Archaeology is our window to the past, even before recorded history. These seeming pieces of detritus and remains of ancient life are our only tangible link to the past, and they often tell fascinating tales of ancient man – if you know how to interpret your findings.
In this article we hope to not only inspire you with these archaeological finds, but also to help you appreciate the amazing and wonderful field or archaeology.
Piri Reis Map
Archaeologists finding old maps is not entirely new. However, this map from 1513, which was created by an Ottoman admiral and cartographer named Piri Reis, is shocking the entire archaeological world. This is because the map very accurately shows a lot of features, like continents and coastlines, that were thought to still be undiscovered at that time. One example of this is how it has already shown the continent of Antarctica which was still yet to be discovered in 1818 (more than three centuries later!).
Remarkably, the continent of Antarctica that can be seen on this map is how it looked before it was covered in ice. Since the technology at that time was never capable of knowing this, it raises a lot of speculations from researchers that this information was given to them by a much more advanced and unknown sea-faring civilization. We can also see on this map that Antarctica and South America are connected by a land bridge. Can it be that they were really connected by such a land bridge before they were discovered by modern explorers?
The Mount Owen Moa
A very interesting discovery was made in the caves of Mount Owen in New Zealand three decades ago. It is a claw that looks very similar to something from a dinosaur specie. It is very interesting because it was mummified and so it still retains most of its features and has not yet decomposed.
It was not from a dinosaur, however, but from a 3,300-year-old mummified upland moa, which is a prehistoric bird. It most closely resembles the modern-day emu, which is the second largest living bird after the ostrich. But, the moa is even bigger still, with some species measuring over 10 feet in height. With advanced dating processes from its DNA, it was found to have first appeared 18.5 million years ago. There also exists a possibility of reviving this species through the DNA from its discovered claw. Because we’ve apparently learned nothing from Jurassic Park.
An unfinished ancient obelisk was found in the northern region of the stone quarries of ancient Egypt in Aswan. It was thought that this unfinished obelisk was built to complement the Lateran Obelisk which is the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world.
What’s amazing about this is that it is nearly one-third larger than any ancient Egyptian obelisk that was ever erected. When completed, it would have measured 137 feet high and weighed 1,090 metric tons. During its creation, however, cracks appeared in the granite and the whole project was abandoned. The Egyptians’ masterful stone-working techniques can also still be seen and observed from it.
Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin might be the most controversial archaeological artifact to date. It is a linen cloth which has the image of the face of what many believes to be Jesus Christ of Nazareth imprinted on it. This cloth is believed by many to be the cloth that was used to cover the face of Jesus after his crucifixion. It was first shown to the public in France in 1357. However, carbon dating tests on the cloth has shown that this cloth was probably from somewhere in the region of the years 1260 to 1390, which means that it could not have been the face of Jesus Christ.
Many believing researchers have tried to discredit the carbon dating tests that were done on the Shroud of Turin, but the scientific community still stands for those original tests. DNA tests were performed on the shroud but proved unsuccessful as the item has been touched by so many people from all over the world. The Shroud of Turin’s authenticity is still being debated until today. The Vatican, however, has not commented on its authenticity but asked the Catholic faithful to just focus on what it represents.
Mesoamerican Pok ta Pok
Archaeologists don’t only set out to collect ancient objects buried in the ground. They have a deeper purpose behind their digs of learning and understanding the culture behind those ancient people. In this case, they discovered fascinating details about a sport enjoyed by an ancient civilization which is today called “pok ta pok.” This arose from the discovery of other ancient Mesoamerican sites, such as Caracol and Chichen Itza. As of today, more than 1,300 ball courts that are used for this sport have been found.
This sport, however, did not only serve as a game to be played but also served many ritualistic and political purposes in the same region. The rules of the game are not exactly known today, but it was speculated that it probably was very similar to racquetball. It is also seen from Mayan art that captives were sacrificed after losing a game.
