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11 of the Most Famous Artifacts in History

Image of the iconic statues of Easter Island for an article listing history's most famous artifacts worldwide.

The world has been home to an array of unique cultures, diverse traditions, and incredible histories that span thousands of years, each leaving behind a collection of the most famous artifacts in history.

These are the relics – the significant remnants of the past that take us on a journey back in time.

In the following list, we have gathered the stories of the world’s most famous artifacts, each narrating a unique saga of time, people, and events.

These famous artifacts are more than just old relics.

They are time capsules, treasures filled with knowledge about human history, evolution, creativity, and belief systems.

Be it from ancient civilizations that vanished without a trace or remnants from not-so-distant times, these objects carry stories of human life that have shaped our world.

These famous objects connect us to our past and invite us to appreciate the extraordinary diversity of human culture and its shared experience over time.

As you journey through our collection of these 11 most famous artifacts, remember that each item represents a piece of the puzzle that makes up our rich and complex human story.

Each artifact, found across the various corners of the globe, serves as a testament to human endeavor, ingenuity, and resilience, offering a fascinating glimpse into our shared history.

Let’s embark on this journey through time and space to explore these incredible testaments of human life.

The Details: 11 Most Famous Artifacts in History

Let’s dive into the world of ancient technology with our first fascinating artifact, a device that has intrigued and puzzled researchers since its discovery: the Antikythera Mechanism.

Image of an ancient Greek astrological device
The Antikythera Mechanism, the first up on our list of “most famous artifacts,”
currently on display at the National Archeological Museum in Athens, Greece

1. The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism is an Ancient Greek hand-powered orrery, described as the oldest known example of an analog computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes.

It was discovered by Greek sponge divers on May 17, 1901, inside an ancient shipwreck off the coast of the island of Antikythera.

The device is believed to have been constructed around 100 BCE and has a complex assembly of more than 30 bronze gears.

The Antikythera mechanism was similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of wood found on the fragments suggest it was housed in a wooden case.

It has been studied extensively since its discovery, with researchers using modern technology such as X-ray imaging to uncover its secrets.

The device is thought to have had 37 gear wheels that were used to calculate astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes.

Its complexity has led some researchers to suggest that it may have been used as an aid for navigation or even as a teaching tool in ancient Greece.

The Antikythera mechanism has captivated scholars across many disciplines due to its intricate design and advanced engineering capabilities.

It is considered one of the most important archaeological finds ever made, providing insight into the technological capabilities of ancient civilizations.

Its complexity has also inspired modern engineers who are now attempting to recreate this remarkable machine using 3D printing technology.

Image a of a 15th century scientific manuscript
One of the most famous artifacts of the medieval era, the Voynich Manuscript

2. The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is an illustrated codex written in an unknown script called ‘Voynichese’.

It was discovered in 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish rare book dealer, and has been the source of much mystery and speculation ever since.

The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century, making it one of the oldest manuscripts of its kind.

The manuscript contains illustrations of plants, astrological symbols, and diagrams that have yet to be deciphered.

Despite numerous attempts by cryptographers and linguists over the years, no one has been able to decipher the text or determine this famous relic’s purpose.

Some believe it could be an herbal medicine guide or a treatise on alchemy, while others think it could be a religious text or a hoax.

In 2017, Nicholas Gibbs proposed that the manuscript was actually a women’s health manual from the late medieval period.

His theory is based on his analysis of the drawings and text, suggesting that it may have been used to diagnose female illnesses such as infertility and menstrual disorders.

While this theory has not been proven conclusively, it does provide an interesting insight into what this mysterious manuscript may contain.

Artists rendition of the Baghdad Battery
Artist’s rendition of the Baghdad Battery, with
its outer ceramic pot, a copper tube, and an iron rod (L to R)

3. The Baghdad Battery

The Baghdad Battery is an ancient artifact that has been the subject of much debate.

It was discovered in 1936 by a German archaeologist in Khujut Rabu, near Baghdad, Iraq.

The battery consists of three artifacts: a ceramic pot, a copper tube, and an iron rod.

It is believed to be from the Parthian period (roughly 250 BCE to CE 250).

The purpose of the Baghdad Battery has been debated for decades.

Some believe it was used as an electroplating device for gilding silver and gold objects, while others think it may have been used as a medical device for electrotherapy or an ancient power source.

However, there is no definitive answer yet.

In 1938, Wilhelm König conducted experiments with replicas of the Baghdad Battery and concluded that it could produce up to two volts when filled with an electrolyte like grape juice.

This led some to believe that it was indeed an ancient battery.

However, this theory has since been disputed due to evidence suggesting that König’s experiment was actually a prank involving a higher voltage battery than what was originally found in the artifacts.

Despite this controversy, the Baghdad Battery remains one of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries in history and continues to be studied by scientists today.

Image of the stone spheres of Costa Rica, an example of some of the most famous artifacts in history
A small sampling of the famous stone spheres at the National Museum of Costa Rica

4. The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

The mysterious stone spheres of Costa Rica have been a source of wonder and mystery for centuries.

