Archaeological discoveries aren’t always made by professionals, and a surprising number are found by someone who has simply stumbled upon something. New discoveries are made by amateurs every year, as metal detectorists, shepherds and keen-eyed children happen upon finds.
Here are some our favorite archaeological discoveries made by amateurs
1. The underground city of Derinkuyu in Turkey
The city of Derinkuyu was discovered by an unnamed Turkish man, who in 1963 was working on a house renovation. When he saw his chickens disappearing into a hole in the wall, he knocked the wall down and saw that it led to a labyrinth of caves and tunnels.
The underground passage reached 280 feet below the surface and was comprised of 18 separate floors of an entire underground city. The city of Derinkuyu was carved out of soft volcanic rock in about 900-800 BC. and is thought to have housed upwards of 20,000 people.
Why was an entire city built underground?
Archaeologists surmise that the city was built to protect people from wars and religious persecution in Turkey. It was built to allow people to live underground with all the amenities of their above-ground homes. It had bedrooms, kitchens, food storage and shelter for livestock. It also had a school, church, communal meeting areas and a cellar for the preparation of wine and oil. The city even had a ventilation system and access to a well for drinking water.
Today, visitors can tour to the city of Derinkuyu in Cappadicia, Turkey.
2 Henry VIII Gold Necklace in Britain
An newbie amateur metal detector discovered an incredible find when his metal detector alerted him to something in Warwickshire, England.
In 2019, Charlie Clarke found a gold, heart-shaped pendant that dates from the 16th century. It is quite the large piece of bling, weighing in at half of pound, with a two-inch heart and 75 gold links. The heart is decorated with an entwined red-and-white Tudor rose and a pomegranate, symbolizing King Henry VIII's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. It's not known if the necklace belonged to Katherine of Aragon herself. When Clarke contacted the British Museum, they confirmed its authenticity and age and noted it was a “Once in a generation find.”
3. Ötzi the Iceman in Austria/Italy
In the Alps, the grisly discovery of a body encased in ice was made by tourists Erika and Helmut Simon in 1991. Once the body was removed from the ice, it wasn't a dead mountaineer as the couple expected. It was much older and was found to be clothed in fur and still carrying a bow and copper hand axe.
Nicknamed Ötzi, this real life ice man died about 5,000 years ago and was mummified by natural processes. Ötzi’s tissue, bones and organs are incredibly well preserved and he is the most researched body in the world. Ötzi was about 45 years old at the time of death and stood about 5’2”. His body was absolutely covered in tattoos—a total of 61 of them. Most are of crosses and lines that adorn his ribcage, spine, wrist and lower legs.
From the wounds on Ötzi's body, researchers know that he was murdered. A few days before his death, he suffered a defensive cut on his right hand, most likely due to hand-to-hand combat. It is thought that Ötzi was being pursued and was confronted by one or more attackers. His death was caused by an arrow which lodged in his back and severed an artery.
Ötzi enjoys visitors at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy where he is on display.
4. Dead sea scrolls in Israel
One of the most well-known archaeological artifacts found in the 20th century was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel. In 1947, a family of Bedouin shepherds were searching for some lost sheep, when Muhammed edh-Dhib fell into a cave near the banks of the Dead Sea. He found seven scrolls housed in earthenware jars at what is now called the Qumran site.
Subsequent excavations in a total of 11 caves yielded almost 1,000 different scrolls written on parchment, papyrus and even one on copper. Most scholars date the scrolls from the last three centuries BCE and the first century CE. Among the writings on the scrolls are parts of almost every book of the Old Testament. The scrolls also contain written hymns, prayers, and the earliest version of the Ten Commandments.
5. Venus de Milo in Greece
One of the most revered sculptures ever known was found by a farmer in Greece on the Island of Milos. In 1820, Yorgos Kentrotas began removing stone from an ancient wall to reuse for a new building. He found a niche that held pieces of a marble statue—there were fragments but no arms! The sculpture which is thought to be the Roman goddess Venus or the Greek goddess Aphrodite, is attributed to Alexandros of Antioch, based on an inscription on the plinth. It is dated to between 150 and 125 BC.
After its discovery, the Venus de Milo was presented to King Louis XVIII of France as a gift. King Louis donated it to the Louvre Museum the following year where it remains to this day.
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