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The most embarrassing archaeological mistakes



In the past we've looked at some of the most terrifying discoveries archaeologists have ever made, but now we're examining the opposite side of the same coin. These next finds were either fraudulent or simply wrong and caused some embarrassment. People who supposedly knew what they were talking about had an egg on their face.

10. The Runamo runes

As early as the 1

2th century, Scandinavian scholars mentioned Runamo, a dike in Sweden that is said to contain a rune inscription carved into the rocks by Vikings. Even then it was found that the so-called runes were too worn out and no longer legible. Therefore, their content seemed to remain a mystery.

The Runamo runes were ignored for hundreds of years, but there was renewed interest in them in the 18th and 19th centuries. The scholars wanted to inspect the carvings again, hoping to see something their ancestors had overlooked. One of these scientists was Finnur Magnússon, an Icelandic archaeologist who taught at the University of Copenhagen. At that time he was considered one of the leading European experts for Old Norse literature and runes. So in 1834 he convinced the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters to fund a research expedition to study the Runamo runes.

Then Magnússon made the boldest proclamation – he had deciphered the runes. He claimed they were a poem and praised King Harald Wartooth for his bravery at the Battle of Bråvalla.

Magnússon's interpretation was accepted and announced across Europe as the triumph of antiquarianism and the restoration of a glorious part of history. A few years later, the outstanding Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius decided to check the inscription himself and came to a shocking result. The carvings were not a rune at all. There were actually only natural cracks and cracks in the rock. Magnússon's reputation never recovered from the scandal.

9. The Holly Oak Pendant

In 1889, an American archaeologist named Hilborne T. Cresson presented an interesting artifact – it was an old pendant made from a piece of shell with a mammoth engraved on it. Considering that mammoths in North America have been extinct for over 10,000 years, it would have been a unique and priceless object.

There was immediate suspicion of the authenticity of the artifact. For starters, Cresson had claimed to have found the trailer near the Delaware River 25 years earlier. He couldn't really explain why he had waited so long before saying it, except to say that he didn't recognize its value, which seemed unlikely to an archaeologist. Then there was Cresson himself, who wasn't exactly what you might call a person with high moral fiber. He was fired from his position for stealing artifacts from an excavation and selling them to private collectors. Eventually, the Holly Oak pendant was dismissed as a likely fake, but this could not be finally proven in the 19th century. Instead, the item was simply thrown into a drawer somewhere and forgotten.

This should have been the end of the Holly Oak trailer, but it caught interest again in the 1970s and was even published on the cover of the May 1976 issue of Science. For some reason, people thought it could be real again. An article speculated that the artifact could be up to 40,000 years old.

Again, science wasn't ready to refute the thought, but it would be a decade later. In 1988 radiocarbon tests dated the shell to AD 885 and made it only 1,100 years old.

8. Saitaphernes' golden tiara

The Louvre houses one of the largest collections of artifacts ever put together, but even they tend to be embarrassing gaffes. The stupidest thing happened over a hundred years ago and it's probably one you'd rather forget.

Fittingly, this mistake began on April Fool's Day – April 1, 1896 – when the Louvre announced the addition of a spectacular artifact they had just bought. They called it the tiara of Saitaphernes or Saitapharnes, and it was said to be a gold sheet crown, which was used from the 3rd century BC. It belonged to a Scythian king.

As one of the most successful museums in the world, the Louvre had an extensive team of experts who examined the tiara and declared it to be genuine. The fact that both the British Museum in London and the Imperial Court Museum in Vienna had refused the option to purchase did not raise red flags, so the Louvre paid CHF 200,000 for the crown.

As expected, the tiara was a fake. Almost immediately, external experts raised suspicions. One of the first was a German professor named Adolf Furtwängler, but the Louvre doubled his decision and even accused critics like Furtwängler of defiance and xenophobia against the French.

For six long years, the museum stubbornly refused to admit defeat. Eventually the news of the scandal reached Odessa. In particular, it reached Israel Rouchomovski, the man who actually made the fake. He answered and said that he had been commissioned to make the object as a gift "to an archaeologist's friend" and had never known that it would be presented as real. Finally the Louvre admitted their mistake.

