Ten Amazing Artifacts from the Ancient World
There are undoubtedly millions of amazing artifacts from the ancient world that have served to shed light on the lives of our ancestors from many millennia ago. But some stand out for their uniqueness, their intrigue, or their ability to expand our knowledge about previously unknown aspects of our history. Here we feature ten such artifacts. We have intentionally chosen not to feature well-known artifacts such as the Antikythera Mechanism, Baghdad Battery, Viking Sunstone and many other famous relics. Rather, we wished to highlight some lesser known but equally incredible artifacts from the ancient world.
Thor’s Hammer (c 900 AD, Denmark)
The discovery of a 10th century Viking artifact resembling the Hammer of Thor has solved a long-running mystery surrounding more than 1,000 ancient amulets found across Northern Europe. The relics, known as the Mjöllnir amulets, appear to depict hammers, which historians have linked to the Norse god Thor. However, this could not be concluded with certainty as their shapes were not conclusive, and none of them contained inscriptions revealing their identity. But earlier this year, another similar pendant was found in Købelev, on the Danish island of Lolland, which contained the runic inscription “this is a hammer”. Cast in bronze, and likely plated with silver, tin and gold, the 1,100-year-old pendant shows that Thor’s myth deeply influenced Viking jewellery.
According to Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing and fertility. Thor is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania, to the tribal expansions of the Migration Period, to his high popularity during the Viking Age, when, in the face of the process of the Christianization of Scandinavia, the Mjölnir amulets were worn in defiance and Norse pagan personal names containing the name of the god bear witness to his popularity.
The Quipu of Caral (3,000 BC, Peru)
The Sacred City of Caral is a 5,000-year-old metropolis which represents the oldest known civilization in the Americas, known as the Norte Chico. Among the many incredible artifacts recovered at the site, archaeologists found a segment of knotted strings known as a quipu. Quipus, sometimes called ‘talking knots’, were recording devices that consisted of coloured, spun, and plied thread or strings from llama or alpaca hair, or made of cotton cords. It is known that by the time of the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization. The cords contained numeric and other values encoded by knots in a base ten positional system. Together, the type of wool, the colours, the knots and the joins held both statistical and narrative information that was once readable by several South American societies. In some villages, quipus were important items for the local community, and took on ritual rather than recording use. Until the discovery of the quipu in Caral, no other examples had been found that dated back earlier than 650 AD. So the significance of this finding was that it was now apparent that inhabitants of Andean South America were using this complex recording system thousands of years earlier than they initially thought.
Terracotta baby bottle, toy, and rattle, all in one (400 BC, Italy)
Last year, archaeologists in Italy found a 2,400-year-old terracotta baby’s bottle, which doubled as a pig-shaped toy. The unique artefact is one of several rare objects found last in Manduria, when construction work exposed a Messapian tomb. The relic is known as a guttus, which is a vessel with a narrow mouth or neck from which liquids were poured. They were used for wine and other drinks, but in this case, the guttus was used for feeding a baby or young child. Uniquely, this guttus was also shaped like a pig with pointy ears and human-like eyes. It also featured terracotta rattles in its tummy. The vessel dates back about 2,400 years when the southeast area of Italy was inhabited by the Messapian people, a tribal group who migrated from Illyria (a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula) around 1000 B.C. The Messapians died out after the Roman Republic conquered the region and assimilated the inhabitants.
The Nebra Sky Disk (c 1,600 BC, Germany)
The Nebra Sky Disc is a 3,600-year-old bronze disc which is such an extraordinary piece that it was initially believed to be an archaeological forgery. However, detailed scientific analysis revealed that it is indeed authentic and the precious artefact is now included in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ register. The Nebra Sky Disc was discovered in Ziegelroda Forest, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It had been ritually buried in a prehistoric enclosure atop a hill (the Mittelberg), along with two precious swords, two axes, two spiral arm-rings and one bronze chisel. The disc measures approximately 30 cm in diameter, weighs 2.2 kg, and is decorated with a blue-green patina and inlaid with gold symbols. These are interpreted generally as a sun or full moon, a lunar crescent, and stars (including a cluster interpreted as the Pleiades). Two golden arcs along the sides were added later. The two arcs span an angle of 82°, correctly indicating the angle between the positions of sunset at summer and winter solstice at the latitude of the Mittelberg (51°N). A final addition was another arc at the bottom surrounded with multiple strokes of uncertain meaning, variously interpreted as a Solar Barge (“the sun boat”) with numerous oars, or as the Milky Way. While much older earthworks and megalithic astronomical complexes such as the Goseck circle or Stonehenge had already been used to mark the solstices, the disc is the oldest known "portable instrument" to allow such measurements.