30 Irreplaceable Things Lost Throughout History
Every day, we leave our wallets on coffee shop counters, forget our phones in Lyfts, and dump out the contents of our bags before realizing, yes, the car keys were in our pockets the whole time. But some things that have been lost over the years aren’t so mundane—or replaceable. From stolen artworks and disappeared writings to destroyed places, we’re counting down 30 of history’s most devastating losses.
The Amber Room
Made from several tons of the titular gemstone, the Amber Room has been dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Six tons of amber, precious stones and gold leaf made this 180-square-foot room worth an estimated $142 million. Originally built in 1701, the Prussian-built Amber Room was eventually installed at Catherine Palace in Pushkin by Czarina Elizabeth.
But faux wallpaper wasn’t enough to hide the room from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Nazis packed it into 27 crates and shipped it to a castle museum in Königsberg, Germany. Two years later, the Amber Room was packed away again, just before a series of bombings. And that’s where the trail goes cold.
No one has seen it since. For now, the curious can visit an $11 million replica just outside St. Petersburg.
Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), First Feature-length Film
Born in 1855, Ned Kelly became Australia’s most famous bushranger. Known to many as an Aussie Robin Hood, he became a bonafide legend just before his death and, in doing so, the perfect subject for the world’s first feature-length film.
Infamously, Kelly and his gang ended up in a standoff with the police in 1880. Kelly fashioned himself a suit of armor and snuck up on the police surrounding the town he’d taken hostage.
In 1906, director Charles Tait shot the silent film The Story of the Kelly Gang in Melbourne. The end result? A reel that measured 4,000 feet and a film that clocked in at a little over an hour. This made it the longest narrative—and first feature-length—film in the world. Over the years, bits of the lost film have been cobbled together into a 17-minute fragment.
Library of Alexandria
Alexandria’s library was the greatest archive of knowledge in the world—until it vanished. Historians estimate the library housed over half a million documents from Assyria, Egypt, Greece, India, and Persia. Though many attribute the Library’s destruction to a fire, the truth is shrouded in mystery.
Some pin the crime on Julius Caesar, while others blame violence that broke out between the Christians, Pagans, and Jewish people inhabiting the city. Some don’t think there was a catastrophic fire at all—just slow dissolution over time.
Stranger still, no architectural remains that can be definitively attributed to the Library have ever been found.
FIFA’s Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy
You’d be hard pressed to find an award with a better Hollywood backstory than the original Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy. First handed out in 1930, the Jules Rimet Trophy was made of gold-plated sterling silver and lapis lazuli. And more than just footballers were eager to claim it.
During World War II, Ottorino Barassi, the president of the Italian Football Federation, smuggled the trophy from a bank and into his apartment. Nazi soldiers tracked the trophy to Barassi’s home, but failed to open the maximum security shoebox stashed under his bed.
Years later, the trophy was stolen while on display in England, but an intrepid dog named Pickles discovered it in some bushes within days of the theft.
After Brazil won the trophy for a third time in 1970, it was displayed in Rio de Janeiro behind bullet-proof glass. Despite these precautions, it was stolen on December 19, 1983. Most people believe it was melted down into gold bars.
The most respected Japanese swordsmith was Goro Nyudo Masamune. He saw the rise of the samurai class’s power during what’s known as the Kamakura Period (the late 13th and early 14th centuries). Even today, his blades are highly sought after for their quality and rich history. But perhaps none is more renowned than the lost Honjō Masamune.
The Honjō Masamune received its name from one of its first owners, Honjō Shigenaga, a general who fought another ranking officer during a battle in 1561. Shigenaga’s helmet was cleft in two by his opponent, but the general withstood the blow and killed his foe.
As was customary, he took his fallen opponent’s weapon—a Masamune blade. The Honjō Masamune was sold and passed down for years, until the Tokugawa family claimed it as a symbol for their shogunate.
But, in the wake of World War II, Tokugawa Iemasa handed over his family’s prized swords in 1945 to the US Army, including the Honjō Masamune. Since then, the blade’s whereabouts have been unknown.
Aside from its starring role in American Horror Story‘s sixth season, Roanoke is best known as the first attempt to set up a permanent English colony in North America. Also called the “Lost Colony,” the settlement was established on Roanoke Island in 1585. But the land, which is in present-day North Carolina, shows no traces of this former colony.
After establishing the settlement, most of those involved with the initial settlement returned to England for more supplies, but a small detachment stayed behind. When the settlers returned with supplies, they found that the contingent they had left behind was gone.
