Some of the most mysterious wonders discovered by archaeologists
The enormous palace of Knossos dating to about 1950 BCE was discovered in 1900. Its 1,300 rooms, many of which feature walls decorated with colourful frescoes, make it an astounding discovery. But it is the thousands of clay tablets, ordinary at first glance, which are the true find. The tablets are inscribed with previously unknown languages—including the earliest known form of Greek—which took about 50 years to be deciphered.
2.The Oseberg Ship, Norway
In 1903 a farmer in Oseberg, a village about 70 kilometres from Oslo, brought some timber remains to the university museum that he had unearthed from a 20-foot-high mound on his land. A subsequent visit to the site led to a spectacular discovery: a complete Viking ship, impeccably preserved by the blue-clay subsoil, containing numerous artifacts. Measuring 21.5 metres long and 5.1 metres wide, the ship (circa 820) was an incredible treasure to discover, with its rich carved wooden ornaments.
3.The Rosetta Stone, Egypt
Discoveries made by chance are often the most important, such as the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is also thanks to chance that one of the most significant finds for the study of languages was discovered: the Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 by a group of French soldiers in the port city of Rashid (Rosetta), in Egypt. What makes the stone so special is that the Pharaonic decree inscribed on it, dating from 196 BCE, appears in three different scripts: Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Greek, and Egyptian demotic. Twenty-three years after it was found, Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion managed to decipher the Egyptian language, solving a mystery that had remained a secret to that day.
4.The Dead Sea Scrolls, the West Bank
In 1947, while looking for a stray goat near the Qumran site in the West Bank, a young shepherd discovered a set of seven scrolls dating between the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE. Hundreds of other manuscripts were eventually found in nearby cellars. The scrolls contain biblical texts (including copies of Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy) as well as psalms, calendars, and hymns, making them the oldest-known parts of the Hebrew Bible. The texts are mainly written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
5.The Geoglyphs of Nazca, Peru
The Nazca Lines—or geoglyphs—that make up these huge drawings that cannot be seen from the ground were scratched into the earth or created with rocks. Dating to 500 BCE, they were never really “discovered” as they can be seen from the nearby hills and local inhabitants of this Peruvian plateau likely knew of their existence all along. It was not until the 1940s, however, that American historian Paul Kosok began to seriously study them.
6.The Gate to Hell, Turkey
Pluto’s Gate, or the Gate to Hell for the not so faint of heart, is a stone monument dedicated to the god of the same name, built in the second century BCE in Hierapolis, Turkey. The gate is aptly named as deadly vapours waft out of the cavern on which the “gate” was built. Discovered in 1965, the site revealed two more discoveries in 2012. A team of researchers found two unique marble statues which served as guardians to the mysterious and deadly cave.
7.The Antikythera Mechanism
This 2,000-year-old mechanism, found in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in the early 20th century and then forgotten until the 1950s, is the first known computer in history. To be exact, it’s the first scientific calculator, with an intricate system of gears that can calculate with incredible precision—remember, it was built circa 200 BCE—the position of the sun, moon, and planets by entering the date. It’s a remarkable discovery of ancient engineering. Fun fact: there’s also a Lego version.
8.The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript
An elaborate hoax or the real deal? Either way, this 234-page book (with 13 missing folios) of unknown origin was purchased by Polish book collector and seller Wilfrid Voynich in 1912. Only 33 pages contain text—the rest are illustrated with simple drawings and illuminations. The book is allegedly 600 years old and is thought to come from Central Europe. The problem is that the writing is completely unintelligible. The manuscript could be one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history, a mystery that has kept people guessing since the Middle Ages or the Renaissance.
9.King Tutankhamun’s Tomb, Egypt
Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered in 1922 by excavators led by Howard Carter. As a result of the quantity and spectacular appearance of the burial goods it attracted a media frenzy and became the most famous find in the history of Egyptology. The death of Carter's patron, the Earl of Carnarvon, in the midst of the excavation process inspired speculation that the tomb was cursed. The discovery produced only limited evidence about the history of Tutankhamun's reign and the Amarna Period that preceded it, but it provided insight into the material culture of wealthy ancient Egyptians as well as patterns of ancient tomb robbery.