From space, the planet earth can look like an orb of lush blues and greens, so it may be surprising to some that one-third of the Earth’s land surface is either partially or totally covered in desert. So unsurprisingly, deserts continue to reveal some of the world’s greatest mysteries and secrets. It’s incredible to think that even with today’s standard of modern technology and methods of discovery that archaeologists don’t seem even remotely close to discovering all that is hidden in the vast and driest wastelands around the world.
Some of these mysteries can be ancient man-made structures, lost cities, artifacts that depict advanced ancient knowledge and even secret buried treasures. However, not all of these buried secrets are quite so ancient and mysterious, some of the most surprising things that can be found in the desert are often secrets that man would rather stay hidden and buried.
With around 46,000 square miles of arable land turning into desert every year there will never be a shortage of discoverable and mysterious items of the past and present to find in the desert.
Here’s a list of 15 of the most shocking and strangest discoveries that have been found in the desert.
15. Egyptian City Buried in The Californian Desert
The Californian desert may be an unusual place to find 35-foot-tall statues of Rameses II, and a promenade guarded by sphinxes weighing five tons each within an 800-foot long temple, but not all is as it seems. The ruins are actually that of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 blockbuster film The Ten Commandments set.
Long before computer generated effects were even thought of, a film of such epic proportions demanded a huge, expensive and life-like set. Legend has it that rather than leave the set standing for other filmmakers to use for a lower budget, DeMille chose instead to destroy and bury the whole set.
Sixty years later a filmmaker named Peter Brosnan led a project to excavate the remains of the set, and one of the sphinxes and several other artifacts are on display at the Dunes Center in California, but funding ran out before any more could be dug up.
14. A Perfectly Preserved World War II Plane Found in The Sahara Desert
By pure chance a single seater World War 2 Kittyhawk P-40 fighter plane was discovered by a Polish oil company worker exploring the Western region of the Desert, about 200 miles from civilization.
It is believed that the RAF airman, 24-year-old Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, survived the crash and attempted to walk out of the desert, after being unable to get the radio working. Scientists have have come to this conclusion because his remains weren’t within the vicinity of the plane. It is rumoured that the RAF will undergo the undoubtedly difficult task of trying to find Copping’s remains.
It is unfortunate that since its discovery the wreck has been seriously vandalized by locals likely stripping the plane for parts and souvenir items. A great shame for what has been considered to be the aviation equivalent of Tutankhamen’s Tomb.
13. Ancient Shipwreck in The Namibian Desert
In 2016 diamond miners working the Namibian desert discovered the wreckage of Bom Jesus ship that went down 500 years ago. Although there have been many ships discovered in this area the discovery of the Bom Jesus is considered one of the significant shipwrecks ever found. Not only is the Bom Jesus one of the oldest discoveries in the area but the wreckage contained $13,000,000 worth of gold coins.
The Bom Jesus was a Portuguese ship that went missing 500 years ago en route to India. The ship was loaded with ivory, gold, and most significantly, 44,000 pounds of copper ingots. It was the copper that played the biggest role in the preservation of the ship. It is believed that marine organisms dislike the presence of copper, and the huge amount of copper within the wreckage prevented marine life from eating the wood and leathers that went down with the ship.
12. Atari Games Buried In The Desert
Ancient Alien theorists have been waiting years for concrete indisputable proof that the remains of extraterrestrials are buried somewhere on planet earth. However, when a 30-year-old urban legend was finally put to rest with the discovery of E.T Atari game cartridges this isn’t exactly what they had in mind.
In April 2014 a film crew was hired by Xbox Entertainment Studios to dig up a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico in order to find the dumped Atari cartridges. The reason for the dump was precipitated by the North American Video Game Crash of 1983. It resulted in the closure of Atari’s El Paso, Texas factory the same year, forcing the company to throw out a variety of its game cartridges – a rumour that Atari neither denied or confirmed. The dig was a huge success, and the rumours were finally put to rest resulting in the games being sold for over $100,000.
11. The Taklamakan Mummies
In 1900 Swedish explorer Sven Hedin found the ancient city of Loulan buried under the sands of the Taklamakan Desert. The discovery of the 4000-year-old Loulan Kingdom led to even more significant finds. In 1979 a mummy was discovered that would later come to be known as “The Beauty of Loulan” because of how she was so perfectly preserved.
What makes the discovery of the Beauty and other mummies from the Taklamakan so significant is that they are of Caucasian origin, a fact that the Chinese government has been reluctant to admit. The perfectly preserved mummies have distinct features associated with Caucasians such has red and blonde hair. The mummies were also very tall with the Yingpan Man being as tall as six-foot-six inches. If nothing else the mummies are proof that ancient people traveled great distances and spread their cultural knowledge and traditions.
10. Alien Claw Discovered In The Peruvian Desert
A group of self-proclaimed paranormal researchers known as The Institute Inkari-Cusco claims to have found what looks like a giant alien claw while searching caves and tunnels across Cusco in 2016. In addition, the researchers also discovered an elongated skull that apparently has real skin tissues still intact.
Thierry Jamin, a French explorer and researcher, said that fellow researcher Dr. Edson Salazar Vivanco performed x-rays on the mummified hand and concluded that it was 33cm long, and has three fingers with metallic implants. Given the size of the hand, this would estimate that the hand belonged to an individual that stood between 2.7 and 3 meters tall. Even though it hasn’t been clear if any independent tests have been carried out it certainly raised some interesting questions.
