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16 Most Interesting Historical Artifacts That Will Leave You Surprised

The gold-inlaid pocket pistol of Napoleon Bonaparte from the year 1802

In 1802, a certain Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton presented this gold-inlaid pocket pistol with a rather long name (120-bore, three-barrelled, flintlock, box-lock, tap-action, pocket pistol) to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Thomas Thornton was a tawdry Prince of Chambord and Marquess de Pont who spent most of his time doing princely things like hunting, angling, shooting, hawking, racing and patronizing artists. He prided himself on having the grandest shooting equipment in all of England. In the year 1794 a dispute between Thornton and some other officers of his regiment lead to a court-martial and his subsequent resignation. Eight years later in a bid to regain his lost glory and during a visit to France, Thornton presented the magnificent pocket pistol to Napoleon Bonaparte. A few days later Thomas Thornton received a letter, informing him that his gift was graciously accepted and all matters regarding his court-martial will be re-examined.

In 2006, the pistol was sold at an auction for £38,400.

Helgo Buddha: a Viking treasure, 6th Century AD

Between 6th and 11th centuries AD, the small island of Helgo situated in Lake Malaren, Sweden was a major site for Viking manufacturing and a trading hub. Since its discovery, archaeologists are overwhelmed by the number of exotic artifacts found buried there. Known as the ‘Helgo treasure’, a bronze statue of Buddha from India is one of the most popular artifacts recovered. The presence of the statue has given researchers some idea of the long water routes followed by the Viking merchants.

The Helgo Buddha can now be found residing in the Swedish History Museum, sitting on his double lotus throne with a silver ‘urna’ on his forehead and his signature long ear lobes.

Roman ivory doll, 2nd century AD.

Unearthing mummies in Rome is a rare occurrence. In 1964, engineers at a construction site chanced upon a marbled carved sarcophagus while digging in the earth. Inside, there was the mummy of an eight-year-old girl and number of other artifacts that were part of the funeral dowry. At the time, this was only the second mummy unearthed in Rome. Besides the meticulously preserved corpse of the little girl, one item that caught archaeologists’ attention was a doll made of dark ivory. Dated to the 2nd century, the ivory doll is exquisitely detailed, especially the head, with its carefully structured face and stylized hair. Now residing in the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo, the doll embodies the beauty ideals of the time.

Planetarium table clock, 1770

This table clock with a planetarium is unlike any other clock ever found. Made in Paris in 1770, the clock was part of an exquisite and rare collection of historic clocks exhibited in the Beyer Museum in Zurich.

Theodor Beyer, the man behind this feat, had been collecting ancient and rare clocks and watches since 1940. He opened Beyer Museum to the public in the year 1971.

Roman slave collar, 4th century AD.

Inscription: “I have fled, hold me; when you bring me back to my master Zoninus you receive a solidus (i.e. gold coin)”

What looks like a necklace from a distance is actually a slave collar dated between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.

Slavery had been common practice in Rome since the 3rd Century BC and most of these slaves were prisoners of wars or ill-fated captured foreigners. At one point in history, the Roman Senate perused over the matter and decided that slaves and free men would dress differently and therefore the slave collars were introduced. These slaves were looked down upon and made to do all kinds of difficult work.

A Chinese abacus ring, 300 years old

This ring was made in China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Inlaid in the ring like a decoration is a 1.2cm by 0.7cm abacus, with seven rods and seven beads on each rod mounted right on top the ring. Called the ‘Zhusuan’, the counting tool is made of silver and its beads are so tiny they can only be moved by a pin.

Although used by Chinese traders to make quick calculations, the exact date, and place of origin of this amazing tool, and the identity of the type of person to whom it belonged remain unknown.

Napoleon’s engagement ring, 17th century

This ring, with a pear-shaped blue sapphire and a diamond nestled side by side, marked the marriage between Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais. The story goes that their marriage was fiercely opposed by many because Josephine was already the mother of two children, was a widow and older than Napoleon.

Only two days following their marriage on March 9, 1796, Napoleon was summoned for war duties.  Upon his return, they lived together until 1810 when Napoleon decided to marry Marie Louise of Austria because Josephine was unable to bear him children. Nonetheless, even after separation, Napoleon insisted that Josephine retain the title of Empress.

In the year 2013, the ring sold for an exorbitant $939,000, sixty times the appraised amount, at an auction.

The bullet that took Abraham Lincoln’s life, 150 years old

We all know that anything related to Abraham Lincoln automatically becomes valuable. The bullet that pierced through the great man’s flesh and caused his death is stored in a glass vessel at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, like a precious piece of metal. The military museum, famous for its collection of 25 million morbid items, also prides itself for storing fragments of the American president’s skull. To top it off, the museum has tiny pieces of Lincoln’s killer John Wilkes Booth’s spine carefully stored for visitors who find morbid items like these fascinating. 