Among the world’s most famous and mysterious archaeological finds, Stonehenge is now considered one of the official wonders of the world. It is believed to have been constructed 5,000 years ago although the questions: “who built it, how and why?” are still left unknown. It consists of several huge stones, each standing around 13 feet, and weighs in around 25 tons. These monstrous stones are arranged to form a circle.
There are many speculations regarding why Stonehenge was built and what its purpose was. Over time, however, it has been used by pagan religions, especially druids, for their rituals and celebrations. Some also suggest that Stonehenge was once used as a sacred place for healing the sick, while others have suggested that it was a celestial observatory. It has already been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
Plain of Jars
Archaeologists have discovered thousands of stone objects that were believed to be used as jars and that are arranged in some kind of a significant order. Discovered in Laos, the purpose of these jars is still unknown, although some believes that they were used for burial. This theory is based on the fact that human skeletons and tools that are known to be used for burial were discovered along with the jars. Tests have shown that these jars have been there since 500 BC to 500 AD.
One local myth suggests that the jars were once used by giants who lived in that region to store alcohol for their war victories. On the other hand, some researchers have suggested that these jars were used to collect monsoon rainwater. Which theory do you like better: warring giants or rainwater?
The Copper Dead Sea Scroll was discovered by one archaeologist in a cave near Qumran, Israel in 1952. It was part of the Dead Sea scrolls, which were ancient religious manuscripts which include fragments from almost every book of the Bible’s Old Testament. The difference with the Copper Dead Sea Scroll is that it was made of a huge block of copper which had to be cut into sheets and laid flat to be able to read what was written on it.
Upon inspection and study of the scroll’s inscriptions, the archaeologists were surprised that the text describes a map where certain treasures can be found. It was written in Hebrew and was estimated to be from around 50-100 BC. It gave details of about 64 different locations which supposedly contain gold and silver. The Copper Dead Sea Scroll is said to describe the locations of treasures from either the first or second temple of Jerusalem.
Pit of Hands
In 2010, a team of archaeologists has discovered a pit of 16 human right hands while searching around one ancient Egyptian palace. Tests conducted have shown that these hands were buried around 3,600 years ago. This was seen to be an evidence of an ancient Egyptian tradition of soldiers exchanging the cut-off right hand of an enemy soldier for some amount of gold.
It was believed that these hands were from enemies of the Pharaoh at that time. More evidence for this tradition was found in ancient Egyptian artifacts. These also detailed how the ancient Egyptians has gruesomely treated their captives and enemies.
A group of skeletons from 12 Neanderthals were found in a cave in Northern Spain on an expedition in 2010. Tests conducted have shown that the group of Neanderthals died around 49,000 years ago. Some evidence was also found in the same location that suggests that they were eaten by other Neanderthals. The group consisted of three adult males, three adult females, three adolescents, two juveniles and an infant. Some believe that they may have been one family unit.
Many archaeological studies have shown that cannibalism was a practice that was not exclusive to the Neanderthals and this is the exact same reason why they went extinct. Much evidence was found that points to humans killing Neanderthals, bringing their bodies back to their caves to eat and also using their remains as dishes and jewelry. And you thought MMA was brutal.
Tunnels of Baiae
While exploring in the cliffs of Baiae, Italy, archaeologists discovered an ancient tunnel system. For many years after its discovery, it remained generally unstudied by archaeologists, although many believe that it was part of a Necromanteion. A necromanteion is a temple where ancient people went to consult the dead. It was also given the name “Oracle of the Dead.”
One reason why this place remained unstudied by archaeologists is that most of the town of Baiae has now been submerged under water because of volcanic activity. The few expeditions that have been attempted to study it, however, have shown that it contained numerous Roman sculptures and temples to the Roman Gods Mercury, Venus and Diana.
Seemingly straight out of a page from a Lord of the Rings book, a joint team of Australian and Indonesian archeologists have discovered the remains of what is believed to be an extinct species of hobbits. Nine separate sets of human remains were found at the site in the island of Flores, Indonesia.
