Hi, I’m Ann Williams. I’m an archaeologist, and a journalist specializing in the discovery of clues to our long-distant past. My latest book—a National Geographic publication called Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs—covers 100 of the most spectacular, interesting, and impactful archaeological finds ever made. If you’ve ever wished you could ask Indiana Jones something about finding ancient treasures, get your questions ready now. You can ask me anything!

And you can check out my book here: https://on.natgeo.com/3GZD5hX

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/v6ih755ioax71.jpg

EDIT: Well, we've come to the end of the hour, and I've got to run. (I'm working on a new book—about ancient Egypt!)

Thank you, everyone, for asking such great questions and making this an interesting session for us all. You're awesome!

Safe travels.

Comments: 540 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

Ratcoonhog475 karma

is there a "holy grail" of archaeologists that you feel might exist but hasn't been found yet?

nationalgeographic743 karma

Well, the location of the tomb of Queen Nefertiti is right up there. Egyptologists are all still wondering, and every time something is found in the Valley of the Kings, the whispers start: It is the Queen?

whynotbothxd312 karma

with the wave of new technology such as ground penetrating radar and other noninvasive techniques do you believe traditional dig site type Archaeology will shift towards finding things and leaving it where it is as to not damage them or the area around it. In the same vein, what do you think about archeology and tourism where increased tourism is slowly destroying objects like all the problems in Egypt temples and tombs or Pompeii?

nationalgeographic437 karma

This question is spot on. New technologies are revolutionizing archaeology—not only allowing experts to make discoveries that couldn't have been anticipated, but also moving the science toward a time when not every single site will have to be excavated because technology can extract information without hefting a shovel.

Tourism? That's hard. Sites like Pompeii are being loved to death. I don't know what the solution is—except long, hard thought about opening new areas of popular sites to the public. Also, in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the tombs that the public can visit are rotated so the same tombs don't get ferocious crowds all the time.

CharlieBrown20XD6263 karma

Do some tombs really have ancient traps? If so what kind?

nationalgeographic381 karma

I'm not aware of ancient traps. But people created all sorts of barriers to tomb entry. Understandably, they wanted their dearly departed to be left in peace.

wolfmanravi249 karma

The discovery of the Rosetta stone always intrigues me and I'm sure a lot of people find it fascinating that it provided a key to deciphering hieroglyphics. Is there any future artifact that you look forward to the discovery of that could potentially unlock another major clue in understanding the past?

nationalgeographic366 karma

The Minoan script Linear A is getting closer to being deciphered. When the experts crack that code, the texts should be interesting!

JeffRyan1223 karma

If you could LIDAR any place on the globe to see what's under the dirt and vegetation, where would it be?

nationalgeographic328 karma

The Amazon. My book has a chapter on the emergence of new information about people living there in the past. A Lidar scan of the whole rain forest would reveal so much!

Doktor_Wunderbar175 karma

What unanswered archeological question keeps you awake at night?

nationalgeographic316 karma

I don't know that a question keeps me up. But I do worry about sites that are vulnerable to destruction for one reason or another. Mes Aynak, for instance, in my book, is an astounding Buddhist site in Afghanistan—and it also happens to be sitting on a copper deposit worth a fortune. And of course, there's looting there as well. Archaeologists have labored to rescue as much as they can, but who know how much more will be lost. It breaks my heart.

CleansingthePure151 karma

How often do you work with geologists?

Also, does it, in fact, belong in a museum? How many nazis have you punched? Like, ballpark?

nationalgeographic178 karma

Yes, at the site of Huqoq in Israel there was a geochemist working with the archaeologists. See the chapter in my book about that site. And check out the Huqoq website. The discoveries there are sensational.

About the second part of your question—I've never punched anyone. But I very often do give people a stinkeye.

Sefhighwind145 karma

What's one of your favorite discoveries or dig sites?

nationalgeographic284 karma

The discovery of King Tut's burial, KV 62, in November 1922, is at the top of my list. It's filled with such eye-popping beauty as well as all sorts of things that tell us about the life and times of Tut. Do you know that he was buried with spare sets of clean linen underwear, and jugs of red wine from his own vineyards? If you're interested in such things, check out the Tutankhamun section of the Griffith Institute's website.

