The world is older than we ever realize, and every once in a while we get a nice reminder of that. Thanks to archaeology, explorers have been able to traverse caves at the peaks of mountains and the very depths of the oceans looking for keys to our past. Sometimes they find historical oddities, ancient stories and the 12th century equivalent of knickknacks. Every trinket bonds us to the past, making each of them surprisingly precious despite their original intent. And that’s not even considering all of the major impact some of the more significant historical findings made by excavators all around the world have had.
Early versions of holy books, the original attempts at modern technology, and even previously unknown clues about where we come from as a species have all been found. And sometimes, people just straight-up find themselves some buried treasure (i.e. gold and jewels, pirate style). That’s awesome! Even the little random things that probably didn’t matter all that much to people in long forgotten times have proven to be ridiculously insightful and valuable in the modern day. Here are 30 of the most valuable archeological finds of all time.
30 The Cuerdale Hoard
In 1840, some workers in the River Ribble outside the English town of Preston ended up uncovering a lead box in the earth. Inside it was an entire collection of relics left over from Viking expansions into the nation almost a century earlier, now known as the Cuerdale Hoard. Over eight thousand items were recovered from the box, including coins, jewelry, and a whole lot of silver. The whole collection is worth an estimated $3.2 million adjusted for inflation, and much of it is still on display in the world famous British Museum.
29 The Hoxne Hoard
Found in 1992, Peter Watling asked a friend to help him find a lost hammer in a field. While they were looking however, they found a long lost oak chest that was filled to the brim with antiquities from the 4th and 5th century. The treasure (now known as the Hoxne Hoard), worth roughly $3.8 million, was bought by the British Museum and put on display in their halls. And just to make this story even funnier, the hammer that led Watling and his friend to the chest is also on display within the museum.
28 The Staffordshire Hoard
Terry Herbert was looking around with his metal detector in 2009 when he found something huge. Outside Staffordshire, he found himself on top of the single largest Anglo-Saxon treasure found in the history of the country. It had a lot of different items that could be dated back to the 8th century, including everything from religious artifacts and decorative pieces to ancient weaponry and armor. The whole amount of the over three thousand items are actually worth somewhere in the general range of $4.1 million.
27 The Sroda Treasure
Here’s how massive this finding of artifacts was for the Polish town of Środa Śląska: it took three years to find everything. In 1985, an old building in the small village was being demolished when a vase was found beneath the foundations of the place. Workers found over three thousand silver coins inside, some even dating a full four hundred years back. This blew everyone away, and even more so when a nearby building was also knocked down and revealed even more left behind treasures. While it’s argued over how much the treasure would be worth total, it’s been estimated by some to be worth almost $120 million.
26 The Caesarea Sunken Treasure
Scuba diving is a fun and fascinating way to explore the bottom of the ocean, but it’s also proven to be a worthwhile endeavor for some accidental treasure hunting. While exploring the seabed of Israel, a couple divers found a cache of gold coins. After reporting the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority and bringing in a more thorough search, almost a full to thousand coins were found. In total it weighs almost twenty pounds, and has been described as priceless by experts in the field.
25 The Bactrian Gold
Found scattered across six mounts in 1978, the Bactrian Gold was found at Tillya Tepe. The sites belonged to a nomadic prince and five women, believed to be his wives. The thing that makes this treasure so unique is the variety by which it comes. See, pieces of the horde come from all around the globe, with some of the treasures being traced back to China, Greece, and India, making it difficult to assume just exactly how valuable it all is. It was even stolen in the Afghan-Russian war, but has since been recovered.
24 The Rosetta Stone
There’s a reason the language learning program is named after this slab of stone from ancient Egypt. It’s essentially a linguistic decoder for hieroglyphics, a translation for the writings of ancient Egypt and Greek. The stone was found in 1799, and traded hands between the then warring French and British forces in Egypt until it eventually came to Britain. The stone has been described as a priceless artifact, responsible for opening up the past to scholars around the world. It’s also so valuable that the Egyptian government has been trying to get it back for years, arguing it’s worth a fortune and their right to own it.
23 Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most important discoveries in the past hundred years. The world’s oldest biblical manuscripts are ridiculous valuable, with even small scraps of the scroll selling for millions of dollars. A family of Bedouin shepherds first found the scrolls, which quickly caught the attention of the world. But it seems they kept some small pieces of the scrolls for themselves, and are currently selling them for seven figures each. Just imagine what the entirety of the scrolls must be worth…
Here’s one of the biggies in archaeological discovery. The unearthing of the Tutankhamun's tomb, and the artifacts found within, are in part responsible for the rise in exploration in the 20th century. Despite warnings of bad luck, the mask was brought to England and became a huge draw for the national museum. It has become one of the most identifiable pieces of history around the world, and still draws in millions of onlookers every year. Masks of similar size and weight have been auctioned off for $16 million, but this one would obviously set the bar very high for purchase.
