10 Things that Were Discovered by Accident
We’ve all heard the story of how Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, by accident. Similarly, a lot of things we know and use today were discovered by chance. Yet, we are often surprised to think that without the help of Lady Luck, hundreds of similar discoveries would not have been possible. Well, not anymore, because today, we hope to shed some light on the prevalence of such happy accidents. So, here is a list of ten things that were discovered by accident.
1 Hoxne Hoard, one of the largest treasure hoards in Britain, was discovered by mistake. In 1992, when a man set out to find a lost hammer on a farm with a metal detector, he instead found a 1,500-year-old treasure hidden by the Romans. Later, the British government bought it from him for £1.75 million.
In 1992, when Eric Lawes lost a hammer on a muddy Suffolk field, he decided to go looking for it with a metal detector. But before he knew it, the detector was going off and alerting him to the presence of a 1,500-year-old real treasure. He had accidentally unearthed the largest hoard of Roman treasure ever found on British soil.
This hoard, later known as the “Hoxne Hoard,” contained everything from ancient jewelry and utensils to fistfuls of gold and silver coins. When he realized the significance of his discovery, Mr. Lawes immediately retreated and contacted the local archaeological unit.
Later, he received a whopping £1.75 million for the find, which he split with the owner of the field it was found on. Today, the Hoxne Hoard is put on permanent display at the British Museum in London. (1, 2)
2 In 1897, the world’s first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was discovered when a chemist forgot to wash his hands after work. When he tasted something “sweet” on his hands during dinner, he went back and tasted all the beakers he had been working with. Luckily for him, none of them contained anything poisonous.
Artificial sweeteners have been a godsend for thousands of people around the world. But if it weren’t for an accidental discovery, they may never have existed. In 1897, a chemist named Constantin Fahlberg was working on coal tar derivatives at Johns Hopkins University. One evening, Fahlberg forgot to wash his hands after work and noticed a sweet taste on his hands during dinner.
He quickly connected it to his work in the laboratory and went back to taste every piece of equipment he had used that day. After tasting everything, he found that the sweet ingredient had been a compound called benzoic sulfimide that is 300 times sweeter than normal sugar.
Fahlberg then named this compound “saccharin,” after the Latin word for sugar. Saccharin was then immediately put into production, and during World War I sugar shortages, it became widely used as a substitute. (1, 2)
3 Cristin Lascu was conducting geological experiments in 1986 when he came across The Movile Cave in Romania. This cave had been sealed off for 5.5 million years and had a completely different atmosphere from the outside world. It is known for its unique ecosystem that is home to many evolutionarily distinct creatures.
Movile Cave is an underground cave located in South-East Romania, just a few kilometers away from the Black Sea. It was discovered in 1986 by Cristian Lascu while conducting a geological investigation in the area. When he dug up an artificial shaft to do his research, Lascu saw that at its bottom, there was a cave that had been sealed away for 5.5 million years.
As a result, it had a unique groundwater ecosystem that was low in oxygen but rich in carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. Although this made the cave toxic for most organisms and humans, some distinct creatures such as leeches, spiders, and pseudoscorpions were found living here.
These creatures were evolutionarily distinct because they had adapted to survive on methane- and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria found in the cave. Later, scientists used this discovery to better understand the origin and evolution of life on earth. (1, 2)
4 In 2001, the Taliban demolished the Buddhas of Bamiyan, claiming that the statues were un-Islamic. This then led to the discovery of cave networks filled with rare ancient paintings. These paintings are believed to be from the 5th to the 9th century and might have been the earliest forms of oil paintings in the world.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan are two ancient statues of Gautama Buddha that were demolished by the Taliban in 2001. In a surprising turn of events, the destruction of these cultural artifacts led to the discovery of another. Once the giant Buddhas had fallen away, a network of caves was revealed behind them.
These caves were filled with numerous paintings that showed vermillion-robed Buddhas, some mythical creatures, and other motifs. Although these murals were also defaced by the Taliban, they were not completely destroyed like the Buddhas.
As a result, historians were eventually able to conduct various tests on them to understand their origins. It was then found that they dated back to the mid-7th century CE and had used oil-based paint, likely from poppy seeds and walnuts, making them the first-ever oil paintings in the world. (1, 2)
5 The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum in Malta was discovered by mistake when construction workers on a housing project nearby cut through its roof. Historians believe that the hypogeum may predate the pyramids by at least 1,000 years. It also housed up to 7,000 bodies of an unknown Neolithic civilization that mysteriously disappeared in 2500 BCE.
In 1902, construction workers were excavating foundations and cellars for a housing project in the town of Pawla in Malta. During this project, they accidentally cut through the roof of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, leading to its discovery. But before any official investigations could be conducted, the rooms of this underground burial chamber were emptied out.
It wasn’t until a year later that Sir Themistocles Zammit, the then curator of the National Museum of Malta, could properly study the hypogeum. Through his valiant efforts, it was found that the hypogeum had 6,000 to 7,000 prehistoric people buried in it, along with some of their belongings.
Historians also found some pottery samples from 4000 BCE to 2500 BCE, proving that the hypogeum was much older than the pyramids. (1, 2)
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