7. The Calaveras Skull

Josiah Whitney was one of the greatest American geologists in history. He taught geology at Harvard University and was head of the California Geological Survey. Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the adjacent United States, is named in his honor, as is Whitney Glacier. Still, Whitney was not an anthropologist or archaeologist. When he came across an old hominin skull, he probably should have asked for a more informed opinion.

However, he did not. When Whitney got a skull that was said to be discovered by miners under a lava layer 130 feet underground, he was convinced that it was real. Whitney, known as the Calaveras Skull, first presented it to the world on July 18, 1866 . He claimed to be one million years old, which at the time made him the oldest human remains, that were ever discovered.

Obviously there were doubts from both experts and the media, but Whitney also had his supporters. For some reason, it took almost three decades for an archaeologist to take a closer look at the Calaveras skull. It was William H. Holmes of the Smithsonian Institution who dismissed it as a joke because the skull features were too modern. Subsequent investigations revealed that the skull was replaced by miners who wanted Whitney to joke. The last nail in the coffin occurred in 1992, when the Calaveras skull was dated with carbon and was only 1000 years old.

6. Drake's brass plate

Between 1577 and 1580, the British explorer Sir Francis Drake made the second world tour. During his trip he landed in North America in what is now Point Reyes, California and claimed this country for England. According to the diary of one of his sailors, Drake also left a brass plate on the occasion, and since then this long-lost artifact has been a holy grail for historians who focus on America's early colonization.

One of these scholars was Herbert Eugene Bolton who spent most of his career teaching and researching Spanish-American history in Berkeley. Not only was he convinced that Drake's plate existed, he believed in 1937 that he had found it.

The artifact in question had been discovered a few years earlier. As soon as Bolton saw it, he was convinced that it was the real article and convinced his colleagues in the California Historical Society to donate $ 3,500 to buy the plate and donate to the Bancroft Library in Berkeley.

Immediately there was skepticism, mainly caused by the language on the plate's inscription, which critics described as too modern. However, Bolton and his compatriots would not hear about it. In their honor, they had the plate authenticated by a professor of electrochemistry, who concluded that it was real. As a result, Drake's brass plate was considered one of the most important historical artifacts in California for the next 40 years.

Then, in the late 1970s, new tests showed that it was a modern fake. Nevertheless, the riddle remained as to who did it and why. It would take another three decades for other historians to put it together.

As it turned out, the fake brass plate was a practical joke at Bolton's expense that really got out of hand quickly. Bolton was a member of a historical brotherhood called E Clampus Vitus or ECV, as was a man named Ezra Dane, supposedly the architect behind the joke. Dane and his accomplices even wrote the letters ECV in fluorescent paint on the back of the plate, but apparently no one thought to check this out. After Bolton released his results, it was too late for them to simply admit their deed without harming their reputation. Their story began decades later after most of the conspirators died.

5. The Persian Princess

In 2000, the Pakistani authorities came into possession of a unique artifact, which was offered for sale on the black market – a Persian mummy. Just a few days after his recovery, Pakistani archaeologists held a press conference at which they presented the exciting find and claimed that it was a 600 BC Egyptian-style female mummy. BC, which was housed in a wooden coffin with cuneiform writing and pictures of the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda. To add to the excitement, there was speculation that the mummy was a daughter of King Xerxes I.

The value and scale of the discovery were so great that an international dispute immediately began between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan over who it was the rightful owner of the mummy. But then enough time passed to do some actual research to verify its authenticity.

First tests showed that the wood from the coffin was only 250 years old, so that the "Persian princess" just turned out to be a fake. But in a disturbing turn it turned out that the mummy itself was much younger. In fact, it belonged to a woman in her early 20s who had been killed only a few years earlier. The recovery of an old mummified princess therefore turned into an investigation into a modern murder victim.

4. Piltdown Man

At the beginning of the 20th century, anthropologists and archaeologists were eagerly searching for a "missing link", a previously undiscovered species that would bridge the gap between apes and humans. Understandably, the scientific world became extremely excited in 1912 when the British amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed to have found this connection – skull fragments of an early human named Piltdown Man.

