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The 7 Most Terrifying Archaeological Discoveries

#3. The Sewer of Babies

Getty

A group of archaeologists excavating a sewer underneath a Roman/Byzantine bathhouse in Ashkelon, Israel, thought they'd drawn the short end of the science stick, what with having to dig through ancient poo and all. Until they started turning up hundreds of thousands of tiny little bones, and realized just how screwed they really were. Any hope that they'd just stumbled upon the remains of an old-timey Roman KFC and were not, in fact, about to be torn apart by itty bitty ghosts was shot when they then started finding skulls and realized, to their horror, that they were all standing waist-deep in a sewer specially designated for disposing of the corpses of newborn babies.

Journal of Archaeological Science

In all, the researchers found nearly 100 bodies, which, if you're keeping track, is roughly 100 more bodies than you want trapped inside an ancient, crumbling, pitch-black sewer with you. We wish we could tell you this was something slightly less disturbing than the implied charnel baby processing center of the ancient world that it seems to be, but the truth is: No one knows for sure why the bones are down there. Or why this scientist is measuring it without screaming, like it ain't no thang.

Daily Mail via canadiancontent.net

At first, it was thought that the sewer was used just to dispose of female infants, which is awful but at least makes some kind of sense, as parents of the time period treated the lives of women with roughly the same respect and sanctity as toilet paper (i.e., they both wound up in the sewer when you were done with 'em). However, analysis of the bones showed that many of them were males -- sweet, precious boys! The Roman's most suspiciously valued demographic -- which implied that the bathhouse above might have been more of a quotation-marks-style "bathhouse," and that the whores were only disposing of male babies so that the females could be groomed for an auspicious life of whorin' and baby dumpin' themselves.

Listen: We know this was a pretty downer entry, but hey, if God gives you lemons, you make lemonade; if God gives you a shit-ton of dead babies impossibly placed in an ancient sewer, you write some terrible, desperate jokes about it and then start looking for a new God at the bottom of a bottle.

Getty
A really big bottle.

#2. The Bog People

Getty

Peat farmers in Northern Europe deserve your pity. In addition to generally having one of the most depressing jobs ever -- peat not being nearly as fun to farm as, say, gold or ponies -- in the course of their labors, they regularly stumble across soul-scarring shit like this:

archaeology.org

OK, sure, that looks terrifying at first glance. But with some good counseling, you could get over that; those are just the remains of a normal burial, accidentally unearthed by the bog (the high acidity, low temperature and lack of oxygen preserve the bodies unusually, disturbingly well). These, on the other hand, spit right in the face of therapy:

National Geographic
Good.

all-that-is-interesting.com
Luck.

National Geographic
Sleeping.

Those images will only stop haunting your dreams when you fulfill your destiny and kill your family with a harvest scythe, like the whispering bog voices have just started politely asking you to do. The pictures are, unfortunately, exactly what they look like: murdered bodies offered up as part of some freaky bogpeople ritual. One corpse in particular, the "Grauballe Man," tells the story pretty clearly: He was put to death the winter after a bad harvest, there's evidence of stubble on his jaw (indicating he had been detained and not allowed to shave in the days before he was put to death) and his burial pit was right in the middle of a consecrated area.

That's right: He was sacrificed to the bog in return for a good harvest ...

nematode.unl.edu
And fabulous hair.

So it turns out The Wicker Man was less of a ridiculously implausible B-horror flick and more of a tastefully understated docu-drama about the religious rites of rural farmers.

#1. Ancient Chemical Warfare

In 1933, archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson was conducting a dig in the area of Dura-Europos, where ancient Persians laid siege to their longtime enemies, the Romans. During the excavation, du Mesnil found several tunnels, which is pretty much par for the course in a siege situation. A little out of the ordinary, however, was the haphazard pile of 19 Roman soldiers he found in one of those tunnels, all looking as though they died while fleeing something. So what was at other end of the tunnel that could terrify and ultimately murder 19 Roman soldiers so quickly?

A single Persian soldier, found clutching desperately at his armor, forever preserved in that panicked moment.

Live Science
At least when you're a skeleton people can't tell that you shat yourself.

Add to the strangeness the fact that there were traces of sulfur and bitumen all along the walls, and the implication is clear: one terrified Persian who died clawing frantically at his own body, 19 Romans who died fleeing from his direction, sulfurous emanations in the walls?

That's demon possession, man. Those are some classic, Supernatural-style demon shenanigans right there.

All right, so maybe there are other, slightly more plausible theories. A reinvestigation of the records of the original dig, conducted by archaeologist Simon James, indicates that the deaths were actually due to one of the earliest attempts at chemical warfare.


"Yeah, you probably wouldn't have heard about it. It's kind of new."

The story, as James has reconstructed it so far, goes like this:

"The Romans heard the Persians working beneath the ground and steered their tunnel to intercept their enemies. The Roman tunnel was shallower than the Persian one, so the Romans planned to break in on the Persians from above. But there was no element of surprise for either side: The Persians could also hear the Romans coming.

"So the Persians set a trap. Just as the Romans broke, through, James said, they lit a fire in their own tunnel. Perhaps they had a bellows to direct the smoke, or perhaps they relied on the natural chimney effect of the shaft between the two tunnels. Either way, they threw sulfur and bitumen on the flames. One of the Persian soldiers was overcome and died, a victim of his own side's weapon. The Romans met with the choking gas, which turned to sulfuric acid in their lungs."

Work on the Persian tunnel dig has been renewed in light of this intriguing development, including a reopening of the original site where 20 ancient warriors died in fear and agony. It looks like this:

archaeology.co.uk

Balls, archeologists. Pure balls. However much we pay you to taunt furious ghosts just so we can have fun stuff to look at in museums, you totally deserve a raise.

Since this is Savannah's first article for Cracked, you can check out her musings on music and other subjects on Tumblr. If you're suffering from any lingering effects from a mummy's curse, this band will cure what ails you. When he isn't exorcising ancient tombs while dressed in a low-cut vest and short shorts, Adam also writes for his own site, and you can read the rest of his Cracked articles here.

For more reasons why the past should frighten you, check out 6 Ancient Sports Too Awesome For the Modern World and 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to time travel so you can punch the past in its stupid throat.

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