In September of 2020, while searching for a funerary temple of Tutankhamun, a team of Egyptian archaeologists stumbled upon a remarkably well-preserved city buried under the sand near Luxor. As they began to excavate mud brick walls and countless rooms, they realized they had found a city called “the Dazzling Aten” or “the rise of Aten,” which is the largest ancient city ever to be uncovered in Egypt.
It’s not every day that a whole ancient city is discovered. Many scientists and hobbyists spend their lives looking for ancient “lost cities” that are referred to in historical texts but whose locations have not been identified in the modern era.
Technologies like LiDAR and satellite imaging have made this easier in the 21st century. LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a laser sensing technology that is used to create topographical images of the earth. Drones mounted with LiDAR have been used to discover hundreds of ancient structures that are currently buried in dense forest or sand.
The discovery dates given in our list most often correspond to the first archaeological excavation of a site. For sites which had been partially discovered earlier, the discovery date corresponds with the newest mapping of the site as a whole, wherein a city center or major settlement was identified. Some sites were previously known to locals or witnessed at an earlier date by someone who was not able to provide evidence of the location.
Some of these cities were uncovered during the building of a road, subway, or housing development, and were able to be saved as the construction was halted or diverted. Others have become UNESCO world heritage sites. (These are UNESCO world heritage sites in grave danger.)
Whether they were destroyed by natural disasters like tsunamis, or simply abandoned, these ancient cities remained undetected for hundreds or thousands of years before being rediscovered in the 21st century. (Here are 25 ancient civilizations that were destroyed by natural disasters.)
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