The spheres, found in various locations on Isla del Caño and the Diquís Delta, are believed to have been created by a lost civilization known as the Chibchan.

Over 300 of these petrospheres have been discovered, ranging from handheld-sized to over two meters (six feet) in diameter.

The exact purpose of these stone spheres is still unknown, although some believe they were used as ceremonial objects or markers for important sites.

Despite their age and the lack of written records, many stones remain surprisingly smooth.

This has led some experts to believe they were crafted using advanced techniques such as grinding and polishing with sandstone tools.

Today, the stone spheres of Costa Rica are considered unique examples of a complex Pre-Columbian chiefdom settlement and are protected by UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

They continue to be an object of fascination for visitors to Costa Rica who come to marvel at this ancient mystery.

Image of a 16th century world map
World map drawn by Ottoman Admiral Piri Reis (c. 1513)

5. The Piri Reis Map

The Piri Reis map is a world map compiled in 1513 by the Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis.

It is believed to be the oldest surviving detailed map showing the Americas and was presented to the Ottoman Sultan Selim I that same year.

The map was drawn on gazelle skin, and only about one-third of it has survived, held at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

The Piri Reis map is an intriguing piece of history due to its accuracy and detail.

It accurately depicts many geographical features such as coastlines, islands, rivers, mountains, and even some cities.

In addition, it shows Antarctica without its ice cap centuries before it was discovered – leading some to speculate that it may have been based on ancient maps or knowledge not available at the time.

Piri Reis was an experienced navigator and cartographer who traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

He used his knowledge of geography and navigation to create a highly accurate world map that would serve as a valuable resource for future generations.

Today, it remains one of the most famous maps from the 16th century and fascinates historians with its mysterious origins.

Image of the shroud of turin in a church display case
One of the most famous artifacts in history, the Shroud of Turin,
on display at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy

6. The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries-old linen cloth with the image of a crucified man.

It is believed by millions to be Jesus of Nazareth and has been venerated since at least the 14th century.

This famous relic is kept in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, where it has resided for over four centuries.

The shroud first gained notoriety in 1357 when it was displayed in a church in Lirey, France.

Since then, it has been studied extensively by scientists and theologians who have sought to determine its authenticity and origin.

In 1988, radiocarbon dating tests were conducted on shroud samples, indicating that it originated between 1260 and 1390 AD.

This contradicted traditional beliefs about its age and origin but did not definitively prove or disprove its authenticity, as some believe that the sample used for testing may have been contaminated with modern material.

New scientific evidence has shed light on this ancient mystery in recent years.

In 2018, researchers discovered that pollen grains found on the cloth matched plants native to Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime, while other studies have revealed unique properties of the image itself, which suggest it could not have been created using medieval technology available at the time.

Despite these findings, debate still rages on whether or not the Shroud of Turin is truly an artifact from Jesus’ life or simply an elaborate hoax created by medieval artisans.

Image of five easter island statues
One of many Easter Island statues carved by the Rapa Nui people

7. The Easter Island Statues

The Easter Island statues, also known as moai, are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in eastern Polynesia between 1250 and 1500.

The statues were built to represent the ancestors of the Rapa Nui people and were placed around the island with their backs to the sea.

It is believed that there are nearly 1,000 statues, some almost 30 feet tall and weighing up to 80 tons.

The Museum of London currently cares for two large stone moai from Rapa Nui (Easter Island): Hoa Hakananai’a and Moai Hava.

The purpose of these statues is still largely unknown; however, it is thought that they may have been used for religious or spiritual purposes.

In addition, many researchers believe that they may have been used as a form of ancestor worship or even as a way to mark boundaries between different clans on the island.

Recently, a previously undiscovered moai was found in a dried-up lake on Easter Island.

The mystery surrounding these statues continues to fascinate scholars and visitors alike.

It is believed that the construction of these massive megaliths took place between 1400 and 1650 A.D., however, much about their origin remains unknown.

Despite this lack of knowledge, it is clear that these iconic statues remain an integral part of Easter Island’s history and culture today.

Image of the london hammer artifact
The London Hammer encased in rock

8. The London Hammer

The London Hammer (the “London Artifact”) is a name given to a hammer made of iron and wood found in London, Texas in 1936.

Emma Zadie Hahn and her husband, Max Edmond Hahn, discovered it while walking along Red Creek.

The hammer is encased in a limy rock concretion from the Cretaceous rock formation 400 million years old.

Dr. Baugh promoted the hammer as a monumental ‘Pre-Flood’ discovery and had a laboratory in Columbus test it.

They used a microprobe to examine the elements in the hammer and the surrounding rock, which revealed that it was indeed an ancient artifact.

The London Hammer has sparked much debate among creationists who believe it to be millions of years old, while others argue that it is simply an out-of-place artifact with no scientific explanation.

The mystery of the London Hammer continues to fascinate people worldwide, representing our unquenchable thirst for knowledge, meaning, and connection to a larger order.

