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.
The discovery of Ashurbanipal’s Library at Nineveh (modern-day Mosul, Iraq), is one of the greatest archaeological finds in history. To establish a center for knowledge and learning, King Ashurbanipal ordered the collection of all written works in Mesopotamia. The library boasts over 30,000 inscribed clay tablets, giving us a deeper comprehension of multiple societies including the Assyrians, Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians.
Headless Vikings of Dorset
Though archaeology may seem like a field for old men with gray hair, the field is very much alive! In 2009, archaeologists digging in southern England found 54 decapitated skeletons alongside 51 skulls. It’s believed the bones belong to Vikings who were raiding the English coast from 910-1030 A.D.; the were likely overpowered by local Anglo-Saxons who arranged their corpses and skulls as a sign of victory.
As Captain Barbossa says to Elizabeth Swan in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, “You’d better start believing in ghost stories – you’re in one!” Belief in vampires was prevalent during the 16th century with many believing the blood suckers helped spread disease such as the Bubonic plague. Scientists digging up a mass grave near Venice found an exceedingly rare sight: a human skull with a brick in its mouth. The skull belonged to a woman who was believed to be both a vampire and a witch. Thus, the people of her time shoved a brick into her mouth to stop her feeding on plague victims.
The First Chemical Warfare
Though chemical warfare is outlawed under modern war conventions, that didn’t stop the Persians from using it around 256 A.D. While attacking the Roman city of Dura (modern-day Syria), the Persians tunneled under the fort to breach its walls. The Romans built counter tunnels to fight the Persians before they could enter, but the invaders built fire pits throughout the tunnels. Adding sulfur and bitumen to the fires created the poisonous sulfur dioxide gas, killing many of the Romans in their tracks.
The Antikythera Mechanism is one of the most amazing archaeological discoveries both on our list and in history. Referred to as an Ancient Greek computer, the Antikythera Mechanism was an astronomical clock which precisely tracked the movement of the heavens with rotating hands, interlocking gear wheels, and multiple dials. Though it was found at the turn of the 20th century, it took researchers 70 years to figure out its purpose. Believed to be 1,500 years ahead of its time, archaeologists are still baffled how the Ancient Greeks could have created the device.