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5 Mysterious Ancient Artifacts

With increasing frequency, both professional and amatuer scientists and archaeologists the world over are discovering ancient artifacts that are turning what we think we know about human history upside down. 

Though they’re often labeled “out of place artifacts” by the general public, it’s a term not often used by those with credentials in their respective fields.

In some cases these fascinating artifacts have been dated to millions or billions of years before humans were thought to exist, while in others they include hints at modern technology that wouldn’t be officially invented until centuries or millennia later. 

Not surprisingly they’re among the most disputed and controversial artifacts in existence, and they put into question our supposed knowledge of everything from religion and science to the origins of man – qualities shared by each of the mysterious ancient artifacts on this list. 

1. Antikythera Mechanism

Reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism
Reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism by marsupium photography is
licensed under CC-BY-SA

Featuring nearly 20,000 vacuum tubes, spread across almost 2,000 square feet and weighing an astonishing 50 tons, the ENIAC made its debut at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. 

In other words, according to most sources it was the world’s first computer.  

Though it may have been, when an intriguing device was discovered 150 feet below the surface of the Aegean Sea off the Greek isle of Antikythera nearly 120 years ago, that assertion took a bit of a hit. 

Comprised of a badly corroded box with a number of complex gears and dials, it’s been suggested that the Antikythera Mechanism was a computer in its own right, but the singular object of bronze and wood was just one of many artifacts retrieved from the Roman wreck in 1900 and 1901.

Historians think that the ship may have been bound for Rome, and that its cargo of coins, earthenware and marble may have been booty from a recent sacking of Athens, all slated to take part in an opulent parade dedicated to Emperor Julius Caesar in the first century BC.

But though it’s now widely regarded as the shipwreck’s true standout, it wouldn’t be until nearly five decades later that the Antikythera Mechanism’s mechanical complexity and historical significance would be appreciated. 

In an effort to crack the enigma once and for all, in the late 20th century the remaining portions of the device were X-rayed, and though much of it had corroded and rotted away, enough was still present for scientists to piece together what it would’ve originally looked like.  

The mechanism was similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of attached wood suggest it was housed in a wooden case

The machine originally had a large circular face and seven individual hands driven by a bevy of intricately cut interlocking gears that turned at various speeds, but instead of keeping track of minutes and hours like a regular clock the device displayed celestial time. 

The seven hands represented the sun, moon, and each of the five planets visible to the naked eye – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. 

Holding it in his hands, one could track celestial movements with accuracy that wouldn’t be matched for more than 1,000 years. 

And though it was fundamentally an astronomical device, recently discovered inscriptions that’d been covered with rust and corrosion for thousands of years revealed that it was used to track earthly events as well, like celebrations and the Olympics.  

In addition, its sophistication has led many scholars and scientists to conclude that the Greeks may have been even more advanced than previously thought. 

But ironically for such an intricate and impressive device, there’s no mention of the Antikythera Mechanism in any known texts from the era. 

And no other device even remotely like it has ever been found, though it’s likely that there were many predecessors from which it was derived. 

2. Shroud of Turin

Since it first appeared in the historical record more than five centuries ago, the Shroud of Turin – or Holy Shroud – has baffled and divided scientists, historians, believers and non-believers alike. 

And though controversial and enigmatic artifacts abound, the shroud may take the cake when it comes to mystery, misinformation and downright contention, because while many believe it’s Christ’s burial garment, others consider it an outright fraud. 

The linen shroud measures 14.25 (4.3 m) long and 3.5 feet wide (1.1 m), but its faint auburn images show a man with sunken eyes and angular cheeks who would’ve stood about 5 feet 7 inches tall when he was alive – if he ever was. 

The images may have been formed when a body was laid on one half of the shroud after which the other portion was draped over it. 

The shroud also contains distinct and anatomically accurate markings corresponding to wounds Jesus would have suffered before and during the crucifixion, including thorn punctures around the head from the crown of thorns, back lacerations from floggings, and nail holes through the wrists.

Written records of the shroud’s existence date all the way back to the mid-14th century when it was in the possession of knight Geoffroi de Charny, who apparently presented it to a high church official in rural France with nary a word on how it came into his possession or any proof of its authenticity. 