With a scientific name of Homo floresiensis, they have been found to be around 3.3 feet high and around 55 pounds when fully grown. They have also been shown to inhabit the island of Flores as recently as 13,000 years ago. This discovery was very surprising at the time and was dubbed the most spectacular finding in paleoanthropology in over 50 years.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
Located at the west bank of the Nile River in Giza, Egypt, the Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx. A sphinx is an Egyptian mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. It is also called “Abu al-Haul” in Arabic which directly translates to “The Terrifying One” in English.
It was believed that the Sphinx was built around 2,500 years ago and originally measured to be 73 meters long from paw to tail, 20.21 meters high, and 19 meters wide. Up until today, it is still surrounded by mystery as the underlying chambers and tunnels within and underneath have not yet been explored. Some evidence, like traces of pigment, also suggests that it was once painted with vivid colors.
The Nazca Lines are a group of very large writings on the ground, or geoglyphs, which can be found in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. They were found to be created around 500 BC to 500 AD. They consist of various drawings of animal and plant shapes. A total of 900 of these mysterious drawings have been found in that area.
These were first discovered by hikers in 1927. They were still not sure, however, on what the lines really mean until the complete drawings were observed from an aircraft in the 1930s. It was then when they became widely known. Researchers are still debating about the true purpose of these lines. Some believe that they were based on astronomy and cosmology, while others believed that they were used for religious worship and textile production. A small group of people, on the other hand, believe that they were created by an advanced alien civilization.
Chariots of Zhou
While exploring around 3,000 year old tombs in Luoyang, China, archaeologists discovered a large pit which contained the remains of horses and wooden chariots. A total of five chariots and 12 horse remains were found. Further tests have shown that these excavated items were from way back in 770 BC.
The remains of the horses reveal evidence that they were first slaughtered before being buried. Many other items were also found in the tombs, which includes bronze-wares and ceramics that are from the early Western Zhou dynasty. For archaeologists, this discovery shines a light on how people back from that period in time performed funerals.
Easter Island Moai
The Moai or Mo’ai are a group of giant monolithic humanoid statues that are created by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island in eastern Polynesia. A total of 900 of these statues were found to be produced and transported by the Rapa Nui people around the island. Many of these statues are buried in a way that only their heads are showing which caused them to mistakenly be called “Easter Island Heads.”
These statues were each created to represent one deceased ancestor of the Rapa Nui people. The largest of these statues was called Paro and was measured to be more than ten meters or 33 feet in height and has a weight of over 90 tons. What was really impressive about how these statues were made is that they were all carved in one location, and then transported around the island to their present locations. Today, however, most of these statues have already toppled over because of earthquakes.
Ancient Chemical Warfare
Archeologists have found bodies of 19 Roman soldiers and one Persian soldier who apparently died from poisonous gas inhalation. These bodies were found at Dura-Europos in present-day Syria. These soldiers were believed to have died during a Persian attack on the city in 256 AD. To easily infiltrate the city and avoid Roman defenses, the Persian soldiers tried to dig a tunnel that passed through the city walls.
The Romans knew of this strategy and they themselves had also dug a counter-tunnel to meet the Persian soldiers and attack them by surprise. When they were caught, the Persians used a poisonous gas created by burning Sulphur and bitumen crystals to kill the Roman soldiers. One Persian soldier still died, however, along with 19 of the Roman soldiers.
Hagar Qim is a megalithic temple complex that is located on the Mediterranean island of Malta. They are among the most ancient religious sites on Earth and were described by the World Heritage Sites committee to be a “unique architectural masterpiece.” Not only was the architecture very impressive, it also contained a lot of decorative pottery and statues. The whole temple complex was built around 3,600-3,200 BC.
Animal bones found in the Hagar Qim temples suggest that they were also used for ritual sacrifices. Because of its very old age, the limestone which the temples were built out of has suffered severe damage due to weather conditions. To prevent further damage and conserve the site, a protective tent was built over the whole thing in 2009.
