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6 Archaeological Finds That Changed History
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December 1, 2019
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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Without the work of archaeologists and historians, we would only have the right here and the right now. Archaeologists have uncovered discoveries that help us understand how the modern world came to be. Tourists can visit archaeological sites and view ancient objects to experience a piece of history. From objects that changed the way we view language and writing to ancient cities that were once believed to be lost forever, thousands of archaeological finds have had an impact on life as we know it today. Here are six archaeological finds that changed history.

Machu Picchu: Ancient City of the Inca

Machu Piccha on a sunny day
Credit: Anton_Ivanov/ Shutterstock

This massive stone city in Peru's Eastern Cordillera mountain range towers over the Sacred Valley near the city of Cuzco. Chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu gives both archaeologists and visitors to Peru a peek into life in the 15th century Incan Empire. Since the 1911 discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham, archaeologists have studied the ruins of temples, homes, and other ancient structures to create a picture of what life in Peru and surrounding countries might have looked like five centuries ago.

The Inca, an early South American culture, lived in and around Machu Picchu from approximately 1450 until the beginning of the Spanish Conquest a century later. Some of the most iconic structures within the ancient city include the Temple of the Sun, which was used to recognize and pay tribute to the sun, and the Temple of the Three Windows, where each window represents various parts of the world. The discovery of Machu Picchu introduced archaeologists and historians to various spiritual, cultural, and other aspects of early life in Peru. Visitors to the site today are treated to memorable views of the city against the backdrop of breathtaking mountains.

The Rosetta Stone: An Introduction to Egyptian History

The British Museum in London, England
Credit: Claudio Divizia/ Shutterstock 

If you have ever considered learning a new language, you have probably heard of the Rosetta Stone. The popular language learning software draws its name from one of the earliest examples of using translation to learn about history. Discovered in 1799, the stone was used as a tool to crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which made it possible to learn about Egyptian history through the symbolic language for the first time.

The stone features the same text in three languages: Ancient Greek, hieroglyphics, and demotic scripts, which was another ancient Egyptian language. Archaeologists who understood that the Ancient Greek text matched that of the demotic scripts were able to decipher the meaning of hieroglyphics for the first time. This opened the door to the in-depth study of ancient Europe. The British Museum in London is currently home to one of the most significant stones in history.

Tomb of Tutankhamun: The Legacy of the Boy King

Mask of Tutankhamun
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Famous for ascending to the Egyptian throne at only nine years of age, Tutankhamun's remains can be found in tomb 62, or KV 62, in the Valley of the Kings. This valley served as the final resting place for many of ancient Egypt's elite. Although the "boy king" ruled from 1333–23 B.C., his tomb was not discovered until 1922. British archaeologist Howard Carter's find brought him worldwide fame for making one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century. After a six-year search, Carter located the astonishingly intact tomb of King Tut, which helped archaeologists and historians answer burning questions about one of Egypt's most famous figures and what the country was like during his reign.

Pompeii: Destroyed and Preserved

Archaeological ruin of ancient Roman city, Pompeii
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When Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, the ash consumed Pompeii and preserved the city, allowing it to be rediscovered in 1599.

Over 1500 years after the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, archaeologists had the opportunity to study homes, tools, art, and other items. This gave them a window into many aspects of ancient Roman history. The scale of Pompeii has labeled its discovery as "one of the biggest success stories of archaeology," and both archaeologists and tourists can take a step back in time by exploring the ruins of this iconic city.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Oldest Known Copies of the Old Testament

Dead Sea scrolls partially unraveled
Credit: adamkaz/ iStock

Found hidden in nearly a dozen different caves near the Dead Sea, which forms the border of Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known copies of several of the books of the Old Testament, including the books of Isaiah, Deuteronomy, and Psalms. These ancient copies of portions of the Bible were discovered in the late 1940s and early 1950s by multiple archaeologists following the earliest accidental discovery by Bedouin teens. The scrolls are considered to be one of the most significant religious discoveries of the modern world.

Troy: Ancient Greece Meets Modern Turkey

Antique column off the coast of the Aegean Sea, city of Troy in Canakkale, Turkey
Credit: Sergei Afanasev/ Shutterstock

Although Homer described Troy in great detail in "The Odyssey" and "The Iliad," two of the most famous epic poems of all time, it was believed to be a fictional city until it was discovered in the 1870s. Building upon earlier finds of Frank Calvert, Heinrich Schliemann led the quest to locate Troy in 1868, and over the next several years enough evidence was found to support the existence of what was once thought to be a product of Homer's imagination. Today, visitors to modern-day Turkey can explore the Greek roots of the Anatolian Peninsula to learn more about the region from Homer's point of view.