21 Extraordinary Artifacts From Our Fascinating World

This collection showcases extraordinary artifacts and remarkable objects from different eras and cultures, each offering a unique glimpse into the lives and societies of our ancestors. From intricately crafted ceremonial items to everyday objects that tell stories of survival, innovation, and artistry, these artifacts provide invaluable insights into the diverse and complex heritage of humanity. Join us as we journey through time, uncovering the secrets and marvels of civilizations long past.

1. 14th Century Door with Oldest Known Cat Flap, Exeter Cathedral, UK

Extraordinary artifacts - Very old wooden door on a church with cat sticking it's head through a small hole
u/innuendoPL / Via reddit.com

The Exeter Cathedral cat door is a small entrance located in the north tower of Exeter Cathedral in England. It was created in the 14th century to allow the cathedral’s resident cat to hunt mice and rats that threatened the cathedral’s precious documents and food stores. The door demonstrates a practical solution to pest control in a large medieval building and remains a charming historical feature of the cathedral today.

2. New Kingdom Egyptian Coffin Lid, 20th Dynasty

This upper lid of a coffin discovered in a newly unearthed Egyptian cemetery, dates back to the New Kingdom’s 20th Dynasty (circa 1189-1077 BCE). The coffin lid features intricate painted depictions, including a central figure surrounded by smaller figures, likely representing deities or protective spirits. Such artwork reflects the religious beliefs and artistic styles of ancient Egypt, emphasizing the importance of the afterlife.

3. Ming Dynasty Shipwrecks with Over 100,000 Ceramics, South China Sea, c. 1506-1522

u/MunakataSennin / Via reddit.com

These are the remains of two Chinese shipwrecks discovered in May 2023, located 1500 meters deep in the South China Sea. The shipwrecks, dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1506-1522), contain over 100,000 ceramic wares, showcasing a variety of styles and designs. These artifacts provide significant insights into the maritime trade routes and cultural exchanges during the Ming period.

4. Sumerian City of Uruk, World’s First Civilized City, 6500-4000 BCE

This image contrasts a modern artistic reconstruction (top) with the current archaeological remains (bottom) of the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk. Known as the world’s first civilized city, Uruk thrived between 6500-4000 BCE. The reconstruction highlights the city’s advanced urban planning, including its monumental architecture, such as the ziggurat, while the present-day ruins showcase the enduring legacy of one of humanity’s earliest urban centers. Uruk’s development of writing, complex societal structures, and innovations in architecture laid the foundations for future civilizations.

5. Woolen cap of a 17th-century whaler

In 1980, archaeologists examined the graves of 185 Dutchmen, who were whale hunters and workers at whale oil refineries, that had died on or near Spitsbergen in the 17th century. Many skeletons still wore their knitted woolen head coverings. These caps were highly personal, serving as the only means of identification for the men bundled against the severe cold, distinguished by the unique colors and patterns of their caps. This is likely why the caps were buried with them.

6. Reflective stones on pathways in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, roads were lined with white stones, known as “cats’ eyes,” which reflected the moonlight and functioned as street lights to guide people walking after dark. The image shows a Roman road in Pompeii.

7. The burial of the ‘Egtbved Girl’ buried circa 1370 in Denmark (right is a modern recreation)

The Egtved Girl, whose remains were found in a burial mound in Denmark in 1921, wore distinctive Bronze Age clothing from around 1370 BC. Her attire included a short, corded wool skirt and a woven wool blouse. She had a woolen belt with a large, decorated bronze disc and wore a horsehair hair net, indicating her high status. No footwear was found, but she likely wore simple leather shoes or sandals. Items like a bronze awl and a woolen textile in a birch bark box were also discovered with her, suggesting a connection to textile work. Her clothing exemplifies the advanced craftsmanship and fashion of the Nordic Bronze Age.

8. Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire

The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, also known as the Crown of Charlemagne, is an iconic symbol of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. Crafted in the late 10th century, likely during the reign of Otto I or Conrad II, the crown is made of eight hinged plates of gold, decorated with precious stones and enamel panels. It features religious imagery and inscriptions, underscoring the divine right of the emperor. The crown was used in the coronation ceremonies of Holy Roman Emperors and is now housed in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. You can see it here being worn by a soldier circa 1945.

9. A flintlock rifle with a heart-shaped bore

This flintlock rifle with a twisted barrel and a heart-shaped bore is from 1765. It was owned by George IV and is now part of the Royal Collection Trust.

10. This letter was written by a widow to her late husband in Korea, in 1586

The letter reads: “You used to always say to me, ‘Let’s live together until our hair turns white and die on the same day.’ So how could you go ahead and leave me behind?”

It was discovered in the man’s grave with a lock of her hair.

11. Serpentine Sword from Tomio Maruyama Tumulus, c. 4th Century

The Tomio Maruyama Tumulus in Nara, Japan, revealed a remarkable serpentine sword from the late 4th century. Measuring nearly 8 feet in length, it is the largest sword of its kind discovered in Japan. This artifact showcases advanced metallurgical skills and indicates the high status of the individual buried with it.

12. Mycenaean Ornate Agate Sword, c. 1400 BC

Photograph of a jade-hilted and green-bladed ceremonial dagger, displayed vertically in a museum exhibit.

The Mycenaean ornate agate sword from around 1400 BC is a remarkable artifact reflecting the advanced craftsmanship and artistic sophistication of the Mycenaean civilization. These swords, often found in tombs like those in Grave Circle A at Mycenae, feature bronze blades with handles decorated with gold and inlays of semi-precious stones such as agate and lapis lazuli. They served as both functional weapons and status symbols.

13. Ivory Carbing of a Man Catching Chickens, Japan, Meiji Period, C. 1900

An intricate wooden sculpture depicts a man in traditional Japanese attire, lifting a detailed woven basket. Below him, a hen and several chicks are carved with fine details, standing on a textured base. The artwork showcases meticulous craftsmanship.

This intricate ivory carving from Japan, dates back to the Meiji period, around 1900. It portrays a man catching chickens with a basket, highlighting the detailed craftsmanship typical of the era. The carving captures the man’s expression and the texture of his clothing, as well as the chickens, demonstrating the high level of skill in ivory carving during the Meiji period. Such pieces were often created for export and are valued for their artistic and historical significance.

14. Bronze Roman Dodecahedron, c. 4th Century, Norton Disney, Lincolnshire

Close-up of a hand holding a small, ancient dodecahedron artifact with circular holes on each face and small knobs at the vertices. The background shows an archaeological dig site with blurred figures wearing yellow safety vests and working in an excavation area.

This is a bronze Roman dodecahedron, an enigmatic artifact dating back approximately 1,700 years. This particular dodecahedron was unearthed in the summer of 2023 during an amateur archaeological dig in a farmer’s field near Norton Disney, Lincolnshire. Roman dodecahedrons are geometric objects with twelve flat faces, each face a pentagon, and often feature protruding knobs at the vertices and circular holes on each face. Their exact purpose remains a mystery, with theories ranging from use as a measuring device, a religious artifact, to a gaming piece or a tool for knitting gloves. This discovery adds to the body of knowledge about Roman presence and activities in ancient Britain.

15. Roman Glass Souvenir Cup with Gladiator Imagery, 50-80 CE

A partially broken transparent glass bowl displayed on a white pedestal. The bowl has an embossed design featuring horses and riders, along with some text near the rim. A small label on the pedestal reads "81.10.245".

This Roman glass souvenir cup, dating from 50-80 CE, features detailed images and names of popular gladiators from the time. Such cups were likely cherished mementos for spectators of gladiatorial games, celebrating the famous fighters who entertained the masses in ancient Rome.

16. Lakota Leather Jacket with Glass Beadwork, 19th Century

A detailed brown suede jacket adorned with intricate beadwork depicting birds, horses, and geometric patterns. The jacket features fringe accents on the sleeves and shoulders, creating a traditional and culturally rich appearance.

