Archaeology is one of the most fascinating fields of study in the world. Though it’s not all about spelunking through cave systems and exploring the depths of ancient pyramids, archaeology can still be full of mystery and wonder. In this list, we’ve gathered some of the most exciting and intense archaeological discoveries from the past few centuries. Not every day or even every year yields amazing discoveries, but the ones on this list have changed history forever, often rewriting it and changing our conceptions or understanding about our ancestors and our planet.
You’ll read about bloody human sacrifices; a subterranean city which seems like it came right out of a Dan Brown novel; the ancient world’s first computer, which was way before its time; and countless human tombs, including a baby disposal where newborns were tossed in a sewer. You’ll even learn about a centuries-old manuscript which not even World War II code-breakers could decipher. Maybe you’ll want to have a go at it? Impress your friends and family with your newfound knowledge, most of which Indiana Jones himself doesn’t know. (And not just because he’s fictional.) Dig into this list of 25 Intense Archaeological Discoveries Which Rewrote History.
Northern Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important archaeological finds on our list. While paleontologist Mary Leakey was searching the area, she found evidence of our earliest human relatives by digging up Homo habilis: our two million year-old hominid ancestor. (In contrast, our species, Homo sapiens, only appeared about 17,000 years ago.) Combined with similar discoveries in nearby countries and later ones at the site, it has become clear that humans evolved out of Africa.
Israel’s southern coast is home to one of the most gruesome archaeological finds on our list: a baby dump. The bones of almost 100 decomposed infants were found under a Roman bathhouse in one of the largest baby graves found thus far. It is believed the babies were tossed in the sewer just hours after birth. None of the hypotheses for the disposal have held up, including the killing of female children and the discarding of unwanted babies by the prostitutes.
Ancient Honduran City
Seeming like a planet from a Star Wars movie, archaeologists have discovered an ancient city full of abandoned homes, irrigation channels, and giant statues in the Honduran forests. The scientists have used laser technology to map the heavily forested area’s topography but still aren’t sure to which civilization it belonged. Since thieves have destroyed many of our great historical treasures over the millennia, the site is protected by the Honduran military, and its location has not been disclosed.
Under our noses for centuries, the Nazca Lines were finally re-discovered in 1927. Massive etchings in the Peruvian desert floor, the lines form the shapes of animals such as a monkey and killer whale. Only noticeable from nearby hilltops or while flying overhead, some of the shapes stretch for over 660 feet (200 m), and some of the lines for over 5.6 miles (9 km). Though we’re still not sure why they exist, it’s believed they served a religious purpose.
If archaeologists look for motherloads, they have found it. Diggers have recently discovered an entire subterranean city complex in Cappadocia, central Turkey, able to house well-over 20,000 people. Though excavations are ongoing, initial findings have found water channels, air shafts, wineries, chapels, kitchens, bedrooms, and more. It’s believed the tunnelled city helped its inhabitants escape from danger on the surface level. Tourists may be able to visit up to 371 feet (113 m) below the Earth’s surface once the Turkish government approves it for visitors.