I'm sure we've all been fascinated by archaeological discoveries we've read about or seen on television. Perhaps we've even dreamed of doing something similar. While most of us never even got close to such an experience there are some ordinary people who have been lucky enough to make a monumental find, if only by accident. Here are 25 of the most famous.
Aristotle created a school just outside of Athens in 335 BC and called it The Lyceum. Over time the school was lost and archaeologists could never find it. It remained lost until it was accidentally discovered by workers digging on a construction site for the projected Museum of Modern Art.
THE FABERGE SOLDIER
After George Davis passed away, his relatives found an old Russian soldier figurine still in its original box. Apparently he’d purchased it in 1934, and left it there ever since. When the family had it appraised, they learned it was made in 1912 by Peter Carl Fabergé, a Russian jewelLer, who was commissioned by Czar Nicholas II to make it for his wife, Empress Alexandra. There were only 50 figurines made, and the Davis family sold it for $5.2 million.
THE YOSEMITE PLATE BEGATIVES
In 2000, Rick Norsigian purchased a number of glass plate negatives, with images of Yosemite National Park on them, for $45. It wasn’t until later, however, that he would find out that they were original works by the famed photographer Ansel Adams. The negatives sold for $200 million.
CHINESE IMPERIAL VASE
As an anonymous British brother and sister were clearing out their parents' home they found a 16 inch tall Chinese vase. They brought the vase to an auction house where it was confirmed that it belonged to the imperial family during the Qianlong dynasty. After a 30 minute bidding war the vase sold for $85 million, setting the record for a Chinese work of art.
CHINESE EMPEROR'S SEAL
In 1784, a rice farmer in Japan was trying to repair an irrigation ditch. As he worked, he uncovered a seal made of pure gold. The farmer brought it to a local scholar who realised that the seal was a legendary relic gifted by Emperor Guangwu of Han to a Japanese emissary during the first state meeting between China and Japan in AD 57.
In 1935, a monastery in Thailand ordered some workers to move a plaster Buddha statue to the side of an old building used to store relics of no special importance. During the process, the statue dropped to the ground. Some of the plaster chipped off and the workers saw the shining glimmer of pure gold. When the rest of the plaster was torn off, they found that the entire statue was made of pure gold.The statue is the largest golden Buddha in the world, is now housed in its own building just to show it off.
When workers were clearing a jungle in the Diquis Delta of Costa Rica their bulldozers became blocked by large stone spheres. Studies later determined that the spheres were created by the Diquis culture. 300 of them survive today as Costa Rican icons.
THE HOXNE HOARD
One of the most famous and precious artifacts displayed in the British Museum is the Hoxne Hoard. It consists of 14,865 coins, 200 silver tableware, and gold jewellery. It was found in the village of Hoxne, in the UK in 1992 by Eric Lawes, all because he lost his hammer. He had lost his hammer while working on his farm and used a metal detector to find it. Instead he found a wooden box containing the centuries old coins and jewellery. You can find the hoard on display at the British Museum, and don’t worry. They found the hammer, it’s also on display.
4000 YEAR OLD ICE MAN
On September 19, 1991, two German tourists found a well preserved body buried in ice. Believing that they had stumbled upon a crime scene they reported what they had found to authorities. Once the police arrived and the body was recovered, archeologists discovered that the body had been buried in the ice for 4,000 years. The body gave great insights to the life of those alive at the time and is now on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy.
Eighteen-year-old apprentice garage mechanic Marcel Ravidat was walking in the woods in September of 1940 when he came across the entrance to a cave with some friends. Inside they found prehistoric cave paintings. They made a pact to keep their find secret, but only managed to hold on for a week before telling a teacher who was a local expert on prehistoric art. The cave was opened to the public but closed just 15 years later after the cave walls started to develop mould.
THE CHINESE MUMMY
In 2011 in Taizhou, road workers were in the process of widening a road when they struck a large, solid object about 6ft under the ground. When they realized they might have found something significant they contacted a team of archaeologists. After an excavation of the area they found a small tomb with a coffin inside of it. Inside was a nearly perfectly preserved mummy.
VENUS DE MILO
Before it became one of world’s most beloved sculptures, the Venus de Milo spent centuries buried on the Greek island of Melos. It was recovered by a peasant who found it while trying to salvage marble building blocks.
