Archaeology aims to open a window into the past by unearthing artifacts that show exactly how humans' ancestors used to live. But sometimes, experts have discovered archaeological finds that rewrote history. Rather than confirm a commonly held belief (cavemen weren't intelligent!), these finds would upend it (cavemen made art and crafted advanced tools!). More recent historical artifacts that rewrote history have changed the way people think about ancient civilizations and humanity as a whole.
Some of these discoveries might seem minor at first glance. A new burial ground might seem like another collection of bones, until you consider what its placement means about early humans' intelligence. A strange metal mass could be a piece of trash, until historians discover it can calculate the planets' orbits. These eye-opening, and downright weird, discoveries continue to expand people's view of their world. From ancient fossils to strange structures, every object can help modern humans understand the past a little more. Read on to discover a few of these important artifacts in history, and be prepared to be amazed.
A 43,900-year-old cave painting was discovered on Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia, and is now believed to be the oldest story on record. The mural seems to depict a game drive, in which animals are flushed out of cover and toward armed hunters. Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist with Griffith University, suggests the mural may not represent a real-life scenario but rather a religious myth or story from folklore.
Aubert's reasoning stems from the appearance of the hunters, who are not drawn as human beings but animal-human hybrids. This may indicate the hunters are wearing masks, or that the hunters are "therianthropes" - animal-human hybrids commonly found in ancient paintings around the world. If the latter is the case, the mural would not only be the oldest evidence of storytelling in recorded history, but also the first evidence of spiritual belief.
"We can't know if it has anything to do with spirituality, but at least we can say that those artists were capable of the sorts of conceptualizations that we need in order to believe in religion, to believe in the existence of the supernatural," Adam Brumm, part of the Griffith University team, told NPR.
The cave where the mural was discovered, Liang Bulu'Sipong 4, measures 14.8 feet across and is located 9.8 feet off the ground. The cave lacks any evidence of human habitation, which suggests it may have been a sacred site. "Accessing it requires climbing, and this is not an occupation site," Aubert told Ars Technica. "So people were going in there for another reason."
While the general consensus for many years has been that the pyramids were built by slaves, that might not be true. A series of old burial plots that were found in 1990 by a tourist suggest that the people who built the mighty structures were not slaves, but rather paid laborers.
These tombs showed workers who were given beer and bread to take to the afterlife, something no slave would ever receive. What's more, the workers were obviously held in high regard, as they were put in tombs very close to the sacred pyramids that were built for the pharaohs themselves.
Although the Ancient Greeks have long been known as the parents of many modern inventions, nothing prepared researchers for the Antikythera Mechanism. This complex mechanical structure is a sort of analog computer. It involves a series of gears and mechanisms that allowed the users to predict the orbits of the planets, when eclipses would take place, and mark the solar and zodiac calendars.
The machine, which was found in a shipwreck in 1900, hails from at least 100 BCE and predates similar technology by almost 1,000 years.
Public perception of Neanderthals imagines them as dim cavemen who were effectively wiped out by the more advanced homo sapiens. Modern research has begun to contradict this point, with recent findings indicating that Neanderthals were more similar to modern humans than many have previously thought. O
ne significant example is the finding of painted shells in Italy that have been dated to a period before homo sapiens arrived in Europe. These ornamental pieces may have been decorated by Neanderthals, suggesting that these early people may have created and collected artwork.