This leather jacket, crafted by the Lakota peoples of the Great Plains in the 19th century, is adorned with intricate glass beadwork. The design features vibrant depictions of horses and birds, showcasing the artistry and cultural significance of beadwork in Lakota tradition. Such garments were not only practical for protection against the elements but also served as a display of identity and craftsmanship within the community. The use of glass beads, acquired through trade, reflects the interaction between Native American tribes and European settlers during this period.

17. Black Leather Book Box, Italy, ca. 1465-1485 CE

A dark leather bag with intricate carvings, including a figure seated on a throne, and Greek lettering at the top. The bag has a long strap attached, suggesting it is meant to be worn over the shoulder. The design appears ancient and detailed.

This black leather book box, dating from approximately 1465-1485 CE, originates from Italy and is currently housed at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. The intricately carved box features a detailed depiction of a seated figure, possibly a religious or scholarly icon, surrounded by decorative elements and inscribed text. Such book boxes were used to protect valuable manuscripts and books, reflecting the importance of preserving knowledge and the craftsmanship of the late medieval period.

18. Qing Dynasty Bed, 19th Century, China

A richly adorned, traditional Chinese wedding bed with intricate red and gold carvings. The ornate wooden structure features a circular entrance with elaborate designs, set against a backdrop of detailed panels. A red bowl sits in front of the bed.

This elaborately carved bed from the Qing Dynasty (1638-1912 CE) dates to the 19th century and is currently housed in the Jubilee Museum in Brussels. The bed features intricate woodwork with detailed scenes and motifs, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship of the period. Such beds were often used by the elite and reflect the luxurious lifestyle and artistic achievements of the Qing Dynasty.

19. Bronze Age Golden Hat, c. 1500 BCE, Found in Germany and France

Tall, conical golden hat adorned with intricate circular patterns and bands displayed in a museum setting. The brim shows detailed designs with some signs of wear and damage.

This golden hat is one of four discovered across Germany and France, dating back nearly 3,500 years to the Bronze Age. These artifacts are linked to the Tumulus and Urnfield cultures, representing a widespread and coherent Bronze Age culture in western and central Europe. The hats are believed to have served as religious insignia for deities or priests of a sun cult, evidenced by their design and the context in which they were found. The hat’s intricate patterns and craftsmanship, along with its cap-like base and human skull-sized opening, suggest it was used as headgear in religious ceremonies. Comparable artifacts, like the golden pectoral from Mold, Flintshire, further support their ritualistic significance.

20. Roman Bronze Colander, 1st Century BCE, Pompeii

Two images of a historical bronze ladle. The first shows the ladle resting partially inside a bowl. The second image focuses on the ladle, highlighting its intricate perforated design, which casts a complex shadow pattern on the surface below.

This Roman bronze colander, dating from the 1st century BCE, was discovered in Pompeii, Italy. The colander features intricate perforated patterns, showcasing the advanced metalworking skills of the period. Used for straining liquids, this functional yet beautifully designed kitchen utensil reflects the everyday life and domestic practices in ancient Rome. The preservation of such artifacts provides a glimpse into the culinary habits and artistic sensibilities of the inhabitants of Pompeii before the city’s destruction in 79 CE.

21. Six Dynasties Ceramic Dog Figurines, China, c. 550 AD

Four views of ancient terracotta dog statues are depicted. The statues, painted in earthy tones, show one dog lying down and another with its head up. The top view shows both dogs, while the bottom views focus on individual perspectives from different angles.

These ceramic dog figurines date back to around 550 AD during China’s Six Dynasties period. The sculptures depict two dogs in lifelike poses, showcasing the detailed craftsmanship and attention to naturalism characteristic of the era. Such figurines were likely used as grave goods, intended to accompany the deceased in the afterlife, reflecting the cultural significance of dogs as loyal companions. These artifacts provide valuable insights into the artistic practices and societal values of the Six Dynasties period in ancient China.

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