The more we unlock about our pre-history, the more incredible the world seems before our age of electronics. Though researchers work countless hours to unravel the mysteries of the most ancient civilizations, there are still those creations that we just can’t wrap our heads around. Whether it’s an invention that seems impossible for its time or something that doesn’t have any known meaning, in this Archive we’ll be exploring the top 10 ancient artifacts and creations that left us stumped!
Al Ubaid Lizard People Statues
The discovery of the over 7,000-year-old statues of the Ubaidian may support the far out claims of lizard people secretly running the world… or they may just be a strange series of designs by a bored prehistoric civilization. The problem is we just don’t know and, if you think about it, either scenario is a possibility. The figures, which were discovered in 1919 during an excavation of the Al’Ubaid dig site, depict humanoid lizards with elongated necks in poses, such as breastfeeding, that don’t suggest they were ritualistic in nature. While it’s quite possible the figures were a representation of a Serpent god, which is not an uncommon form of ancient deities, archaeologists are unsure of their true purpose. Of course, it could be that the Ubaidian people were just terrible artists and those were just poorly designed humans.
The Shroud of Turin
Originally believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Shroud of Turin has been carbon dated as a possible product of the Middle Ages. Adorning the linen cloth is the strange image of a man’s face which proves to be a greater mystery than the large fabric’s origins. How the masculine mug came to be imprinted on the Shroud of Turin is unknown, but a mass of unproven theories exists to try and quell the mystery. Claims range from the face being a painting to the belief that it was the product of a release of energy from the man wrapped in the cloth. Despite a person’s belief system, there’s one thing that can be agreed on – since carbon dating can vary depending on solar and geological activity, we really have no idea where the face came from, nor the exact time period.
The Incan Aircraft
To our knowledge, no ancient civilization was capable of modern air travel, especially not the millennium old Incas. This understanding, believe it or not, leads to a great mystery surrounding the ancient civilization as it's believed they were responsible for creating tiny gold replicas of ancient aircraft. Understandably first believed to be ceremonial birds, further analysis of the objects by biologist-zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson and archaeologist Dr. Arthur Poyslee in the 1970’s claimed the objects did not depict any sort of natural aviation. Backing the statements of Sanderson and Poyslee were German aeronautical engineers, Algund Eenboom and Peter Belting, who produced a scaled replica of one the artifacts, powered with a propeller, and found that it was a fully functional aircraft with the ability to fly. Since the mystery of “what” had been revealed, there remains the much larger questions of “why” or “how,” which have yet to be answered.
The popular stone formation in Salisbury Plain, England remains one of the greatest historical mysteries. While we know its age to be about 4,000 years old, who erected the structure is still a matter of debate. Often accredited to the Druids, the dating of Stonehenge has suggested that it is over 1,000 years older than the order of Celtic high priests. Archaeologists also know that, over the course of its existence, Stonehenge has gone through cosmetic changes for unknown reasons. Stones were placed, then later taken down. About as much of a mystery as its creators is the purpose behind Stonehenge. Many historians agree that it was significant to whoever erected it and may have even been a burial site, but there seem to be slivers of truth missing from the structure’s existence. The mystery grew even more when astronomers stepped in and laid out an unpopular theory that the stones served as an astronomical calendar.
Depending on who you talk to, the purpose of the Baghdad battery from a period between the Parthian and Sassanian eras may have two entirely different uses. There’s one school of thought that believes the clay artifact, which was discovered within Iraq’s Khujut Rabu region, is nothing more than a storage container for papyrus scrolls. Then there are those that believe a far more exciting theory, one that would assuredly tick off Alessandro Volta, who invented the battery in 1800. The piece is a clay jar with an asphalt stopper and an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder. To determine its possible use, reproductions of the jars were filled with an electrolyte liquid, which wound up producing upwards of 2 volts of electricity. Despite this finding, we’re still left wondering what an ancient civilization would be doing with a battery, lending more credence to the more “boring” school of thought.
The Copper Scroll of the Dead Sea
During a 10 year period between 1946 and 1956, 981 different scrolls were discovered from the Dead Sea. Dated between 408 BC and 318 CE, the papyrus and parchment fragments have been attributed to the Essenes, a Jewish sect near Qumran. While theories on the origin of the scrolls are still debated, one of the 981 artifacts remains a near-total mystery. Located within the mix of paper scrolls was one written on copper. Unlike the other scrolls, it’s a sort of map to burial plots and hiding places of gold and silver that are even written differently, sharing more similarities to the language of the Mishnah than the traditional Hebrew scribed on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Who wrote the scroll and who the treasures belonged to still remain a mystery.
Lady of Elche
The limestone statue discovered in 1897 at the L’Alcudia archaeological site near Elche, Spain drew plenty of debate over origin and purpose. Credit to who is behind the Lady of Elche bust has gone back and forth, with the consensus being that she originated from 4th century BC Iberia. On the other side of the argument are those that attribute the bust as an Atlantean Goddess. Diving even deeper into the potential oddity behind the statue, some researchers are steadfast in stating that the spools on either side of the headdress are some advanced, unknown technology likely associated with Atlantis. Then there’s a 3rd school of researchers that aim to shut down any historical importance of the bust by touting it as a forgery as the carvings are too delicate for the time period. What is widely agreed upon is that the opening in the rear of the bust indicates it served as some form of urn.
The one large defense any ancient civilization had against its enemy’s use of fire was water, but all of that was said to have changed in the 7th century when Byzantine Greeks found a way to produce a spontaneous combustion that could not be put out with water. Designed under the reign of Constantine IV Pogonatus by Callinicus of Heliopolis, the weapon was believed to be a liquid that, when employed, was accompanied by a thunderous clap and a lot of smoke. Theories as to the composition of the substance revolve around the use of saltpeter or a chemical reaction between water and quicklime. Despite hours of research into the deadly fire, how the Greeks, let alone a Jewish refugee from Syria, were able to compose it remains a mystery.
Lost in the history of South America were people known as the Nazca, probably best known today for the giant formations left in the planes of their former homeland. Upon the surface of the desert, the Nazca people were believed to have carved a variety of designs, from depictions of animals to seemingly random shapes. Many mysteries surround the impressive designs, the most pressing being who the etchings were made for. How the lines were made may have just been a case of coordination among many Nazcans, as proven by archaeologist Dr. Persis Clarkson at the University of Winnipeg who recreated similar lines with just teamwork. The major question of “why” still remains unanswered, though some believe their existence may be more mystical than practical, hence why they thought only the Gods would be able to view them.
You may have seen modern blacksmiths making replica historical swords from scratch at your town’s local renaissance fair, but that doesn’t mean we’re 100% sure on how ancient civilizations did it; for instance, the Ulfberht, or a Viking sword made of a purified metal that requires a forging technology previously thought unavailable during that period. To create the iron needed for Ulfberht, iron ore must be heated to over 3,000° F or about 1,648° C. Based on what is known about methods available during the 9th and 10th centuries, reaching such temperatures wasn’t possible. However it was accomplished, archaeologists remain perplexed as even modern blacksmiths have been unable to recreate the Ulfberht without methods unavailable during that time.