Let’s Talk Archaeology


As usual in late winter, I’m spending a lot of time wrapped up in travel fantasies. Indulge me by sharing: what’s the coolest archaeological site you’ve ever visited? Which would you most like to see?

I love travel and was blessed to do quite a lot in my single days. I’ve been to the Roman Forum and Pompeii. The pyramids and Luxor. Chichen Itza and Tulum. Ephesus. Jerash. Petra. The cities of the old Silk Road. Stonehenge. Masada. Mesa Verde.

Chichen Itza was cool because some of it was excavated, but you could still wander through the jungle at will checking out old mossy ruins and drinking in that “I’m in a ruined city” feel. Petra is amazing for similar reasons; it has that feeling of “Indiana Jones” mystery to it (appropriately enough, because the famous scene from “Last Crusade” was shot there.) I’ll always have a particular soft spot for Bukhara, since I spent two years in Uzbekistan, and took multiple friends and relatives to see it. Samerkand is great too, but Bukhara has a kind of intimate feel to it that I particularly love.

I’d like to visit Great Zimbabwe someday, and perhaps go to Cambodia or Thailand. And Peru! I’d love to see some Inca ruins. I can’t decide whether Easter Island would be worth it. In some ways it sounds very cool, but would you just get there and say, “Heads! OK, let’s go”? Not sure. Has anyone been?

It’s sort of a shame that so many important ruins are in places you don’t really want to be right now, like Iraq and Iran. But maybe some of our military folks have seen those too? I’d love to hear about it if so.

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  1. Crabby Appleton Inactive
    Crabby Appleton

    When I was a boy and after the burning desire to be a polar explorer (occasioned by my discovery of Endurance, by Alfred Lansing) I came across some books that talked about Sir Flinders Petrie and also Incidents of Travel In Yucatan, by Catherwood and Stephens and I realized that my true desire was to be an archaeologist.  But real life happened.  The closest I was ever able to get was the antiquities displays at the British Museum.  You are incredibly fortunate to have been able to visit all those places.  It is a shame, as you say, that so many sites are in places you don’t want to be now ( think about the terror attacks on tourists at Luxor bot long ago).  I think the one place I’d like to visit today is Puma Punku, if only because of the endearing nutters who spend so much time and energy discussing it on Ancient Aliens.

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  2. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue

    The coolest site that Vrouwe and I have visited is Whitby in England, the site of  the Synod of Whitby. It was massive and still echoed the beauty it must have held before the ravages of Henry VIII and centuries of time. The cliff it’s on is actually eroding rapidly and the site may not be there in another century. A close second is the Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire. The monk’s cells have running water from brass taps built in the 14th century and still work. Very cool.  

    We have a huge list of archaeological places we’d like to visit: Lindesfarne, Brattahlid, various sites in Israel, Turkey, France and Germany. Our favorite here in the states is the Alamo/Mission trail in San Antonio. I’ve been to the Spanish fortress in St. Augustine, Florida but Vrouwe has not, so maybe a return trip is in order.

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  3. user_407430 Contributor

    Hartmann von Aue:Our favorite here in the states is the Alamo/Mission trail in San Antonio.

     Yes! Love that place.

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  4. DJ EJ Member
    DJ EJ

    Wow. You’ve been to a lot of great archaeological sites/historic cities. Up until the civil war began in Syria in 2011, I worked for 12 years excavating at an ancient tell site in northwestern Syria. I’m currently writing my dissertation on ancient societal collapse and resilience in the Iron Age (covering the years ca. 1200 BC – 800 BC). On off days during those excavation seasons, we’d take day trips to visit other archaeological sites in Syria. Here’s a short list of my favorite sites to visit in Syria:

    1. Palmyra – Roman era desert oasis city, “Valley of the Tombs”, Qala’at Ibn Maan (medieval fortress)

    2. Palmyra – Hellenistic and Roman era city, restored cardo maximus (main street), and mosaic museum

    3. Crac de Cheveliers – Crusader fortress in a remarkably good state of preservation with fantastic views of the surrounding countryside from atop the towers.

    4. Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) – Middle and Late Bronze Age city located on the Syrian coast near modern Latakia, extensive stone-built palace and Baal temple on acropolis, earliest known alphabet

    5. Church of Saint Simeon Stylites (5th cent. AD) – well preserved baptistry and sanctuary stone architecture, ornately carved Christian symbols in stone.

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  5. user_407430 Contributor

    Oh man. I really really wanted to go to Palmyra (and other Syrian sites), but couldn’t get the Syrian visa. That whole “oh you’ve been to Israel” thing. Blah. Awesome that you worked there!

