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50 of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time

  • 50 of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time

    More than a century ago, Albert Einstein developed his famous theory of relativity. The idea that space and time are linked together means that time travel might be possible … one day, once physicists figure out how it works.

    However, travelers and archeologists have known for centuries that the opportunity to step back in time already exists. Yes, really. By visiting archeological sites around the world, you can see how the city of Pompeii worked right before it was covered in volcanic ash, the lost Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, incredible cave drawings in Brazil and Spain, and even the wealthy trading hub of Petra—no flux capacitor required. Even just learning about archeological findings from home, like the Rosetta Stone and its captivating code or a 44,000-year-old pictorial story from Sulawesi, Indonesia, offers a deeper appreciation for collective ancestors and a humbling reminder of our place in the universe.

    When it comes to archeological discoveries, you’ve got a seemingly infinite array of options to read and learn about. So which ones have made the biggest impact on scientists’ understanding of humankind? To find out, Stacker took a look at 50 of the greatest archeological findings of all time, based on reports in news outlets (like National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, BBC News, and The Guardian), UNESCO World Heritage site listings, articles from archeology magazines, and other publications. The list includes important discoveries from around the world, ranging from the Americas to Asia, and even Antarctica.

    While we’re all stuck at home, there’s no better way to transport yourself to a different time and place than by learning about fascinating archeological sites and discoveries across the globe. Click through to see 50 of the greatest archeological discoveries made throughout history—and don’t be surprised if they inspire future travel plans, once it’s safe to explore the world again.

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  • Oldest-known human footprints in North America

    In 2018, Live Science reported on a remarkable discovery made by anthropologists in British Columbia: the oldest-known human footprints in North America. The 29 track marks are reportedly 13,000 years old, further supporting the idea that people were living in western Canada at the conclusion of the last ice age.

  • Tutankhamun’s tomb

    Egyptologist Howard Carter unearthed the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun as he was working on the excavation of the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The densely packed archeological find took eight years to document and empty due to it being left in disarray after multiple robberies.

  • Borobudur

    Locals in Indonesia led the British ruler of Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, to the site of Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, in 1814. The roughly 1,200-year-old temple features 72 openwork stupas, each of which holds a statue of the Buddha. Still a place for Buddhist pilgrimage, the archeological site reflects a combination of indigenous Indonesian scenes with an Indian influence.

  • The Lost City of Tenea

    Greek archeologist Eleni Korka finally found the Lost City of Tenea in 2018, marking the end of a 34-year search for the Trojan-founded city, per Artnet. Archeologists have since found a whopping 200 coins on the site, demonstrating the city’s incredible wealth, which had been discussed in ancient texts.

  • Pompeii

    When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, it preserved the Roman city of Pompeii (along with the final moments of its fated residents) under a roughly 20-foot layer of pumice stone and ash. The archeological site, which includes fresco-covered homes, was discovered more than 1,400 years later by architect Domenico Fontana. Now a popular tourist site, the archeological site of Pompeii offers an understanding of cultural, religious, and political life in this ancient city.

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  • Terracotta warriors

    China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was buried in a tomb protected by an army of 8,000 life-size clay soldiers—each with unique hairstyles, postures, and facial features—when he died in 210 B.C. Farmers discovered the terracotta warriors in 1974, and since then, investigations have led archeologists to believe that the emperor’s tomb is a massive replica of the city of Xi’an.

  • Rosetta Stone

    Soldiers in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army accidentally discovered the remarkable Rosetta Stone while working on a fort in the Nile Delta, according to the British Museum. The artifact, which dates back to 196 B.C., is inscribed with “a royal decree issued by priests on behalf of Ptolemy V, then ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt,” in three distinct scripts: Egyptian demotic script and hieroglyphs, along with ancient Greek. The message was deciphered by Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion in 1822, which allowed other ancient texts to be translated.

  • Knossos

    Dubbed Europe’s oldest city, Knossos is an archeological site on Crete that dates back to the Bronze Age. It was discovered by amateur archeologist Minos Kalokairinos in 1878. The palace complex contains around 1,300 intricately decorated rooms, along with baked clay slabs with inscriptions in an unknown language.

  • Sutton Hoo

    Archeologists got a vivid glimpse at the medieval world when the excavation of Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, England, began in 1939. The largely in-tact ship burial held Anglo-Saxon grave goods, including Byzantine artifacts, weaponry, and a now-famous helmet.

  • Homo luzonensis

    In 2019, researchers in the Philippines discovered evidence of an ancient human species that scientists were previously unaware of. Dubbed Homo luzonensis, the small hominin is believed to have lived on Luzon island between 50,000 and 67,000 years ago, National Geographic reported. It was identified after archeologists found seven teeth and half a dozen small bones.

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