Ever since watching and falling completely in love with Indiana Jones and his many adventures, I have always found the digging up of treasures fascinating. Whether it be in movies, via Harrison Ford, or video games, like Tomb Raider, unearthing artifacts is a very impressive job. What if an archaeologist discovers something as important as the next Dead Sea Scrolls? Or perhaps proof beyond Plato’s reasoning for the lost city of Atlantis? It would be hard to argue how much of a hero one would be if they stumbled upon something of that magnitude.
Beyond Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and its quest to find the Ark of the Covenant (which we will touch upon later), there is something to be said about the dedication it takes to make these discoveries. Years and years of hard work can sometimes lead absolutely nowhere. Again, what if the find was something with religious ties to it? I, for some reason, can only picture the movie Stigmata (1999) when I think of religious ties and archaeology.
I can surmise that there is still much to be discovered, who and when it is found remains the actual question. In the interim, let’s look at some unexpected archaeology gold that has been unearthed dating back centuries in some cases. Did you know about all of these, or were some a complete surprise?
On the southern coast of Israel lies a city by the name of Ashkelon. In this town is a bathhouse, and below this bathhouse nearly 100 baby bones were unearthed. Upon an initial examination, it was discovered that all of the bones were intact. Speculation arose that these unwanted babies were simply tossed into the sewer below the bathhouse. The absence of telltale signs in an infant indicated that these infants most likely died shortly after birth.
Essentially, the babies were unwanted and tossed aside, left to either be cared for, or killed. The worst part? In these times, it was completely legal. Yeah, let that sink in.
In the 16th century, the decomposition of bodies was not common knowledge. The Venetian plague of 1576 led most people to foster belief in vampires. Upon digging graves and finding bodies bloated and still growing hair, it caused panic. “Vampires” eventually became commonly known in Venice as “shroud-eaters.” This nickname stemmed from the fact that the shrouds covering the deceased faces were found decayed, revealing the corpse’s teeth.
It was believed that these shroud-eaters would go from grave to grave spreading pestilence to suck the little life left of corpse’s and gain strength to walk the streets again. To stop the disease being spread, a brick would be inserted in the mouth of the deceased. Of all the vampire tales out there, this one certainly has a unique spin.
The Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, was buried in 210-209 BCE. Buried along with him were thousands of clay soldiers, chariots, horses, and cavalry horses in a militant fashion. Specifically, 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. This overzealous protection for the Emperor was thought to be his guarantees in the afterlife. These figures varied in height by their roles, with the tallest being generals, for example.
The discovery was made in 1974 by local farmers digging a water well. To this day, less than 1 percent of Emperor Qin’s tomb has been excavated. Fear of damaging artifacts along with safety hazard concerns have attributed to this as well.
An Athenian statesman, lawyer, and poet by the name of Solon supposedly heard a tale of Atlantis from Egyptian priests who claimed that the Athenian people perhaps had some sort of mental block concerning the truth of their history. The Athenian people forgot because every so often, their civilization was destroyed by catastrophes.
More often than not, this city is seen as more fictional and a sort of political power play on the part of the philosopher, Plato; others believe it's rooted in the truth of a real disaster. There have been many theories and scholarly research; some people think Atlantis is based on a true ancient superpower.
Did Plato know about the lost city, or was it a conjecture? Was it a peaceful existence once upon a time, or, was this a political play on Plato’s part?
The Copper Scroll is part of the extraordinary Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. This particular scroll was discovered by an archaeologist in 1952, at the back of cave 3 in Qumran. The Copper Scroll ended up as the last of fifteen scrolls found. While some scrolls were written on parchment, this one was written on copper mixed with approximately 1 percent tin. Since the metal had corroded, it could not be viewed by conventional means. In 1955, the Copper Scroll was cut into 23 strips and pieced carefully back together.
Unlike the other scrolls, which contained literary works, the Copper Scroll included a list. Deciphered by John Marco Allegro, he figured out it held 64 locations where massive amounts of treasure could be found. There are over 6,400 references to precious metals listed on the scroll; this puts it at an excess of a billion dollars.
