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Introduction

Concealed within the earthy folds of our planet lie some of history's greatest treasures. Whether stumbled across by accident or discovered following extensive research, these artefacts and remains can tell us so much about life in days gone past. Here, we shortlist 50 of the most dramatic…

50 THE ULUBURUN SHIPWRECK

ULUBURUN, TURKEY

The Uluburun ship is believed to date from the late-14th century BC, during the reign of Egyptian queen Nefertiti

In 1982, the same year that the Mary Rose was raised, the wreck of a Late Bronze Age ship was discovered off the coast of southwestern Turkey by a local man diving for sponges. More than 22,000 subsequent dives revealed an extraordinary treasure trove concealed within, including jewellery, weapons, ivory and even foodstuffs.

Its cargo consisted mostly of raw materials for trade, like these copper ingots

49 THE ROYAL LIBRARY OF ASHURBANIPAL

KOUYUNJIK, IRAQ

In 1849, at an archaeological site near the modern-day city of Mosul in northern Iraq, a hoard of thousands of clay tablets and fragments of text dating from the 7th century BC was recovered. As the lead archaeologist was an Englishman called Austen Henry Layard, many of the tablets reside in the British Museum.

48 TOMB OF THE SUNKEN SKULLS

MATALA, SWEDEN

It’s been described as one of the most terrifying archaeological discoveries in history. In 2009, a team of archaeologists excavating a dry lake bed in Sweden found the 8,000-year-old bones of 11 individuals, mainly from skulls. Several theories were offered; perhaps it was a strange funeral practice, or possibly the skulls were the trophies of warriors. Most sinister was the fact that two of them were still attached to stakes and had been burned.

47 THE HITLER DIARIES

EAST GERMANY

In the early 1980s, the appearance of 27 volumes of Adolf Hitler’s personal diaries, supposedly recovered from a plane crash in East Germany, looked like being the discovery of the century. Publications such as The Sunday Times and the German magazine Stern thought so too, paying seven-figure sums for the rights to publish them. However, it emerged that they were actually the handiwork of Konrad Kujau, a seller of Nazi memorabilia who had a history of forging documents of authentication.

46 DIQUÍS SPHERES

COSTA RICA

Many discoveries are made by accident. Take the Diquís Spheres, for instance – also known as the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica. When the United Fruit Company was clearing jungle in the south of the country in the 1930s, ready for the establishment of a banana plantation, they came across a series of sculpted spheres dating from prior to the Spanish conquest of Central America. More than 300 of them were found, although some of the workmen, believing them to contain gold, blew several up using dynamite.

“A WORKMAN'S SHOVEL HIT UPON A CACHE OF GOLD COINS"

45 CHILDERIC’S TREASURE

TOURNAI, BELGIUM

The uncovering of the treasures of Childeric, the fifth-century king of the Salian Franks, is another unintentional discovery. In 1653, in a church in Tournai in the then-Spanish Netherlands (now in latter-day Belgium), a workman’s shovel hit upon a cache of gold coins. Further investigation, including the recovery of his signet ring, revealed this to be Childeric’s long-lost tomb, home to further treasures. However, in 1831, thieves stole the gold from a Paris museum and melted it down.

44 THONIS-HERACLEION

ABOUKIR BAY, EGYPT

Before the great Egyptian port of Alexandria, there was another: the near-mythical Thonis-Heracleion, a city that disappeared under the waters of the Mediterranean 1,200 years ago. But in 2000, a group of divers located the city just off the Egyptian coast. And buried in the mud, silt and sand was an entire, no-longer-mythical city. Among the discoveries were statues, stone tablets and coins, as well as a remarkable 64 ships perfectly preserved in the sea-bed. It shows how closely linked Egypt and Greece were during the Ptolemaic period.

“BEFORE THE TSUNAMI HIT, THE WATER RECEDED AND REVEALED A SERIES OF STONE STRUCTURES”

43 THE SEVEN PAGODAS OF MAHABALIPURAM

MAMALLAPURAM, INDIA

The 18m high structure overlooks the Bay of Bengal
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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

This might well be our most-packed issue ever, and we’ve got pretty much every time and place imaginable covered. Our section in the centre pages looks at those archaeological discoveries that make our understanding of the past possible – from buried kings to mysterious writings.