RogerFederer1981145 karma

What's the most controversial/interesting theory in your field you personally suspect is true but that hasn't been confirmed yet?

nationalgeographic172 karma

Wow, lots of theories. I can't pick just one. How about the person who succeeded King Tut on the throne of ancient Egypt? I suspect it's Smenkhkare...

NotSwedishMac96 karma

I often read about scores of undiscovered temples, pyramids, etc that are buried in jungle in the Amazon but identified with modern technology. What's stopping people from venturing into the jungle to loot these? Does that happen? How much does it cost to hire an Indiana Jones type for such an expedition?

nationalgeographic180 karma

All the responsible archaeologists I know of who are making discoveries like that don't publish the location of their work. No one wants to give a road map to potential looters!

Pronage94 karma

What is the most surprising/interesting thing you have learned about the past?

nationalgeographic129 karma

I've been covering archaeology as a journalist now for many years, but the "Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs" books was still an eye-opener for me. It's a celebration of the long sweep of human existence, and of the smart, inventive, resilient species we are. I'm smiling as I'm typing this, because that aspect of the book is so wonderful.

grghk80 karma

Is the Ark of the Covenant really in Ethiopia?

nationalgeographic148 karma

It's another one of those things that's possible—perhaps a tradition passed down orally. The Ethiopians believe they've got it. And they could be right.

One of the things you always have to remember as a scientist is to keep an open mind, and keep asking: Where does the evidence take us?

fecalmatter74 karma

What do you think about museums that hold artifacts stolen from other cultures? There has been instances where say a person with a known connection to a tribe or culture that an artifact belongs to, walks into the museum and takes it, because the artifact was “stolen” from their ancestors.

nationalgeographic88 karma

Yes, museums around the world do hold artifacts that were obtained under circumstances that we wouldn't sanction today. But the good news is that more and more of them are doing the right thing and making sure artifacts get back to the places they came from..

whidzee73 karma

Have you ever dressed up as Indy for halloween? or ever dressed up as him to an archaeoligical dig?

nationalgeographic156 karma

Nope, never did that on Halloween. On digs, I'm always dressing to be comfortable. But with my dig hat + white shirt + black jeans + boots, I've been told that I look very "National Geographic."

Kodirt169 karma


Is there a particular event or occurrence in your life that fueled your interest in the field and pushed you in that direction?

nationalgeographic118 karma

I took my first archaeology class in college to fulfill a history requirement. It was so interesting, and opened up so many cultures to me, that I was hooked. I've been happily connected to the field ever since then.

nationalgeographic54 karma

Thanks for your questions!! I wish we had more time...

NerdCaliber42 karma

What has been your most exciting discovery you've made so far?

nationalgeographic79 karma

Wow, hard to choose. I always say the last excavation I covered—which would be the native Yupik site of Nunalleq on the shore of the Bering Sea in Alaska. My book has a chapter on that. You can also look up the Nunalleq website—with posts that go right back to the start of the excavation.

Mysgvus137 karma

How do you feel about remains put on display in museums with their burial offering? Shouldn't their remains get some sort of peace instead? Is every corpse fair game then?

nationalgeographic82 karma

I believe that the culture that the human remains come from should decide on whether they are displayed or not, and if they are, how they're displayed. Different cultures have different ideas about that, and they should be respected.

shaokim36 karma


Thanks for the AMA.

What do you make, if anything at all, of the Atlantis tales?

Thank you

nationalgeographic49 karma

I think that falls into the category of some of the other questions I've answered—the legend may have started as oral tradition, and now it's so mixed up that who knows what part of it is true?

voxsomnia30 karma

Ancient Egyptian curses. You believe in it?

nationalgeographic86 karma

I don't believe in curses. But let me tell you, there was something spooky going on the night King Tut was CT scanned (January 5, 2005). There was a wicked wind blowing through the Valley of the Kings, and then it started to rain. I was there, and getting shivers... See the chapter in my book!

jrclone29 karma

Is there a real life example of a riddle-filled treasure map that has been solved?

nationalgeographic30 karma

Not that I'm aware of...

redditAFOL23 karma

Are you really named after the dog?

nationalgeographic18 karma


Fortlulz23 karma

Do booby traps still work after being dormant all these years?

nationalgeographic30 karma

I haven't seen a booby trap yet. But I suppose there could be one out there. And if the site it untouched, it might still be intact—which could be interesting from a scientific point of view.

