit the ball”), the Minoan language has an order of verb-subject-object (“hit boy the ball”). This is similar to the ancient Egyptian language.
Despite this progress, the actual decipherment of Linear A remains elusive. Michael Ventris had 20,000 examples of Linear B signs to work with. Only 7,000 exist for Linear A. It is a problem similar to one which originally existed for Linear B, which had only a few examples from Crete until Carl Blegen discovered the Pylos archive on the Greek mainland in 1939.
Unfortunately, the Minoans were more limited in their land area than their Mycenaean Greek successors. According to Brent, linguists will need 10-12,000 signs in Linear A for a serious chance to decipher it – not that far from what currently exists.
The key might be to dig in the Minoan sphere of influence in the Cyclades and Southeast Anatolia, looking for more examples of Linear A there. It is a quest which particularly calls to me.
Rest assured, whoever deciphers Linear A will see his name live in history.
#2 Find the Tomb and Body of Nefertiti
I’m not one of those figures who romanticize Nefertiti. She was a major part of a totalitarian regime. Unlike her husband, though, she likely wasn’t a fanatical ideologue. When Akhenaten died, she was probably either his immediate successor or ascended shortly after the death of the same. There, she tried to find some moderating accommodation, and closed the door on her husband’s most radical acts.
For all her faults, Nefertiti was charismatic, enigmatic, and an icon of beauty after the discovery of her bust in 1912. Nefertiti’s name remains even after it was bitterly persecuted. Yet her tomb and mummy have never been discovered. Many theories float around the ether, but nothing has yet been proven.
One famous theory in recent years speculated that Nefertiti’s tomb lay behind a wall in Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but this, like so many other theories, proved a dead end. Now a team led by the famous (or infamous) Zahi Hawass is exploring on the west bank of Luxor in the Valley of the Kings. We will see if anything is found.
If it isn’t, discovering the tomb and/or body of Nefertiti would bring instant worldwide renown to anyone that makes it. Her fame will be associated with whoever finds her from that point forward, just as King Tut’s is with Howard Carter.
#3 Discover Tarhuntassa
When Hattusa, the Hittite Capital, came to light, it revealed a completely lost civilization. The discovery and decipherment of the Hittite archive in the early 20th century shed a great light on not only their lost world, but the overall Bronze Age. For example, we know so much about the Battle of Kadesh because of the discovery of the Hittite account. We also learned that the Hittites spoke an Indo-European language, shedding light on the origins of our own civilization.
Well, the Hittites had a southern capital, too. This was Tarhuntassa, which temporarily became the capital in the early 13th century BC – the very age when the old Bronze Age empires were at their height. No one has yet found it. Tarhuntassa remains a lost megacity, a magnificent outpost of one of the most powerful empires of the time.
People are still looking for it. The current theory is that it’s located somewhere in south-central Turkey.
Were Tarhuntassa found, it would answer a host of questions about the Bronze Age. We might find the smoking gun for the Trojan War. We might also be able to discover more about the semi-lost civilization of Mitanni. We would certainly learn a lot more about Egypt. The Hittites were the great diplomats of the Bronze Age. They, more than any other power of the time, tied up the world into treaties, pacts, arrangements, and so on. If their southern capital were discovered, and its archive intact, we would necessarily learn a great deal about the history of other nations.
Most of all, we would learn more about the Hittites themselves. What if we were to discover more about their culture and mythology? What if they have an epic poem that didn’t survive at Hattusa but did in Tarhuntassa? We would learn much about their value system and the shared literary traditions in the world at the time, which may have wound up in Homer’s epics.
He who finds the lost splendor of the Hittites will surely see his name live on.
#4 Uncover the Tomb of Alexander the Great
In 1977, Manilos Andronikos discovered the tomb of Philip II, Alexander’s father. It contained fabulous treasures, which only hinted at the splendor that would be discovered if the tomb of Alexander the Great were ever uncovered.
Alexander’s tomb in Alexandria was an object of public veneration for centuries after his death. Julius Caesar, Augustus, and other luminaries visited it with great reverence. Emperor Caracalla was the last known prominent visitor, in 215. The tomb seems to have been ravaged during the upheaval of the third century, and by the year 400, its location had been lost. People have been looking for it ever since.
The problem is that much of the ancient city of Alexandria, where his tomb was located, is now underwater. The royal quarters, for example, where Julius Caesar and Cleopatra faced a besieging army, now lies beneath the waves. We’ve seen great work in underwater archaeology in Alexandria, but Alexander’s own tomb remains hidden. Theories persist (one now holds that Alexander wanted to be buried at the oasis of Siwa, where he was supposedly declared the son of Zeus-Amon), but none have yet been proven.
Safe to say, whoever finds Alexander’s tomb will forever be associated with one of the most famous and influential people our species ever produced.
#5 Unearth the Tomb of Genghis Khan
The tomb of the greatest conqueror in history is probably the hardest to find of all. With the preceding four, we at least have a general idea of their location. With Genghis Khan, we only have the endless Mongolian steppe.
There were no historical texts hinting at where the tomb might be found. The funeral cortege supposedly slew anybody who encountered it, to prevent his tomb’s location from leaking out. Local legend places it in the Khentii Mountains, near his birthplace.
As we have seen before, local legend is often very good at remembering kernels of actual history indeed, but it is not perfect. Some things will be altered or lost.
But even if the local legend is true, the Khentii Mountains are a huge place. Where would you even begin? Unlike the other four places, no historical text gives light to any clues.
Whoever dares to try in the face of a seemingly unconquerable obstacle is likely to discover much more about himself than he is to find the tomb of Genghis Khan.
Were it ever found, though, its discoverer would surely be immortal.
Always keep an eye out for adventure, no matter how small. It’s important to try, just to know there’s something bigger out there. This is a theme in the first of the five shorter stories set in my space opera universe. The first two chapters are now done and should come before the end of the month on my Patreon page at the $10 tier.
For more great stories of adventure, read Lives of the Luminaries.