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.
Sometimes called the first temple in the world, Gobekli Tepe was built 6,000 years before Stonehenge. This archaeological wonder was originally thought to be a standard cemetery until German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt began digging. His hunches served him well as he uncovered what’s believed to be the world’s first purpose-built “cathedral on a hill.”
Tomb of Sunken Skulls
Archaeologists are still debating the purpose of a burial ground in southwestern Sweden. Informally known as the Tomb of the Sunken Skulls, the dried-up lake bed hosts a collection of 11 buried skulls, two with stakes jammed through their craniums. The leading hypothesis is that local nomadic hunter-gatherers moved the bodies to the lake bed after they initially decomposed. Some believe they were enemy skulls, brought back on stakes as a sign of victory.
Olmec Colossal Heads
The Olmec colossal heads are some of the most unique archaeological discoveries ever revealed. Massive carved boulders, the colossal heads likely represented local rulers of the Olmec people who lived in southeastern Mexico up to 3,000 years ago. Up to 11.2 feet (3.4 m) tall and weighing up to 50 tons – that’s 34 Volkswagen Beetles! – the heads are carved with flat noses, fleshy cheeks, and individualized headdresses symbolizing a leader.
The Voynich Manuscript is one of the only yet-unsolved manuscripts in the world, even undecipherable by World War II code-breakers. Mostly filled with herbal and astronomical illustrations, the text is written in an unknown language. What is known is that it was likely made in Northern Italy sometime in the early 1400’s.
Rapa Nui (AKA Easter Island) is a Pacific island full of mystery. The most remote inhabited island on Earth, Rapa Nui is famous for the unique artistic design of its moai: massive statues representing Rapa Nui ancestors. First settled by Polynesians in the 4th century, Easter Island had 3,000 locals when the Spanish first arrived and counted the population in 1770. Only a century later, the population had mysteriously declined to 111 inhabitants. Today, the island has a permanent population primarily sustained by tourism.