6 Mind-Blowing Archeological Discoveries Destroyed by Idiocy
There are plenty of good reasons for destroying the prized relics of an ancient culture, spite being chief among them. Or maybe that creepy tentacle-faced deity carving you found on a fishing trip has stained your tears black and made your girlfriend sterile, so it's time to smash it with a rock hammer.
But what about knocking down a 4,000-year-old palace because the city really needs two Rite Aids to maximize convenience? Or writing Twisted Metal 2 passwords down on the back of a Dead Sea Scroll because you ran out of Post-it notes? Because that sort of thing actually does go on. As proof, here are some of the worst reasons that priceless artifacts have ever been destroyed.
Ancient Chinese Tombs Were Bulldozed to Build an IKEA
In 2007, construction workers in Nanjing, China, uncovered 10 intricately embroidered family tombs dating all the way back to the third century, and by "uncovered" we mean "bulldozed into eraser dust to make way for an IKEA outlet."
Apparently, no one in China has seen Poltergeist.
The tombs, each constructed of green brick and decorated with lavish engravings, were buried partially underground, until they had their tops shaved off like Dennis Hopper in Speed by a bunch of earth movers that were being used to develop the area to make sufficient room for rich people to buy terrible furniture from a brand new IKEA store. One tomb was drilled entirely through its center by an excavator, leaving half of a nearly 2,000-year-old coffin dangling from its ruined ancient walls like a dreamcatcher in a Chevy Avalanche. The priceless artifacts inside were either crushed into powder or left exposed in the dirt and rain to be stolen by relic traffickers.
Ostensibly, there are laws in place that are supposed to protect China's countless historical buildings from being robbed, damaged or flat-out razed by private individuals and billion-dollar corporations alike. However, China famously doesn't give one pent-up pretzel-twisted shit about anything that isn't "China's money," so those laws are enforced with a regularity that can be described at best as "selective" and at worst as "not at all."
"No, 'at worst' was that one official who kept insisting that he get to pee on everything first."
Besides, most companies are happy to just pay whatever fines they incur from smashing up irreplaceable history rather than halt production of whatever Walmart they're building atop the shattered stone memories of past dynasties. For instance, sections of China's Great Wall, which you may recognize as one of the most famous things ever built and the only man-made structure that can be seen from freaking space, were permissibly demolished to clear land for a factory, so you can imagine how much careful attention was given to 10 ancient corpse lockers full of people that no one has ever heard of.
Archaeologists from the Nanjing Museum tried to convince the Swedish furniture overlords to at least delay construction and allow them enough time to catalog the site and remove its contents. Needless to say, the IKEA branch opened right on time a year later.
"To be fair, we did give them an easy-to-follow book of instructions on how to go fuck themselves."
A Fake Archaeologist Blows Up the Ancient City of Troy
Whether you're classy (read: friendless) enough to have read the Iliad or you just saw it adapted in that movie where Brad Pitt flexed a lot and didn't wear pants, you've probably at least heard of the ancient city of Troy. Nineteenth century German grifter and self-proclaimed "archaeologist" Heinrich Schliemann had also heard of Troy, and in his quest to discover the fabled city's ruins, he accidentally blew it the fuck up.
Wait, you mean this guy wasn't on the level? Balderdash.
Schliemann decided that he had found the ancient site of Troy in the modern-day Turkish city of Hisarlik. The problem was, Hisarlik actually consisted of no less than nine cities stacked one on top of another. This is often the case with ancient cities -- people come in, smash an old city to bits, and build a new one on top of it, sort of like Jenga, if you never cleaned it up and just bought a new set every time.
Schliemann was determined to dig through all of that bullshit until he found him some Trojan antiquity. So his team set to dynamiting through layers of history until he found what he declared to be King Priam's treasure -- jewels and artifacts nestled far beneath Hisarlik at the level he figured was the site of Troy. Schliemann and his wife then heroically smuggled the artifacts out of Turkey (see "grifter," above), because if Indiana Jones has taught us anything, it is that this is totally how archaeology works.
"Quit posing and get on the boat before someone sees you with that shit."
