Archaeologists devote their lives to unravel the material history of the world. However, even ordinary people can make accidental discoveries without even realizing it. Imagine discovering an entrance to ancient catacombs in your backyard — wouldn’t that be cool?
Here is a list of such accidental archaeological findings, some of which have had a profound impact on history. Be prepared for some digging!
1. A farmer discovered a giant woolly mammoth
James Bristle and his friend, both farmers, were digging in their soybean field as usual when they realized they hit something. It was nothing else than the discovery of a 15,000-year-old giant woolly mammoth which took them by surprise. The incident took place in 2015 in southern Michigan where a skull and two tusks were discovered along with the vertebrae.
This discovery might alter the date of the earliest signs of existence in the Americas. While examining the remains, renowned mammoth expert Daniel Fisher, University of Michigan, confirmed that it should have been killed by humans, proving that humans existed even before the Clovis era, which is a theory that’s still in its nascent stage.
2. A worker dug up Childeric’s treasure instead of dirt
The image you see above is a signet ring which is a part of Childeric’s treasure. It is a heavy gold ring 27mm (one inch) in diameter, which indicates that Childeric had big fat fingers. This finding isn’t a recent one.
In 1653, a laborer named Adrien Quinquin was digging on the land of the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai when, instead of dirt, he discovered gold coins.
Apart from CHILDERICI REGIS, the ring in the picture, he also found a hundred more coins, swords made of gold and garnet, horse fittings and buckles, a gold torch, a gold bull’s head, and 300 gold bees.
3. The Grauballe Man: an extraordinary mummy
It was a typical peat bog where workers were digging for peat when one of the workers suddenly realized his spade had not touched the peat but something else. It was the mummy of the Grauballe Man; the hair on his head and even his fingernails were intact even after centuries. This mummy was the very first to be fully preserved as a fully intact body.
It was confirmed that it dated back to the late third century BC and has been researched on many occasions since its discovery. In 1955, the body was relocated to the Moesgaard Museum next to Aarhus for public viewing. In addition, all his fingers were still in place so that scientists could take his fingerprints.
4. Did hobbits exist?
A group of archaeologists from Australia and Indonesia was looking for proof of human migration from Asia to Australia. However, the discovery of hobbits was an entirely unplanned event that took them by surprise as they discovered a complete skeleton of a hominin.
Could hobbits possibly be deformed, modern humans? Or were they a totally different species? The mystery has not been totally solved yet, but a lot has been cleared up. A research team unearthed a skeleton of a woman in the Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia in 2003.
Sifting through it, they concluded that the woman must’ve been of small stature. However, it was even more mysterious that she had an unusually small brain. Some claim that this species was a part of evolutionary dwarfism. Nevertheless, many questions are still unanswered regarding which species of human is their immediate ancestor.
5. Palatial Roman villa in the backyard?
It was total luck for British rug designer, Luke Irwin when he asked the electricians who were working in his backyard to lay cable wires underground, not overhead. The digging led to the finding of an ancient palatial Roman villa. Just like Irwin, archaeologists were also astounded by the discovery.
During the digging, a hard layer 18 inches below the surface was discovered which had pieces of mosaic clearly visible. According to the archaeologists, this is a crucial discovery similar to Chedworth and could open a vast base of knowledge about British history as the Romans dominated it.
6. Two German hikers bumped into Otzi the Iceman:
Two German tourists were hiking at the mountain pass of Hauslabjoch and Tisenjoch when they made the discovery of a lifetime. It was the oldest known natural human mummy in Europe. The tourists first mistook it for the deceased body of a mountaineer. The mummy was discovered in September of 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, from all of this it earned the nickname Otzi.
The discovery was significant because it cast a light on the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) Europeans. Another intriguing story involving Otzi is that some people involved in his discovery have died under mysterious circumstances implying that Otzi is cursed. However, scientists say that not a few but hundreds of people are working on the mummy and are absolutely fine.
7. The Derinkuyu Underground City is an incredible network of tunnels
It was in 1963 when a man found a mysterious wall structure behind one of the rooms in his home. He called archaeologists for further investigation, and they found a whole passage of tunnels, which is now famously known as The Derinkuyu Underground City.
It is believed that the city was built in the Byzantine era to protect the inhabitants from Muslim-Arabs during the Arab—Byzantine wars. The tunnels were generally used by Christian natives, and they were thought to have given shelter and provided food saving approximately 20,000 people.
The underground city is in the Derinkuyu district of the Nevşehir Province in Turkey. It has been open to the general public since 1969.
8. The breathtaking Lascaux cave paintings
18-year-old Marcel Ravidat happened to discover the stunning entrance to Lascaux. Taken by surprise, he returned to the site with three friends, where they saw that the rock walls of the caves were full of depictions of animals. Later, Ravidat was recognized for his finding.
The cave opened to public for visits on 14 July 1948. Nevertheless, due to problems including air pollution, dust, and carbon dioxide exposure, the paintings started to lose their original characteristics. It was then decided to close the attraction to tourists. The paintings were then restored to their original form, and a strict daily monitoring system was put in place. These paintings mainly depict the Upper Paleolithic era.
9. Jehoash Inscription
This finding of the Jehoash Inscription was surrounded by plenty of controversies when it was initially discovered on a building site and Muslim cemetery close to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. Once the inscription was decoded, it was revealed that it talked about the repairs made to the temple in Jerusalem by Jehoash.
The controversy is whether the inscription is authentic or is a modern-day forgery. The Israel Antiquities Authority had raised doubts over its authenticity.
10. Sea of Galilee boat under a lake
Two fishermen from Kibbutz Ginnosar, brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan, were amateur archaeologists that were keen on finding artifacts from Israel’s early days. It was when the water receded quickly in the sea of Galilee because of a draught that a boat was exposed and caught the attention of the brothers.
An expert team undertook the digging work of the boat that lasted for 12 days and nights. The boat was a significant discovery as it not only depicted the kind of boat used by Jews in the ancient era, but it was also thought to be the kind of boat Jesus had used. These kinds of boats are mentioned several times in the Gospels.
11. Horse and chariot pits in Zhou Dynasty tomb
Scientists and archaeologists think that this burial pit belonged to one of the noble families of the Zheng state (806–375 BC). The grandeur of this find is commendable as was witnessed by the diggers of the tomb headed by Ma Juncai.
The dig was conducted in central China, in the city of Xinzheng, where dozens of chariots and almost 100 skeletons of horses were discovered that are more than 2400 years old. One of the highlights of this excavation endeavour was a chariot that was 2.4m long and around 1.7m wide and adorned with bronze and bone.
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Preview photo credit ZHANG XIAOLI, XINHUA/FAME/BARCROFT/National Geographic
This article (11 Breathtaking Archaeological Discoveries That Happened By Accident) was published by Thinking Humanity and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to thinkinghumanity.com