BYEenbro21 karma

Do you think the romans destroyed the seven-branch lampstand?

nationalgeographic22 karma

I have no knowledge of that at all. Tell me more, and I'll try to circle back to it.

LordAxalon11019 karma

What's your greatest personal discovery/research?

nationalgeographic28 karma

I learned a lot working in Alaska at the ancient Yupik site of Nunalleq. It was a multi-layered experience—learning about the past as well as the current Yupik culture. Read about it in my book!

RevloFantasy16 karma

What do you think about the mythical lost continent, Mu?

nationalgeographic36 karma

Hmmm. I don't know much about that. Wasn't that a theory floated in the 1800s?

Many myths have come down to us in an oral tradition that got changed as it was passed along from person to person. There's still a kernel of truth to it, but the details have shifted so it's impossible to sort out now.

Variable_Decision5314 karma

Thank you for doing this Ann Williams. What’s the worst case of disrupting a archeological site you ever witnessed? I can’t imagine a worst caliber of person for an archeologist than a looter. Is there something worse than that? What historical context was lost?

nationalgeographic24 karma

Mes Aynak, maybe—The Buddhist site in Afghanistan that's being threatened by both looters and commercial copper mining pressures. There's a chapter on that in my book.

Fendibull12 karma

Do you have any cool finding regarding ancient biblical places in the Middle East?

and did you find anything regarding Iram of the Pillars? or it just another myth like Greek/Roman on Atlantis?

nationalgeographic15 karma

I don't have insight into that particular part of archaeology. There are lots of websites and publications dedicated to it, and I'd much rather defer to them.

howsadley7 karma

Ancient aliens - yes or no?

nationalgeographic18 karma

No, I'm not a fan.

I'm a scientist. I follow the evidence.

But as a scientist, I always have an open mind...

HHS20197 karma

Thanks for doing this. What practical value does modern society derive from finding lost cities or excavating ancient civilizations?

nationalgeographic22 karma

I always take inspiration from the accomplishments of our ancestors. They made it through some very tough times, without the benefit of modern science, and yet they left us beautiful artifacts, stunning architecture, and interesting words. We're part of that long history, and we have the opportunity now of carrying it forward.

Rikimaru5557 karma

Can I be "Short Round" on your next mission, Dr. Jones?

nationalgeographic6 karma


You're very kind.

Wash_zoe_mal3 karma

I occasionally read about new areas being discovered, such as a hidden temple or lost settlement. In the modern age, how likely is it that we may still find these hidden sites, or does it feel like they will become smaller and harder to find?

nationalgeographic8 karma

New technologies are expanding the horizons of archaeology is ways that past generations couldn't have imagined. Whole cities have even come to light recently. It's a very exciting time to be working in the field. My new book has a chapter on some of those new technologies.

Tegnok1 karma

Humans are said to have existed for around 200 000 years but we only have historical data for the last 6000 years so what happened, why is the rest a mystery?

nationalgeographic14 karma

So much of that is a question of what has been preserved. The culture of early humans was very much based on bio-degradable items, so of course they have not survived. Leather, bone, wood, basketry—only in rare cases have things like that survived from very long ago. That's what makes Otzi the Iceman, the frozen ancient hunter discovered in the Alps, so interesting. Many of the things he was carrying were preserved in the ice and have been rescued and studied. There's a chapter about him in my book.

chillifocus0 karma

How was he able to join the Belgian army? Was he a Belgian citizen?

nationalgeographic1 karma

Hmmm. We'd have to ask the scriptwriters for that one!

Pavlock-1 karma

How are you able to punch so many Nazis in the face and not break every bone in your hands?

nationalgeographic14 karma

That's Indy on film. I just use my barbed tongue to take folks down.

nationalgeographic1 karma

That's Indy on film. I just use my barbed tongue to take folks down.