Leader John White left the 115 new settlers in Roanoke and headed back to England for aid. Upon his return in 1590, the entire Roanoke Colony had vanished—no artifacts, no bodies. The only clue? The name of a nearby tribe, “CROATOAN,” was carved into a tree.
Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes was erected in the city of—surprise—Rhodes to celebrate the city’s victory over Cyprus. Historians believe that the statue was 108 feet tall, making it the tallest (known) statue in the ancient world. And, in today’s terms, roughly the same height as the Statue of Liberty.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus was meant to be the Greek sun god Helios. It was constructed around 280 BCE, but toppled around 226 BCE when a massive earthquake struck Rhodes. Unlike the remnants of other lost treasures from antiquity, parts of the statue were preserved.
As of 2015, there are plans to build a new Colossus at the entrance to Rhodes Harbor.
Though fishermen and traders from Indonesia, India and China visited the aboriginals of what is now known as Australia for thousands of years, Europeans didn’t set foot on the continent until a 17th century Dutch expedition. Or so it was thought. The discovery of a shipwreck in 1836, just off the south-western coast of Victoria, near Warrnambool, challenged this commonly-held belief.
The whalers who discovered the wreck, half buried in sand dunes, claimed it was made of dark wood. Hence the nickname the “Mahogany Ship.” But, most significantly, the ship seemed to be of Portugese origin.
Because the shipwreck’s location was uncertain, there haven’t been many large-scale expeditions for the Mahogany Ship. Nonetheless, the State Government of Victoria offered wreck-hunters a $250,000 reward in 1992 for the ship’s recovery. Why? Well, if the ship is Portugese it could rewrite Australia’s colonial history as we know it.
Parliamentary Mace (Victoria)
Despite its intimidating name, parliamentary mace isn’t a weapon. (Anymore.) Instead, it’s a symbol of the Office of the Speaker and the constitutional rights of the people. That’s why the theft of the parliamentary mace from Victoria’s Parliament marks one of Australia’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Made of silver, plated with gold, and decorated with roses, shamrocks, and eucalyptus leaves, the mace was taken just after midnight on Friday, October 9, 1891. The suspects? Many think the members of the house responsible for locking the mace up that night nabbed it. And then brought it to a nearby brothel for kicks.
To this day, anyone who finds and returns the mace will earn a lofty $50,000 reward. That’s a lot of vegemite.
The Complete Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales—the bane of many a high school English class—contains 24 stories. Better yet, the 17,000 lines of text are all written in Middle English. (Me thynketh, no thanks.) Believe it or not, Chaucer only wrote about a quarter of the tales he wanted to include before his death.
That’s right: The Canterbury Tales were essentially the Game of Thrones (or, more accurately, A Song of Fire and Ice series) of the late 1300s. The book alternates between the points of view of various pilgrims, contains a lot of walking from place to place, and its author couldn’t seem to write quickly enough to close out the series.
After a decade of writing, Chaucer penned 24 of his 100 planned stories. And, when he died, some of those tales were still fragmentary. Now, several versions of particular stories exist. And we’ll never know the outcome of the pilgrims’ trek.
Several of Disney’s Oswald Shorts
Before Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse debuted in Steamboat Willie (1928), the man behind the mouse worked on another animated series starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In total, 27 one-reel “Oswalds” were produced at the Walt Disney Studio before Disney lost the rights to the character to Universal Pictures. And while things improved for Disney after the dispute, Oswald’s situation worsened.
For years, it was thought that only 19 of the Disney-produced Oswald shorts survived. In 2015, the British Film Institute discovered a missing Oswald short in its archives. A second “lost” Oswald cartoon surfaced in Japan in 2018. Yasushi Watanabe, now 84, had purchased the five-minute film Neck ‘n’ Neck (1928) decades ago for a mere 500 yen.
While these discoveries are exciting, film buffs still mourn the fact that the other missing “Oswalds” may remain lost.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Manuscripts
Leonardo Da Vinci is the Renaissance Man—artist, inventor, writer, and general overachiever. While his Mona Lisa draws hordes of visitors to the Louvre in Paris every day, he’s also known for several “ahead-of-his-time” inventions, including a prototype for a helicopter-like flying machine. And although a great deal is known about Da Vinci, a great deal of his immense body of work has also been lost.
