Stunning discoveries made by ordinary people


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Hidden cities, artifacts from imperial dynasties, historical documents: These are treasures you’re not likely to find the next time you whip out a metal detector or visit a thrift store. But that is precisely how some of the world’s most treasured artifacts were found. Here are some of the national (and global!) treasures of everyday people like you and me.

Related: The most beautiful underground places in the world

Terracotta army
BartZuidema / iStock

1. The terracotta army

In 1974, Chinese farmers were digging a well near Xian when they found more than they bargained for: the terracotta army. This now-famous find consists of terracotta soldiers, chariots, and horses, all made for then-emperor Qin Shi Huang. The army was supposed to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

Imperial vase
Bainbridge Auctioneers

2. Chinese imperial family vase

This find was the result of a brother and sister in Britain cleaning out their parents’ home. The siblings, who opted to remain anonymous, found the 16-inch-tall Chinese and opted to bring it to an auction house, where they discovered it belonged to an imperial family during the Qianlong dynasty. The vase sold for $85 million after a 30-minute bidding war, which set a record for the highest price fetched by Chinese art at an auction.

The Russian Soldier
Lots Road Auction

3. The Russian Soldier

Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé’s “The Russian Soldier” was found by the relatives of George Davis after he passed away. Davis bought it in 1934 and never took it out of its original box. The family got the Russian soldier figurine appraised and discovered that it was made for Russian Czar Nicholas II’s wife, Empress Alexandra. One of only 50 figurines, the Davis family was able to sell it for a whopping $5.2 million.

Ancient Roman villa on Google Maps
Google Maps

4. Ancient Roman villa

This strange find was made possible because of Google– literally. An Italian man was looking at his city on Google Earth when he noticed something odd: oval shapes and shadows around what appeared to be buildings. After the man contacted archaeologists, they found a Roman villa buried underground.

Dead Sea Scrolls
Library of Congress

5. The Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the most extraordinary archeological finds of the 20th century was discovered by Arab teenagers. The group was looking for some lost gear near Jericho when they found clay pots with papyrus scrolls in them. The teens sold them to a Bedouins antiquities dealer for just $50. Little did they know they had just sold some of the earliest pieces of the Bible ever to be found.

declaration of independence
miflippo / istockphoto

6. Copy of the Declaration of Independence

In 1989, an art collector decided to buy a not-so-great painting at a flea market because he wanted the frame it was in. Imagine his surprise when he discovered a very old-looking document smack-dab in between the canvas and the frame. That old document ended up being one of the original printings of the Declaration of Independence. Good thing he didn’t like the painting!

Venus de Milo
Wiki Commons

7. Venus de Milo

In 1820, peasant Yorgos Kentrotas began digging for marble blocks for his naval officer in France. During the dig, he found the Venus de Milo statue, which is now considered one of the world’s most beautiful statues. He bribed his naval officer into helping him dig it out and sell it to the French ambassador of the Ottoman Empire. A year later, Venus de Milo was given to King Louis and then donated to the Louvre.

Childerics's treasure
Wiki Commons

8. Childerics’s treasure

This is another find made possible by everyday workers. On May 27, 1653, laborer Adrien Quinquin was helping to build the Church of Saint-Brice in Tournai. While digging, he found gold coins in an ancient tomb with even more treasures. The tomb ended up belonging to Childeric I, the former king of the Salian Franks, who was buried in 481 CE.

Golden Buddha statue
Wiki Commons

9. Golden Buddha statue

In 1935, a monastery hired workers to help them move a plaster Buddha to the side of a building that they used simply to store some relics. However, one of the workers dropped the statue during the move. During the drop, some of the plaster chipped off, revealing shiny, shimmery gold. They tore off the rest of the plaster to discover it was made of pure gold. The statue is the largest golden Buddha in the whole world, and it now has its very own building.

Action Comics No. 1
Wiki Commons

10. Action Comics No. 1

A down-on-their-luck couple was clearing out their home before the bank took it over when they made a life-changing discovery: an original copy of Action Comics No. 1, which is the first comic that Superman appears in. The very rare comic fetched the couple over $1 million at auction.

Museum of Modern Art
Manakin / iStock

11. The Lyceum

In 335 BC, Aristotle created a school called The Lyceum. The building was lost to time until workers found it at the construction site for, ironically, a museum: The Museum of Modern Art.

Hoxne Hoard
Wiki Commons

12. Hoxne Hoard


The Hoxne Hoard is an impressive collection of 4,865 coins, 200 silver tableware, and gold jewelry currently on display at The British Museum. All these treasures were found by British farmer Eric Lawes, who was simply looking for his friend’s lost hammer. The farmers used metal detectors to try to make the process easier. Not only did they find the hammer, but they found all the lost treasures, which are displayed right next to the hammer the farmers were looking for.

