30 Fascinating and Mysterious Archaeological Discoveries
Archaeological discoveries are fascinating because they provide a glimpse into the everyday lives of past civilizations. And archaeological discoveries with a mystery surrounding them are particularly captivating.
From a mysterious manuscript written in a different language to Californian geoglyphs, here are 30 archaeological discoveries that simply cannot be explained.
Stone Spheres in Costa Rica
Huge stone spheres dot southern Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta. Locally, they are called Las Bolas (the balls). There are around 300 stone spheres, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Created by indigenous people in Costa Rica, the spheres were preserved from the looting that occurred on other Costa Rican archaeological sites because they were buried by thick layers of sediment.
The Nazca Lines of Peru
Giant designs of plants, animals, lines and shapes are etched into the ground in Peru. Called geoglyphs, the ancient Nazca people created them. The 2,000-year-old geoglyphs are located 250 miles south of Lima, and they are best viewed from the air. They consist of more than 800 straight lines, 300 geometric designs and about 70 animals and plants.
The Blythe Intaglios: America’s Nazca Lines
Etched in the ground of the California desert are intaglios, or geoglyphs, that depict large human figures made 450 to 2,000 years ago. Known as the Blythe Intaglios, the biggest of the figures are more than 170 feet long. They remained undiscovered until 1932, when pilot George Palmer noticed them while flying from Las Vegas, Nevada to Blythe, California.
When large pillars were first discovered in 1994 in a rural area of Southeastern Turkey called Gobekli Tepe, some claimed it was the biblical Garden of Eden. The site is set atop a hill and consists of mostly oval and circular-shaped structures. Each pillar weighs 40 to 60 tons, is 9.8 to 19.6 feet tall and 33 to 98 feet in diameter with floors made of burnt lime.
Underground City in Cappadocia, Turkey
A region in central Turkey called Cappadocia is renowned for having underground houses, churches and cities. In 1963, a man renovating his home discovered a secret passage leading to an underground city called Derinkuyu. Construction workers discovered another underground city similar to Derinkuyu in 2013 while demolishing houses around a Byzantine-era castle in Nevşehir. Like Derinkuyu, the site contains water channels and air shafts.
Divination Shrines in Gegharot, Armenia
Archaeologists discovered three shrines during excavations in 2003 to 2011 in Gegharot, Armenia. The shrines, which are about 3,300 years old and date back to the Bronze age, are located on a hilltop fortress. Each shrine has a room with a clay basin containing ceramic vessels and ash. Artifacts were also discovered, including: animal bones, clay idols, drinking vessels and grain grinding tools used to make impressions in dough.
The Copper Scroll Treasure
An archaeologist discovered an ancient copper scroll in 1952 at Qumran, located in the present day West Bank in the Palestinian territories. Qumran’s archaeological ruins date back to the Iron Age, as it’s also the site where Bedouin found the famed Dead Sea Scrolls. But unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll is not a copy of biblical books. It lists valuable items, including gold and silver, and is written on copper and not papyrus or parchment.
The Golan Structure
A plane first noticed the Golan structure while surveying the Golan Heights in 1968. It consists of an outermost ring that is 500 feet wide and about 5,000 years old. There is also a labyrinthine structure of basalt rocks weighing about 40,000 tons with a large burial chamber in the middle. The structure is called Rujm el-Hiri in Arabic, which means “the stone heap of the wildcats,” and Gilgal Refaim in Hebrew, meaning the wheel of giants.
An archaeological site exists in Salem, New Hampshire originally called Mystery Hill. It consists of a one-acre grouping of stone-structures and rocks. The site was first discovered and explored in 1937 by William Goodwin, who bought the land where the site is located. Whether it is truly ancient or not remains a mystery.
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
The ruins of a four-story building sit in Coolidge, Arizona. Known as the Casa Grande Ruins, the ancient Sonoran Desert civilization, the ancestors of the O'Odham, Hopi and Zuni people built it using adobe. The structure is 60 feet tall by 40 feet wide at the base. Experts believe the complex included a few other adobe structures, including a ball court, and had a wall surrounding it.
More than a hundred years ago, an artifact was discovered in a sunken Greek cargo ship dating back at least 2,000 years to the end of the 2nd century. Known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the circular bronze device has a design of interlocking gears and characters. Although its use is not fully known, it is thought to be a type of astronomical calculating device.
Malta’s Cart Ruts
A prehistoric site in Siġġiewi, Malta, contains mysterious deep tracks carved into the area’s limestone called cart ruts. There are numerous cart ruts in a place named Clapham Junction, or Misrah Ghar il-Kbir, as the Maltese call it. Archaeologist David Trump, who has excavated Malta since 1954, calls the cart ruts “one of the most intriguing problems in Maltese archaeology.”
A medieval book nearly 250 pages long is considered to be the “world’s most mysterious manuscript.” A citizen of Prague named Georgius Barschius mentioned the manuscript in a letter in 1639, explaining he had a book written in an unknown language that was illustrated with pictures. The book changed hands many times until a Polish-American antique bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, acquired it in 1912.
A group of mounds in Pakistan called Mohenjo-Daro is located on the banks of the Indus River in the northern Sindh province in Southern Pakistan. First excavated by archaeologists in 1911, the site was constructed about 2,500 B.C. The ruins represent a major center of the Indus civilization, what was once the largest city of the ancient civilization.
