Archaeology, to many, may not seem to be the best of all professions in the world. But it does have its moments. Many archaeological discoveries were made accidentally and their importance was not understood at that time. These discoveries revealed new secrets and offered great insights to our past. Here are some of the greatest archaeological and historical discoveries that happened over time.
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When Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, Pompeii, the ancient Roman town in Naples, was buried under pumice and ash. The city was entirely destroyed and all its inhabitants were killed. Buried under ash with no passage of moisture and air, the buildings, cadavers and other objects remained preserved when the site was rediscovered in 1599, and more exhaustively in 1758. While Pompeii’s destruction was undeniably tragic, we owe a great deal of our knowledge about the Roman Empire to the naturally preserved artifacts.
2. The tomb of Tutankhamun
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The most popular pharaoh ever, Tutankhamun owes his fame to George Herbert and Howard Carter’s discovery of his tomb in 1922. The tomb had more than 2,000 pieces of priceless antiques and Tutankhamun’s mask. KV62, as the tomb was labelled during excavation, was largely intact. The child pharaoh remains a subject of worldwide curiosity even today, and sparks renewed interest in ancient Egypt almost every day. It was a great find that contributed much towards archaeological awareness.
3. The terracotta army
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It’s an army that dates back to third century BC and numbers approximately 8,000 soldiers, 520 horses and 130 chariots. The terracotta army is a mesmerizing collection of sculptures, one of the best examples of funerary art, made for the symbolic protection of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang in his afterlife. Imagine the backbreaking work that went into the entire construction. Discovered accidentally by farmers looking for underground water at Xi’an in the Shaanxi province on 29 March 1974, the terracotta army reveals a great deal about how the Chinese soldiers dressed and equipped back in time.
4. Grave of Richard III
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One of the more recent archaeological discoveries, the burial site of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England who earned infamy as a crookback, prince killer, and nasty power grabber, remained a mystery. The University of Leicester along with the Looking for Richard project, dug up uncovered mortal remains at Leicester Greyfriar’s Friary Church compound in 2012. Lab tests confirmed the remains to be of Richard III, attracting media hype. While the allegations against Richard III are yet to be proved, the king did have a curved spine.
5. Olduvai Gorge
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The 30-mile section in the Rift Valley of Tanzania is much responsible for the evolution of hominins and the continuity of our species. Archaeological discoveries of fossils excavated at the Olduvai Gorge has revealed that the precursor to humans date back more than 1.9 million years. The excavations reveal how humans increased in cognitive and social complexity by using stone tools and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Homo sapiens are believed to have inhabited the Olduvai Gorge since the last 17,000 years.
6. Dead Sea Scrolls
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A collection of 93 texts were found in 11 caves, 2km from Dead Sea, near the ancient Khirbet Qumran settlement in West Bank. These texts are among the earliest known biblical documents in Hebrew, dating back to a 700-year period around the time of Jesus Christ’s birth. The scrolls were first discovered in 1946-47 and are considered among the most important archaeological finds, considering that the Bible is the world’s bestselling book.
7. Easter Island Moai
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Archaeological discoveries have recorded 887 statues on Easter Island in Pacific Ocean. Known as Moai, they are believed to be a tribute to Rapa Nui people and dates back to 1250 and 1500. What makes the statues intriguing, is that they had been carried across the island, which was no mean feat considering the rudimentary technology available at that time.
Also Read: 15 Historical Mysteries that are Unsolved
8. Staffordshire Hoard
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One of the lesser known archaeological discoveries, the Staffordshire Hoard, is the largest catchment of silver and gold metalwork ever retrieved. Comprising more than 3,500 items, the hoard was found buried in a field in Staffordshire County. The discovery, in many ways, changed the known perceptions about Anglo-Saxon England. It accounts for more than 60 percent of all Anglo-Saxon items conserved till date and is valued more than £3 million.