For some, archaeology may sound extremely boring. Constant digging through sand and rocks to discover bits and pieces. But if you are someone like me, history is a thrilling subject. Archaeologists dedicate their lives to discover extraordinary things that give us an insight into how life was in ancient times. Throughout history, ordinary people have managed to become archaeologists, even though it was unintentional. Some of them had no prior history in this field but they managed to unearth some of the most extraordinary items in the world. Call it pure luck or chance, these 10 accidental discoveries have had a profound impact on history.
1. Remains of a giant woolly mammoth was discovered by a farmer.
In 2015, a Michigan farmer named James Bristle was working on his soybean field. One of his friends was there helping him plough the ground when the duo hit something that was out of the norm. At first they thought it was a bent fence post but upon closer inspection, they realized it was a gigantic piece of bone. What they had discovered was the remains of a 15,000 year old wooly mammoth. A team of scientists and paleontologists from the University of Michigan immediately went to the site and were able to recover a skull, two tusks and numerous vertebrae; up to 20 percent of the mammal’s remains.
Renowned mammoth expert Daniel Fisher, from the University of Michigan, was one of the team members. According to him, the discovery may alter the date of the earliest signs of existence in the Americas.
2. French laborer digs up Childeric’s treasure instead of dirt.
Although the find is not a recent one, it is still a significant part of history. On May 27, 1653, French laborer Adrien Quinquin was assigned to dig up dirt on the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai. As he was working, he unearthed gold coins, gold and garnet-ornamented swords, horse fittings and buckles, a solid gold torc, a gold bull’s head, 300 gold bees and a gold signet ring.
What Quinquin stumbled upon was the tomb of Childeric I, king of the Salian Franks. Two centuries after this amazing discovery, the valuable treasures were stolen from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. The thieves managed to melt down 90% of the gold and only left behind two coins, two bees and the sword fittings. As they melted down their greed, they also melted a significant part of history which is now lost forever.
3. Palatial Roman villa in the backyard.
Luke Irwin from Britain was tired of playing ping-pong in the dark. Irwin, a rug designer, and his wife had recently purchased a property and decided to convert the barn into a room where they can play indoor games such as ping-pong. The couple hired electricians and as they were installing cables underneath, they hit a hard layer 18 inches below the surface. It was found to consist of pieces of mosaic. Irwin, who loves reading historical books, knew right away that it was one of Britain’s most extraordinary archaeological discoveries in recent years.
No one since the Romans has laid mosaics as house floors in Britain. Irwin advised the workmen to stop drilling and immediately called Historic England, whose archaeologists confirmed that the mosaic had formed part of the floor of a grand villa built between AD175 and 220. Irwin’s urge to avoid playing ping-pong in the dark led to one of history’s greatest finds.
4. Sponge divers discover the world’s oldest analog computer.
In 1900, Greek sponge divers found a Roman-era shipwreck just off the coast of the island of Antikythera. The ship carrying a huge number of artifacts dating back to as early as the 4th century BCE was discovered 150 feet below the surface. The Antikythera Mechanism, a clockwork device of at least 30 interlocking gears made in Greece in the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, was one among the treasures that was discovered. For over 75 years, the importance of this device went unnoticed.
The device, which is considered to be the world’s oldest analog computer, was used to calculate celestial events and the cycles for the Panhellenic Games. It took scientists seven decades and various tests performed on it before they were able to understand the true potential of this corroded device.
5. A man renovating his house knocks down wall, only to discover the Derinkuyu Underground City.
In 1963, a man in the Nevşehir Province of Turkey knocked down a wall of his home in an effort to widen it. Behind it, he discovered a mysterious room and soon discovered an intricate tunnel system with additional cave-like rooms. What the man accidentally discovered was the ancient Derinkuyu underground city in Turkey. It was one of dozens of underground cities carved from the rock in Cappadocia, which contains an elaborate subterranean network with discrete entrances, ventilation shafts, wells and connecting passageways.
The city was built as a doomsday vault to keep its inhabitants safe during a siege of natural disasters. The caves had a supply of fresh flowing water that was not connected to the surface, as well as communal rooms, tombs, arsenals and escape routes.
6. French teenager discovers the Lascaux cave paintings.
In 1940, 18 year old Marcel Ravidat was walking in the woods outside his home village of Montignac, southwestern France, when he spotted an entrance to a hidden cave. One rumor states that Marcel’s dog chased a rabbit into the cave while another one says he found it himself. Whatever the case may be, Marcel returned to the spot with his three friends and they explored the cave. They were mesmerized by beautiful paintings in the walls and made a pact that they would keep it a secret.
The secret didn’t stay a secret for more than a week when one of the pact members revealed it to a teacher, who happened to be an expert on prehistoric art. In 1948, the cave was opened to the public but when the cave was exposed to foreign fungi and mold from visitors, its condition started to decline. Just 15 years after it was opened, the cave was closed from the public to preserve the paintings. Today, those who wish to see it can take a virtual tour of the cave.
7. Farmers digging a well discover the Terracotta Army.
On March 29, 1974, seven farmers were digging a well outside Xian, China, in an effort to provide water for their village. As they were progressing, the men struck the head of a life-size clay statue. The men immediately informed local authorities who called archaeologists to study the finding. Archaeologists started excavating the site and discovered that the statue was one of an estimated 8,000 terracotta soldiers.
The clay soldiers were comprised of officers, archers, charioteers and cavalrymen, with unique combinations of facial features, hairstyles, postures and armature. The pit was in fact a vast force arrayed to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang who is buried in an unexcavated mausoleum behind them.
8. Demolition crew discover collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean Jewellery.
In 1912, demolition workers were taking down a Wakefield House in Cheapside, London. One of the workers smashed his pickaxe through the cellar floor when it smashed into something else underneath the floor. The worker had actually smashed through a wooden box containing more than 400 pieces of late-16th and early-17th century jewelry, a Swiss watch set in a solid Columbian emerald, a gold, diamond, and emerald salamander, and a Byzantine gemstone cameo.
Archaeologists believe that the box appeared to be the stash of a goldsmith’s working stock hidden under the floor during the English Civil War.The construction workers were quick to grab whatever they could and filled their pockets. They sold the findings to a local pawn shop owner who in fact turned out to be the head of acquisitions for the London Museum.
9. Shepherd boys find the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 1947, three shepherd boys were searching for a goat that went rogue, a mile away from the Dead Sea. Instead of the goat, they stumbled upon a cave and decided to take a quick peek. Inside, they discovered seven papyrus scrolls contained in clay jars.The shepherds sold the scrolls to a local antiques dealer and soon word got out about the mysterious cave and the findings. Archaeologists were quick to discover the cave and several expeditions throughout the years yielded more than 981 texts.
10. Fishermen discover the Sea of Galilee Boat.
The Ancient Galilee Boat is an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century AD. In 1986, two brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan, who were fishermen from Kibbutz Ginosar, discovered the sea of Galilee. Draught had caused the water to recede drastically and the brothers, who were amateur archaeologists, took advantage of the opportunity to dive and find the boat. When experts learned of their find, a team was dispatched to recover the ancient artifact. An excavation took place and after 12 days of careful digging, the remains of the ancient era boat was recovered.
We have heard many stories about people accidentally discovering rare and valuable items. Have you ever been lucky enough to come across a part of history? Let us know through the comments section.