Centuries of archaeological digs have unearthed immense structures, stores of treasure, and intricate burial sites of the ancient rich. We’ve been digging so long that entire towns have sprung up around the biggest sites, and with people living in pretty much every nook and cranny of the world – and let's not forget about global satellite coverage – it’s hard to imagine that there’s much left to explore, unearth, or discover.
Unless you stumble across something right in your own private backyard. Despite all this time we've spent exploring, settling and de-mystifying this great big planet of ours, there are still treasures, big and small, that go unnoticed. Even places we’ve subjected to endless study are still offering up new finds. Stonehenge has baffled researchers for as long as it has been studied, and has recently been revealed to be just a small part of a massive complex, replete with tombs and treasure - it’s also thought to be a location where human sacrifice was ongoing.
The recent Stonehenge revelation proves there’s plenty left to discover even in the 21st century, and the people on this list did just that. From old bones to older weapons to even older bones, pieces left over from long ago have been discovered by average people, and completely by chance. Here are five artifacts that were discovered by accident.
5 A 400-Year-Old Skeleton Found Buried In A Backyard
You know when you go to build a fence in your yard and you start digging, only to discover a skeleton from 400 years ago lying in the dirt? Maybe not. But back in 2013, that’s what happened to one unlucky family in Canada, who then got landed with the $5000 bill for paying an archaeologist to come and excavate the body.
On the one hand – and provided you can see past the gruesomeness of finding a skeleton – it’s kind of cool to happen upon a piece of history like that. On the other, that’s quite a financial shock.
Luckily, local politicians stepped in and promised they’d do everything they could to make sure the family wouldn’t have to pay the money. As for the skeleton, it turned out to belong to a native woman, and was moved to a special section of a cemetery that is devoted to discovered remains.
4 A 3,000-Year-Old Sword Found In A River
This story broke just this month, and it’s probably the coolest thing that could ever happen to an 11-year-old.
Reports say that on July 2, the boy in question stumbled across a 3,000-year-old sword while washing his hands in the Laozhulin River in China. He brought it to his house, which wound up becoming something of a local attraction, and he and his father eventually turned it in to the Chinese government, receiving a reward for their discovery of an object of historical significance.
For its part, the sword is a 26-centimeter bronze short sword, likely ceremonial in nature. Expert Lyu Zhiwei, quoted by Xinhuanet.com, said the sword was “Made in a time of relatively low productivity, its owner would have been an able man with the qualification to have such artifact,” and that “The short sword seems a status symbol of a civil official. It has both decorative and practical functions, but is not in the shape of sword for military officers.”
The same article notes that another bronze piece was found in the region in recent years.
3 A 13,000-Year-Old Mastodon Bone By A Creek
Let’s make one thing clear: mastodons are not small creatures. They’re quite large, mammoth even (though they aren’t mammoths). It's frankly amazing to think that a mastodon’s bones might go undiscovered in an inhabited area for so long: Imagine being those lucky kids who found them.
According to Fox News, 11-year-old cousins Eric Stamatin and Andrew Gainariu made the momentous archaeological discovery while out building a dam on a creek in the backyard, back in 2012. Initially mistaking it for a run of the mill rock, the two figured it might be something more, and fetched out Eric’s father, who confirmed that they had found a bone. The find was later verified by a paleontologist as being a mastodon bone, thus confirming those kids’ status as the coolest 11-year-olds around.
For those not in the know, mastodons are elephant-like creatures that inhabited North America until they became extinct, likely from a combination of climate change and hunting.
2 13,000-Year-Old Tools Found In A Colorado Backyard
Once again, home renovation led to the discovery of the remains of the past, though in this case the find was a trove of 13,000-year-old stone tools, not a skeleton.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that “the 83 stone-cutting implements, some with enough blood residue on them to identify the animals they had been used to butcher, are believed to have belonged to a nomadic people who probably buried the tools for later retrieval, but never returned.”
As an added bonus, finds of this nature are quite rare, and this lot has the distinction of being “the first to identify protein residue from a now-extinct camel that the hunters had perhaps eaten before hiding their equipment and moving.”
The area had been inhabited by Coloradans for quite a while, and it was just by chance that the area where the tools were found had not been dug up before now. The owner, Patrick Mahaffy, had been in the midst of having a pond dug.
1 Roman Treasure Found All Over Somerset
You gotta hand it to Somerset. The little county in South West England seems to be a hotbed for old coins, with multiple troves of silver and bronze coins turning up in the region.
The Guardian reported on one of the biggest discoveries back in 2000. Notable for its size, the find was made on a farm in the area in 1998, when two men with a metal detector found a stash of 9,213 coins, worth about $430,000.
The paper also reported a similar event in 2010, when 52,500 bronze and silver coins were unearthed after another man with a metal detector found a few coins and then alerted experts to the discovery. It quotes a coins expert as saying “The whole hoard weighs 160 kilos, more than two overweight people.” According to the BBC, the collection was eventually valued at, and sold for, over $520,000.
The best part? Both collections were declared treasure, which means they became the property of the finder. Not a bad chunk of change, and a nice validation of the oft' mocked hobby of metal detecting.