9. Hidden Iraqi War Planes
Back when US-led teams of soldiers were still searching for the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, perhaps their most important and only significant find was the discovery of over 30 brand-new aircrafts buried in the sand. They were discovered when one of the searchers noticed an aircraft’s tail fin poking up from the sands. Although the fighter jets aren’t considered weapons of mass destruction they were still weapons that the Iraqi forces attempted to hide.
Most of the aircrafts that were discovered were Soviet-era MiGs, Sukhois and French Mirage Fighters. However, it is estimated that the Iraqi military originally had up to 300 planes on the ground that was likely bombed by Allied forces.
8. The Abandoned Town of Kolmonskop
The town of Kolmanskop was founded in Namibian Desert after the discovery of diamonds just sitting on the sand by a worker in 1908. As a result of the discovery, hundreds of German families moved into the area to try and make their fortune.
The town of Kolmanskop quickly grew into a fully functioning and rich Germanic town. The residents built power stations, a school, theater, hospital and an ice factory. The town is considered historically important as it was the site of Africa’s tram system and even boasted the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere.
Unfortunately, the town was abandoned in 1954 when richer diamonds were discovered further south and their overall value dropped after the first World War. Since then, the buildings are gradually being swallowed by the desert, and it has since become a tourist attraction preserved only for its historical relevance.
7. Ancient Treasure Map Found Within The Dead Sea Scrolls
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1946 and 1956 are considered one of the greatest archaeological finds in history. The Copper Scroll is just one of 981 texts, but its significance is considered very special due to the fact that it purports to be a treasure map. Interestingly, the Hebrew it is inscribed with differs to the ancient Hebrew found in the rest of the texts as it was a dialect that was more commonly used hundreds of years later.
The Copper Scrolls text is an inventory of 64 locations containing tons of gold and silver. The directions are very specific, with instructions on where to dig, the distance one can expect to dig and even the contents of the treasure. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to support the existence of these treasures, but there’s still ongoing expeditions dedicated to finding their whereabouts.
6. Advanced Civilization Beneath The Sahara Desert
After the fall of the Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, satellite images revealed the ruins of a long-lost advanced ancient civilization that existed before and during the Roman times. The ruins belonged to the vanished “Garamantes” civilization, whose culture was a highly advanced one.
The Garamantes constructed underground networks of tunnels and shafts to mine the fossil water from under the desert sand. The large scale forts were in an organized state, making use of towns, villages, a written language and even pioneered the establishment of various oases in the desert. A far cry from the wandering barbarian nomads who prowled the borders of the Empire as described by Roman scholars.
5. Whale Graveyard In The Atacama Desert
The discovery of the five-million-year-old whale graveyard in Chile’s Atacama Desert during a highway-widening project in 2010 is one of the most astonishing in recent times. The skeletons of 75 whales were unearthed next to one another just yards apart in one of the world’s most significantly well preserved fossilized graveyards of prehistoric whales.
According to a report in a Royal Society journal, the graveyard was a result of four separate mass strandings, with evidence strongly suggesting that the whales ingested toxic algae along with their prey. The dying mammals were washed into an estuary and on to flatter sands where they were buried over time.
4. The World’s Oldest Cannabis Stash
During a Chinese archaeological exhumation of a 2,700-year-old Gushi tomb in 2008, a blue-eyed Caucasian shaman was discovered with a still-green stash of cannabis. All the evidence pointed toward either ritualistic, medical, or even recreational use of the drug, which contradicted original theories that the plant was used as hemp in order to make clothing and rope.
It was traditional for items needed for the afterlife to be placed in the tomb, and this individual was found with a number of items such as pots, a make-up bag, a harp and archery equipment. However, no materials or objects associated with smoking were found in the grave, suggesting that it was probably ingested orally.
3. The Atacama Humanoid
The 6-inch alien-looking humanoid commonly known as Ata, was first discovered in a deserted Chilean town in the Atacama Desert in 2003. When it was first discovered many claimed that it was mummified proof of alien life, an aborted fetus or even a monkey.
It took ten years since the discovery of the remains for scientists to confirm its human origins in a documentary film called Sirius. In the documentary, a DNA sample extracted from Ata’s bone marrow concluded that the tiny humanoid was an interesting mutation that survived birth and lived until it was around 6 or 8 years old. However, much of Ata’s life and the reasons behind his mutation remain a mystery with no clear answers in sight.
2. The Real Scorpion King
When most people think of the Scorpion King, they will likely think of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing his best Conan The Barbarian impression in the spin-off movie to The Mummy. So, some may be surprised to find that he was actually one of the first Egyptian Kings going as far back to the Dynasty Zero in 3150 BC.
When Patrick McGovern, a scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, entered the tomb he discovered many expensive objects associated with sending members of royalty to the afterlife. Some Egyptologists argue that Scorpion was the same person as Narmer, an Egyptian King of the Early Dynastic Period. Kings of the time may have used alternate names.
1. Eight Million Mummified Dogs
In a complex underground network built 2,500 years ago under the Saqqara desert of Egypt, archaeologists discovered a catacomb that contained up to 8 million mummified dogs and puppies. According to scientists at Cardiff University, the animals would have been offerings to the gods and were treated as living representatives of the Jackal-headed god of death Anubis.
According to Dr. Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology, and Religion, the animals were not considered sacrificial but were instead regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as an intermediary between the donor and the gods.
In addition to the dog catacombs, the Saqqara desert also contains similar catacombs dedicated to baboons, cows, bulls, ibises, hawks, and cats. Experts believe that the practice died out after the Romans conquered Egypt in 30BC.
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