A 1,700-year-old gold ring with a stone showing Cupid carrying a torch would've been worn on the finger of a man or woman at a time when the Roman Empire controlled England.
Sept. 12, 2011 --
In the search for buried history, archaeologists pour their resources into uncovering the remnants of the distant past. With know-how, persistence and a little luck, archaeologists can push aside dirt and rock and find an artifact of historical significance. Although chance plays a big role in unearthing history, archaeological treasures have been stumbled upon purely by accident, often by those outside the scientific community. In these photos, explore several particularly serendipitous finds of unique artifacts, some of which reach as far back as prehistory.
On Sept. 12, 1940, four teenagers followed their wayward dog into a cave complex near the village of Montignac in southwestern France. To their surprise, the caves hosted something remarkable: nearly 2,000 paintings and etchings of animals, humans and abstract shapes on the walls dating back between 15,000 and 25,000 years. Known as the Lascaux caves, the complex features figures depicted in surprising detail given the age of the illustrations. Animals portrayed on the cave walls included horses, stags, bison and felines. Archaeologists believed the caves were used for ritualistic purposes. Some parts of the illustrations even appear to construct a narrative, but what they mean exactly has yet to be deciphered. The caves were open to the public in 1948, but closed in 1963 in order to preserve the site from damage.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of over 800 biblical texts made of animal skin and papyrus. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, between the years 200 B.C. and 70 A.D., the scrolls could well be the oldest such documents in existence and have deepened historians' understanding of religious history. These documents may have been lost to history had a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin not stumbled upon the first manuscripts along the northern shore of the Dead Sea at a remote site known as Qumran in 1947. The last fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection was uncovered in the mid-1950s. Although the scrolls have been extensively studied and translated, one big mystery remains: Who exactly wrote them?
As Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched through north Africa during his campaign in Egypt, they stumbled upon what would become known as the Rosetta Stone, after the town where it was discovered. Within Bonaparte's army was a squadron of scholars called Institute of Egypt, also known as the Scientific and Artistic Commission. As the military settled around the Nile Delta, the Institute explored local ruins and artifacts. After the discovery of the stone in 1799, several copies of the inscriptions on its face were made, since no one could read them at the time. By 1802, the Greek and Demotic portions of the stone had been deciphered by scholars. The hieroglyphics posed a different challenge all together, however, and it would take 20 years before French scholar Jean-François Champollion announced that he had cracked the code. By deciphering the hieroglyphs, Champollion opened a whole new door to understanding the civilization of ancient Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is currently kept in the British Museum.
In case you don't know what a geoglyph is, ancient Peruvians went through the trouble of leaving a picture-perfect definition. Known as the Nazca Lines, these giant carvings into the Earth were only discovered by airplane in the 1930s. Located in the Nazva desert in southern Peru around 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, the geoglyphs resemble a number of animals including a spider (as seen here), a condor, a monkey, a tree, as well as human figures and geometric patterns. Why exactly indigenous tribes living in the area between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D. felt compelled to produce these works remains a mystery, though archaeologists agree that it is likely tied to religious customs.
In 1991, German tourists stumbled upon a frozen body in a glacier on the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria. Although they originally thought the corpse to be the result of a recent death, the iceman mummy, named Ötzi, in fact dated back 5,300 years. Since Ötzi's discovery, the mummy has been extensively studied. Scientists have learned everything from his last meal to his cause of death to his possible occupation and they have even made reconstructions of his face. Ötzi died in the spring as a result of an arrowhead striking his left clavicle artery. He likely received a ceremonial burial and was found beside tools and other personal items.
Over the years, metal detector enthusiasts, particularly those in the United Kingdom, have uncovered archaeological treasures buried beneath the Earth. In 2009, 30-year-old Nick Davies hauled in 10,000 ancient Roman coins that he had found inside a clay pot buried in Shropshire, U.K. That same year, a trove of 1,500 gold and silver pieces dating back to the Dark Ages were found on a farmer's field in the western region of Staffordshire, England. Last year, 63-year-old David Crisp uncovered 52,000 ancient Roman coins, later given a value of around $1 million, in a clay pot in southwestern England.
Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali,
In 1986, divers stumbled upon a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman shipwreck some six miles off the coast of the town of Grado, Italy. Measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide, the small trade vessel was stocked with 600 amphorae, or vases, packed with sardines and other fish. Further study of the shipwreck revealed that the ancient Roman engineers also had built in a hydraulic system that allowed the ship to carry an aquarium with live fish.
An intricately carved gold ring containing a stone engraved with an image of Cupid — a god associated with erotic love — has been discovered near the village of Tangley in the United Kingdom.
In the engraving, Cupid (also known by his Greek name, “Eros”) is shown standing completely nude while holding a torch with one hand. The ring dates back around 1,700 years, to a time when the Roman Empire controlled England. The ring was discovered by an amateur metal detectorist. Researchers who studied it say that it may have been worn by a man or a woman and is engraved with spiral designs that contain bead-shaped spheres.
The image of Cupid is engraved on a stone made of nicolo, a type of onyx that is dark at the base and bluish at the top. The image on the stone “depicts a standing naked adolescent with crossed legs, leaning on a short spiral column; the short wings which sprout from his shoulders identify him as Cupid,” Sally Worrell, national finds adviser with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and John Pearce, senior lecturer in archaeology at King’s College London, wrote in an article published recently in the journal Britannia. [6 Most Tragic Love Stories in History]
Cupid is shown resting one arm on a column while he holds a torch with the other, Worrell and Pearce wrote. Artistic depictions of Cupid were popular among the Greeks and Romans, and several other finger rings that have stones depicting Cupid are known to exist, the researchers noted. The design of this particular ring indicates that it was created around the fourth century A.D., they said.
A person using a metal detector discovered the ring in December 2013 and reported the finding to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which was established in 1997 to encourage people to voluntarily report the discovery of artifacts.
In England and Wales, amateurs are allowed to use metal detectors to search for antiquities if they have permission from the landowner and if they avoid archaeological sites that have been granted protection by the government. Certain finds (such as those made of precious metal) must be reported to antiquities authorities.
Worrell said that Hampshire Museums Service has acquired the ring, which will be put on display at the Andover Museum in Andover, U.K.
The story of Cupid
The earliest artistic depictions of Cupid and his love interest, Psyche, date back at least 2,500 years, Joel Relihan, a classics professor at Wheaton College in Norton Massachusetts, wrote in his book “The Tale of Cupid and Psyche” (Hackett Publishing, 2009).
A detailed written account of the lovebirds’ story was published in the second century A.D. by a Roman philosopher named Apuleius, who told it as part of a larger book called (in translation) “The Golden Ass.”
Apuleius wrote that Cupid is a young, seductive god equipped with torches, a quiver, a bow and arrows. He is known for “running at night here and there through homes that are not his own, corrupting marriages through indiscriminate seductions, authoring outrages on an enormous scale — and getting away with it all,” Apuleius wrote (translation by Relihan).
If a woman is pricked by Cupid’s arrows, she will fall in love with him, the story goes. Cupid is also fond of going naked in public. At one point, Cupid’s mother, the goddess Venus, criticizes Cupid for this penchant for nudity, saying, “You strip naked on a daily basis.” [Why Ancient Greeks Are Always Nude]
In the story, Cupid finally does something that really annoys his mother: He impregnates a mortal human woman named Psyche. Venus utterly despises Psyche, since the humans on Earth have come to believe that Psyche is even more beautiful than Venus.
Venus tells Cupid that she will never accept Psyche as a daughter-in-law and orders her to perform several tasks that are practically impossible for a mortal human to accomplish. Psyche is saved each time by various gods and creatures who take pity on her and help her out.
Eventually, Cupid convinces a council of gods, led by Jupiter (the king of the gods) to intervene. The council orders Venus to stand down and allow Cupid and Psyche to marry and have their child. They also make Psyche immortal.