GRAVES OF MEDIEVAL SLAVIC CHIEFTAINS
Okay this one wasn’t technically found by an ordinary “person” but it was an ordinary badger. The badger spent five years digging his den on a farm in Stolpe, northeastern Germany, only to leave after unearthing a human pelvic bone. The archaeological excavation of the area discovered eight 12th-century graves. It was determined that the badger had discovered one of the last pagan burials in Brandenburg.
On May 27, 1653, labourer Adrien Quinquin was working on the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai when he realised he had dug up gold coins. After digging further he had found an ancient tomb packed with treasures... coins, gold and garnet ornamented swords, a solid gold torc, a gold bull's head, a gold signet ring and 300 gold bees. Quinquin had found the tomb of Childeric I, king of the Salian Franks, who was buried in his capital of Tournai after his death in 481 CE.
2000 YEAR OLD BOG BUTTER
In June 2016, a turf cutter found a 22-lb lump of butter in an Irish bog. It had been buried there for 2,000 years. Back in those days, butter was a luxury food in Ireland and was also used as offerings to the gods. Due to the surrounding environment of the bog the lump of butter was perfectly preserved. Archaeologists say that it’s still perfectly fine for consumption.
So, you know, slap it on some toast and have yourself some Bog Buttered Toast. It’ll be fine. Probably.
ROMAN VILLA FOUND ON GOOGLE EARTH
As an Italian man was looking at his city on google earth he noticed an oval shape with strange shadows around it that looked like buildings. He uploaded his discovery to his blog and then called some local archaeologists to see what they thought. The archaeologists started digging and found an entire ancient Roman villa buried under the earth. Whoever said the internet was a waste of time.
GOLD PENDANT FOUND IN A FIELD
A housewife in Hertfordshire found a 15th century treasure with a metal detector while walking in a field with her son. The gold pendant depicting the crucifixion of Jesus was buried just 4 inches below the ground. The treasure has an estimated value of more than £250,000.
A 5,000-year-old city was discovered accidentally after builders were ordered to demolish a large number of buildings as a part of an urban renewal project in Turkey’s province of Neveshir. The size of the city is currently unknown but current estimates have it at about 100 acres, 5 million square feet, and about 370 feet underground.
THE ROSETTA STONE
In 1799 as the french army was marching through Egypt, a troop found a slab of stone in the city of Rosetta. Inscribed in two languages, Egyptian and Greek, and three writing systems, hieroglyphics, demotic script and the Greek alphabet, it provided a key to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing.
LUFTWAFFE MESSERSCHMIDT Bf 109 FIGHTER
While doing his homework, a 14-year Danish boy and his father Klaus found the wreckage of a German plane that crashed during WW2 in their family-owned farm. Klaus was told by his grandfather about a German fighter that crashed in the farm in the last years of the war when Denmark was still occupied by the Nazis. They found the plane after a few moments of searching with a metal detector.
AN ORIGINAL PRINTING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
An art collector bought a mediocre painting in 1989 for $4 at a flea market because he liked the frame it was in. When he removed the painting he discovered an old document between the canvass and wood frame. It turned out to be one of the original printings of the Declaration of Independence.
DEAD SEA SCROLLS
While a couple of goat herders were looking for a lost goat one of them fell into a cave where they found some jars filled with some old scrolls.
What they had found were fragments of The Dead Sea Scrolls, original manuscripts of sections of the old testament. They were unaware of the importance of their discovery and sold the jars for $21.
In 1974, a Chinese farmer had been digging a well for two days when he hit something hard in the dirt. It turned out to be an ancient statue. After he took his finding to a museum experts realised that the statue was a Qin Dynasty Relic. Eventually archaeologists uncovered the rest of the statues on the farmers land, discovering the famous Terracotta Army.
ORIGINAL SUPERMAN COMIC
A couple in the US was taking out some old boxes from the attic as they prepared their house to be taken over by the bank when they found an original copy of Action Comics No.1, most famously known for the first appearance of Superman. It was an extremely rare find and sold for over $1 million at auction.
Archaeologist Howard Carter had already spent years on an unsuccessful search for the tomb of King Tut. In fact it was going so poorly that his funding was about to be cut off. And if it wasn’t for a bored waterboy, it would have. Bored, the waterboy started playing with a stick in the sand when he stumbled upon a stone step. He told Carter, who rushed over and started digging. 22 days later they found the entrance to the tomb.