Weird History
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Artifacts From The Ancient World That Made Us Say 'Whoa'

Updated September 23, 2021 23.8k votes 3.6k voters 134.7k views16 items

List RulesVote up the most intriguing relics of the ancient world.

Outside of a time-traveling phone booth or souped-up DeLorean, ancient world artifacts are the best way to connect with the past. By examining the craftsmanship of these tools, games, and curios, we can gain an understanding of what mattered to ancient peoples - what they valued; how they played; and where they lived, worked, and passed from this mortal coil.

Some of the famous and ancient world artifacts below have been spectacularly preserved from the ravages of time, and others look like ordinary rocks or hunks of wood, but are incredibly valuable to the historical record. 

  • 1

    The Rosetta Stone (c. 196 BC)

    Photo: Hans Hillewaert / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    This giant slab of basalt is where the Rosetta Stone language-learning program gets its name. Discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte's army in 1799, the slab contains a decree from King Ptolemy V (r. 204-181 BC) written in three different languages: Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian Demotic (the "language of the people"), and ancient Greek (the language of Egypt's Greco-Macedonian rulers). 

    As the British Museum explains:

    The importance of [the Rosetta Stone] to Egyptology is immense. When it was discovered, nobody knew how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Because the inscriptions say the same thing in three different scripts, and scholars could still read Ancient Greek, the Rosetta Stone became a valuable key to deciphering the hieroglyphs.

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  • 2

    The Antikythera Mechanism (c. 200-1 BC)

    When it was first discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, the Antikythera Mechanism baffled archaeologists. It was a confusing muddle of modern-looking gears that had been resting at the bottom of the ocean for 2,000 years. Conspiracy theorists claimed it was evidence of a smashed alien vessel, while others thought it was a long-lost piece of Atlantean hardware. One investigator dubbed it an "ancient Greek computer," and time has proven that somewhat accurate.

    It is now believed the mechanism was a kind of astronomical calculator. X-ray imaging and CT scans have revealed the device's interlocking gears were used to track the movement of the sun, moon, and planets visible to the naked eye. Inscriptions describe the dates when particular stars rise and set, and a dial on the back tracked lunar and solar eclipses.

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  • 3

    King Tut's Meteorite Dagger (c. 14th Century BC)

    Photo: John Wiley & Sons, Inc / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    King Tut's iron dagger was one of two blades hidden in the ancient pharaoh's mummified wrappings, along with another dagger made of gold. Interestingly, at the time of Tut's demise (c. 1323 BC), iron was actually more valuable than gold due to its rarity. 

    It is believed that most iron objects excavated from Egypt's Old Kingdom period were created from meteoric metal, or "iron from the sky." According to recent findings, the King Tut dagger's composition of iron, nickel, and cobalt "strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin."

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  • 4

    The Pyramidion Of The Black Pyramid Of Dashur (c. 1820 BC)

    Photo: Jon Bodsworth / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pyramidions were created to be the capstones of ancient Egytpian pyramids, and few have survived into the present day. This pyramidion was found in the rubble near the Pyramid of Amenemhat III at Dashur, which is sometimes referred to as the Black Pyramid. 

    Not much remains of the Black Pyramid today, due to poor construction methods that doomed the structure from the beginning. The granite pryamidion, however, is in relatively good shape, and its four sides still bear legible inscriptions. It is currently housed in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo.

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