Some of humanity’s most epic and paradigm-shifting discoveries have come completely by accident. Many have significantly shaped our interpretation of the past.
Even inventions like the microwave, Teflon, and super glue were created on the backs of accidental discoveries. Shoutout to the slinky, too!
Our understanding of hitherto existing society is constantly changing, shaped by new interpretations, information, and discoveries. Archaeological excavations will continue to shape the way we view the past, given that they’re tangible relics of different eras in human and world history.
Many of the greatest facets of human culture are predicated on the advancements of accidental uncoverings and innovations.
Check out 30 of the most amazing archaeological discoveries in human history that continue to shape the way we think of the past and present. Expect the unexpected!
1. Sea of Galilee boat
The remnants of the so-called “Jesus Boat” were discovered in the Sea of Galilee by fishermen brothers in 1986. Abnormal conditions exposed the boat off the northwest coast. The vessel resembles those mentioned in the Gospels. Some assume it’s the kind of boat Jesus used.
2. Lascaux cave paintings
In 1940, 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat stumbled upon the entrance to Lascaux in Montignac, France. The famous illustrations feature what look like horses and bulls. In fact, the walls are riddled with over 600 paintings, mostly of organisms from the Upper Paleolithic era. The cave features only a single human figure.
3. Jehoash Inscription
This artifact’s origins are mired in controversy surrounding its discovery and authenticity. The item’s text refers to Jehoash and repairs made to a temple in Jerusalem. The inscription’s controversial existence has been met with fierce legal debates and investigations. Carbon examination supports the artifact’s authenticity.
4. The Derinkuyu underground city
In 1963, a man found an unusual wall structure behind a room in his house. Archaeologists eventually uncovered a vast series of tunnels now known as the Derinkuyu underground city. The tunnels have been open to the public in Turkey since 1969. The underground city has enough space for an estimated 20,000 people!
5. Otzi the Iceman
Meet Otzi the Iceman. He was discovered by chance in 1991 by two German tourists on a mountain hike in the Ötztal Alps lining the Austrian–Italian border. The discovery sheds light on Copper Age Europeans.
Otzi the Iceman. It has a nice ring to it.
A team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists was looking for proof of previous human migration from Asia to Australia. Instead, the team discovered something completely different – the potential existence of Hobbits. Well, more like a dwarf form of modern humans. The skeleton of an abnormally small woman was found in 2003 on the island of Flores, Indonesia.
7. Roman villa
British rug master Luke Irwin required underground wires, prompting an excavation for non-archaeological reasons. Thus led to the discovery of an ancient Roman villa, buried underground. Some archaeologists suggest that the discovery may provide deep insight into the past Roman rule of Britain. Imagine having a giant Roman villa in your backyard.
8. The Grauballe Man
On a regular workday, peat workers dug into an accidental discovery in a peat bog. Enter the mummified Grauballe Man. He’s been dated back to the 3rd century B.C. His hair and fingernails are amazingly still intact!
9. Childeric’s treasure
Childeric I lived during the 5th century A.D. He was a Frankish king during the rule of the imperial Roman Empire. This image depicts a signet ring found among Childeric’s treasure when his tomb was accidentally discovered hundreds of years ago. Some of the treasure was later stolen and melted for the gold.
10. World War II explosives
Construction workers in Belgrade found an unexploded bomb buried 20 feet below downtown. The bomb had been there since 1941, smack in the middle of World War II. It weighed over a ton! Fortunately, the bomb was safely excavated and destroyed in 2016.
11. Wooly mammoth
Michigan farmer James Bristle was simply digging holes for drainage when he struck something special. His discovery turned out to be the skeletal remains of a wooly mammoth! Fortunately, the findings were very well-preserved. Most of the head and tusks were found intact.
12. The Edinburgh vaults
The Edinburgh vaults of Scotland have a remarkable history. In the 1980s, a bar owner by the name of Norrie Rowan was attempting to hide his Romanian friend who had defected to the UK from the secret police. The discovery led to both his escape and the rediscovery of the Edinburgh vaults.
The timely discovery saved a life and uncovered a long lost underground gem!
13. Venus de Milo
A farmer by the name of Georgios found the famed Venus de Milo in 1820. The sculpture depicts the goddess Aphrodite. Georgios was actually plowing a field when he stumbled upon a cave. The cave contained the marvelous statue, which now belongs in the Louvre.
14. The Lyceum
Artistole formed his own university called the Lyceum in 335 B.C. The school and its artifacts were eventually lost, later eluding 100-year rediscovery attempts. Then one day in 1997, the Lyceum was found at a construction site coincidentally amid plans for the Museum of Modern Art. The historic remains have been turned into an outdoor museum, instead.