21 Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism was one of the things discovered off the coast of Greece in 1901. While the people who discovered it were initially more excited about the coins and statues that were down there, the little hunk of fused metal proved to be the most important discovery of the lot. It’s theorized to possibly be one of the most impressive early computing devices of all time. The tool was specifically constructed and carefully aligned to help predict the movement of the stars. The pieces are now among the most sought after museum galleries in the world, and the search continues to find more of it.
20 Baghdad Batteries
It’s not just the ancient Greeks who were ahead of the curve in technology. Constructed during the first couple of centuries post-AD, a set of jars with a cylindrical iron cladding and a copper spike were found in 1936. It’s been hypothesized that by adding juice to those containers, they might have actually led to an electrical current. As in, people in the 1st century AD might have had limited electricity. Or they could just be vases for scrolls, as many archaeologists believe. Whatever their original purpose, they’ve become highly valuable and sought after, as it was actually looted in 2003 during the Iraq War.
19 Roman Dodechahedra
Just because it becomes an archaeological find, it doesn’t mean we completely understand it. The Roman dodecahedron is a small handheld mesh of bronze (and sometimes stone) that, as the name suggests, has twelve sides. They’ve been found all around Europe, and they don’t seem to have any obvious use. Seriously, we have no real idea why these things are all over the place. But they are still ties to the past that have proven valuable to collectors, with even accurate recreations and replications selling for over $20,000. Just think how much the real things can go for.
18 Mount Owen Moa
Alright, so this is going to sound like something out of a movie, but bear with us because it is 100% true. So in 1986, an expedition went into a set of caves in Mount Own, New Zealand. While they were exploring it, they found a massive claw. But it had been preserved by the ice, making it seem even recent. It was discovered that it belonged to the long extinct Moa bird, a massive and ferocious beast that had previously been a resident of the island. Considering similar remains have gone for millions of dollars, we’re sure the New Zealand National History Museum must be happy to have it.
17 Voynich Manuscript
This is one of the great mysteries of ancient culture, and something literally no one has figured out. The Voynich Manuscript has been dated back to 15th century Italy. It has been analyzed constantly since the mysterious tome was found by antique book collector Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. But despite the best attempts of experts from around the world and across generations, no one has been able to decipher this book. It was eventually donated to Yale University, and remains a mysterious (and invaluable) artifact.
16 Sea Of Galilee Boat
Discovered by a pair of brother fishermen in 1986 off the coast of Israel, the craft proved to have much more historical significance than it initially seemed. It turns out the boat could be dated back to the 1st century, meaning it existed during the life of Jesus, which, as you can imagine, made this a pretty big deal. To excavate the boat, the dig had to be done in secret. It was taken by the Israeli authorities, who have an extensive collection of similar artifacts. The boat is possibly the most valuable of the lot, though, and is potentially priceless.
15 The Uluburun Treasure
A shipwreck off the coast of Turkey (believed to be dated back to the 14th century B.C.) proved to be literally full of treasure in 1982. After a local diver found the wreck, eleven different campaigns to recover artifacts from the site were conducted. It turned out to be one of the largest troves of undiscovered Bronze Age relics to ever be discovered in the world. Among the goods were artifacts from almost ten different cultures from across the globe, and is collectedly worth a massive fortune.
14 Library Of Ashurbanipal
Archaeologists in Kuyunjik, Iraq made a major discovery halfway through the 19th century, and ushered in a whole new understanding of the ancient world. Seriously, the clay tablets that were recovered could be translated and give a broader understanding of the world in 660 B.C. than had been ever previously known, including some of the earliest recorded stories ever written down. It’s been split up somewhat in the years since the cache was first discovered, with each piece of the library being worth millions of dollars alone in the modern day.
Discovered in 1974, a group of paleoanthropologists found hundreds of fossils in Ethiopia. When aligned correctly, it helps recreate forty percent of the skeleton belonging to a young woman from one of the precursor species that led to humanity. Roughly dated to over three million years old when it was discovered, it has provided one of the oldest sources of humanities origins ever unearthed. These remains are so delicate that following an American tour in 2007, they have remained stationary and safe in Africa.
12 Sutton Hoo
Sometimes, asking someone to check out that weird bump in your yard turns out to be a pretty good decision. In 1939 in the English countryside Sutton Hoo, a woman asked an archaeologist to check out the things hidden in her yard. Under the mound was a massive ship ground containing the treasures of an entire ancient warring party. The remains of the ship were full of weapons, jewelry and artifacts, with many of them going to sale to the British Museum and benefiting the founder.
