Top 10 Rare and Important Archeological Finds


In archaeology, an artifact is an object recovered which may provide cultural interest and help in the understanding of human history.  In the last 100 years, a large collection of important archeological discoveries have been made.  Some of these artifacts have helped people understand the origins of life on Earth, while others have presented problems for scientists.  An out-of-place artifact is an object of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest found in a very unusual or seemingly impossible context.  Hundreds of artifacts have been located and studied with some remarkable results.  This article will examine ten rare archeological discoveries.

10. Jordan Lead Codices

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On March 22, 2011, a man named David Elkington, who is a scholar of ancient religious archaeology, issued a press release stating that a hoard of ancient books had been discovered in Jordan.  The books are made of lead and copper, probably dating from the 1st century AD.  Elkington said that the discovery might be as important as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He also stated that the items were discovered 5 years ago in a cave by a Jordanian man and smuggled into Israel.  The archeological find was described as 70 ring-bound books (codices) made of lead and copper.  Many of the artifacts are sealed on all sides.  Scrolls, tablets and other objects, including an incense bowl, were also found at the site.

Rare Discovery  

Some of the words in the codices are written in a form of archaic Hebrew script with ancient messianic symbols.  The story was quickly picked up by the BBC, the Daily Mail and other media outlets.  The article by the BBC stated that “The books could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave.  They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.”

The Israeli man who currently owns the codices has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims the books have been in his family for 100 years.  The Jordanian government disagrees and says it will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.  The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by the followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.  Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin for the codices lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

A number of experts have urged skepticism about the books until further investigation can be conducted.  Several scholars have pronounced the Jordan lead codices as fakes.  One such publication is quoted, “The Greek is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958.  The forger couldn’t tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda.  The Hebrew script is taken from the same inscription.  The Hebrew text in “code” is gibberish.  The “Jesus” face is taken from a well-known mosaic.  The charioteer is taken from a fake coin.”  The facts surrounding the codices remain a controversial topic.

9. Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi is a plateau in the Andes Mountains located east of Lima, Peru.  The area rises over the Rimac River.  In 1952, a man named Daniel Ruzo made a remarkable discovery in the area.  He found hundreds of stone figures that resemble human faces and animals, some 90 feet tall.  The most famous formation was called The Monument to Humanity because it purportedly shows the major human races of the world.  The mountain sized rock formations of Marcahuasi have created controversy in the scientific world.  Many educated people have claimed that the structures were formed by natural erosion.

Rare Discovery 

Some of the famous rock formations at Marcahuasi include the goddess Thueris the Anfichelidia, the valley of the seals, the lion of Africa, the vicuna, and the frog.  After discovering the area, Daniel Ruzo made some bizarre accusations surrounding Marcahuasi.  He wrote that the sculptures were made ??by a culture named “Masma” or “Fourth Humanity” almost 10.000 years ago.  According to Ruzo, every 8,500 years the planet Earth suffers disruptions that threaten the existence of all living beings.  Ruzo published articles stating that Marcahuasi was the site selected to preserve the knowledge of humanity.  Man-made or not, Marcahuasi remains a remarkable archeological discovery that has become a popular tourist destination.

8. Rat King

Ratking, preserved at the museum Mauritianum in Altenburg, Germany.

Ratking, preserved at the museum Mauritianum in Altenburg, Germany.

Rat kings are formed when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails and get stuck together with blood, dirt, ice, excrement or simply knotted.  The animals grow together forming one large beast.  The earliest report of a rat king comes from 1564.  Historically, the rat king was viewed as a bad omen, and probably with good reason.  Rats carry a number of diseases, perhaps most notably plague, so it is understandable that people would associate bad luck with a large cluster of rats.  Diseases tend to arise more readily when animals are confined close together, so the location of a rat king could be a breeding ground of disease.

Rare Discovery 

Specimens of purported rat kings are rare and kept in some museums.  The largest well-known mummified rat king was found in 1828 in a miller’s fireplace at Buchheim, Germany.  It consists of 32 rats.  The rat king is currently located in the museum Mauritianum in Altenburg (Thuringia).  In 1930, a specimen was found in New Zealand that is displayed in the Otago Museum in Dunedin.  It was composed of immature Rattus rattus whose tails were entangled by horse hair.  Relatively few rat kings have been discovered in history.  Depending on the source, the number of reported instances varies between 35 and 50 finds.

