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10 Ancient Artifacts that Are too Strange to Be True

Ancient Artifacts

Over the years, historians and archeologists around the globe have discovered some astonishing cultural artifacts from bygone eras. These artifacts have opened up a wonderful window into the past that helps us learn more about the origins of human civilization. From ingenious ancient technologies to interesting art styles, we have discovered a hoard of cultural wealth. However, many of these finds are so strange sometimes that it can be hard to believe they are real. So, here are ten such ancient artifacts that are too strange to be true. 

1. The Man With Glass Brains

In 2018, when scientists finally decided to examine the remains of a Roman man discovered near Mount Vesuvius, they found that he had obsidian glass in his skull. They then examined the glass closely and discovered that it contained human brain cells. Scientists now believe that some parts of the man’s brain had turned into glass from the extreme heat of Mount Vesuvius erupting. 

Glass Brain
Man With Glass Brains. Image credit: journals.plos.org

In 2018, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II noticed some glass material near the skeleton of an ancient Roman man. This man, likely 25 years old at the time of his death in CE 79, is thought to have been a victim of a Mount Vesuvius eruption. 

During the examination of the skeleton, scientists discovered that a section of its skull contained obsidian glass. The glass had very well-preserved brain cells in them, suggesting that it was made from brain matter. They also found that the spinal cord of the skeleton had similar vitrified sections. 

According to them, this vitrification was caused by the extreme heat of the eruption liquifying the brain and spinal cord, which then quickly solidified again because of the rapid cooling of the ash deposits. Although the skeleton had been discovered in the 1960s, it was not until now that it had been so closely examined. (1, 2)

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2. The Lloyds Bank Coprolite

The Lloyds Bank coprolite is perhaps the largest known desiccated specimen of human dung discovered in 1972 under Lloyds Bank in the UK. This incredibly well-preserved paleofeces is believed to be from the ninth century CE. A close examination of the specimen has revealed that it was produced through a diet of bread and meat with very little vegetables.

Lloyds Bank Coprolite
The Lloyds Bank coprolite: fossilized human feces dug up from a Viking site at Coppergate, York, England by archaeologists. Image credit: Linda Spashett Storye book via Wikimedia.org

During the construction of the Lloyds Bank in the 1970s, a large specimen of fossilized human feces was discovered at the site. This specimen was eight inches long, two inches wide, and at least 1,200 years old. Since the construction site was once part of Viking territory, it is likely that this coprolite belonged to a Viking warrior from the ninth century CE.

Scientists later studied the contents of the coprolite and deduced that it had been produced through a diet of meat and bread with very little vegetables. They also discovered that its host likely had severe intestinal issues because the coprolite contained the eggs of certain parasitic worms. 

In more recent years, archeologists have hailed this coprolite as one of the greatest finds in human history, due to the amount of data it has revealed. Today, viewers can spot this piece of paleofeces at the Jorvik Viking Center, carefully preserved in a glass box. (1, 2)

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3. A Self-mummified Buddhist Monk

A CT scan of a Buddha statue discovered in China revealed that it had a 1,000-year-old mummy inside. However, this was no ordinary mummy because it seemed to contain no organs inside. According to archeologists, this mummy was created through a self-mummification process called sokushinbutsu where Buddhist monks would eat a specific diet to melt away their organs and mummify themselves.

Mummified Monk
Buddha statue containing a mummified monk (Image to the left), CT scan. Image credit: Drents Museum via dailymail.co.uk

In 2015, an ancient Buddha statue previously displayed at the Drents Museum in The Netherlands was subjected to a complete CT scan. The scan revealed that it contained a nearly 1,000-year-old mummy inside that had gone through a process of self-mummification.

The mummy was that of a man, likely around 30 to 50 years of age, and was probably kept for nearly 200 years in a monastery before being turned into a statue. 

According to experts, this mummy was a product of a Buddhist ritual called sokushinbutsu where monks would go on a specific diet to turn themselves into “living Buddhas.”

Such a diet typically contains roots, pine barks, and lacquers that would repel maggots and bacteria and also melt their organs. Once they had become mummies, the monks would be venerated in monasteries. Today, some countries that practice Buddhism, like Japan, have completely banned this practice. (1, 2)

4. Animated Bowl from Shahr-e Sukhteh 

A 5,200 years old ancient piece of pottery discovered at Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran is thought to be the oldest example of animation. The vessel consists of five separate painted images of a wild goat leaping. When put in succession with each other, the individual paintings animate themselves to show the wild goat leaping ahead and taking a bite out of some leaves. 

Shahr-e Sukhteh
Pottery vessel found in Shahr-i Sokhta, Iran. Image credit: Emesik/National Museum of Iran via Wikimedia.org

Shahr-e Sukhteh, or “Burnt City,” is a Bronze Age archeological site discovered in the early 1900s and located in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province of Iran.

The settlement at the site is said to have appeared around 3200 BCE and was burnt down three times before it was abandoned around 1800 CE. This settlement is also said to have been home to numerous archeological artifacts that are of great cultural significance. 

One of the discovered items at the site, a piece of ancient pottery adorned with artwork, is thought to be the first example of animation. This vessel has five separate paintings that depict a deer in various positions of movement.

When put in successions with each other, the paintings show the deer leaping forward and taking a bite out of some leaves. This site is also home to various other artifacts like the first-ever artificial eye, the oldest game of backgammon ever known, and more. (1, 2)

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5. The Mummy of Lady Dai

In 1971, workers building an air raid shelter in China discovered the well-preserved mummy of a Chinese noblewoman. This mummy, called the “Lady of Dai,” had skin that was still moist and elastic despite being buried for over two thousand years. She is also said to have contained blood within her veins and many of her nerves were still intact.

The Mummy of Dai
Xin Zhui (Chinese: 辛追), also known as Lady Dai (Image to the left), close-up shot of Xin Zhui’s feet, perfectly preserved at the Hunan Provincial Museum. Image credits: Flazaza via Wikimedia.org, thesun.co.uk

In 1971, while digging an air raid shelter in Hunan, China. some workers stumbled upon a tomb inside the Mawangdui Hill in Changsha.

The tomb belonged to the Lady of Dai, known as Xin Zhui, who lived during the Han Dynasty that lasted from 206 BCE to 220 CE. The mummy of Lady Dai discovered inside this tomb has since eluded the understanding of many scientists. 

Described as the best-preserved mummy ever known, the 2,100 years old remains of Lady Dai still had soft skin, working joints, intact internal organs, and its own blood.

She is also thought to have been suffering from a host of diseases like high blood pressure, clogged arteries, gallstones, liver disease, and excess body fat, all of which likely caused her death at age 50. However, it is still unclear how her body came to be this well-preserved. (1, 2)

Also read: 10 of the Most Interesting Archaeological Artifacts From History

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