Except it turns out that the treasures Schliemann excavated (here meaning "stole") didn't come from Troy at all, at least not the Troy anyone gives a shit about. Schliemann's finds came from a city about a thousand years older than Troy, meaning that they were buried in a layer beneath the city of epic poem fame. So in the course of his frenzied excavation, Schliemann blasted right through Troy, scattering it across the hills around him like a cat burying a turd. His destruction of Troy was so thorough that actual archaeologists and antiquities professors are still complaining about it 140 years later.
The Crusaders Melt Down Hundreds of Classical Greek Statues to Make Coins
During the Fourth Crusade in 1204 (not to be confused with the Last Crusade in 1989), an army of crusaders got sidetracked on their way to the Holy Land and wound up sacking the city of Constantinople, despite the fact that Constantinople was pretty emphatically Christian (sort of like if a battalion of American soldiers conquering Sandusky, Ohio, on their way to Iraq). This is because the crusaders were enormous shitheads, quite possibly the biggest of all time, and as such could not be expected to behave like rational human beings.
Constantinople had been the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire for oh, 900 years or so, and consequently the city was full of Greek and Roman art, including hundreds of ancient bronze statues of the gods and heroes of mythology. So the crusaders tore down every single one and melted all of that priceless antiquity to make goddamned coins. Presumably there was an ancient Donkey Kong machine that everybody wanted to play, or they needed exact change for the bus to the Holy Land. Targets of their cash converters party included giant statues of Hera and Helen, a mechanical pyramid that featured moving people and animals and a bronze Hercules the size of a Tyrannosaurus.
You basically destroyed ancient Disneyland. Thanks, dicks.
However, considering that the crusaders were staging an invasion across half of the known world with the explicit purpose of wiping out non-Christians and their culture, preserving metal statues of pagan deities was understandably not very high on their list. Also, bronze was particularly valuable at the time, so those statues were going to be broken apart and repurposed one way or another. Imagine a group of modern soldiers stumbling upon an ancient temple of some forgotten religion loaded with idols made of platinum and diamond -- those things would be dangling from chains and spinning on hubcaps by the end of the day.
We're not saying that the destruction was any less tragic or stupid -- we're just saying that, considering the circumstances, it was pretty much inevitable.
"We're here to wreck shit and spread the word of God. And we're all out of word."
Saudi Arabia Destroys Muslim Holy Sites to Build Hotels for Muslim Pilgrims
The number of Muslims making the annual hajj pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia has increased drastically over the past several years to a current annual total of over 3 million people, and they all have to stay somewhere. Deftly rising to the challenge of accommodating them, Saudi Arabian developers demolished pretty much the entire city to make room for hotels, a solution they found in a book of paradoxes they mistook for an encyclopedic collection of the best ideas ever conceived.
This is page one.
That photo above is the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, the tallest hotel/luxury apartment complex in the world, which looms over the Kaaba (the holy stone in Mecca that Muslims face during prayer) like a Las Vegas casino. About 95 percent of Mecca's buildings, most at least a thousand years old, have been destroyed over the past two decades in order to "modernize" the city and make room for increased pilgrim traffic.
This included the construction of the Clock Tower, which sits on a stack of shopping malls atop the blasted ruins of an 18th century Ottoman fortress, because nothing says "holy city" like a multi-towered Disneyland castle we expect Aerosmith to zipline down from at any moment. When the systematic annihilation of national antiquities is enough to make a prominent Saudi historian literally say "No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," chances are it's pretty offensive.
The top is a religious holy city. The bottom is Vegas.
Much of the problem stems from the official religion of Saudi Arabia, which is a strict interpretation of Islam that considers relics and historically significant religious structures to be forms of idolatry. Consequently, the kingdom doesn't need much of an excuse to go around smashing ancient mosques and Islamic landmarks, and since money is the best excuse in the world, they are leveling anything and everything they can in exchange for development capital and pilgrimage revenue.
Among the things that have been demolished to make space for the people coming to see the things that are being demolished was the house of Muhammad's wife Khadijah, which was torn down and replaced by a public toilet, and the house of the first caliph (the first successor of Muhammad), which is now a luxury Hilton (incidentally the namesake of the most famous public toilet in history).
