photo by KOREphotos via Flickr
There’s a common and enduring image of how the world’s historical sites and artifacts are unearthed.
One might picture an archaeologist: on hands and knees, clawing through the dirt and sand, praying for even a smidgen of bone or papyrus.
Others more impressionable might conjure an image of Indiana Jones: plundering a booby-trapped cavern and absconding narrowly with a priceless piece of history (plus personal glory to boot.)
Between these two, however, there’s a third camp – one that, despite being rare, has proven the impetus for some of the world’s most amazing historical discoveries.
This camp is the step-mother of all invention – coincidence. Below are four priceless discoveries made entirely by accident.
Lascaux Caves – One of the world’s best paleolithic art sites
Since their discovery in the 1940s, the Lascaux Caves, tucked away in Southwestern France, have become regarded as some of the most intricate and intact cave paintings on Earth – all thanks to one curious teenager and his friends.
According to the story, Marcel Ravidat and three friends stumbled upon the cave in September 1940 while searching for a fabled passage to a chateau close by.
After digging their way down into the cave, the four were surprised to find that its passages were filled with artistic renderings of horses, bulls, and various other animals – paintings which were later dated at about 17,300 years.
The four managed to keep their momentous discovery a secret for a week until they alerted a local schoolteacher who was well-versed in prehistoric art.
The cave has since undergone a few major transformations: from weapons cache during the German occupation of France, to tourist attraction. It has since been closed off to the public due to an infestation of mold which threatens to deteriorate the ancient cave paintings.
The Dead Sea Scrolls – some of the oldest known scripts of the bible
If the Dead Sea Scrolls are any indication, sometimes losing something may be the best way to find what you’re looking for.
In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls – which contain some of the earliest known sections of the bible – were discovered by Bedouin goat-herders searching for their lost goat.
Hidden inside ancient clay pots, the scrolls were initially uncovered by the herders who then (unaware of their value) sold them to an antique cobbler for about $50.
The discovery spawned a massive manhunt by both archaeologists and Bedouins which resulted in the uncovering of dozens more caves and various other similar texts and artifacts.
Different sections of the scrolls are currently displayed in museums in Jerusalem, Jordan, and France, and held by private collectors around the world.
Turkey’s Newest Ancient Underground City – one of the world’s largest underground cities
While Turkey already boasts Derinkuyu, a monstrous and ancient underground city capable of housing 20,000 people, a new and still mysterious city promises to eclipse it.
The 5,000-year-old city was discovered incidentally after builders were ordered to demolish a large swath of buildings as a part of an urban renewal project in Turkey’s province of Neveshir.
Though the breadth of the underground city is still being calculated, current estimates have it at about 100 acres, 5 million square feet, and about 370 feet into the ground.
Who said urban renewal was a bad thing?
One of the first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence
Ancient history isn’t the only only arena subject to accidental discoveries – even America’s comparatively brief history has some some treasures floating around undiscovered.
In 1989, while thrifting at a local store in Pennsylvania, a man (who still remains anonymous) spent $4 on a picture, and ended up getting a whole lot more.
In the back of the buyer’s $4 picture (which he purchased not for the art, but the frame) he discovered a printed copy of the Declaration of Independance, of which there are only known to be 24 in the world.
As the copy was in excellent condition, the man would later go on to sell it at auction for $2.4 million – not bad for a $4 investment.