Dawson sought the help of an outstanding paleontologist named Arthur Smith Woodward who helped reconstruct the skull. They then presented their results to their colleagues at the Geological Society of London and proclaimed that the fossils belonged to a human ancestor from 500,000 years ago, whom they called Eoanthropus dawsoni or "Dawson's Dawn".

In the decades that followed, Piltdown Man lost some of its luster because scientists kept discovering fossils of other old people. It wasn't until 40 years later in 1953 that Piltdown Man actually turned out to be a fake made by carefully combining human and monkey bones. It was a heavy black eye for the scientific world and still serves, a hundred years later, as a warning of the fallibility of archeology.

As for the culprit behind the joke, their identity remains a mystery, even though it is new. [19659002] Research on the subject suggests that it was Charles Dawson himself who staged the deception.

3. The Tarragona Sarcophagus

This semi-dark archaeological bunkum is unique in that it once fooled people, was dismissed as a joke, and fooled them decades later.

It started as early as 1850, when a worker in Tarragona, Spain, discovered a marble sarcophagus with unusual inscriptions that appeared to show a giant man who broke two boulders as many other people approached him from all directions. A local antiquarian and archaeologist named Bonaventura Hernández i Sanahuja claimed to have told the story of Hercules who opened the Strait of Gibraltar.

This would have been fine in itself, except that Sanahuja came to the conclusion that the procession of the people on the inscription came from Egypt. He believed that the Egyptians overthrew the Hyksos about 3,600 years ago and persecuted them to Spain. Sanahuja believed that this Egyptian tomb found in Tarragona was evidence of this. Not many other scholars agreed with this idea, most of them jokingly rejected the sarcophagus, although it was never determined whether it was committed by Sanahuja himself or by someone else.

This should have been the end if it hadn't been. A strange moment that happened almost 60 years later with the kind permission of American archaeologist Arthur Frothingham, co-founder of the American Journal of Archeology. In a 1916 edition, he spoke about Phoenician iconography and used a fragment from the pictures on the sarcophagus. He didn't seem to be aware of his true origins when he called it the "Phoenician tablet of Tarragona " and presented it as real. It was not until five years later that a French historian named Pierre Paris discovered his gaffe and rejected the sarcophagus as a parody of Egyptian art.

2. The Piltdown Bird

This is a reminder that archaeological mistakes made out of haste or inexperience are not a thing of the past. As early as 1999, the National Geographic Society made a bold proclamation about a newly discovered feathered species found in China. They had exclusive access to this prehistoric fossil and called it an alleged connection between dinosaurs and birds after weeks of testing Archaeoraptor liaoningensis .

Presented in National Geographic the The senior editor wrote : “His long arms and small body scream for bird! His long, stiff tail… cries out for dinosaurs! ”Only a few weeks later the magazine had to publish an embarrassing retreat and admit that the animal was a fake. One of the largest scientific organizations in the world was cheated by some Chinese farmers who put together pieces of different animals.

The creature became known retrospectively as a piltdown bird because the situation reminded everyone of the falsification of fossils a century ago.

1. Nebraska Man

Finally, let's take a look at a case similar to Piltdown Man, except that it was in the United States. In 1917, a Nebraska rancher named Harold Cook found an old tooth that appeared human . Five years later, he sent it to Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History and one of the country's leading paleontologists. After the investigation, Osborn stated that it was a hominin tooth belonging to the newly named Hesperopithecus haroldcookii the first great ape discovered in North America.

Because this name was somewhat lengthy, the New Species became known in 1922 as the Nebraska Man. Since they had been identified from a single tooth, there were doubts in the scientific community from the start. In just a few years, further digs found other parts of the skeleton on the site, confirming that the tooth actually did not belong to any type of hominin. It actually came from an extinct species of a pig-like mammal called peccary. By 1927, the existence of Nebraska Man had been officially exposed.

Unlike Piltdown Man, this was a case of real human error not kidding. Unlike Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man was only a few years old and never completely convinced the scientific world of its authenticity. Yet it has done much more damage to its credibility thanks to the time and place of discovery.

Nebraska Man became a topic of conversation at the time of the Scopes process, which fired upon evolution in America. In fact, Osborn himself had regular debates to defend evolution, including against William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who led the Scopes trial. Nebraska Man, who was a mistake, gave ammunition to creationists and others who rallied against evolution.

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