“Flores Man” nicknamed “hobbit” (no, not the loveable Frodo or Sam), is an extinct species in the Homo genus category. In 2003, at Liang Bua, a limestone cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia, the bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third of an average human was unearthed. The discovery of these bones was by a joint Indonesian-Australian team of archaeologists looking for clues of the original human migration from Asia to Australia. The almost entirely intact bones they found were a surprise and dubbed the name “LB1”. Excavations after LB1 recovered several additional skeletons, some dating back 74,000 years. Since these bones had the same consistency of “wet blotting paper,” the bones had to be left to dry before being to be dug up. Also present in the cave were stone implements sized proportionately to someone who would be 3-foot-tall.
In October of 2004, Homo floresiensis was unveiled and nicknamed “Hobbit” after J.R.R. Tolkien’s popularized fictional race.
There is Stonehenge, and then there is Super Henge. Super Henge is 15 times the size and located a mere 2 miles away from the widely-known Stonehenge. This recent discovery was found by British archaeologists. The finding of this was announced more recently in September of 2015, at the British Science Festival in Yorkshire. Simply put, everything scientists and researchers know about the original henge may need to be reevaluated. These huge stones were discovered at the Durrington Walls, which is surrounded by a 58-foot long ditch that has a land enclosure of approximately 1 mile in length. This monumental landscape is associated with the Late Neolithic period dating back 4,500 years. I think we can all agree that these rock formations have more stories to unearth that we have found currently.
Carved in 196 BC, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-François Bouchard of the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt. Bouchard, along with other French soldiers, were constructing Fort Julien in Egypt near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) by the Nile Delta. This stone was written in two languages (Egyptian and Greek), with the use of three different scripts: hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. Numerous scripts were used because that is how many existing languages were in Egypt at the time.
Hieroglyphics were used for important or religious documents, demotic script was the common script of Egypt, and Greek was the language of the rulers of Egypt at the time. The text itself was written by a group of priests to honor the Egyptian pharaoh and lists all of the good he had done for the priests and people of Egypt. However, the deciphering of the text didn’t happen until 1822 by Jean-François Champollion. He could read both Greek and Coptic and, by using his knowledge of these languages, was able to figure out what they meant.
In April of 1952, in the city of Grauballe, Denmark, a body was discovered by men cutting peat in a field. What makes this find so remarkable is how well-preserved the body was. Known as a “bog body” (human cadaver that has naturally mummified in a peat bog), the commonly known Grauballe man still had his hair and fingernails intact. One of the peat diggers, Tage Sorensen, used his spade to dig and hit something he knew was odd. Once seeing the head, he alerted a local doctor and archaeologist. From what could be seen of the body, it appeared as though his throat may have been slit. As human nature has always bred nosiness, locals came to see what the commotion was about and one accidentally stepped on the Grauballe man’s head. His body was removed to a museum, still encased in peat, the next day.
Radioactive-carbon tests placed this man at around 55 B.C., which is a similar timeframe to Julius Caesar’s existence.
What exactly are the Dead Sea Scrolls? Well, they are a collection of approximately 981 different texts discovered between the years 1946 and 1956. They were found in the Qumran Caves (Judean Desert), which is a little over a mile from the Dead Sea.
Of the 11 caves these texts were found in, caves 1 and 11 produced relatively unscathed manuscripts. With scholars and archeologists working hard to uncover more truths about these mysterious texts, they discerned that two categories were appropriate for them: biblical and non-biblical. The languages these were written in? Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.
Another interesting find for archaeologists in connection with these scrolls are the ancient ruins of Qumran. They were excavated in the early 1950's.