The occurrence is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of rat kings have been located.  In April 1929, a group of young forest mice was reported joined in Holstein, Germany, and there have been sightings of squirrel kings.  Most rat kings show formations of callus at the fractures of their tails, which according to proponents show that the animals survived for an extended period of time with their tails tangled.  A mummified rat king can help provide an understanding of the movement of rat populations.  Sightings have been sporadic in modern history, with some rat kings being reported alive.  The most recent claim comes from an Estonian farmer’s discovery in the Võrumaa region on January 16, 2005.

7. Sea of Galilee Boat

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The Sea of Galilee Boat is an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century CE (the time of Jesus Christ), discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.  The remains of the boat were found by brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan, fishermen from Kibbutz Ginnosar.  The brothers are amateur archaeologists with an interest in discovering artifacts from Israel’s past.  They found the ship after a drought reduced the water-level of the lake.  The men reported their discovery to the authorities who sent out a team of archaeologists to investigate.

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Realizing that the remains of the boat was of tremendous historical importance to Jews and Christians alike, a secret archaeological dig followed, undertaken by members of Kibbutz Ginosar, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and numerous volunteers.  The boat measures at 27 feet (8.27 meters) long, 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide and with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet (1.3 meters).  Excavating the boat from the mud without damaging it was a difficult process that lasted 12 days and nights.  The boat was then submerged in a chemical bath for 7 years before it could be displayed at the Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar.

The Sea of Galilee boat is made primarily of cedar planks joined together by pegged mortise-and-tenon joints and nails.  It has ten different wood types, suggesting either a wood shortage or that it was made of scrap wood.  The boat is historically important to Jews because it is an example of the type of boat used by their ancestors in the 1st century.  Previously only references made by Roman authors, the Bible and mosaics have provided archeologists insight into the construction of these types of vessels.  The boat is also important to Christians because it was the type of vessel that Jesus and his disciples used, several of whom were fishermen.

6. Andrewsarchus

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Roy Chapman Andrews was an American explorer, adventurer and naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History.  He is primarily known for leading a series of expeditions through the fragmented China into the Gobi Desert and Mongolia.  In the summer of 1923, Andrews began his third Asiatic expedition in the Gobi Desert, while in Mongolia, a member of his team named Kan Chuen Pao discovered an enormous skull of an unidentified mammal.  The lower jaw of the creature was not found.  After investigation, the mammal was given the classification of Andrewsarchus mongoliensis.

Rare Discovery 

Andrewsarchus lived during the Eocene epoch, roughly 45 and 36 million years ago.  They had a long snout with large, sharp teeth and flat cheek teeth that may have been used to crush bones.  Because Andrewsarchus is only known from a single skull, whether it was an active predator or merely a large scavenger is open to debate.  The artifact is an enormous skull (32.8 in/83 cm long and 22/56 cm wide).  If Andrewsarchus was proportioned in the same manner as Mesonyx obtusidens, it had a length from the snout to the back of the pelvis of about 11 feet (3.4 m) and a height from the ground to the shoulder or middle of the back of about 6 feet (1.8 m). In round numbers, it is possible that the creature may have been the largest land-dwelling carnivorous mammal known.  The cranium is twice the length of a modern Alaskan brown bear and about triple the length of an American wolf.

Studies have placed Andrewsarchus in the 1000 kg (2200 lb) size range, but if the animals were robust, some specimens might have weighed up to 4000 pounds.  The appearance and behavioral patterns of Andrewsarchus are virtually unknown and have been the topic of debate among paleontologists ever since it was first discovered.  Andrewsarchus possessed some of the strongest jaws ever evolved in a land mammal, well able to bite through large bones if needed.  Andrewsarchus may have fed on beached primitive whales, shellfish and hard-shelled turtles, as well as contemporary large mammals.  The creatures were related to cloven-hoofed animals, such as pigs and deer, so they probably had hooves rather than paws.

5. Uluburun Shipwreck

Wooden model from the Shipwreck from Uluburun.

Wooden model from the Shipwreck from Uluburun.