The Terracotta Army is a group of terracotta sculptures that is derived from the armies of Qin Shi Huang who was the first emperor of China. They were discovered near the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s burial ground by a local farmer in 1974. Archaeologists firmly believe that these sculptures were created and buried near the location of the emperor’s burial site so that the army would be able to protect him in his next life.
Not all of the sculptures have been unearthed, even up to this day. However, the total number of the sculptures has been estimated to be over 8,000. 130 chariots and 670 horses were also found with them. Among the statues were warriors, strongmen, musicians and acrobats. There were still also some signs on these sculptures that indicate that they were once painted.
The Cochno Stone
The Cochno Stone is a large rock with dozens of different engravings which include grooved spirals, carved indentations, geometric shapes, and mysterious patterns of many kinds. It was discovered in 1887 by a man named Rev James Harvey. It has a total size of 42 feet by 26 feet. Tests conducted on this rock have shown that it is around 5,000 years old.
The purpose or meaning of the engraved patterns on the Cochno Stone remains unknown to this day. After its discovery, it was buried again to preserve and protect it from vandalism. It was then carefully uncovered again in 2015 for further research. Various stones with similar engraved patterns have also been found at other sites all over the world.
The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient Greek analogue computer. It was composed of more than 37 moving gears that are made of bronze. It was used by the Greeks to predict the positions of heavenly bodies like the sun, moon and stars and could predict when eclipses would next occur. It was also used to track the cycle of the ancient Olympic Games. The Antikythera Mechanism was found inside a sunken ship in the seas near the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901.
This device was considered to be the world’s very first computer. The tests conducted on the Antikythera Mechanism have shown that this instrument was created around 150 to 100 BC. The science and technology behind this device remained a mystery until the fourteenth century, when another similar device was found and the technology behind each one started to make more sense.
The Voynich Manuscript was handwritten on an animal skin or vellum, using an unknown writing system. The author of the text is also still unknown. Tests conducted on this manuscript have shown that it may have been written during the early 15th century, during the time of the Renaissance. It was named after a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich, who bought the manuscript in 1912.
Many experts, including professional cryptographers and code breakers, have studied the written text in an attempt to understand the meaning hidden away in the strange lettering. However, until now no one has ever been successful in doing so. This led many to think that the text in this manuscript does not really mean anything and was written just as a hoax. The manuscript was believed to have originated from Northern Italy.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a group of ancient Jewish religious manuscripts that were found in the Qumran Caves in the West Bank, near the Dead Sea. These scrolls are considered to be very important in terms of its historical, religious and linguistic value because they include one of the oldest manuscripts of texts ever found; so important that they were later included in the Hebrew Bible canon. Currently, almost all of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been put under the ownership of the government of the state of Israel.
Archaeologists strongly believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls were from an ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes. Tests conducted on these manuscripts have shown that they were from around 400 to 300 BC. They are currently stored in the Shrine of the Book on the grounds of the Israel Museum.
The Baghdad Battery was discovered in the village of Khuyut Rabbou’a, near Baghdad, in 1936. It is composed of three artifacts which are: a ceramic pot, a tube of copper and a rod of iron. It can work as a real battery by filling the jar with an acidic liquid such as vinegar or fermented grape juice. Tests conducted on this ancient battery have shown that they were in use from around 250 BC to 224 BC.
The terracotta pot included an asphalt stopper which also worked as its cover. This asphalt stopper has an iron rod attached on its center that was surrounded by a copper cylinder. Surprisingly, the Baghdad Battery was capable of producing around 1.1 Volts of electricity. Archaeologists are still trying to determine where and how this battery was used.
Pompeii was an ancient city located near modern Naples in the Campania region of Italy. The whole city was buried under four to six meters of volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. All of Pompeii was lost after this explosion and the ruins remained buried for 1,500 years before being rediscovered. What is incredibly surprising about this archaeological discovery is that the whole city, including all of its inhabitants, were preserved due to the lack of air and moisture.
There are a lot of pictures available on the internet that shows Pompeii’s inhabitants in the exact position that they were in when they died. The whole city was excavated and plaster was used to recreate and preserve the voids in the layers of ash that once held human beings. It is now declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become a very popular tourist destination.