11 Madaba Map
During some major renovations to the Byzantine church of Saint George in 1884, a major discovery was behind the walls of the building. The map depicted by the mosaic is one of the oldest ones in the world, even if large chunks of it had been damaged over the years. Luckily, the most clear and distinctive part of the map that survived happened to be an accurate and beautiful map of the city of Jerusalem itself. It’s one of the most valuable maps in the world,
10 Richard III
Unlike the famed Shakespeare play that shares his name, there was no massive memorial for the real man who inspired the story. In fact, the king was believed to have been lost to history after he was placed at the Church of the Grey Friars, whose actual location was lost over the years. But in 2012, the church was finally found after decades of searching. The site was also found, and became a major national event in Britain. In 2015, Richard was placed inside the Leicester Cathedral, in a vastly expensive event.
9 Treasure Of Childerici Regis
This might be the oldest discovery we talk about in this article, but it’s still one of the most impressive. In 1652, a man working on the church of Saint-Brice was shoveling dirt when he unearthed gold coins. He kept digging and digging, and ended up discovering an ancient tomb (hypothesized to be even a thousand years old by that point alone) just chock full of gold, relics, and jewelry. But the massive collections was whittled down when French thieves stole much of the gold and melted it down in the 1800s. The few remaining pieces are now among the most valuable artifacts ever found by the nation.
8 Elizabethan/Jacobean Jewelry Stash
While demolishing a building in London, a worker drove his pick axe into the cellar floor and found a box completely filled with jewelry. It turned out that the box contained over four hundred different pieces of jewelry, including an extremely rare Swiss watch set with a pure Columbian emerald. But this story just keeps getting crazier, as the workers quickly pawned the goods. But without realizing it, they sold them to a shop that was officially owned by the head of acquisitions for the London Museum. Well played.
7 Stone Spheres Of Costa Rica
In the 1930s, workers from the United Fruit Company were shocked to find a roadblock in their path towards setting up banana plantations. It turns out there were giant, seemingly immobile large stone spheres. Some people thought treasure was hidden in the spheres, which led a bunch of people to try to take them apart with dynamite. Roughly only three hundred survived, and have become national icons to Costa Rica, and have even inspired movies and television from the last few decades.
6 Terracotta Stone People
This is one of the most iconic pieces of Chinese history for the last fifty years, and arguably among the most impressive excavations in Chinese history. In 1974, a group of farmers were digging outside the city Xian when they struck the head of a life-size clay statue. They immediately contacted the Chinese government, whose archaeologists unearthed roughly eight thousand terracotta clay statues. Each statue is highly sought after, as every single one is specifically designed and put together. And even to this day, the pits are still being explored.
5 Earliest Egyptian Writing
It’s important to remember that a lot of the biggest archaeological pushes in culture have come out of the explorations of Egypt. The African nation has been a hotspot for exciting finds for over a century now, with even major discoveries being made in 2016. In that year thirty papyri were discovered that contained the earliest found examples of the Egyptian language in writing. They date back over four and a half thousand years, and have been described as some of the most promising finds in the last few years.
4 King Tut’s Possession
This is the single coolest thing ever. It's like a space sword! Well, knife, but the point is the same. A dagger was confirmed in 2016 to be made of an iron that does not actually exist on the planet Earth, meaning he had a knife that was potentially made out of space metal. And, look, that’s got to be worth all the money in the world, and besides that, it's just plain awesome! That’s literally a weapon from fantasy shows, and it’s so cool that we can find and prove that those kind of things actually exist.
3 The World’s Oldest Cooking Mistake
You’ve inevitably burnt some food at some point in your life of cooking food. It happens to everyone, after all. And that’s what we really like about this find, excavated from Denmark just years ago. This pan is over two thousand years old, and has been described as the ancestor to the kind of non-stick cooking pans that we use for cooking today. What makes it so hilarious of a major discovery is just how much of the burnt food has survived embedded into the pan. Seriously, that was one very ruined dinner.
2 World’s Oldest Dress
Seriously, we just found what is technically now the first dress. In Australia, a clothing garment was discovered alongside a whole host of other artifacts from a long gone society. Alongside one of the earliest discovered stone axes, archaeologists exploring Aboriginal technology from some of the earliest examples of humanity found a dress that might be the first version of such clothing ever made in the world. The fact that we found this is monumental, and could make it potentially the most valuable pieces of clothing in the world.
1 Ancient Ships
After all the previous examples of huge archaeological finds, you should understand what kind of importance and value we’re describing with this one. Found in the Fourni archipelago off the Greek coast, 23 ancient ship wrecks were discovered in the depths. This is on top of an additional twenty two that were identified the previous year. It’s the same place where even the Antikythera Mechanism was found, but it’s crazy to imagine how much potential treasure could still be under the seas.
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