The Uluburun shipwreck is a Late Bronze Age shipwreck dated to the 14th century BCE.  It was discovered off Uluburun (Grand Cape) situated about 6 miles southeast of Ka?, in south-western Turkey.  The wreck was first discovered in the summer of 1982 by Mehmed Çakir, a local sponge diver from Yalikavak, a village near Bodrum.  Between the years of 1984 to 1994, eleven consecutive campaigns took place totaling 22,413 dives, and revealing one of the most spectacular Bronze Age treasure troves ever discovered in the Mediterranean Sea.  On its final journey, the Uluburun ship was sailing to the region west of Cyprus.  The objects aboard the ship range from northern Europe to Africa, as far west as Sicily, and as far east as Mesopotamia, exhibiting products of nine or ten different cultures.

Rare Discovery 

The ship, which was about 50 feet long, was built of cedar in the ancient shell-first tradition, with pegged tenon joints securing planks to each other and to the keel.  Some of the hull planks were preserved under the cargo.  They were fastened with pegged mortise-and-tenon joints.  Upon discovery, there has been a detailed examination of Uluburun’s hull, but unfortunately no evidence of its framing.  The ship carried 24 stone anchors, which are of a type almost completely unknown in the Aegean.  The Uluburun ship’s cargo consisted mostly of raw materials and trade items.

The artifacts discovered include copper cargo totaling ten tons, approximately 175 glass ingots of cobalt blue turquoise and lavender, ivory in the form of whole and partial elephant trunks, hippopotamus teeth, Cypriot pottery, a ton of terebinthine resin in amphorae, a large collection of gold artifacts, ebony logs from Egypt, and ancient weapons.  The ship carried one ton of tin.  The tin from Uluburun is, at this time, the only pre-Roman tin with a reasonable provenance.  The Uluburun shipwreck has fed into virtually every aspect of research on trade and society in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and Levant.  It has helped historians understand the intensity of commercial trade during the Late Bronze Age.

4. Kabwe Skull

Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Kabwe skull is a hominin fossil frequently classified as belonging to Homo rhodesiensis.  In 1921, the cranium was found in a lead and zinc mine in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (now Kabwe, Zambia) by Tom Zwiglaar, a Swiss miner.  In addition to the cranium, an upper jaw from another individual, a sacrum, a tibia, and two femur fragments were found.  The remains have been dated to between 125,000 and 300,000 years old.  The skull is from an extremely robust individual, and has the comparatively largest brow-ridges of any known hominid remains.  It was described as having a broad face similar to Homo neanderthalensis (large nose and thick protruding brow ridges), and has been interpreted as an “African Neanderthal.”

Rare Discovery

Research into the Kabwe skull has pointed to several features intermediate between modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthal.  The skull has cavities in ten of the upper teeth.  It is considered the oldest occurrence of cavities for a hominid.  Pitting indicates significant infection before death and implies a cause attributable to dental or chronic ear infection.  A number of Internet sites have described the fact that the skull displays a circular hole about 8 mm in diameter located on the side of the head.  The injury doesn’t have radial split-lines that would be visible had the hole been made by a cold projectile, such as a spear.  It looks similar to a bullet hole.  Sasquatch enthusiasts have become interested by the facial features of the creature, including a pronounced brow-ridge, large eyes, and a pointed head.

3. Tomb of Philip II of Macedon

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Vergina is a small town in northern Greece, located in the peripheral unit of Imathia, Central Macedonia.  The town became internationally famous in 1977, when the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, who is the father of Alexander the Great.  In 1977, Andronikos undertook a six-week study near Vergina and found four buried chambers, which he identified as undisturbed tombs. Three more tombs were found in 1980.  The discovery was a defining moment in archeology, but the identification of the tomb as that of Philip II has been disputed.

Rare Discovery

The most widely published theory is that one of the tombs discovered is that of Philip II of Macedon.  A 2010 study by Musgrave, et al. found that the cranium of the male skeleton discovered was deformed by a possible trauma.  The finding is consistent with the history of Philip II who suffered a facial injury during his lifetime.  The other tombs in the same complex are of great importance.  Some of the artifacts discovered were dated to the time of Alexander III.  It is plausible that at one time, before plundered, one of the tombs contained the personal items of Phillip II son, Alexander the Great.

Since the archeological discovery, a museum was inaugurated in 1993.  It was built in a way to protect the tombs, exhibit the artifacts and show the tumulus as it was before the excavations.  The tomb of Philip II was separated into two rooms.  The main room included a marble sarcophagus, and in it was a larnax made of 24 carat gold and weighing 11 kilograms.  Inside the golden larnax were the bones of the dead and a golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns.  In 1978, another burial site was discovered near the tomb of Philip II.  It has been reported to belong to Alexander IV of Macedon, the son of Alexander the Great.

