Since 2015, Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism and Archeo have decided to pay homage to archaeological discoveries with an annual prize awarded in collaboration with the international magazines that are media partners of the Exchange: Antike Welt (Germany), arCHaeo (Switzerland), AiD Archäologie in Deutschland (Germany), Archéologia (France), Current Archaeology (United Kingdom), Dossiers d’Archéologie (France).


The Award is devoted to Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist of the site of Palmyra who paid with his life the defence of cultural heritage.

The remembrance of the archaeologist Paolo Matthiae: «For forty years, Khaled al-Asaad has been the Director of the archaeological excavations of Palmyra. He was the archaeologist of the city, he worked with missions from every country: from France to Germany, from Switzerland to Netherlands, from United States to Poland, and in the last years from Italy too, with the mission from Università Statale of Milan. He was a complete scholar, but mostly he had the peculiar feature of a member of the families of the cities of the desert. These people, like the ancient Bedouins, are lovely, kind and very hospitable, in a completely natural way, not excessive but very measured and discreet fashion. Khaled al-Asaad was a very lovely man, measured and with a kind soul. Even archaeologists who didn’t specialize in that period – Roman antiquity – often came to Palmyra to visit him and Khaled’s friendliness was total. He was a man deeply rooted in the city, and yet, for the international character of the site he oversaw, he was a citizen of the world, too. In various occasions his name was suggested for the position of General Director of Antiquities in Damascus, but I believed he preferred to remain in Palmyra, a city he identified himself with».
«Khaled was so certain he was just doing his job that he didn’t think he needed to escape. And as I remember him, he wasn’t a man who feared for his own life. Even if in retirement and almost 82, he preferred to stay in his city, precisely because he had understood its antiquities were in ranger. And probably, he imagined his undisputed moral authority could protect what Palmyra held and still holds today: the ruins of an absolutely extraordinary archaeological site, for all the Mediterranean area and for the whole world».

The International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” is the only global prize awarded to archaeologists, who with sacrifice, dedication, competence and scientific research live their job, both as scholars of the past and as professionals working for their territory.

The Director of the Exchange Ugo Picarelli and the Editor in Chief of Archeo Andreas Steiner shared this common path, aware that “today, civilizations and cultures of the past and their relations with the surrounding environment are more and more important to rediscover the identities, in a global society which is dispersing its values”. The Award, therefore, aims to spread the exchange of experiences, represented by international discoveries, also as best practices of intercultural dialogue.

The five archaeological discoveries of 2023 candidates for the victory of the 10th edition:

  • China: in the province of Shaanxi the lost city of the Bronze Age
  • Iraq: in Lagash a “taberna” of 5000 years ago of ancient Mesopotamia
  • Italy: in Rome the Theatre of Nero
  • Sudan: at the site of Dongola capital city of Makuria Christian wall paintings without precedent for Nubian painting
  • United Kingdom: in London in the neighborhood of Southwark the remains of a Roman mausoleum

The Award, assigned to the first classified archaeological discovery, will be selected among the 5 finalists according to the indications provided by the Editors of each magazine and it will be conferred on Friday, November 1, during the XXVI Exchange in Paestum from October 31 to November 3, 2024.

Moreover, a “Special Award” will be attributed to the archaeological discovery, among the five finalists, that will receive the greatest consensus from the general public in the period from July 1 to October 1 through the Facebook page of the Exchange (

In China in the province of Shaanxi the lost city of the Bronze AgeCINA

A team of Chinese archaeologists has discovered an entire Bronze Age city, one of the largest early Shang dynasty sites ever discovered and dating back to 1600 BC until 1046 BC in Zhaigou, the oldest Neolithic settlement in the region, about 110 km south of the city of Yulin in Shaanxi province.

According to archaeologists, the city is spread over 11 hills and covers more than 3 square kilometers, the largest one in the region, even though over the last 1000 years as many as 13 ancient Chinese dynasties have had their capital cities in Shaanxi.

Indeed, the site contains some of the richest tombs ever discovered in the region: to date, nine aristocratic tombs have been identified with over 200 artefacts including a bronze piece of a chariot (the remainder of which is still buried with the remains of the horses that towed it), tiny gold and jade earrings, a finely crafted jade bird and a cast bronze star inlaid with pieces of turquoise, a polished tortoise shell, perhaps a divination tool used to create connections between this world and other less known ones. Archaeologists think the Bronze Age city was the capital of a separate state assimilated by the Shang dynasty, which was based in the city of Yinxu. It is speculated that after the regional conquest the new city paid homage to the Shang dinasty, and based on discoveries so far, archaeologists think an entire settlement with tombs, central buildings and artisan workshops is waiting to be unearthed.

Finely decorated pottery and early agricultural tools (bronze drinking vessels, turquoise-inlaid ornaments, and pieces of carved jade) have previously been recovered from this site, offering archaeologists valuable information on the social, cultural, and technological development of prehistoric communities in the region.

In Iraq in Lagash a “taberna” of 5000 years ago of ancient MesopotamiaIRAQ

An outdoor dining area with benches, an oven, storage containers, ancient food leftovers and even a 5,000-year-old refrigerator (called “zeer”, an Arabic term for the pot-in-pot refrigerator for storing drinks and food) discovered by archaeologists from the University of Pisa coordinated by Sara Pizzimenti Associate Professor of Archeology and Art History of the Ancient Near East at the University of Pisa in collaboration with the team from the University of Pennsylvania led by Professor Holly Pittman in the excavations of the “Lagash Archaeological Project”, which began in 2019 and brought to light what could be a taberna from 2,700 BC at Tell al-Hiba (ancient Lagash), 24 km east of the city of Shatra, in Dhi Qar Governorate, Southern Iraq.