But despite these interesting circumstances, the lore of the shroud stretches back another 1,400 years when it was purportedly taken from Judea (now southern Palestine) to Greece, Turkey, and eventually the Chapel of the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin, Italy where it has resided since the 1578. 

Since the late 1800s a number of scientific processes have been applied to the shroud to definitively determine its age and composition. 

Some evidence suggests that the Christ-like pictures were painted on, while others point toward an early form of photography, as evidenced by the sepia-toned reverse images that are hallmarks of photographic negatives. 

Sadly, the experts can’t agree, but in 1988 the Vatican provided three laboratories in different countries with small portions of the shroud’s linen. 

In an especially big shock to proponents of its authenticity, each lab determined that the linen was made between 1260 and about 1400 AD, or more than a 1,000 years after the crucifixion.  

However, some scientists raised doubts about the researchers’ methodology, pointing to the 1532 fire in a chapel in Chambery, France to which it was subjected, that could have altered its organic material, thereby tainting the test results.  

The Vatican did encourage further scientific investigations, but despite a lack of concrete proof Christians were encouraged to venerate the shroud as an image of Christ – legit or not. 

Now the shroud is rarely displayed to the public, but Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to see it in 2015, despite the face that a succession of previous popes considered it a hoax. 

3. London Hammer (London Artifact)

London Hammer
London Hammer

From its name one might assume that this interesting archaeological anomaly was discovered in England’s capital, but it was actually found in London, Texas in either 1934 or 1936 depending on which account you believe. 

As the story goes, local couple Max and Emma Hahn were taking a leisurely stroll by scenic Red Creek just outside town when they noticed a strange orb-like rock with a wooden shaft protruding from its center.

The item wasn’t partially buried in soil or stone, but resting on a ledge by a small waterfall.  

They took it home and apparently forgot about for more than a decade, but in 1947 their inquisitive son split it open with a hammer and chisel. 

Inside was an obviously manmade implement – a hammer or narrow maul with a head six inches long and an inch wide connected to a hewn wooden shaft. 

Not a big deal really, since the farmland northwest of Austin had been worked by tool-wielding farmers for more than a century and a half. 

But something seemed out of place. 

After all, if it was a contemporary tool, how did it become embedded in rock?

Some accounts claim that the family turned the hammer over to archaeologists for carbon dating, while others state they had it done privately, and that the results were never released. 

What is generally accepted is that the hammer is manmade, is about 97% pure iron, but that it’s oddly never rusted in the century since it was discovered. 

Adding more fuel to the fire, some supposed experts suggest the rock encased around the hammer is from the Ordovician Period more than 450 million years ago, while others claim it’s from the Cretaceous Period that lasted between 65 and 145 million years ago. 

Not that it makes much difference either way, as iron tools are generally believed to have been invented about 3,200 years ago, but just because the hammer was encased in old rock doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same age. 

The most likely explanation goes back to the hammer’s original location near the waterfall.  

The abandoned iron tool may have alternately been submerged in limestone-rich water over a century or more, during which time elements dissolved in the water formed a concretion that grew larger and larger.  

If that were the case, it would make it seem as if the hammer itself is as old as the minerals in which it’s encased, turning it from an epic piece of “out of place archaeology” into little more than a contemporary and easily explained novelty. 

In the early ‘80s the hammer was purchased by creationist Carl Baugh, and is now on exhibit in the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas, but curators refuse to allow it to be subjected to further tests and examination. 

4. Quimbaya Aircraft 

Quimbaya Aircraft
Quimbaya Aircraft by Santandergrl is licensed under CC-BY-SA

The Quimbaya people inhabited the west-central portion of Colombia from about 300 to 1500 AD. 

Known for their craftsmanship and metalworking skills, the Quimbaya created hundreds of intricate gold and copper alloy objects that have fascinated archaeologists and historians since they were discovered more than 100 years ago.

When the Spanish arrived in the region in the 16th century, they named this unfamiliar alloy Tumbaga. 

Tumbaga had a lower melting point than either of its component metals, and featured desirable characteristics of each like hardness and malleability which made it perfect for hammering, casting, polishing and engraving, and it never tarnished or rusted. 

