The ancient world was fascinating, different and almost completely lost but thanks to modern science and archaeological teachings, people have managed to discover many great things from the past. These discoveries have opened gates to the understanding of the past of the earth, flora, fauna and even space. Historians and researchers spend decades trying to study, excavate and uncover lost artifacts, scripts and even cities that were considered lost or simply a myth. Archaeological Discoveries are one of the most labor, tech and finance intensive projects but despite the shortcomings many things have been unearthed.
Here are the 10 Greatest Archaeological Discoveries of all Time.
10. Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are one one of the many religious finds of the 20th century. They refer to the ancient Jewish manuscripts found in about 11 Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea. The scrolls are written in Hebrew and have both biblical and non-biblical material. The discovery of these scrolls had one of the biggest media coverage during the mid 20th century. These scrolls held 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms. Moreover, the scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.making it one of the biggest religious discoveries in modern times.
9. Nazca Lines
The Nazca Desert Lines refer to a series of large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, in Peru. The Nazca people created the lines, supposedly between 500 BC and 500 AD, by the careful removal of the reddish iron oxide pebbles that make up the desert surface. These geoglyphs depict animals along with geometrical & humanoid figures, covering an area of nearly 1000 sq. kms. The first report of discovery (and realization of the patterns) of the Nazca Lines was during the early 20th century when planes were first flying over the area. Archaeologists discovered intricate geometric designs suggesting that the Nazca might be one of the earliest examples of applied geometry.The purpose of these lines are still not understood. Some claim that they were made as a ritual while some suggest the involvement of scientific study among the Nazca people.
8. The Library of Ashurbanipal
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal refers to the collection of tablets and fragments containing texts from the 7th century BC. It’s named after Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The library’s discovery is a topic of debate but it is mainly credited to Austen H Layard. Considered the oldest surviving library, it holds around 30,000 cuneiform tablets. It holds the Epic of Gilgamesh which is now considered the oldest literary work. Archaeologists believe that Ashurbanipal’s library inspired the idea behind the Library of Alexandria and many other famous ancient libraries.
7. The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone refers to a part of a large stone tablet with hieroglyphs which was discovered by French soldiers during the French occupation of Egypt in 1799. The stone provided the key to deciphering hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian script that had confused scholars for centuries. The stone features not one but three different scriptures: hieroglyphics, the sacred script of the empire; Egyptian demotic, the common language; and Greek, the official language under Macedonian-ruled Egypt. The stone is considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries. It is prized as the greatest translation tool for the in-depth understanding of hieroglyphs.
6. Terracotta Army
In 1974, while digging a water well, Chinese farmers discovered the Terracotta Army of China in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province. It depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China and dates back to the 3rd Century BC. Archaeologists discovered three deep pits containing the Terracotta Army that held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Most of them were placed near Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.The army was built and eventually buried along with the emperor in 210 – 209 BC to protect him after his death.
Rapa Nui, popularly known as the Easter Islands houses the infamous giant human head monoliths called the Moai. While the iconic mage of the giant heads are known all over the world, archaeologists have also uncovered the bodies associated with the heads. They found interesting discoveries that further the knowledge of the Easter Island civilization and culture. The Rapa Nui people carved the monoliths between 1250 and 1500 AD. However, the western world only discovered it during the 1700s. Gradually after their discovery, archaeologists took 9 years to study and uncover over 1000 statues within the islands.
The legendary city of Pompeii is one of the biggest success stories of archaeology. Having excavated an entire city buried within volcanic ash, the discovery of Pompeii was a worldwide sensation. The city was buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Until its initial rediscovery in 1599, the site was considered to be lost for about 1500 years. Almost 150 years later, in 1748, a broader rediscovery by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre uncovered the city to the world. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and garners over 2.5 million tourists to Italy from all over the world.
3. Tomb of Tutankhamun
In 1907, American lawyer Theodore M. Davis discovered some funerary artifacts with Tutankhamun’s name on them. He suggested an archaeological dig within that area but failed to find his tomb. Despite the failure, a different group of researchers went on to excavate the nearly intact tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The discovery caused one of the biggest media sensations in history. King Tut’s artifacts and mask were made iconic symbols to Egypt itself. Moreover, the various deaths linked to those who tried to excavate his tomb before has been attributed to the curse of the pharaohs. His mummy along with all his art, jewelry, clothing and artifacts have been featured in various museums all over the world and have spiked a worldwide interest in Ancient Egyptian culture.
2. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the most well recognized images in the world. It is Peru’s most popular tourist site and the most familiar icon of the Inca civilization. Archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who reigned from 1438–1472 AD. The accidental discovery of the site was lead by Hiram Bingham in 1912. He had arranged for an expedition to discover the capital of the Inca Empire but eventually happened to discover the Machu Picchu after talking to the local farmers. The discovery prompted archaeologists and historians to further their study on the Inca culture and civilization.
The Legend of Troy, especially the Trojan War is one of the most memorable tales ever told. The ancient city was long believed to be a myth until archaeological digs by Frank Calvert excavated trenches in a field within the city of Hisarlik, in modern-day Turkey. Following his steps, in 1868, German-American adventurer Heinrich Schliemann funded a dig to discover the city. The discovery of Troy was particularly difficult because the outdated technology and scattered information leaded many to question its existence. The city has been the center of various Greek literary works like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Its discovery is considered as the biggest archaeological dig in history and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
From stones, to an army to an entire city, these are the greatest archaeological digs of all time.