After his death, Da Vinci’s manuscripts were inherited by his student, Francesco Melzi. But when Melzi passed, the manuscripts were scattered—some were stolen, while others were given away or lost by Melzi’s son Orazio. Now, the existing manuscripts comprise only one fifth or so of Da Vinci’s total body of work.
While fragments have resurfaced, the works are often difficult to decipher: Da Vinci famously wrote in code and practiced “mirror writing.”
Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
Treasure-hunters and thrillseekers still set out to discover a treasure near Apache Junction, Arizona that was allegedly buried somewhere back in 1891. Some of these treasure-hunters don’t make it back at all. What’s worth risking life and limb in the Superstition Mountains? The “Dutchman’s” gold.
German immigrant Jacob Waltz, “the Dutchman” in question, took the secret of where he hid his gold with him when he died. And why has no one come close to digging up the mine? The Superstitions are treacherously steep and the magnetic rock messes with compasses. Worse still, summers are fatally hot; winters are fatally cold. And cell phones often fail.
So, why try? George Johnston, who worked at a local museum on the subject, said, “If a mine produces two and a half ounces of gold per ton of rock, it is a bonanza. Well, the Dutchman’s gold ore that made that matchbook case assayed out to 50 ounces per ton.”
For some, this potential prize outweighs the risk.
Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Art
If you head to the Boston-based museum’s website, you’ll see that the investigation into the 1990 theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is active and ongoing. In fact, if you have any tips that lead to the safe return of all 13 stolen works they’ll reward you with a cool $10 million.
Nearly 30 years ago, two thieves disguised as police officers broke into the museum and grabbed the 13 paintings from the walls. That’s right: $500 million—gone just like that. Among the stolen works were pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Edgar Degas.
The heist is still known as the largest private property theft in American history. And, in a nod to its history, the Gardner Museum displays empty frames where the stolen works once hung.
The poet Sappho was dubbed “the tenth Muse” by Plato and known in the ancient world for her accomplished poetry. During the third century BCE, her poems were collected into a whopping nine volumes, which were subsequently lost or damaged.
After a parody characterized Sappho as a promiscuous lesbian, Pope Gregory burned much of her work in 1073. For awhile, it was thought that only one twenty-eight-line poem had survived. But in 1898 that changed.
The first of her poetry fragments, written on papyrus, were discovered. Several years later, in 1914, archeologists working in Egypt found coffins made from paper scraps—and on them? More fragmented verses that appeared to be authored by Sappho.
Tree of Ténéré
Northeastern Niger was once home to a forest of trees. After desertification took hold, a lone acacia, known as the Tree of Ténéré, remained. Known as the most isolated tree in the world, the closest trees lie nearly 250 miles away.
Dubbed a “living lighthouse” by Michel Lesourd in the 1930s, the Tree of Ténéré was considered sacred for decades by the nomadic Tuareg people. When Europeans drew military maps of the expanse, the acacia became a landmark. But in 1973 this changed when a reportedly drunk driver struck the tree, uprooting it.
To honor the tree, a metal sculpture has been constructed where it once stood. And Niger’s National Museum relocated the remnants of the Tree of Ténéré to Niamey for a display.
Crown Jewels of Ireland
If you’re anything like us, the phrase “crown jewels” immediately conjures up a picture of a fancy royal, all decked out in furs and gemstones. But the Irish Crown Jewels are a tad different. They don’t have links to the monarchy, but to an aristocratic group called the Order of St. Patrick. And the order’s “Grand Master” would wear the jewels—well, until the infamous theft in 1907.
Sir Arthur Vicars, who was charged with protecting the Crown Jewels, held two keys to the safe. He kept one of those keys at his home.
But Vicars wasn’t the most trustworthy. Once a night of drinking led to his friends stealing his keys and pulling a prank on him. He’d also misplaced his keys a few times. All of this to say, his negligence led to the theft of jewels worth $20 million.
Amelia Earhart’s Plane
Amelia Earhart famously became the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean—as well as the first person to fly solo to Hawaii from the mainland United States. Her next challenge? Unfortunately, circumnavigating the globe in her twin-engine Lockheed 10E Electra didn’t go as well.
In July of 1937, Earhart just… vanished. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, near a refueling stop on Howland Island. Just 7,000 miles from Oakland, California—where she’d initially taken off. Stranger still, her plane wreckage has never been recovered.
Many theories—and conspiracies—have cropped up around this lost-at-sea pilot. Some believe Earhart survived for a time on Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner Island), where a piece of Plexiglas potentially from the Electra’s window was found.
From Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) to The Da Vinci Code (2006), the Holy Chalice has been the subject of innumerable pop culture quests. The chalice is so coveted because it’s the cup Jesus drank from, or served wine from, at the Last Supper. Others believe it was also the vessel used to collect Jesus’s blood at his Crucifixion.
Despite its ties to Christianity, the chalice became so sought-after due to its association with a magical item from Arthurian literature—the Holy Grail.
The interwoven stories of the Holy Chalice and Grail inspired several claims that medieval relics, such as the Valencia Chalice and the Genoa Chalice, are The vessels in question. Nonetheless, the location—and existence—of the Holy Chalice is still up for debate amongst scholars.
The “Peking man” is a name given to an extinct hominin of a species you may know—Homo erectus. Back in 1927, an anthropologist identified the Peking man as part of human lineage, thanks to findings from a single tooth found near Beijing. According to the mandibles, limb bones, and teeth uncovered by researchers, these characters walked the earth about 770,000 to 230,000 years ago. And then the fossils walked out, too.
Well, sort of. About 70 years ago, the Peking man fossils vanished. The fossils were kept at Peking Union Medical College, but in 1941 researchers feared that the Japanese invasion would put the fossils in danger.
They did what any responsible scientist would do: they tried to smuggle the fossils out of China and to the presumably safer United States. But the boxes of bones never made their connecting flight. One small step for man—and one giant setback for human evolution research.
Weighing in at 137 carats, this next contender gives the (fictional) Heart of the Ocean a run for its money. This nine-sided 126-facet double rose cut diamond is pale yellow in color and hails from India. But despite researchers’ knowledge of its origins, its path through history is just as nebulous as its current whereabouts.
The first reported sighting of the Florentine Diamond dates back to the late 1400s when the Duke of Burgundy fell in battle while wearing it. After that, the diamond made its way to Italy: its alleged owners included Pope Julius II and the Medici family.
In 1736, Maria Theresa of Austria acquired it when she married the Duke of Tuscany, making the Florentine Diamond part of the Austrian crown jewels.
During World War I, the ownership records get messy: some say the Germans stole it. Others say the royal family fled with it, only to have it stolen and sent to South America where it was presumably sold and recut.
Buddhas of Bamyan
Hewn from sandstone cliffs, the Buddhas of Bayman were two statues—one 115 feet and the other 174 feet tall—of Gautam Buddha. Located in the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan, these monuments dated back to the 6th century. These impressive Silk Road statues survived the campaign of Genghis Khan to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But, in 2001, the statues met a harrowing fate.
On orders from Mullah Mohammed Omar, members of the Taliban destroyed the statues in a dynamite blast. Since they were Buddha statues, the Taliban considered them “idols” and shot at them with anti-aircraft artillery. The resilient statues withstood explosives and rocket launchers, before eventually falling victim to the Taliban’s iconoclasm.
Pyramid at Nohmul, Belize
Located on the Yucatán Peninsula, Nohmul (or Noh Mul) is a Maya archeological site in what is now modern-day Belize. The country is known for its lush rainforests and beautiful coral reefs, but what really put it on the map was that it is home to one of the 15 ancient Maya sites in the world. Unfortunately, the site changed dramatically in 2013.
The main pyramid (similar to the one pictured above) once towered over the site, coming in at roughly 60 feet tall. But a construction company responsible for building nearby roads bulldozed the pyramid and other mounds in order to use the gravel. Now, the main pyramid is gone.
SInce Maya sites are protected by law, officials in Belize plan to those responsible for the destruction to court. Nonetheless, the losses are irreparable.
Like every business-savvy author, Plato was in it for a three-book deal. Or, that is, his hypothetical dialogue Hermocrates was meant to round out the trilogy he started with Timaeus and the unfinished Critias. So, what exactly are these dialogues?
They’re sort of like monologues delivered by the titular characters. For example, Timaeus is a potentially invented figure who speculates about the nature of the physical world. Critias is a bit more exciting: It recounts how the kingdom of Atlantis tried to conquer Athens.
Historians can only speculate about Hermocrates. The speaker might have been the Syracusan politician and general of the same name. It might’ve shed light on naval powers and strategy.
Though we prefer the interpretation found in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis video game, wherein Hermocrates details the location and culture of Atlantis.