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  6. DJ EJ Member
    DJ EJ

    I’ve tried to edit it several times to no avail (attn ricochet editors: it gives me a blank screen after I press “post comment”), but #2 is supposed to be Apamea, not Palmyra.

    When filling out the Syrian security forms each year, one would always answer “no” to the question, “Have you visited occupied Palestine?” [i.e. Israel].

    I’ve also excavated in Dubai and southern Turkey and may be back in the Middle East to excavate again this summer.

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  7. user_517406 Inactive

    I’ve been to most of the same sites as Rachel, though with her to only a few of them.  She and I went to Herculaneum and Pompeii together.  I have to say that my imagination was really sparked by those.  First, Vesuvius still looms over the sites and still smokes and occasionally erupts.  Then you can walk the city streets, see where the fast food joints were, visit the homes and temples, amphitheaters and baths.  You see political grafitti.  You can see what their home decor was like and even see the people in their death throes with the plaster casts that were made from the spaces left by bodies.  Astonishing.  

    Macchu  Picchu is amazing too and in beautiful, beautiful country.  Petra is also way up there on the list, but I have to say Masada packs perhaps the most emotional punch.  The story is heartbreaking and it is amazingly constructed.  Since there is so little rain in that part of the world, you can still see the bridge constructed by the Romans, and the remains of their camp.  I feel very close to the people who were part of these historical events when I visit these places.

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  8. user_407430 Contributor

    I had the misfortune of visiting Masada with some very anti-Israel people, and it was hard to shake the irritation of their snarky comments as I tried to take in the site.

    But yes, looking down on the camp from above really did give you a shiver, and make you think of what those people must have been through.

    Pompeii is remarkable too. We had such a memorable day there, and also a great one climbing Vesuvius. I just love archaeology because even in ruins, cities have such different feels to them, and it makes you feel more connected to all of humankind when you can go there and just try to grasp a little what life must have been like for them.

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  9. Syzygy Inactive

    Since you went to Masada I assume you also visited the various sites/museums in Jerusalem? Really great stuff.

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  10. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue

    Rachel Lu:

    Hartmann von Aue:Our favorite here in the states is the Alamo/Mission trail in San Antonio.

    Yes! Love that place.

     We’ve been four times, the last time with two of my sisters and a brother-in-law. It being only about 75-90 minutes away helps. 

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  11. user_407430 Contributor

    I spent a semester in Jerusalem when I was 20. Wonderful times. Jerusalem is of course chock full of amazing archaeology, but not exactly a single “archaeological site” in the same way since it’s still, you know, a lived-in city. But I spent lots of days wandering around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This was in 2000 when that was still fairly safe to do. Such a great experience. So glad I did it when both my personal circumstances and the political climate allowed for that kind of free exploration.

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  12. Misthiocracy Member

    The Museum of Archaeology in Montréal has an actual archaeological site in the basement, as the museum was built on top of the site of one of the oldest European settlements in North America.

    It’s pretty neat.

    http://pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home Basement of Montreal Archaeology Museum

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  13. Misthiocracy Member

    Saint-Marie Among The Hurons in Ontario is pretty cool.


    Saint-Marie Among The Hurons

    And then there’s l’Anse-aux-meadows, the oldest known European settlement in North America, which I’ve never been to but I hope to visit some day:



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  14. user_352043 Moderator

    I haven’t had the opportunity to visit many archaeological sites, but I’d love to return to the soldiers of Xian.  Pictures can’t convey the scale of the army.276_524449502499_8777_n

    They are reconstructing the soldiers and horses from the outside in, like the world’s biggest puzzle.


    And yes, horses! For whatever reason, I don’t think I’d ever heard that the terracotta army included terracotta horses.


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  15. user_407430 Contributor

    Amy, I’ve never seen the terracotta soldiers, but my husband has. It sounds pretty amazing.

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  16. Caroline Inactive

    In no particular order, here are some of my favorites: 

    • Jerusalem: the Western Wall excavation
    • Rome: Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden Palace)
    • Jordan: Jerash and Petra

    And on my wish list are:

    • Pompeii and Herculaneum
    • The early Christian cemetery under St. Peter’s
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  17. Rhoda at the Door Inactive
    Rhoda at the Door

    Two of my favorites in the USA:  Tuzigoot near Clarkdale, Arizona, is a Sinagua Indian pueblo-style community that has quite a bit still visible of the old rooms.  1500 + year-old Chaco Canyon (not near anything, thank goodness)  in New Mexico is mysterious and unlike any other North American ruins, with startling architecture and features for calculating  complex astronomical events.

