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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.