Ten Odd and Mysterious Historical Finds of 2015
Historians and archaeologists alike are not always faced with the ordinary. While much of their time is spent scanning through historic texts or unearthing ancient ruins and human remains, occasionally they stumble across things that are more perplexing. This year has been no exception – from a mummified ‘hand of glory’ to a sword with an undecipherable code, unexplainable stone discs, a fetus found in the coffin of a bishop, and a ‘fairy fort’ that workers are refusing to excavate, here we feature ten weird and wonderful discoveries of 2015.
A team of marine archaeologists discovered several dozen ingots scattered across the sandy sea floor near a 2,600-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. The ingots were made from orichalcum, a rare cast metal which ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote was from the legendary city of Atlantis.
According to Discovery News, a total of 39 ingots (metal cast into rectangular blocks) were found close to shipwreck that was discovered in 1988 lying in shallow waters about 300 meters (1,000ft) off the coast of Gela in Sicily. Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News that the precious ingots were probably being brought to Sicily from Greece or Asia Minor.
Tusa said that the discovery of orichalcum ingots, long considered a mysterious metal, is significant as “nothing similar has ever been found.” He added, "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”
According to Plato’s 5th century BC Critias dialogue, orichalucum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of the legendary Atlantis in ancient times.
In 1825, a mysterious sword containing a cryptic code was found in the River Witham near Lincoln in England. The 13th century sword contains an enigmatic 18-letter message running down the center of the blade, and cryptographers and linguists have been unable to crack it. This year, the British Library appealed to the public for help in solving this 800 year old mystery.
The sword, which is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Magna Carta exhibition, has a steel blade with a sharply honed edge that is believed to have been manufactured in Germany. The cross-shaped hilt is associated with Christianity and would have been used by a knight in his duty to defend the church.
“The blade is unusual as it has two fullers, or grooves, running parallel down its length on each side,” reports The British Museum. “A Viking origin has been suggested for the sword on the basis of the fullers, the pommel and the letter forms of the inscription. However, it is apparent that the pommel, inscription and the blade shape are more characteristic of Medieval European swords than those of Viking origin.”
The sword’s inscription is made down the weapon’s central grove and is inlaid with fine gold wire. The 18-letter message reads: NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI. The language the message is written in is still unknown, which has added to the difficulty in cracking the mysterious code.
Archaeologists discovered the skeletons of a number of ‘sex-obsessed’ nuns who were eventually punished for their sins by having their priory dissolved and their prioress pensioned off.
The team of archaeologists from John Moore Heritage Services discovered the skeletons of a total of 92 nuns at Littlemore Priory in Oxfordshire, dating from the time the priory was founded in 1110 to its dissolution by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525. The skeletons were found in a burial ground surrounding the site of the priory which is now being used for the construction of a new hotel.
The archaeologists also found a stillborn baby in a casket and a woman buried face-down. Researchers said that the face-down position was probably a penitential act to atone for her sins. She may therefore have been one of the sinful nuns who had, according to surviving records, provoked Cardinal Wolsey into dissolving the priory and pensioning off the prioress. Eileen Power mentions the priory in her book Medieval English Nunneries as one of the worst establishments in the country at the time.
A team of investigators in Russia found more than a dozen stone discs in the Volgograd region of Russia. The team claims that the discs contain tungsten, a high density metal that has applications in military technology. The nature of the discs remains a mystery.