The 6 most iconic ancient artifacts that continue to captivate

You’ve probably heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls and seen King Tut’s Mask. But if you want to beat your family out Danger, you better learn their stories. Here’s our cheat sheet for six iconic artifacts from the ancient world.

Venus of Willendorf

(Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / Wikimedia Commons)

Of: About 30,000 years ago Austria

Now: Vienna Natural History Museum in Austria

Fatty and almost 30,000 years, Venus of Willendorf is the female icon of the Ice Age. The four inch tall action figure Has a pronounced breast, buttocks, stomach, and vaginal lips, but lacks feet or facial features. Braids, or perhaps a knitted beanie, cover her head and spots of pigment suggest that the beige limestone artifact was once painted red.

Archaeologists found the figurine in 1908, about a week after excavations began at Willendorf II, an Austrian site along the Danube, about 80 km from Vienna. During the 1900s and 2000s, several other excavations happened there, with constantly improving methods, who unearthed two less famous Venus figurines and hundreds of stone tools.

Across Europe, nearly 200 similar statuettes surfaced from sites between 23,000 and 40,000 years. Although modern scholars call these artifacts Venus, named after the Roman goddess of love and fertility, actual sculptors lived at least 20 millennia before classical Rome. It is not known why the people of the Ice Age carved these figurines, with researchers suggesting that they served as symbols of fertility, self-portraits or pornographic articles. Either way, the so-called sex appeal didn’t last: on a 5-point scale from unattractive to extremely attractive, Venus of Willendorf received an average rating of 0.14 in a 2011 survey of 161 undergraduate students.

Colossal Olmec heads

(Credit: Fer Gregory / Shutterstock)

Of: From about 3,400 years ago, Gulf Coast, Central America

Now: Several Mexican museums, including the one in Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology

Called a few times mother culture from Mesoamerica, the olmec civilization Pink from the swamp forests of the Gulf of Mexico coast between 400 and 1400 BC. More than two millennia later, in 1862 AD It was the first of 17 similar heads yet to be recovered, thought to be portraits of Olmec rulers.

The towering statues stand between 5 and 10 feet tall, each weighing more than an adult elephant. They represent surly men with almond eyes, flat noses and full lips. But each head has a unique face, expression, and headdress, supporting the idea that the carved rocks represent particular heads.

The first accidental discovery took place at Tres Zapotes, in the foothills of the Tuxtlas Mountains, which provided the basalt stone used to make them. But archaeologists later found most of the heads nearly 60 miles from the basalt source, in the ancient capitals of San Lorenzo and La Venta. While surely laborious, it is not clear how the Olmecs transported these massive boulders, eventually carved and displayed in the central plazas. And, several heads seem to have been broken and buried long ago, leading some archaeologists think of the elders deliberately destroyed old statues as new rulers seized power.

King Tut’s funeral mask

King Tut’s funeral mask. (Credit: Mark Fischer / Flickr)

Of: The Egyptian New Kingdom 3,300 years ago

Now: The egyptian museum in Cairo, Egypt

Say pharaoh and most people will imagine the King Tutankhamun’s funeral mask. The 24-pound facial replica capped the wrapped mummy of the Egyptian king, who died in 1323 BC at the age of 19, after reigning only 10 years. The base highlights in solid gold with lapis lazuli, turquoise and other semi-precious stones. The chin bears a tube-shaped beard and the forehead displays a vulture and a cobra, deities who together symbolized the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt.

The mask reappeared in the modern world in 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the almost intact tomb of King Tut in the Valley of the Kings, a royal cemetery along the Nile. Over the ages, modern and ancient looters have emptied most of Egypt’s royal tombs, so Tut’s burial chamber was the first to reveal the phenomenal wealth the pharaohs took to the tomb.

Rosetta stone

(Credit: Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock)

Then: 2,200 years ago, the ancient Egyptian city of Rosetta

Now: The British Museum, England

Frankly, the Rosetta Stone is a boring read, a priestly decree published in 196 BC, affirming divine worship of King Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation. But his scribe chiseled the message into the black slab three times in a row in different scriptures: ancient Greek, the formal hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, and his more relaxed cursive demotic script. And this bilingual tri-script inscription allowed deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, unlocking all the writings of the ancient civilization.

Discovered in 1799 by French soldiers during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, the artifact found its way to London after British troops defeated the French there in 1801. Ancient Greek was understood, so scholars and the public immediately recognized the stone’s potential for deciphering hieroglyphics. But it will take another 20 years before Jean-François Champollion succeeds in deciphering the code.

The most popular object in the British Museum today, the relic is 3 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 1,680 pounds, although about a third is missing, destroyed over the ages. The full text is however still known, because other monuments bear the same decree.

Terracotta Army

Of: 2,200 years ago, Shaanxi province, China

Now: Museum erected on the site, Emperor Qinshihuang Mausoleum Site Museum

Imagine building your grave for over 30 years, fueled by unlimited power, resources, and a desire for immorality. Even then, your mausoleum might not compare to the complex commissioned by Qin Shihuang, the first emperor to rule a unified China from 210 to 221 BC. 22 square miles, much more land than most college campuses (all but three in the United States, In reality).

The site features statues of dancers and acrobats, gold-adorned horse-drawn carriages, and bronze waterfowl in diorama-like canals. But he is perhaps best known for the terracotta army, thousands of life-size clay warriors, lining the trenches in military formation. In 1974, farmers digging a well discovered the first statue. Since then, three major excavations have uncovered 2,000 more soldiers, although 6,000 more probably remain buried. Each statue seems portray a real soldier in the strength of Qin Shihuang, according to their hairstyles, caps, tunics, facial hair and functional bronze weapons, remaining remarkably sharp to this day. Even their ears are unique, according to one 2014 study in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.

Dead Sea Scrolls

(Credit: Lerner Vadim / Shutterstock)

Of: About 2,000 years ago, the shores of the Dead Sea in the West Bank and Israel

Now: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

In 1947, Muhammed ed-Dib, a Bedouin shepherd, set out in search of a stray goat along the steep cliffs bordering the Dead Sea. What started as a goat chase culminated in one of the 20th century’s greatest archaeological finds: in a narrow cave, ed-Dib discovered clay pots filled with ancient scrolls – the first of nearly 1,000 tattered texts written between 300 BC and 70 AD which understand the Dead Sea Scrolls.

About 230 of scrolls write down stories in the Hebrew Bible or in the Old Testament of Christianity – although these copies probably predate the compilation of the Bible. The rest contains other religious texts, such as prayers, hymns and rules. Although written primarily in Hebrew, the archives also contain older Paleo-Hebrew, several Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Arabic dialects.

Over the years, archaeologists have recovered many other scrolls of 12 caves near the first treasure and a few more distant places. Thanks to the brackish conditions of the desert, some parchments have aged intact. But most of them have deteriorated, constituting a body of more than 25,000 pieces of parchment and papyrus. Like a puzzle – with countless pieces missing – the fragments have been painstakingly reassembled by matching writing and materials. In the future, DNA sequencing could come in handy as many scrolls are made from animal skins. The method, tested on 26 fragments in a 2020 Cell paper, managed to match the fragments of the same creature.

From what one can read, the researchers are debating the authors of the scrolls. Some say that the texts came from various sources; others attribute them all to a Jewish sect that lived near the 12 caves in the first century AD

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