The 7 Most Terrifying Archaeological Discoveries

No professional position, aside from perhaps police officer and horny pizza delivery boy, is more frequently misrepresented in film than archaeologist. In movies, archaeologists are all dashing figures, risking life and limb in the pursuit of knowledge while arcane artifacts and ancient traps besiege their efforts. Or else they're perpetually opening sealed, cursed tombs and stumbling into the haunted caves of unspeakable evils in the name of science. But in reality, we all know archaeology is nothing like that. Obviously.

It's way more terrifying.

#7. The Screaming Mummies


In 1886, Gaston Maspero, the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, was doing like he do -- just taking mummies out of their sarcophagi, unwrapping them, dictating all kinds of boring notes -- when he came across an unusually plain burial box. Unlike the kings and queens he'd been working with for most of his career, this particular box didn't give any information as to the identity of the stiff inside. Even stranger, the body was wrapped in sheepskin, which was considered unclean by ancient Egyptians. When he finally uncovered it, Gaston also found that the corpse's hands and feet had been bound for some unspeakable reason. And then, as he slowly panned his gaze upward -- presumably while violins screeched out a dramatic, building score -- he found this screaming, undead face looking back at him:

Because of the strange coverings, the bound hands and the seemingly tortured expression, experts theorized that the body (creatively named Unknown Man E) had been poisoned, buried alive or otherwise tortured before his untimely death. Now that we've done extensive studies on mummification and seen quite a few more intact examples, however, we understand how silly that theory was. Not because the "screaming mummy" was just a fluke, but because they're all screaming all the time.

Or having the most horrific orgasms known to man.

If the jaw isn't strapped shut when a body is mummified, it naturally falls open during the process of decay, leaving a permanent "scream." Most modern burial practices account for this -- the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's business partner in A Christmas Carol, is always shown with that weird headband/chinstrap for precisely this reason. But not all cultures take closing the jaw into account, or sometimes the knots tying the mouth shut just slip. That's why, since Unknown Man E, there have been several more "screaming" mummies found in various digs all around the world.

National Geographic

Yep. Apparently the screaming torment of the undead just ain't a thing.

But really, when you think about it, the rational explanation for the screaming mummies doesn't actually make the finds less impressive. If anything, we have more respect than ever for archaeologists, who we now realize are constantly stumbling into strange, sealed tombs to find stuff like this thing staring at them from the shadows:

"Not without my makeup!"

And when they come face to face with the scariest props from Raiders of the Lost Ark, said archaeologists not only inexplicably refrain from exploding in a big salty ball of fear urine, but calmly stride over, grab the damn thing by the neck and drag the bastard out into the sun for science to take a good, long gander at.

And that's why we propose a new field of study that devotes all of its research hours just to figuring out how to measure balls that size.

#6. The Mass Grave of the Headless Vikings


Archaeologists were digging up the side of a boring old roadway in Dorset when suddenly, instead of "more cobblestones" and "maybe part of a plow," they unearthed something a bit more exciting: a mass grave containing the headless remains of 54 Viking mercenaries. Instead of rightfully interpreting the pit as some kind of ancient "Caution: Predator Hunting Grounds" warning sign and getting the hell out of there, the archaeologists set about carefully recording the positions of the bones. As they did so, the researchers began to notice something unusual about the placement. Namely, that the leg and arm bones, heads and torsos were all neatly arranged into their own separate piles.

So what happened?

Our leading theory is that the Vikings found a Hellraiser-style puzzle box and accidentally unleashed a horde of Middle Ages cenobites.

You're welcome, Hollywood.

The archaeologists' (substantially less plausible) initial theory was that, after being captured by the occupants of a local village that somehow survived the Viking attack, the assailants themselves were murdered, with their corpses then being stripped naked and dismembered by the villagers, who also took a few heads with them as, like, fun-time souvenirs or something.

We're trying not to pass judgment here.