World’s first prosthetic limb, 3,000 years old

When the oldest prosthetic limb was discovered on a 3,000-year-old mummy, scientists believed that it was a part of the mummy’s burial items, something that was added to the dead body during its burial, something that was thought to help the dead tramp smoothly into the afterlife. In 2007, however, a British Egyptologist upon further examination challenged this notion and claimed that the prosthetic leg was used when the person was alive. The fake foot is expertly fashioned and has visible signs of wear and tear. It’s made of wood and leather and was strapped to a noble woman approximately 50 to 60 years of age. Researchers made a replica of the limb to have volunteers wear and walk in them in order to establish once and for all if the prosthetic limb was workable or not. It was.

World’s oldest trousers, 3,000 to 3,300 years old

In a fairly recent discovery, remains of two horse riders in China were found to have had decorated pants on their legs which are now believed to be the world’s oldest known set of trousers. The woolen trousers had straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch with decorations woven into them.

Guesses are that pants were used by nomadic herders in Central Asia because it allowed ease in movement especially while riding on horseback as well as protecting the legs from any kind of external dangers such as thorns. Although the date of the origin of horse riding is debatable, scientists believe that the use of trousers came shortly thereafter.

The intact seal on King Tutankhamun’s fifth shrine, over 3000 years old

This is the unbroken seal of King Tut’s fifth shrine. Photographed by Harry Burton, the seal had stayed untouched for 3,245 years.

In the 20’s archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the young king’s tomb. His remains were buried in a series of five sarcophagi, which were kept inside five shrines. Although the tomb had been raided twice, most of the rooms had not been defiled because they were inaccessible.

Tutankhamen was an insignificant Pharaoh who died when he was quite young. Most of his wealth was buried with him. Despite his low rank, the Tutankhamen tomb is considered to be very consequential and highly revered by archaeologists. This is because his tomb was buried under other tombs so most robbers never found it, and almost all of its valuable wealth remained intact and preserved for thousands of years. Because of its position, the tomb’s entrance was sealed by mud and rocks protecting it against flood and other catastrophes. 

The oldest cooking recipes, circa 1750 BC

When we think of an ancient clay tablet with strange writings on them, cooking recipes are hardly the first things that come to mind. The picture above is of two recipe tablets of the Babylonian period. It’s no ordinary old cookbook. Inscribed in Akkadian, one of the most complex forms of scribes, the tablet documents several exquisite dishes, some using rare ingredients and presented very elaborately.

This particular tablet consists of twenty-five different recipes of stew: four vegetable and twenty-one meat. Though the recipe lists the ingredients in the order which they should be added, it doesn’t mention the amount of the particular ingredient required implying that the tablet was a guide for experienced chefs. Clearly, the cuisine was meant for special dinners at the temple or the royal palaces.

Japanese dragonfly helmet, 17th century

Exotic helmets, kawari kabuto, were quiet trendy in 15th and 16th century feudal Japan. During these eras, feudal families were constantly fighting amongst themselves for supremacy. This constant squabbling often led to open battleground combats. The kawari kabuto was worn by high-ranking officers so that they could be easily spotted on the battlefield. The helmets had symbolic motifs that reflected an aspect of the officer’s personality and the ideals of the war he was fighting. In ancient texts, Japan is often called Akitsushima, “Land of the Dragonflies”, making the dragonfly helmet a revered piece of national history.

Oldest globe depicting Americas, made in 1504

It’s 509 years old and the size of a grapefruit. It is made of the lower halves of two ostrich eggs, and some say the makers were influenced by or even worked in Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop.

The globe contains exactly one Latin phrase, HIC SVNT DRACONES,  meaning “Here are the dragons”.  It also has seventy-one names of places, a couple of ships, monsters, waves and a shipwrecked sailor.

This ostrich egg globe reflects the knowledge that early European explorers had about the world they live in.

Roman multi-tool device, made in 200AD

Somewhat similar to modern day Swiss Army knife, this ancient, retractable, multi-tool device is made of silver with an iron blade. Discovered in the Mediterranean region the tool also has a spoon, a spatula, a spike, a fork and a tooth pick. Experts believe that this versatile device was custom made and probably belonged to a wealthy merchant who journeyed a lot.

World’s oldest chewing gum, at least 5,000-years-old

The item above is not a rock but the world’s oldest wad of chewing gum. It’s actually a lump of birch bark tar that contains antiseptic properties which were effective for healing mouth infections. Discovered in Finland, the gum comes with a tooth print too.

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