Underwater Monument of Yonaguni
Off the Japanese coast, there’s an underwater monolith some call “Japan’s Atlantis.” The submerged structure looks resembles a huge pyramid, and was discovered by a scuba diver named Kihachiro Aratake in 1987. Soon after his find, researchers began to explore the underwater monument. Since then, it has become a tourist attraction that attracts divers willing to deal with strong currents.
Sandby Borg Massacre Site
Archaeologists conducting excavations on Öland island off the coast of Sweden (in the Baltic Sea) were surprised to find skeleton feet in the doorway of the remains of a fifth-century house. After digging up the rest of the body, they encountered evidence that the person had been murdered. Next to the skeleton, they found another one. Additionally, they kept finding skeletons in nearby remains of houses.
A City Built on Corals
Near the Micronesian island of Pohnpei exists the ruins of a city first inhabited during medieval times. Designated a National Historic Landmark, the city Nan Madol (meaning ‘within the intervals’) is located on a coral reef in a lagoon on the Temwen Island. It was inhabited for 500 years, from 1200 to 1700, and was a fortress, marketplace, religious center and enclave for royals.
The Amazing Sacsayhuaman Walls of Peru
Three stone walls located near Cuzco, Peru, amazed the Spanish conquistadors who landed in the area. The three walls are about 1,110 feet in length by 19 feet in height, built from limestone blocks weighing about 300 tons each. Called Sacsayhuaman (meaning ‘royal eagle’), it was once an Incan fortress-temple complex and is still used for reenactments of ceremonies inspired by the Inca. It is the largest structure the Incas built.
The Cochno Stone
In 2016, archaeologists excavated a slab of stone 5,000 years old in Glasgow, Scotland, then reburied it. The stone, known as the Cochno Stone, is 43 feet by 26 feet with swirling designs called “cup and ring marks” that have been found at prehistoric sites in other places in the world.
Great Serpent Mound of Ohio
In a rural area in Southwestern Ohio exists the biggest representation of a serpent in the world. Measuring roughly 1,300 feet long and one to three feet tall, the serpent is designed in such a way that the tail is west and the head is east. The serpent mound is a National Historic Landmark.
Easter Island Heads
The Easter Island heads are some of the most recognizable stone formations in the world. While most have seen a picture of them, many may not realize that beneath the more than 300 iconic heads are bodies, which archaeologists have now excavated. The Easter Island heads are known by the Rapa Nui people as Moai (their ancestors carved them). Researchers have dated them from 1100 to 1500 A.D.
The National Museum of Iraq holds a small earthenware jar that some believe to be an ancient battery. It’s generally thought that Count Alassandro Volta invented the electric battery in 1800. However, that small jar may mean he was not the first to invent it. While it is unknown whether Konig excavated the jar or found it within the museum, it is believed that it comes from Khujut Rabu, near Baghdad.
The Gedi Ruins of Kenya
Along the coast of Kenya are the ruins of a historic town called Gedi. Swahili people lived in the town, which was primarily constructed from stones and rocks. The town, which dates back to the 15th century and has been designated a historical monument, sits on 108 acres of land.
The Cave of Altamira
Ancient Europeans developed cave art across the continent from 3500 to 1100 B.C. A cave in Northern Spain serves as an example of Paleolithic art. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, the art was first discovered in 1876 by a nobleman named Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. Three years later, he returned to the cave and excavated the entrance where he found animal bones and stone tools.
Hemet Maze Stone
A Southern California rancher surveying his ranch in 1914 discovered a mysterious boulder with a maze design. Although the Hemet Maze Stone has only one carving, it’s a fascinating one. This maze-like design has only been found at a few other sites in North America and all of them are in California.
The Piri Reis Map
Bay Halil Etham, director general of the Topkapki Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, discovered a mysterious map in 1929 while the palace was being turned into a museum of antiquities. Some researchers think it’s the oldest existing map of the Americas.
Mysterious Roman Geometrical Devices
Mysterious ancient geometrical devices called dodecahedrons have been found throughout Europe. The devices are 1.5 to four inches, have twelve faces of equal size and each side has a hole in the middle. About a hundred of the devices have been discovered, and through testing, researchers have determined they date back to 100 to 200 A.D.
On the island of Malta, there’s an ancient temple complex dating back to the Neolithic era (around 3600 to 3200 B.C.). The temple, called Hagar Qim, which means “worshipping stones,” is one of the main Neolithic temples on the island, but is not the only one. First excavated in 1839, the temple complex has a central building and the remains of a few other structures.
In 1923, a member of a research team in Inner Mongolia found an animal skull. Roy Chapman Andrews, the man who led the team, described it as “the superb skull of a gigantic beast.” The skull is almost three feet long with large teeth. Eventually, the skull was named Andrewsarchus mongoliensis, in honor of Andrews.
Eskimo Belt Buckle
A University of Colorado team discovered what appeared to be a belt buckle while excavating a 1,000-year-old Inupiat Eskimo settlement in Cape Espenberg, Alaska in 2011. The place where the team found the artifact is within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. For this reason, the University of Colorado team characterizes the mask as the “first prehistoric bronze artifact made from a cast ever found in Alaska.”