The Pilate Stone
The Pilate Stone is an ancient block of limestone which has carved texts that were attributed to, and mention Pontius Pilate. He was a prefect of the Roman province of Judaea and was most famously known for being the one who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He served under Emperor Tiberius as a prefect from AD 26 to 36.
This huge stone was considered to strengthen the authenticity of the biblical texts. This is because still no evidence has been found at that time that supports the idea that Pontius Pilate really existed, aside from the biblical texts. The Pilate stone was created to be used as a part of a set of stairs in Caesarea's Herodion theatre following the orders of Herod the Great. It can now be found in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The Rosetta Stone is a big chunk of granodiorite steel which contains inscriptions of a royal decree during the Ptolemaic dynasty in three different languages: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek. The stone was a very important tool that was used by archeologists to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and understand ancient Egyptian history even more. The Rosetta stone was found in 1799 and was dated as having been created in 196 BC.
The Rosetta Stone was discovered by a French soldier named Pierre-Francois Bouchard during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. However, the ancient hieroglyphics written on it were not deciphered until 1822. Its discovery was essential to our understanding of ancient Egyptian literature and civilization.
The Jesus Boat
The Jesus Boat is also famously known by the name, “Ancient Galilee Boat.” It holds historical significance to the Jews as this shows them the type of boat that was used by their ancestors for fishing and transportation in the 1st century. It was discovered on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel in 1986. Even with the name “The Jesus Boat,” there were no other scraps of evidence found that point to this boat being the one used by Jesus and his disciples.
During a drought, the waters in the Sea of Galilee receded which caused The Jesus Boat to be discovered. It has a measurement of 27 feet long by 7.5 feet wide with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet.
Andrewsarchus is an extinct mammal that lived during the middle Eocene epoch (41 to 48 million years ago) in Inner Mongolia, China. It was only discovered when its skull and a few of its other bones were found in 1923. The shape of the skull vaguely resembled that of a wolf’s, which indicates that this animal was a predator.
The discovered skull can now be seen at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The size of its three-foot-long skull indicates that it was the world’s largest predatory Mammal. Due to the lack of bones found, however, we still do not know anything about what the rest of its body might have looked like.
Mysterious Stone Circles
These giant stone circles that are located in the Middle East have been surrounded by mystery as archeologists are still trying to determine why they are made and how. Tests conducted have shown them to be at least 2,000 years old. These stone circles are fully enclosed with walls that are made from stone. They were only a few feet high and people can easily jump over them to get inside.
Although much is still unknown about them, some researchers agree that they likely would have been constructed during prehistoric times when written language had not yet been invented by the people living in that area. They were only discovered in 1920 by a flying aircraft.
Low dry-stone walls that form lines that are up to 40 miles long were discovered in the deserts of Israel, Jordan and Egypt by British pilots. Viewed from above, these stone wall lines resemble a very large kite, which earned this set of artefacts its name: “Desert Kites.” Almost 2,000 of these Desert Kites have been discovered across Jordan and Syria until today.
Upon further study of the Desert Kites from the Negev and northeast Sinai, it was found that they were established in the late 4th millennium BCE or early 3rd millennium BCE. They were generally believed to have been used to catch herds or groups of wild animals that were consumed for food.
The Gobekli Tepe was discovered in an ancient city in southeastern Turkey by Klaus Schmidt. It is made from very large carved stones that are believed to be as much as 11,000 years old. What is amazing about this discovery is that the prehistoric people who built it had not yet even developed metal tools at the time.
The Gobekli Tepe is composed of more than 200 huge stone pillars that are arranged in 20 circles. Each of these stone pillars has a height of around 20 feet and weighs as much as 20 tons. It is believed by many to be the world’s first temple because of its very old age. It even predates Stonehenge by more than 6,000 years.
This discovery was considered to be the oldest known use of sharpened stone-tipped weapons. These weapons were used by a species called Homo heidelbergensis sometime around 500,000 years ago. This discovery came as a shock for archeologists around the world because, at that time, the consensus was that the first use of these weapons was from 300,000 years ago.