Many of the Tumbaga figurines represent animals like fish, birds and insects, though the most intriguing bear distinct commonalities with contemporary aircraft that weren’t officially invented until the 20th century. 

To be clear, no one claims that the Quimbaya invented aircraft, but though hundreds of artifacts were looted by Spanish conquistadors and treasure hungers between the 16th and 19th centuries, of those that remain, many are strikingly modern and airplane-like in appearance.

German aeronautical experts who conducted simulations and actual wind tunnel testing concluded that had they not been made of dense metal, they would’ve likely been capable of incredibly stable powered and unpowered flight. 

Some detractors claim that these aircraft shaped figurines are little more than bird representations, and that they were most likely expensive toys made for children of wealthy families, but even to casual observers, their theory doesn’t carry much weight. 

Many of the figurines feature delta wings like those found on modern military aircraft like the Russian MiG-21, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen. 

And whereas bird’s wings tend to protrude from the middle or upper portions of their torsos, the figurine’s wings jut out from the bottom of what looks more like a tapered fuselage than a bird’s body. 

They also have both vertical and horizontal tail surfaces like nearly all modern aircraft – characteristics that birds just don’t share.  

Recently discovered petroglyphs and carvings found etched into local granite depicting the positions of constellations and stars have added another element of mystery to the story.

Proponents of the “Ancient Aliens” theory claim that the Quimbaya figurines and carvings are yet more proof that they were visited by extraterrestrials, though the theory is derided by more traditional historians.  

5. Gabon Nuclear Reactor 

Gabon Nuclear Reactor mapping
Gabon Nuclear Reactor Illustration by MesserWoland is licensed under CC-BY-SA
1. Nuclear reactor zones
2. Sandstone
3. Ore layer
4. Granite

In the early summer of 1972 workers at a French nuclear fuel–processing facility made a fascinating discovery after conducting a routine check of uranium ore of African origin. 

Though ore itself isn’t technically an artifact, throughout the earth’s crust uranium 235 makes up a constant 0.720 % of total mass, but the ore extracted from Gabon in equatorial Africa contained only 0.717 % uranium 235.

Though the numerical difference was miniscule, it was more than enough to alert them that something totally out of the ordinary had once happened on the site. 

In fact when taken in total, approximately 200 kilograms of uranium 235 that should’ve been present was missing – or enough to make between 4 and 6 nuclear bombs depending on yield.

After careful analysis the French scientists concluded that the missing uranium 235 had already been extracted, that it couldn’t have happened through natural processes, and that a nuclear reactor must have functioned on-site as many as 2 billion years ago.

For a second opinion they took their findings to specialists at the French Atomic Energy Commission who confirmed their conclusion.

Though claims of such a nature from one source should be viewed skeptically, none other than the former head at the United States Atomic Commission concurred that a natural phenomena couldn’t have caused the extractions because the conditions to do so couldn’t possibly exist without man’s help.

Shortly thereafter in 1975, a number of international physicists mulled over the evidence and shared their findings of the “Oklo Phenomenon” in Libreville, the capital of Gabon. 

The United States’ representative, one of the founders of the Santa Fe Institute, published an article for Scientific American in which he attempted to explain the original scientist’s conclusions, thereby casting serious doubt on the “Ancient Nuclear Reactor” theory. 

His analysis was based largely on an article published nearly two decades before, in which scientists from the universities of California and Chicago pointed out that in some rare instances rich uranium deposits could in fact operate as naturally occurring nuclear fission reactors, which would explain the missing uranium 235 in the French ore. 

Though the verdict is still out on how the uranium 235 was extracted, the most heavily concentrated uranium deposits today couldn’t operate this way, because at less than 1% their uranium 235 content is much too low. 

Further studies have revealed that nearly 2 billion years ago when the Oklo ore deposit formed, its concentration may have been nearly 3 %, or about equivalent to the enriched uranium used to fuel today’s nuclear power plants.

But like most archaeological anomalies, there’s little consensus as to where the missing uranium 235 went, and if it was extracted through natural or manmade processes. 

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