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  18. Spin Inactive

    Petra was definitely my favorite.  

    Second place has to be Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem.

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  19. user_1938 Member

    I’ve been to Newgrange in Ireland. The coolest aspect was looking down on the adjoining farm and seeing a mound where the Irish decided to keep a similar tomb buried.

    Hadrian’s villa was also worth seeing, if only to pity the mighty emperor who needed three baths because he didn’t have a shower with adjustable temperature. Then again, I don’t see Home Depot offering faucets with complimentary concubines.

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  20. Charlotte Member

    Petra was definitely my favorite.
    Second place has to be Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem.

     +1 to both of these. One of my favorites in the US is the La Brea Tar Pits in downtown (!) Los Angeles. You can still see the tar bubbling up around the fossils.

    Machu Picchu lives up to the hype 100%. What an experience.

    The Skellig Islands off the coast of Ireland are spectacular too. The islands were the site of a sixth-century Christian monastery. The monks lived in little stone beehive-shaped huts in the constant wind surrounded by tens of thousands of seabirds. It’s one of those places that you can’t believe exists until you see it with your own eyes.

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  21. user_407430 Contributor

    Oh, I’d definitely like to see the Skellig Islands. That’s on my list too.

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  22. MaggiMc Inactive

    Aaron Miller:
    I’ve been to Newgrange in Ireland. The coolest aspect was looking down on the adjoining farm and seeing a mound where the Irish decided to keep a similar tomb buried.

    I really, really wanted to see Newgrange when we visited Ireland.  We just could not fit it into our schedule, so I contented myself with visiting the National Museum in Dublin, which I liked very much.

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  23. danielbruggers@gmail.com Inactive

    Having grown up in Peru, I can definitely vouch for it being a worthwhile trip.  However, if you enjoy great food and dining experiences, you should make a point to spend at least a day or two in Lima eating at some of its many world-class restaurants.  Some noteworthy ones would include Central, Astrid y Gaston, Alfresco and, to also cater to your interest in archeology, La Huaca Pucllana, which located on an archeological site overlooking an Incan pyramid of the same name.

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  24. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest

    I think hiking up to Delphi has to be near the top of the list for me. 

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  25. Mr Tall Inactive
    Mr Tall

    Rome provides too many impressive archaeological sites to list, so I’ll mention just one that blew me away: The Basilica of San Clemente. The site comprises three distinct and largely intact layers, i.e. the 12th-century basilica at ground level, then a 4th-century church below it, then earlier Roman ruins beneath that. You just down walk down the stairs to travel through time!

    There’s a good overview of it here.

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  26. ShellGamer Member

    I’ve been to many of the places mentioned in the Aegean, England and the Yucatan, and would like to visit others that have been mentioned. It may seem an odd choice, but I’ve never felt more connected to the history of a place than on the tour of Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. It was opened at the end of the 18th Century, so I suppose it could count as an archeological site. Not a beautiful place, but very thought provoking.

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  27. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    We visited Israel in 2007 with Michael Medved, and included Masada and the Western Wall. Too bad it was in July, way too hot for me.  In 1991 I spent 3 weeks in Cambridge, UK, and stayed at Trinity Hall college.  Dorm dates from 16th century, one building from 14th.  I loved Mesa Verde in Colorado-awesome cliff dwellings.  But my favorite remains Rievaulx Abbey in Britain.  We visited on a morning in October when it had just rained, and there was a new beautiful scene around every corner.

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  28. user_32335 Member

    In terms of a couple which haven’t been named, I’ll put in a good word for Ayutthaya in Thailand and Pecos National Historical Park outside Santa Fe. Also, I should mention Zincirli, since a bunch of my friends have worked there—though I haven’t been myself.

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  29. user_124695 Inactive

    The pic nails it – Machu Picchu by a mile – kinda difficult to get to, but well worth it. Chichen Itza is nice, but they have made it into a theme park. Stonehenge you can only get into at the Solstices, but it’s the only way to see to it from the inside, unless you are a Druid. I hear the new visitors center is nice and discrete, but haven’t visited it yet.

    Oh, and you can go to the Iranian sites – perfectly safe, as Comrade Obama is not gonna drop any bombs there, and the people are very friendly, if not the Government. I’d be wary of going to the Pyramids, though – it may be too late.

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  30. Percival Thatcher

    I’ve been to Mesa Verde, the Alamo/Mission Trail, Serpent Mound, the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (which used to be Mound City when I was a kid) and Cahokia.

    The list of places I’d like to go is long.  I’d love to go to Angkor Wat someday.

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