In 1991, a couple of German tourists, Helmut and Erika Simon, were strolling around the European Alps when they came upon the head and shoulders of some guy sticking out of the ice with a surprised expression on his face. Fearing that they had stumbled upon the body of a dead hiker, they called for help.
Planet Wissen, via Wikipedia.com
"But, uh, don't hurry or anything."
He might have been a hiker, but if so, he was doing his hiking more than a thousand years before the New Testament. The scientists who later dug up the body discovered that he hadn't been alive since about 3300 B.C.
The corpse, Otzi (named by the scientists, since he wasn't wearing a name tag), turned out to be the best-preserved natural mummy ever discovered. The amazing fluke is that the random tourists happened to be jaunting around that part of absolutely nowhere right during the narrow window of time when Otzi had defrosted enough to be visible, but before he started deteriorating or got eaten by a wolf with a taste for jerky. The result is that the iceman is so well preserved that we know the color of his eyes and what he had for his last meal.
Ibex. Without hollandaise sauce. So you know he was a classless schmuck.
This was huge, since Bronze Age civilization is still kind of a mystery to us -- what we know about it involves a lot of guesswork, occasionally filling the holes in our knowledge with things we saw on The Flintstones. So finding an actual, frozen caveman is the next best thing to going back in time. In particular, Otzi was found to have tattoos, which we assume revealed his prehistoric gang affiliations.
He is believed to have cost $19.95 from Hasbro (rock sold separately).
The mummy has also earned millions in tourism dollars for the Italian province that he calls home. And for over a decade, the tourists who found him had been embroiled in a legal battle to get a cut of the profits. Apparently, seeing a corpse lying in the snow and having the decency to contact the authorities about it is worth more than the 10 million lira (around $7,600) they were offered as a reward, which they turned down as not a high enough figure.
After dragging it through the courts for almost two decades, they were finally awarded 150,000 euros (about $200,000) for the discovery. Well, only Erika was compensated. Helmut had died in a skiing accident a few years earlier due to what people feared was a "mummy curse." Even though the only thing Otzi has in common with your regular "cursed" Egyptian mummies is that they're all dead.
Although he definitely had a few things in common with Adrien Brody.
Hey, speaking of which ...
You can count the number of incredible discoveries that have been found inside mummies on one hand. Or, more specifically, on one finger. Sometime back in the '90s, scientists in Egypt were unwrapping a mummy for science reasons (we guess) when they found that the body appeared to be stuffed with bits of papyrus. Mummies were stuffed like this to keep them puffy, but this time they were surprised to find that the stuffing had Greek words written on it. A little investigation showed that the mummy was stuffed with a play called Achilles by Aeschylus.
You may not have heard of Aeschylus, but he was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of ancient Greece, one of the first great playwrights and author of an estimated 90 plays. The reason his name isn't as household as, say, Shakespeare is because his life's work was held in the Library of Alexandria, along with about a million other books we'll never read, since the library was burned down by people who hate words. But apparently somebody had a copy of this play lying around in their "scrap paper to stuff mummies with" bin.
Because no one else was gonna read those. Dicks.
And the work is surprisingly complete for something that was stuffed inside a dead guy for 2,000 years. With the help of a few experts to fill in the gaps, Achilles was actually performed in the theater in 2004, thanks entirely to someone who ironically thought so little of it that he used it to stuff granddad.
Either that, or certain forms of undead prefer paper to brains.
The Dead Sea Scrolls might seem like a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, but they recently lost their title as the most amazing Bible-related things found in a desert cave.
It's off to the toilet paper mines for you, scrolls.
Researchers recently came into possession of a number of books written on lead plates that appear to have been created by the earliest Christians just a few years after Jesus' death, and if so, they could possibly change everything we think we know about Christ and the founding of the church. That is, if they're actually real.
The story goes that, just like the Dead Sea Scrolls, a shepherd stumbled upon a cave in the Jordanian desert that contained up to 70 ring-bound metal books, each about the size of a credit card. So of course he sent them to his local museum to be authenticated, right? Actually, no, he sold them at the market for a few bucks, which is apparently what you do when you find priceless Biblical artifacts in a cave.
David Elkington, via The BBC
"Trade ya for an old VHS player."
After changing hands a few times, the artifacts now known as the Jordan Lead Codices finally found their way to a guy who was willing to let people study them. Or at least two of them. The rest he hoards and rubs with olive oil in a bizarre attempt to preserve them.
In the meantime, researchers are all aquiver about the mysterious codices. These wouldn't really be an older copy of the Bible, but writings that predate it -- insights from people writing about Jesus at the time of Jesus, and who may have even met Jesus (remember, the New Testament was written years or decades later). We don't know just yet, because the codices are written in such obscure Jewish tribal dialect that we can't translate much but for the odd word here and there.
David Elkington, via The BBC
A surprising number of which were "elephantine penis."
Oh, and then there are some scholars who think that the real reason we can't translate them is because they are bullshit forgeries written by someone who didn't understand much about the language they were trying to imitate. But as usual, we are reserving hope that there's a little bit of Indiana Jones magic in this world. In the meantime, we're heading to the Middle East, and we're bringing our cave-diving equipment.
"Leave the gold. We're huntin' for Bibles."
For more strokes of fortune that paid off, check out 6 Global Corporations Started by Their Founder's Shitty Luck and 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World.