15. The Banwell Caves
The Stalactite Cave, one of the Banwell Caves of England, was discovered accidentally by local miners in 1757. The cave was then left untouched for another 50 years. Since the location was so inconvenient, another cave – the Bone Cave – was found amid plans to create a more suitable entrance. The so-called Bone Cave housed animal bones upon discovery.
16. The Ruins of Serdica
Engineers excavating a new portion of a metro system in Bulgaria stumbled upon the lost city of Serdica. Constantine the Great – the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire – lived here for a year in search of a new capital city. Further examination uncovered mosaics, bathhouses, and sewage systems. How do we lose entire cities?!
17. The Xian Terracotta Army
In Xian, a giant collection of terracotta warrior sculptures surround the tomb of China’s Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. They’ve been there for over 2,200 years! But they were uncovered by a Chinese farmer about a quarter of a century ago. He was digging a well when he found the magnificent terracotta pieces!
18. Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone’s one of the most significant discoveries ever. The stone was discovered in 1799 by French soldiers enlarging a fort in Egypt. The tablet dates back to 196 B.C., featuring an inscription in three separate scripts and a way to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The stone has had a significant impact on broader culture, even serving as the marketing basis for a popular foreign language service of the same name.
19. The Dead Sea Scrolls
In early 1947, a Bedouin shepherd found the scrolls in a cave after throwing a rock. Little did he know that his discovery would have a huge influence on our perception of history. The documents provide insight into the origins of Christianity and the Hebrew Bible. They have been studied thoroughly since being unearthed.
20. The ghostly remnants of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Well, the sight in Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius wasn’t exactly pretty. Even though many knew of the pending doom, some stuck around. The solidified remnants of human bodies were found, compacted by ash and mud. The scene’s rather ghostly.
21. Chinese mummy
In the Chinese city of Taizhou, road workers uncovered a tomb in 2011. They were simply widening a road before striking something solid and unfamiliar. Upon excavation, archaeologists found a preserved woman. She still had her eyebrows after 600 years!
Pompeii wasn’t the only city ravaged by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Far fewer people know about the destruction of Herculaneum. The area lied downwind of the eruption, meeting its fate hours after Pompeii. The ruins were rediscovered by a farmer digging a well in 1709!
23. The Uluburun shipwreck
The Uluburun shipwreck dates back to the 14th century B.C. The vessel’s remnants were found off the coast of Turkey accidentally by a local sponge diver. The initial excavation attempts took over 10 years! Now, the ship is considered to be a marvel of the Late Bronze Age.
24. Headless Vikings
In June of 2009, British road workers discovered the skeletal remains of 51 men! Carbon dating demonstrates that they were Vikings. And they had been decapitated… Researchers suggest they were likely executed for crimes. Human history is seriously ridiculous.
25. World Trade Center ship
In 2010, an excavation near the ruins of the World Trade Center revealed the remnants of a wooden ship. The vessel dates back to the 18th century. Researchers believe it was abandoned by the city of New York around 1790. The famous Independence Hall in Philadelphia was made from the same type of timber.
26. Israeli treasure from the rule of Alexander the Great
Members of the Israeli Caving Club found an assemblage of rare treasures while spelunking in a stalactite-filled cave in Northern Israel. Some of the coins are historically relevant.
Researchers believe the treasure was minted during the late 4th-century B.C. at the beginning of the Hellenistic Period of Alexander the Great. Bracelets, earrings, and a clay lamp were also found in the cave.
27. Early American skeleton
In 2007, divers in the Yucatan Peninsula found the skeletal remains of a human in an underwater cave. Carbon dating of tooth enamel helped shed some light on the findings. The remains are estimated to be up to 13,000 years old! Now, the discovery is considered to be the most complete ancient skeleton found in the Western hemisphere.
28. The Antikythera mechanism
The Antikythera mechanism stumped researchers for a long time. The analog device was found amid the remnants of a long lost Greek cargo ship, at least 2,000 years old. Some speculate that it’s an intricate astronomical calendar. This device predates similar mechanisms by about 1,000 years!
It’s even recognized as the world’s oldest analog computer.
29. The Cheapside Hoard
This exquisite collection of jewelry totals nearly 500 pieces, dating back to the early 17th century. The hoard was discovered accidentally by workers in London excavating a cellar in 1912. The set is composed primarily of Jacobian and Elizabethan jewels.
They look absolutely marvelous.
30. The stone spheres of Costa Rica
Banana plantation workers for the United Fruit Company discovered these large spheres in the 1930s. The giant structures stood in the way of the company’s bulldozers. There are about 300 of these spheres known to exist in Costa Rica. Researchers date them back to 600 B.C.