Found by accident: Some of the world’s inadvertent archaeological discoveries

Several life-sized human statues have also been discovered in Kurdistan. They all show bearded males and would have been erected above burials. Most of them date to either the seventh or sixth centuries B.C., a time when the Scythians and Cimmerians advanced through the Middle East.(Courtesy of Dlshad Marf Zamua) (Courtesy of Dlshad Marf Zamua)

Human Statues

A handful of life-sized human statues and other archaeological discoveries have been found by accident in Northern Iraq.

“I didn’t do excavation, just archaeological soundings —the villagers uncovered these materials accidentally,” Dlshad Marf Zamua, a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Live Science.  Among the discoveries were column bases, a bronze statuette of a wild goat and bearded male statues. Most of the statues date to the 6th or 7th century B.C.

In archaeology, accidental discoveries are the norm, with long buried artifacts often discovered at construction sites when workers begin excavating. Here are a few examples:

 



(University of Leicester/AP)

King Richard III

Bones found underneath a car park in 2012 in Leicester, England, were declared “beyond reasonable doubt” to be the long lost remains of King Richard III, missing for 500 years.


 


(MICHAEL KAPPELER/AFP/Getty Images)

Dead Sea Scrolls

In the spring of 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a rock into a cave and realized something was inside. The finding gave insight into the development of the Hebrew Bible and the origins of Christianity.


 

 


Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Banwell Caves

The Stalactite Cave was discovered in Britain in 1757 by local miners. In an attempt to find another entrance in 1824, the Bone Cave was discovered — a collection of fossils from Ice Age animals once thought to have drowned in Noah’s flood.


 


( LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

Lascaux cave paintings

This cave was rediscovered in 1940 in France by children and their dog exploring a hole opened by a fallen tree. The youngsters reported their amazing find to their schoolteacher, and experts on cave art quickly authenticated the gallery as one of the world’s most extraordinary Paleolithic art sites.


 


(Andrea Solero/AFP/Getty Images)

Ötzi

Erika and Helmut Simon were walking in the Ötztal Alps near the Austria-Italy border on a sunny day in 1991. The hikers noticed something brown in a rocky gully and discovered a human corpse. The find became known as Ötzi, a well-preserved body of a man who lived more than 5,000 years ago.


 


(Edmond Terakopian/AP/PA)

Rosetta Stone

In 1799, while enlarging a fort in lower Egypt, French soldiers serving Napoleon Bonaparte dug up what is now known as the Rosetta Stone, a granite slab from 196 B.C. bearing an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.


 


(AP)

Catherine de Medici’s hairpin

A hairpin belonging to 16th-century French Queen Catherine de Medici was found in a commode at the royal residence, Fontainebleau Palace, outside of Paris in 2012. Archaeologists, preparing for restoration, were digging around the toilet when they got lucky.


 


(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Ridgeway Hill Viking burial pit

In 2010, 51 decapitated Viking skeletons were found near Weymouth, England, by a construction crew.


 


(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

18th-century ship at World Trade Center site

Remnants of an 18th-century ship were found at the World Trade Center site in 2010. The ship likely dated back at least 200 years, when part of the Hudson River was filled in with trash, debris and wooden beams as Manhattan expanded.


 


(Reuters)

Terracotta warriors

Terracotta warriors guard the tomb of China’s Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi in Xian — as they had been doing quietly for 2,200 years before being discovered 26 years ago. Chinese farmer Yang Zhifa accidentally unearthed three of the 7,000 life-sized warriors when he was digging a well.


 


(Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

Sofia’s Roman ruins

Engineers excavating a new line for the metro in Sofia, Bulgaria, stumbled across Roman ruins from the 4th century A.D. Beneath modern Sofia lay the remains of Serdica, a lively, cosmopolitan city where Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, lived for a year while looking for a new capital for his empire.


 


(Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

18th-Century Mayan mural

While renovating his kitchen, Lucas Asicona Ramirez discovered what is believed to be a Mayan mural dating to the 18th century in Chajul, Guatemala. Since Chajul is almost 300 years old, experts believe similar murals could be hidden in other homes in town.

Nick Kirkpatrick is a digital photo editor at The Washington Post. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.

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