The Complete Bayeux Tapestry
This impressive tapestry dates back to the 11th century and measures in at 230 feet long and 165 feet tall. And it uses all that surface area to depict the Norman conquest of England. For seven centuries the tapestry remained safely in the Bayeux Cathedral. In 1792, it was almost cut into pieces and used as coverings for soldier’s carts. Luckily, it escaped that dire fate—for a time.
Since it’s removal from the cathedral, the last panel(s) appears to be missing. Though it transferred hands several times during World War II—from underground shelters to German research facilities and, finally, to the Louvre in Paris—it remained relatively unscathed. Still, the question of how the tapestry’s narrative ended has puzzled historians.
A team of embroiders worked tirelessly to fill in the gaps. In 2014, they completed panels that depicted what happened after William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings. And though the replica panels match the style of the tapestry, we’ll never know what the originals illustrated.
Gospel of Eve
Though there are thought to be around 20 “Lost Gospels,” the Gospel of Eve is by far the most intriguing—and controversial. Though fragments of some Lost Gospels exist, others were either completely lost to the ages or purposely destroyed by the Catholic Church. So, why weren’t these gospels added to the Bible?
According to the church, they were excluded for either A) being of unknown origin, or B) being authored by heretics. Want to know all about Eve? Well, that’s a bit tricky. It’s unclear if a copy of Eve’s gospel exists these days.
The quotes we do have from the Gospel of Eve indicate that the text advocated for tenants of “free love”—from polyamory to birth control—and mentioned (gasp) the menstrual cycle.
Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom)
The Bayt al-Hikmah, or House of Wisdom, could certainly challenge the Library of Alexandria for the title of “Greatest Repository of Knowledge” (Working Title). Established in Baghdad during the 8th century, this impressive library was also a cultural center for astronomers, philosophers, mathematicians, translators and inventors.
Byzantine researchers were sent to study at this renowned institution. Several languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin, were spoken at the facility. The House of Wisdom truly embodied the merging of intellect, traditions, and cultures from many nations.
But Bayt al-Hikmah met a tragic end when the Mongols invaded during the 13th century, killing the scholars and dumping the books in the Tigris River. It is said that the river flowed red and black for days from all the blood and ink.
The Yongle Encyclopedia, or Yongle Dadian, was China’s—and the world’s—largest encyclopedia when it was finished in 1408. Arranged by subject into 22,877 juan (sections), the text was bound into a whopping 11,095 volumes. But this beautifully illustrated collection went the way of the rest of the objects on our list.
During the 1500s, it was moved to the Forbidden City for protection. The emperor ordered it copied and, not long after, the original was lost, or scattered. Some historians believe the Yongle Encyclopedia was destroyed in a fire that swept through the Forbidden City during a rebellion. Others posit it was buried with an emperor. A third theory suggest it burned in the Qianqing Palace fire.
Now, only 400 volumes remain. And its “World’s Largest Encyclopedia” title has been claimed by Wikipedia.
This above all: to thine own self be true—unless you can find a wealth of inspiration in someone else. In that case, soak in their work and fashion your own in its footsteps. You heard that right. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is not as original as your English teacher may have claimed. First of all, Hamlet is based on a Norse legend. But, more importantly, it’s based on another play.
Most researchers agree that Shakespeare based his famous tragedy on a play by Thomas Kyd, known as Ur-Hamlet. Of course, as fate would have it, no copy of Ur-Hamlet exists. All we really know is that it was performed in London, meaning Shakespeare was (more than likely) in the know about it.
This OG-Hamlet was also a tragedy that contained a line shouted by a ghost. That line? “Hamlet, revenge!” Very “brevity is the soul of summary,” if you ask us.
Jack the Ripper’s “From Hell” Letter
Jack the Ripper is London’s most infamous—and unidentified—serial killer. He had a disturbing penchant for murdering sex workers with anatomical percision, leading to his nickname. The “Jack the Ripper” title actually originated in a letter from someone claiming to be the serial killer, though it was later deemed a hoax. The “From Hell” letter, however, is thought to be authentic.
Why? When George Lusk, chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, received the letter on October 15, 1888 it didn’t come with chocolates or flowers. Instead, it arrived with half a human kidney. For this reason, of the thousands of letters allegedly sent from Jack the Ripper to the police, “From Hell” was believed to be the real deal.
Decades later, fingerprints on the letter might’ve helped experts crack the case. But some poor record-keeping procedures ruined that notion. The letter—and kidney—are lost, so don’t expect the cast of Criminal Minds to solve this one anytime soon.