It remains one of history’s most famous artifacts ever discovered, leaving us with more questions than answers about its origin and purpose.

Image of the great sphinx of giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza

9. The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza is an iconic limestone statue near the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt.

It is believed to have been carved from a single piece of limestone around 4,500 years ago and depicts a mythical creature with a human head and a lion’s body.

The statue is thought to represent Ra-Horakhty, a combination of two Egyptian gods: Ra, the sun god, and Horus, the sky god.

The exact purpose of the Great Sphinx remains unknown, but it is believed to have been built as a guardian or protector for the nearby pyramids.

It has become an important symbol of ancient Egyptian culture and continues to be one of the most recognizable monuments in the world.

Over time, it has been damaged by wind and sand erosion and man-made destruction, such as Napoleon’s soldiers who shot at its face in 1798.

Despite this damage, it still stands today as a testament to ancient Egyptian civilization.

Today, visitors can explore the Great Sphinx up close and learn more about its history through guided tours and educational programs offered by local organizations.

Its mysterious past continues to draw people worldwide who come to marvel at its beauty and grandeur.

Image of the spear of destiny artifact
The Spear of Destiny on display at Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria

10. The Spear of Destiny

The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Lance of Longinus or the Holy Lance, is a legendary relic that is said to have pierced Jesus Christ’s side during his crucifixion.

According to legend, whoever holds the spear will be invincible in battle.

The origins of this myth date back to the Middle Ages when it was believed that the lance had been brought to Europe by Saint Helena and kept at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

The Spear of Destiny has been an object of fascination for centuries.

It has been mentioned in various works of literature and art throughout history, including Wagner’s opera Parsifal and Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

During World War II, Adolf Hitler was said to have believed that possession of the spear would give him power over his enemies.

He ordered its theft from Vienna and kept it at Nuremberg until Allied forces eventually recovered it.

Today, the Spear of Destiny remains an object shrouded in mystery and legend.

Although no scientific evidence supports its magical powers, it continues to fascinate people worldwide with its mysterious past and potential power.

Image of Joshua and the Ark of the Covenant
The prophet Joshua crosses the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant

11. The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant, considered one of the most famous artifacts of the ancient world, is a sacred object mentioned in many religious texts, including the Hebrew Bible.

It is believed to have been constructed by the Israelites while camping out in the Sinai Desert after they fled Egypt.

The Ark was designed to symbolize God’s presence amid His people and was made of gold-plated wood and topped with two large golden angels.

According to biblical accounts, it held the tablets of the Law received by Moses on Mount Sinai.

Some scholars believe that the story of the Ark was written independently around the 8th century in a text referred to as the “Ark Narrative” and then incorporated into other religious texts.

The Ark was used until the destruction of the First Temple and is one of history’s enduring mysteries, as its whereabouts are still unknown today.

The Ark is an important symbol for many religions and continues to be studied by historians and archaeologists alike.

Its significance lies in its physical form and its spiritual representation as a reminder for believers that God is always present with them.

Image of one of the most famous relics of the ancient world, the Roman ruins in modern day Turkey
One of the most famous relics of the ancient world,
the Roman ruins of the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey

Wrap-up: History’s Most Famous Artifacts

These 11 mysterious artifacts will undoubtedly inspire us and capture our imaginations.

While we may never fully comprehend these intriguing objects’ secrets, every new discovery about them brings us one step closer to unlocking their secrets.

We should never stop asking questions and seeking answers to better understand these fascinating artifacts and connect them with the cultures of times gone by.

Our fascination with these enigmatic pieces of history drives us forward and reminds us that no matter how far technology advances, there will always be a place for true mystery in our world.

Check out my article Unraveling Time: 11 Significant Historical Events that Shaped the Course of Civilization for a look into major events throughout history that shaped the world we live in today!

FAQs: History’s Most Famous Artifacts

1. What was the significance of the Nazis’ interest in the Ark of the Covenant during World War II?

The quest for the Ark was part of their larger agenda to appropriate and manipulate history and symbols to further their political agenda.

While their search for the Ark was unsuccessful, it highlights their willingness to exploit ancient artifacts and religious relics for their own purposes, showcasing the extent to which they were willing to go in their pursuit of power during World War II.

2. What is the significance of the missing nose of the Sphinx?

The Sphinx’s missing nose has sparked curiosity and speculation over the years.

The commonly held belief is that the nose was intentionally damaged, possibly by Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers during their expedition to Egypt in the late 18th century.

However, alternative theories suggest that the nose was damaged by erosion, vandalism, or even a deliberate act in ancient times.

While the exact reason remains uncertain, the missing nose has become an iconic element of the Sphinx’s enigmatic and mysterious presence.

3. Can the Shroud of Turin be viewed by the public?

The Shroud of Turin is not regularly on public display due to its delicate condition and the need for preservation.

However, several public exhibitions have attracted millions of visitors over the years.

These rare exhibitions occur on special occasions, often with a significant religious context.

The custodians decide to exhibit the Shroud of the Cloth and the Catholic Church, and it is done with utmost care to ensure its preservation.