2. L’Anse aux Meadows

Norse long house recreation, L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Norse long house recreation, L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Helge Ingstad was a Norwegian explorer.  In 1960, Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine, an archaeologist, discovered remnants of a Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, located in the Province of Newfoundland in Canada.  L’Anse aux Meadows is the only known site of a Norse village in Canada, and in North America outside of Greenland.  It remains the only widely accepted instance of a pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.  The land is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Ericson around 1000.

Rare Discovery

L’Anse aux Meadows is conclusive evidence that the Greenlandic Norsemen found a way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.  Archaeologists determined that the site is of Norse origin due to the similarities between the characteristics of structures and artifacts in Greenland and Iceland.  L’Anse aux Meadows represents the farthest known extent of European exploration and settlement of the New World before the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

The remains of eight buildings were located at L’Anse aux Meadows.  They are believed to have been constructed of sod placed over a wooden frame.  Artifacts found at the site include a large collection of common everyday Norse items, as well as objects related to iron working, carpentry and boat repair.  In addition to the European settlement, evidence of at least five or six separate native occupations have been identified at L’Anse aux Meadows, the oldest dated at roughly 6,000 years ago.  Archaeologists believe that the site was inhabited by the Norse for only a relatively short period of time.  This fact caused Ingstad to speculate that the Vikings traveled farther into North America.

Two Icelandic sagas, commonly called the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, describe the experiences of Norse Greenlanders who discovered and attempted to settle land to the west of Greenland, identified by them as Vinland.  Recent archaeological studies have suggested that L’Anse aux Meadows is not Vinland, but was located within a land called Vinland that spread farther south, extending to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick.  In 2011, studies were released that show some Icelanders may be direct descendants of Native Americans.  The data was gathered from analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child.  Scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found in Native Americans.

1. Ardi

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Ardi is the designation of the fossilized skeletal remains of a female Ardipithecus ramidus, an early human-like species 4.4 million years old.  It is the most complete early hominid specimen in existence, with most of the skull, teeth, pelvis, hands and feet intact.  Fossils of Ardi were first found in Ethiopia in 1994, but it took 15 years for scientists to assess their significance.  Ardi is a more complete set of remains than the Australopithecus Lucy, which was discovered in 1974.  She is a more primitive hominid standing at 4 feet (120 cm) tall and weighing around 110 pounds (50 kg), Ardi was about 6 inches taller than Lucy but almost double her weight.  The skeleton was discovered at a site called Aramis in the arid badlands near the Awash River in Ethiopia.

Rare Discovery 

Ardi has feet that are better suited for walking than chimpanzees.  Her canine teeth are smaller than humans, and equal in size between males and females.  This suggests reduced male-to-male conflict, pair-bonding, and increased parental investment among species.   “Thus, fundamental reproductive and social behavioral changes probably occurred in hominids long before they had enlarged brains and began to use stone tools.”  The remains shows evidence of small skull capacity akin to that of apes and a bipedal upright walk akin to that of humans, providing further evidence supporting the view that bipedalism preceded increase in brain size in human evolution.  Researchers have inferred from the form of Ardi’s limbs and the presence of her opposable big toe that she was a facultative biped, bipedal when moving on the ground, but quadrupedal when moving in trees.

In trees, Ardi was nothing like modern apes.  Modern chimps and gorillas have evolved limb anatomy specialized to climbing vertically up tree trunks, hanging and swinging from branches, and knuckle-walking on the ground.  The wrists and finger joints of Ardi were highly flexible.  As a result she would have walked on her palms as she moved in the trees.  Wear patterns and isotopes have suggested a diet that includes fruits, nuts, and other forest foods.  On October 1, 2009, the journal Science published an open-access collection of eleven articles, detailing many aspects of A. ramidus and its environment.  “What Ardi tells us is there was this vast intermediate stage in our evolution that nobody knew about,” said Owen Lovejoy, an anatomist at Kent State University in Ohio.

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  1. Nice shot at a difficult list, i disagree with dennis in that although the dead sea scrolls are important there are several far more important discoveries – Exempli gratia:

    the rosetta stone is a given, probably would have been better named 10 unusual archaeological finds

    But asides that some nice stuff there.