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.
Ireland’s Newgrange is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids but sadly much less famous. One of the most important megalithic structures in Europe, the large circular mound was built between 3000-2500 B.C. Though its original purpose is unclear, scientists believe it could have been a religious center. The most popular time to visit is on the winter solstice, December 21st, when the interior chamber is clearly illuminated. It’s very difficult to score a ticket as only 50 people (plus a guest) win the lottery to see it from the inside on that day.
Though paintings have taught us that early Mesoamericans such as the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice, most of the evidence only came from these artworks. In 2004, archaeologists found one of the most gruesome sights they would ever see. In the well-known Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, 12 bodies (10 with their heads chopped off) were found alongside the decomposed remains of powerful animals such as pumas, eagles, and wolves, finally giving us our first physical evidence of the practice.
The Grauballe Man
In the longest-lasting missing person case on Earth, the Grauballe Man died when he was about 30 years-old but was found over 2,300 years later, nearly perfectly preserved. Often called “one of the most spectacular discoveries from Denmark’s prehistory,” this corpse was found in a peat bog with its throat slit from ear-to-ear, a sign of a human sacrifice in that era.
Terra Cotta Warriors
The Terra Cotta Army which protects the tomb of China’s first emperor is one of the best known archaeological discoveries of all time. Emperor Qin Shi was surrounded by thousands of clay soldiers, each with their own facial expressions and designs, to protect him in the afterlife. Though his tomb has yet to be found, over 8,000 clay soldiers, horses, chariots, dancers, and musicians have already been unearthed.
The key to understanding the Ancient Egyptians, the Rosetta Stone allowed archaeologists to decipher their language as the stone was written in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. On view at London’s British Museum since 1802, the stone is the most impressive but not the only multi-lingual inscription found thus far.