With more than 400 hectares of extension, Lagash is one of the oldest and largest city-states in Southern Mesopotamia and capital city of the state of the same name, occupied since the fifth millennium BC and largely abandoned around 2300 BC; it was one of the most important commercial hubs in the region, home to an intense and varied artisanal production and with immediate access to agricultural land.

The discovery sheds new light on the study of food and cuisine in ancient Mesopotamia and on the daily life of a Sumerian working-class neighborhood, probably linked to artisanal ceramic production activities within what was a public place for production, distribution and consumption of meals, consequently an important piece for reconstructing knowledge in the field of food production and distribution, the economy at the base of the first complex societies in human history.

In Italy in Rome the Theatre of NeroITALIA

In the courtyard of Palazzo Della Rovere, property of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem (Governor Ambassador Ludovico Visconti di Modrone) and rented to the Four Seasons hotel chain, which is building its first hotel in Rome here, the works for its construction brought to light, after two thousand years underground, a part of Nero’s theatre, a luxurious building from the imperial era located a few meters from the Vatican.

Renovation works have been underway since 2020 under the scientific direction of Renato Sebastiani and continued by Alessio De Cristofaro, archaeologists of the Special Superintendence of Rome, conducted in the field by archaeologist Marzia Di Mento.

Five meters from the current street level, the left part of the hemicycle cavea, the scenæ frons, were discovered, with sumptuous columns made of fine marble, stucco decorations with gold leaf and service areas, perhaps storage areas for costumes and sets, dating back to the 1st century AD, which once stood within the Horti of Agrippina the Elder, the large estate of the Giulio Claudia family, where Caligula had built a large circus for horse racing and subsequently Nero the theatre, whose existence until now had only been cited by ancient literary sources (Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus). Among the findings there are architectural structures, decorative elements, marble sculptures and a very rare alabaster capital, hundreds of objects of the time, including coins, worked bone tools, glass and ceramics. Centuries of history stratified and all to be analyzed by the Special Superintendent of Rome, directed by Daniela Porro, while the architectural findings will be studied and cataloged and then covered and buried, also considering the presence of an aquifer just below, the only way to guarantee its correct conservation in the future.

Instead, the decorative elements brought to light, including the columns, will be placed inside the historic building to give even greater value to the stay of the guests of the luxury hotel, which is scheduled to open by the Jubilee of 2025.

Sudan, at the site of Dongola, capital city of Makuria, Christian wall paintings without precedent for Nubian paintingSUDAN

Archaeologists Lorenzo de Lellis and Maciej Wyżgoł of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archeology of the University of Warsaw, directed by Prof. Artur Obłuski, discovered at the site of Dongola (Tungul in ancient Nubian language, capital city of Makuria, one of the most important medieval African states) an enigmatic complex of rooms made of sun-dried bricks, whose interiors were covered in figurative scenes believed to be unique to Christian art. During the exploration of houses dating back to the Funj period (16th-19th century) under the floor an opening led to a small chamber, the walls of which were decorated with unique representations (the Virgin Mary, Christ, a scene depicting a Nubian king, again Christ and the archangel Michael), a scene which has no known parallels in Nubian painting.

The paintings are accompanied by inscriptions, one of which is in ancient Nubian language, with several mentions of a king named David and a supplication to God for the protection of the city (David was one of the last rulers of Christian Makuria and the period of his rule marked the beginning of the end of the kingdom, as it attacked Egypt, which retaliated by invading Nubia and Dongola was sacked for the first time in its history).

The biggest enigma is the complex of rooms in which the paintings were found. The room with the painted scene, showing King David, resembles a crypt, but is 7 meters above the medieval ground level, adjacent to a sacred building identified as the Great Church of Jesus, which was probably the cathedral of Dongola and the most important church in the kingdom of Makuria. Arab sources say that King David’s attack on Egypt was instigated by the Great Church of Jesus: did the Archbishop of Dongola, just like Pope Urban II, therefore urge King David to launch a crusade? Further excavations could provide answers to these and other questions about the enigmatic structure.

In London in the neighborhood of Southwark the remains of a Roman mausoleumUK

The team from the Museum of London Archeology (MOLA), which conducted the excavation on behalf of Landsec and Transport for London (TfL) at the same site as “The Liberty of Southwark” where in February 2022 some of the largest Roman mosaics ever found in London were discovered, has brought to light the most intact Roman mausoleum ever discovered in the United Kingdom, where the walls and some internal floors are visible, including a suggestive mosaic surrounded by a raised platform on which the tombs were placed. The mausoleum appears to have undergone significant changes during its lifetime: archaeologists discovered a second mosaic directly beneath the first, indicating that the floor of the structure had been raised over the years. The two mosaics are similar in design, with a central flower surrounded by a pattern of concentric circles set within a floor made up of small red tiles.

Some surprising finds are also resurfacing from the interior: over one hundred coins, precious decorative tiles, metal tools and ceramics fragments.

More than 80 Roman burials were found in the surrounding area, all without human remains. Objects such as glass beads and copper bracelets, pottery and even a bone comb were found in the tombs.

Although the mausoleum was almost completely dismantled, probably in medieval times, signs indicate that it was a building perhaps two stories high, which would have been built to accommodate members of wealthy families on the scene of Roman London.