Photo: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

10 Facts About Real Historical Booby Traps That Make Us Rethink Our Next Treasure Hunt

Voting Rules
Vote up the most trap-tivating facts about historical booby traps.

Popular culture shows us booby traps a lot. Indiana Jones braves trap after perilous trap during his searches for treasure, while the Mummy movies unleash all kinds of problems for people looking for riches. Kid movies like The Goonies offer up booby traps, as do numerous TV series and video games. But have you ever wondered if what we're shown on the screen has any basis in fact?

It turns out there is some truth behind the existence of booby traps, but it's not as clear-cut as it may seem.

These traps have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, in the graves of mysterious Mesoamerican queens, and in the final resting places of Chinese emperors. Whether the tricks and traps left for future generations were intentional or not remains difficult to discern. We learned some interesting facts about historical booby traps that are captivating and daunting all at once.

Vote up the most fascinating facts about real historical booby traps. 

Photo: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

  • The Tomb Of Amenhotep III Contained False Walls And Floors 
    Photo: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor / Universal Pictures
    562 VOTES

    The Tomb Of Amenhotep III Contained False Walls And Floors 

    Located in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, the tomb of Amenhotep III (c. 1391-1354 BCE) was discovered by French engineers during the late-18th century. Partial assessments of the tomb were followed by a fully documented excavation by Howard Carter in 1915.

    Within the pharaoh's tomb were several elements intended to keep outsiders guessing should they make their way in. After going through a myriad of stairways, chambers, and gateways inside the pyramid, visitors would find themselves in the well chamber. Inside this chamber was a false wall, behind which was another passageway into the bowels of the structure.

    Assuming someone successfully traversed those challenges and decoys, they were then greeted by a shaft. Disguised with rubble, the opening was about a 20-foot drop, one that would have rendered anyone in it trapped. 

    562 votes
  • Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Tomb In China Had An Army Of Terracotta Warriors And A Lake Of Mercury
    Photo: Hans A. Rosbach / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    531 VOTES

    Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Tomb In China Had An Army Of Terracotta Warriors And A Lake Of Mercury

    As the first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang (d. 210 BCE) holds a unique place in history. The discovery of his elaborate mausoleum in Shaanxi province during the 1970s similarly marks a monumental event, with the eventual unearthing of thousands of terracotta warriors alongside other marvels.

    The warrior army - life-sized with various uniforms, facial expressions, and hair styles - are intended to protect and serve Huang in the afterlife. Alone they serve as an ominous presence in the tomb of the emperor, but they are much less dangerous than the booby traps that accompany them.

    It's believed that Huang's grave is surrounded by large amounts of mercury. Rivers or a moat of mercury - intended to aid in immortality - are mentioned in writings about the tomb, but high levels of mercury in the area have prevented a full excavation of the site. 

    531 votes
  • 3
    549 VOTES

    Tricky Stairs Were Only One Of The Hazards At The Tombs Of Mexico's Red Queen Of Palenque

    Buried in an elaborate tomb in the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque, the so-called Red Queen's true identity remains unclear. The tomb dates to the 7th century and, when it was discovered in 1994, contained an array of elaborate jewelry and artifacts. 

    To reach those treasures was challenging, however. Archaeologists had to traverse an array of narrow stairways, some of which had collapsed. Getting into the burial chamber itself was difficult but, once the team of researchers were face-to-face with the sarcophagus, they discovered it was painted with cinnabar.

    The red substance, from which the queen earned her moniker, is made of mercury and is extremely toxic. Cinnabar was used as a pigment throughout history and also covered the bones found inside the tomb. It not only contaminated the remains, but also tainted the accompanying treasures. 

    It's generally believed that cinnabar was present in the tomb as a form of visual spectacle or to aid in the occupant's journey to the afterlife. Regardless, it was a toxic trap for anyone who made their way into the site. 

    549 votes
  • 4
    390 VOTES

    Automatic Crossbows Were Supposed To Be Part Of Qin Shi Huang's Tomb In China

    While the items have yet to be found, Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb was, according to his biographer, supposed to contain "crossbows and arrows primed to shoot at anyone" who entered it. Because they were supposed to exist in tandem with rivers of mercury, it's possible they are located near parts of the Emperor's mausoleum that remain unexplored.

    The inclusion of other sharp objects - razors, swords, and the like - was common in Bronze Age graves and Egyptian pyramids alike. None of these were present to deter thieves, but were generally sacrificial and decorative in nature.

    390 votes
  • 5
    387 VOTES

    Egyptian Tombs Featured 'Machines' To Drop Massive Blocks On The Heads Of Intruders

    Modern-day Egyptologist Mark Lehner and his research team found what they considered to be evidence of a "very primitive machine" in the pyramid of the pharaoh Khufu (d. c. 2584 BCE) at Giza. The man behind the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza, Khufu is believed to have been buried in the King's Chamber.

    As archaeologists explored the Great Pyramid, however, they found grooves lining the walls approaching the King's Chamber. Lehner and his colleagues believe they were once part of a security system of sorts - one that dropped large slabs of rock on top of would-be raiders. 

    If this is the case, it didn't work, as Khufu's remains presumably were stolen from the King's Chamber. Not all scholars are convinced Khufu was ever in the King's Chamber, however. Egyptologist Zahi Hawass thinks the room was just a decoy and that Khufu remains somewhere inside the bowels of the structure in a yet-to-be explored location. 



    387 votes
  • The Money Pit Of Oak Island Included Layers Of Water Traps
    Photo: The Goonies / Warner Bros. Pictures
    443 VOTES

    The Money Pit Of Oak Island Included Layers Of Water Traps

    In 1795, a teenager named Daniel McGinnis in Nova Scotia, Canada, noticed some oddities. He saw lights off shore and soon came upon an unusual decline in the landscape near his home. McGinnis got two friends and the group began digging into the site. 

    They found a tunnel and, as they excavated, came upon layers of rock, dirt, wooden slats, and air pockets - one after another. Every 10 feet or so, the boys opened up part of the tunnel. Soon, water flooded in, presumably designed to deter further digging. 

    Through the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, people have made numerous efforts to try to pump out the water and fully explore the structure, but to no avail. The tunnel, at least 100 feet deep, is thought to contain any number of treasures. Speculation about Masonic artifacts, Marie Antoinette's jewels, and even a manuscript proving Sir Francis Bacon wrote the works of William Shakespeare have been connected to the site. 

    443 votes