The time is June 2009. The place is a town called Weymouth in Dorset, England. The reason it’s on this list is because 54 dismembered skeletons and 51 skulls were unearthed by archaeologists. These remains are thought to be from the Middle Ages between the 5th and 10th centuries. Through science and analysis, the remains have been conclusively decided to have belonged to Scandinavian Vikings. Mostly males ranging from the age of 18 up to the age of 25, the bones showed no sign of wounds from battle, thus leading researchers to believe it was an execution. With 54 dismembered skeletons and only 51 skulls found, it is also believed that perhaps the three remaining skulls were kept as souvenirs and placed on stakes. What immediately comes to my mind is Vlad the Impaler. Again, we are talking about the Middle Ages here, so it’s also a very likely possibility that it was a show of power to overthrow, or set an example against, an enemy.
A gold-covered wooden chest as described in the Book of Exodus as containing two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on it has been the subject of much speculation in regards to it being found. Also referenced as the Ark of the Testimony, this mystery has yet to be unsolved. Dating back to biblical times, the Ark was created by a pattern given to Moses by God on a 40-day stay on a mountain top in Mount Sinai.
Although there has been no substantial proof of its discovery, there have been claims of possible locations. In 100 BC a prophet, Jeremiah states being warned by God, took the Ark, the Tabernacle, and the Altar of Incense and buried them in a cave on Mount Nebo.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to possess the Ark. After a lot of back and forth claims to unveil its existence in said church, it was never unveiled, and only the word of a patriarch was given. The actual claims have yet to be substantiated.
Southern Africa, Europe, and Egypt have similar claims to having it over the years. However, nothing concrete has come to light as of yet. Well, at least from what I’ve found.
In 1898, scientific inquiry into the Shroud of Turin began. It wasn’t until the year 1969 that scientists were granted permissions to examine the shroud; this was the setup of the “Shroud of Turin Research Project” led by the United States. This project consisted of 33 members with high credentials, equipment weighing in the tons, and shifts lasting 24 hours a day. The conclusion states that it is an image of a real human form of a crucified man, not the product of an artist. However, under the circumstances, nothing could adequately account for the image.
The shroud is a 53-foot square linen believed by many Christians to be actual burial garment of Jesus Christ. There were carbon-14 tests done in 1988 stating that the shroud is from an age many years beyond the life and death of Jesus Christ. Speculation that the testing was flawed came into question with a vehement denial that it was indeed flawed. Even with all of the research, labor hours, and testing, the question of all questions remains: how did that image get onto the shroud?
As the only surviving structure of the seven wonders of the world, it comes as no surprise that the pyramids of Giza made it to almost the top of this list. The great pyramid, built between 2589 BC and 2504 BC, has one thing historians can agree on: it took massive amounts of labor to complete them. For approximately 3,800 years, the pyramid stood as the tallest structure in the world (that spot is currently taken by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). And although it may not be the tallest structure anymore, and technological advances have vastly improved, the pyramids have yet to be replicated with the precision it took initially. Over 2 million blocks averaging about 2.5 tons each make up this massive structure. Even though the Great Pyramid is located in the deserts of Egypt, the interior of the structure stays at an even 68 degrees Fahrenheit on average.
Greek historian Herodotus believed it took around 20 years and 100,000 men to complete this task. However, archaeological evidence suggests it was more likely to be around 20,000 people. Either way, that's one hell of an army to accomplish such a task.
Tutankhamun, more commonly known as King Tut, was only 19 years old when he died. There has been much debate surrounding his death such as whether or not it was accidental. The tomb he was buried in was much smaller than someone of his status would have typically received. Splotches on the wall in his tomb could indicate that it was a rushed burial and that the paint hadn’t been dry by the time he was buried.
In 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered an almost entirely intact tomb, causing worldwide press coverage. This find breathed new life into the public’s interest of King Tut, whose mask was now at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Exhibits of artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb have gone around the world and continue to interest many. Some mysterious deaths of a few people who excavated King Tut’s tomb led to the belief of the “curse of the pharaohs.” As with the news, though, it was most likely a hyped up story for circulation, much like celebrity gossip these days.