Spears have been used as far back as five million years ago, not only by human species, but also by some species of monkeys. Chimpanzees have been observed to make spears from tree barks and side branches and then sharpen them with their teeth. This discovery, however, was the earliest time in history where spears were equipped with sharpened stone-tips on the ends.
A very disturbing discovery was found in 1888 in Egypt. It was a mummy that was found to be in a position that suggests that that person was screaming in pain while being mummified. It was believed that being mummified alive was a punishment given to that person. There were no records found about who that person was and why was he mummified alive.
The mummified man was given the name Man E. Many believe that he was the son of Ramesses III, who was found to be a traitor. Being mummified alive was supposedly Man E’s punishment for this. Tests conducted with the body revealed that Man E. was around 40 years old at the time of his horrific mummification, which was historically consistent with the age at which Ramesses’ traitorous son died.
Bodies of three Inca children were found frozen near a volcano called Llullaillaco, which is found at the border of Argentina and Chile. What was really amazing with this discovery is that their bodies were mummified because of the freezing cold. Tests were conducted and they have shown that these three children were sacrificed around the year 1500. Large traces of alcohol and coca leaves were also found in their bodies. Coca is the plant the illegal drug, cocaine, is derived from.
It has been found out that these three children were sacrificed in a form of ritual. It was also believed that one of the children held a high status in the society at the time and that the other two were that child’s servants. Substances that suggest that they were sedated before dying were also found in their tiny bodies.
In 1999, skulls that looked very alien-like were found in a small Mexican village. In that place, 25 human skeletons were found but 13 of those had skulls that were very similar to how we now see aliens from movies (with long elongated craniums). Do not get excited too quickly however, because these skeletons were not from aliens but were indeed from humans.
The long elongated skulls from these were probably a result of a process called cranial elongation. It was commonly done by several cultures all over the world and started at around 10,000 years ago. This process commences in childhood when two wooden boards would be used to compress and elongate their skulls. They did this for aesthetic purposes. They also believed that an elongated head was a sign of higher intelligence.
An archeologist named professor Nikolai Ovcharov discovered a skeleton with an iron rod that is driven through its chest while excavating the ruins of Perperikon. The collected evidence suggests that this skeleton died around 700 years ago. This city was inhabited since 5,000 BC but was only discovered 20 years ago. There was also a lot of evidence that pointed to the fact that the site was once a Temple dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek God of wine and fertility.
The custom of driving an iron rod through the corpse of a dead person is believed to be done to stop an evil being from rising from the dead. There were also recorded cases of some people that were accused of being vampires and then killed. Other discovered “vampire graves” were also found; however, in each of these, the skeleton’s head had been removed.
One group of archaeologists has discovered one of the most shocking mass burial sites to ever be found. They uncovered 51 heads and 54 skeleton bodies that were believed to be from Scandinavian Vikings on this site, in Weymouth England. It was shocking because the heads were buried separately at some distance away from the bodies. Tests have shown that these bodies were from around 970 to 1025 AD.
Further analysis of these human remains has shown that all of them were males, and all were less than 25 years of age at the time of their death. The remaining skeletons have also shown a lot of gruesome injuries which makes many believe that these were bodies of Vikings that were captured when trying to invade the Anglo-Saxon territory.
This next discovery is more disturbing than amazing. In 1888, archaeologists found the largest infant mass grave to ever be discovered in an ancient Roman sewer that ran underneath the modern Israeli city of Ashkelon. They found at least 97 infant skeletons in that mass grave. The reason for this mass burial is still unknown as further examination of the remains has shown that the babies were healthy and did not seem to have any illnesses during the time of their deaths.
This mass grave was found under an ancient bathhouse which was also believed by many to have served a dual purpose as a brothel. It was not uncommon in the Roman culture to abandon babies as they believed that new-born babies still could not be considered fully human. An abandoned baby was said to have its fate “left to the Gods.”