But that doesn't explain why the unfortunate Vikings were beheaded by strange, precise sword blows delivered from the front, instead of the usual hack-jobs to the back of the neck that accompany normal beheadings. In fact, the archaeologists themselves later revised their theory, admitting that the Vikings were probably not torn apart by a brutally violent mob bent on revenge, but may have been sacrificed in a highly controlled and ritualistic manner not consistent with the surrounding culture of the time. As seems to be the case in this nightmare-inducing photo:


So yeah, in short: Viking Hellraiser.

Cracked: 1

Archaeology: ... probably like a hundred million (but not this one, bitches).

#5. The Mount Owen Moa


In 1986, an expedition descended on Mount Owen in New Zealand with the intention of exploring the vast network of caves that dwell deep beneath the mountain.


Ominous setting, isolated expedition, vast network of unexplored caves. Yep, sounds like somebody's filming a sequel to The Descent, all right. And true to horror cliche form, the team was excavating a path between two caves when they found something ... disturbing:

A pile of strange bones.

Still connected to shredded fragments of skin, as though fresh.

And attached to this thing:

Seen here, clearly giving Mother Nature ... ugh, the bird.

Imagine peering through the darkness, with only the tiny, wavering beam of your flashlight picking out the world in front of you, when you're confronted by that: a very large, very claw-happy foot from some sort of hell-beast that looks like it probably died recently. And you're down there, trapped in an underground cave system, not knowing whether its bloodthirsty relatives are nearby. We mean, best case scenario, it's going to grant you four ironically cursed wishes that will ultimately kill you, right?

It turns out that the team had stumbled onto the 3,000-year-old remains of an upland moa, a flightless bird that somehow went extinct despite possessing claws that would make a velociraptor jealous. Here's the naturally mummified, 600-year-old head of a different moa:

Te Papa

Gah! It's like The Dark Crystal come to terrible un-life!

And just like the devil's claw above, the background story behind this discovery reads like a classic horror movie plot line: It was originally discovered in another New Zealand cave back in 1863, by James Campbell. And then, with no explanation, the specimen up and vanished for a number of years, until it resurfaced and was sold to the director of Wellington's Dominion Museum by Campbell's great-great-grandson for the suspiciously low price of 5 pounds. Not listed on the receipt were: peace of mind, the remainder of his soul and a promise from the corpse that it would stop tormenting every single generation of the family that disturbed its slumber.

#4. The Tomb of the Sunken Skulls


In 2009, archaeologists were excavating the bottom of a prehistoric dry lake bed in Motala, Sweden, when they stumbled upon the foundations of a mysterious stone structure ... sealed at the bottom of an ancient friggin' lake. Rather than turning tail and running away so fast their legs spun uselessly in the air for a few minutes like a Scooby-Doo cartoon, the stupidly brave scientists started digging. They eventually unearthed the exact kind of stuff one expects from primitive mystery structures: animal bones, stone tools and, oh yeah -- the 8,000-year-old skulls of 10 people, ranging in age from small children to the elderly.

And then they found an 11th skull buried deep within the ancient mud of the lake bottom.

And then they found fragments of one of the other skulls ... deliberately lodged inside the cranium of the 11th skull.
Congratulations, all of you are now cursed.

Let's recap: For reasons that are unclear to us, some ancient society probably butchered 11 people in a stone hut at the bottom of a lake bed, and then put the pieces of one dead person's skull inside the brain space of another person, like the world's most godawfully horrifying nesting doll.

But the horror doesn't end there: Not only had somebody perhaps bashed one person's skull in with another person's skull, but, before being interred inside the tomb, several of the bodies had stakes driven through them and were then set alight. This didn't take careful deduction on the part of the excavators to discover: Two of the skulls were found with the stakes still embedded (and in one case, entirely melded with) them.
If Satan designed unicorns, they'd look like this.

The official theories are all over the map, from bizarre funeral practices to a group of warriors mounting the skulls of their defeated opponents as war trophies. But we think differently: Maybe the mysterious prehistoric men who put the bones there in the first place were the good guys, just trying to put down an ancient vampire infestation.

By uh ... by beating the vampires to death with the skulls of their loved ones, we guess? That's one of their weaknesses, right? Garlic, sunlight, holy water, being walloped upside the head with their own brother's severed head. You know: usual canon stuff.

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