1,700-year-old emperor’s seal imprint
Wiki Commons

13. 1,700-year-old emperor’s seal imprint

In 1784, a Japanese rice farmer was working hard to repair an irrigation ditch when he found a seal. The odd thing? It was made out of gold. So the farmer took it to a local scholar, who discovered it was a gift to the Japanese emissary by Emperor Guangwu of Han during the first-ever meeting between China and Japan in AD 57.

Yosemite Plate Negatives
Princeton University Art Museum

14. The Yosemite Plate Negatives

In 2000, Rick Norsigian got the steal of the century when he bought glass plate negatives with images of Yosemite National Park on them for just $45. It turned out that they were actually the original negatives of famous photographer Ansel Adams. The plate negatives sold for $200 million at auction.

Frozen lake bubbles
jamesvancouver/ istockphoto

15. The Caveman in Ice

Imagine being a police officer getting a call from two German tourists to report a crime scene. That’s what happened on Sept. 19, 1991, when a body was found under some ice. Luckily, it wasn’t a crime scene; the body was a 4,000-year-old caveman preserved perfectly by ice. The body is now on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy.

Related: Unbelievable secrets hidden in the world’s most famous landmarks

Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BF 109 fighter
Wiki Commons

16. Luftwaffe Messerschmitt BF 109 fighter

A 14-year-old Danish boy was doing his homework on his family’s farm. While out on the fields working, the boy and his father, Klaus, found something pretty extraordinary: a wrecked German plane from World War II. Klaus asked his grandfather about the plane, who told him that it had crashed during the war, back when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. The family found the rest of the wreckage using a metal detector.

The Rosetta Stone
gyro / iStock

17. The Rosetta Stone

Perhaps one of the best-known archaeological finds of history, The Rosetta Stone was found by everyday soldiers in 1799. Napoleon’s troops were knocking down large, ancient walls while trying to improve one of their military forts when they came across the Rosetta Stone, which would go on to help researchers finally understand Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Taizhou mummy
Wiki Commons

18. Taizhou mummy

In 2011, road workers in Taizhou were widening a road when, about six-feet underground, they hit a large, strange object while shoveling. As they dug, the workers began to realize they may have found some sort of artifact and called archaeologists onto the scene. The team took over digging and unearthed a small tomb with a coffin inside. The mummy inside it was almost perfectly preserved.

Medieval Slavic Chieftain graves
Wiki Commons

18. Medieval Slavic Chieftain graves

The world owes this discovery to a humble badger. The creature had been working about five years digging a den in Stolpe, Germany, when it came across a bone. Humans found the badger’s bone, which ended up being a human pelvic bone. Acchealogists began excavating the area and discovered eight 12th-century graves, which are some of the last pagan burials that ever occurred in the Brandenburg area.

Bog butter
Wiki Commons

19. 2,000-year-old butter

In June 2016, a turf cutter found something odd in an Irish bog: a 22-pound lump of butter that had been buried about 2,000 years ago. Back then, butter was a luxury in Ireland and often used as an offering to the gods. Archaeologists said that the butter was so perfectly preserved that the butter was still fine to eat.

15th-century gold pendant
Wiki Commons

20. 15th-century gold pendant

While walking in a field with her son with a metal detector, a Hertfordshire housewife made an interesting discovery. They found a gold pendant showing Jesus’ crucifixion about four inches underground. The necklace turned out to be from the 15th century and was valued at more than £250,000, or about $294,800 USD.

Ancient Derinkuyu , Turkey city
Wiki Commons

21. Ancient Turkey city

Turkey launched an urban renewal project in the province of Nevsehir that required builders to demolish many old buildings. During the demolitions, they found A 5,000-year-old city that had been built on top of it. The size of the lost underground city isn’t certain as of now, but estimates put it at spanning about 100 acres and taking up about five million square feet and 370 feet deep into the ground.

Costa Rica’s stone spheres
Wiki Commons

22. Costa Rica’s stone spheres

In Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta, workers were ordered to bulldoze a jungle when their machine got blocked by strange, stone spheres. Researchers later studied the spheres and found that they were created by the Diquis. The 300 surviving stones are now viewed as Costa Rican icons.

Related: The most iconic landmark in every state

Lascaux caves
Wiki Commons

23. Lascaux caves

In Sept. 1940, an 18-year-old garage mechanic apprentice decided to take a walk in the woods with friends. During the walk, they found a cave with interesting, archaic paintings in them. While they originally decided to keep the finding a secret, they told a teacher about a week later about the cave. The teacher, an expert in prehistoric art, visited the cave, which was then opened to the public for viewing. However, the cave was closed 15 years later because the cave walls were beginning to get moldy.

King Tut's golden mask
Wiki Commons

24. King Tut’s tomb

Perhaps one of the world’s most famous tombs, King Tut’s tomb was discovered not by an archaeologist, but by a waterboy. Archaeologist Howard Carter had spent years and year trying to find the tomb and was about to lose funding for the project. While on the hunt for the tomb, Cater’s waterboy started drawing in the sand with a stick out of boredom when he found a stone step. He told Carter, and they immediately began digging. Then, 22 days later, they finally found the entrance of the tomb.

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Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.