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10 Astounding Archaeological Discoveries that Were Purely Accidental

6. In 1974, a group of seven farmers in China was digging a well when they discovered an entire army of soldiers simply sculpted and abandoned. It was later found out that this “Terra Cotta Army,” as they are now known, was made to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in his afterlife.

TerraCotta Soldiers
Image Credit: AnaLysiSStudiO/Shutterstock.com

Approximately 20 miles east of Xi’an, a city in Central China, seven farmers were digging a well. But what their shovels struck became one of the most famous accidental archaeological discoveries to date.

What archaeologists uncovered was the massive tomb of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty Qin Shi Huang (3rd century BCE). Some 8,000 life-size statues alongside the tomb were recovered intact. The soldiers were in full armor, with horses, weapons, and distinct facial features to boot.

The army is believed to serve as the Emperor’s protectors from enemies in the afterlife. The entire 20-square-mile complex was discovered after a period of about 2,000 years. Talk about combat stealth! (1, 2, 3)

7. A man in Derinkuyu, Turkey discovered an entire city when he knocked down a wall in his basement. This 1,000-year-old underground city was recently discovered in 1963. The Derinuyu Underground City has secret tunnels, heavy stone doors to defend against intruders, the capacity to house 20,000 people, churches, stables, and schools.

Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City is a multi-level settlement of 18 stories and packed with serious amenities.

One of the world’s largest underground cities, the Derinkuyu Underground City, is thought to be around 1,000 years old, from the Byzantine Era. It is a multi-level settlement of 18 stories and packed with serious amenities.

Life is believed to have thrived underground in Derinkuyu with schools, chapels, meeting halls, provision for livestock, fresh water wells, stables, and an intelligent network of tunnels and chambers developed for underground travel.

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The chambers are connected to other similar subterranean cities in the region. Heavy stone doors were placed to seal the city from inside the city in case the inhabitants faced external danger. (1, 2)

8. In 1799, members of Napolean’s expedition to Egypt discovered a stone that would kick-start our quest to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics. Found in the city of Rosetta, the stone has 14 lines of the hieroglyphic script, 32 lines in Demotic, and 53 lines of Ancient Greek. Since Greek was still a living language, it paved the way towards deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Rosetta Stone
Image Credit: blog.britishmuseum.org, Takashi Images/Shutterstock.com

Egyptian hieroglyphics were always a subject of interest. They were widely found, with one catch –  no one knew how to read them. Efforts did not bear fruit, but an accident did.

Engineers in Napolean’s army found the Rosetta Stone while digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. This was way back in 1799. The stone contained the same piece of writing in hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek. This helped in decoding hieroglyphics through Greek.

This stone alone paved the way for scholars in the field to start extracting the meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone still lies in the British Museum as one of its most famous objects. (1, 2, 3)

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9. In Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 2015, digger driver Edgar Nerenberg recognized fish fossils in his digger basket and proceeded to call a paleontologist. What unfolded was that the five fossils were as old as 60 million years. Much has been made of the tidbit that Mr.Nernberg is a Christian creationist who believes that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago. 

Fish Fossils
(Right) Paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky and Edgar Nernberg at the site, (Left) 60 million-year-old fish fossils. Image Credit: Drew Scherban/ ucalgary.ca, Darla Zelenitsky /ucalgary.ca

Mr. Edgar Nernberg was not a casual observer who would have simply ignored the historical fish fossils as ‘’blobs on a rock.’’ Keen interest in fossils led him to preserve the rocks and call the University of Calgary paleontologist Darla Zelenitsky.

Results were astonishing and revealed that the fish fossils were about 60 million years old, and preserved evidence of the nature of life back then.

It also helped answer the question of what kind of animals lived after the extinction of dinosaurs. When asked by a newspaper if this incident has changed his views on creation, the good-natured Mr. Nernberg replied that it is ‘’a matter of interpreting the evidence.’’ (source)

10. In 1990, a flat tire forced fossil collector Sue Hendrickson and her companions to off-road for a bit. What Sue Hendrickson discovered while looking around was one of the largest, most extensive, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found. It took her and her team 17 days to fully excavate the 90% complete specimen. The T-rex was named “Sue,” and is one of the most famous fossils in the world today. 

Sue The T Rex
(Right) Sue Hendrickson and Pete Larson at the Fossil site. Image Credit: Black Hills Institute of Geological Research / acs.org, Amphibol / Wikipedia.org

Sue Hendrickson made a landmark discovery when she spotted a few large vertebrae above ground, as she was waiting for her truck’s flat tire to be fixed. What followed was 17 days’ worth of excavation by six men and a truly astounding result: a 90% complete T-rex specimen dated about 67 million years back.

Named “Sue,” this T-rex is believed to have been 28 years old, a healthy lifespan for a T-rex. Researchers estimated this based on the rings on Sue’s bones, just like a tree’s stem. Sue is 40 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip. Its overall weight was around 19,500 pounds, with the skull alone weighing 600 pounds.

Sue’s specimen has been of great usage for scientists and learners worldwide, allowing them to understand ever more about many subjects. Some of these subjects are species’ evolutionary relationships, biology, growth, and behavior.

The Field Museum paid $8.4 million in a custody battle for Sue, the T-rex. The skull is displayed separately for easier access. Sue is currently exhibited in Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet in Chicago, Illinois. (1, 2, 3)

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