An Elderly Churchgoer "Restores" a Masterpiece Fresco by Completely Ruining It
If you missed our list of the eight people who defined 2012, you missed out on the story of Cecilia Gimenez, an 80-year-old parishioner and church volunteer in Borja, Spain (please note that none of those superlatives include the words "art historian"). At a certain point, Giminez noticed that the 19th century fresco of Jesus in her church was starting to show some mileage. It had been damaged by years of moisture decay, and some of the paint had started to peel off like Meryl Streep's face in Death Becomes Her. So Giminez, wanting to save the church money on a restoration job, decided to completely destroy the painting herself.
It looks like a creature that Andy Serkis would be hired to motion capture.
Giminez, burdened with nothing but good intentions, attempted to restore the image of Jesus, but wound up painting a husky Russian grandmother in the middle of a werewolf transformation over it. Upon seeing her truly awful handiwork, the police initially suspected that they were dealing with vandalism, because only sworn enemies of Christianity and/or rampaging drug-addicted teenagers would paint Jesus with a PBR neckbeard on the wall of a church. There is simply no way that image could have come out of someone who wasn't deliberately trying to be an asshole.
Giminez later demanded royalties from the church. So yeah, we're guessing that she's less an altruist and more a busybody.
However, Giminez soon confessed that she was responsible for Monkey Jesus, insisting that she had worked on the picture in broad daylight with the priest's permission. Church officials disagreed, claiming that they had no knowledge of the "restoration" attempt that had resulted in a hideous giant thumb with a face drawn on it wearing one of Mike Ditka's bathrobes. We tend to agree with them, considering that it seems highly unlikely that Giminez could have been sitting there for days (or weeks) without anyone looking over her shoulder and subsequently banning her from religion. Ironically, the fresco's popularity has exploded due to all of the curious people flocking to see the repainted abomination, which says absolutely everything you need to know about how news stories travel over the Internet.
Saddam Hussein Rebuilds Babylon With His Name and Face All Over It
You've probably heard of Babylon, the ancient city first founded in the third millennium B.C., famous for the Tower of Babel, the Hanging Gardens and that song by David Gray. It is one of the most prized excavation sites in history -- after all, it housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, so for all we know, its ruins could be teeming with undiscovered awesomeness. Why "for all we know," you ask? Well, only about a quarter of it has been uncovered, because Babylon is located in modern-day Iraq, and Saddam Hussein completely restricted access to it over the past 30 years so he could rebuild the city in his own bugshit crazy image.
And we don't mean that he built a mock-up Caesar's Palace version of it next to his swimming pool. He literally rebuilt Babylon directly on top of the original city. Hussein ordered additions built onto the ruins, as well as entire sections reconstructed from the foundation up, using modern bricks engraved with his name and a list of praises completely free of both irony and context, including the phrase "Saddam Hussein, the protector of Iraq, rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon." You may notice that the only fact contained within that message is Saddam Hussein's name.
The inscription on this brick is much longer, but contains the exact same amount of bullshit.
He reconstructed the Ishtar Gate, which serves as the entrance to the city, and put up images of himself alongside Babylon's ruler Nebuchadnezzar, sort of like they were shaking hands after opening a Planet Hollywood together. Several completely new buildings, including one of the obligatory palaces that Hussein felt needed to dot the Iraqi landscape like McDonald's franchises, were built over the ruins as well. The alterations (here meaning "pissing on history-ations") were so drastic that the World Heritage Committee withdrew Babylon from its list in disgust. Basically, the world declared that Babylon, one of the most legendary cities of all time, no longer held any historical significance. Hussein was like the George Lucas of priceless antiquity.
The Iraqi version of "Greedo shot first."
"Oh, quit bitching. It's seamless, you can't even tell!"
The good news is that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 stopped Hussein's plans to further improve the city with pictures of his mustachioed face (his eventual YouTube hanging pretty much sealed the deal). The bad news is that occupying American and Polish forces then built a base on top of Babylon, digging fuel trenches through layers of artifacts and filling sandbags with local relic-rich dirt. They also built a helipad to allow takeoffs and landings right next to the ruins, which is like blasting exposed dinosaur bones with a leaf blower full of gravel. Although to be fair, if helicopters had existed at the time, Nebuchadnezzar would've totally had one.
C. Coville's Twitter is here.
For more artifacts we'll never have again, check out 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World. Or discover 5 Pieces of Junk That Turned Out to be Invaluable Artifacts.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Mind-Blowing Origin Story of 'Miranda Rights'
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happened when we put Cody in a room alone with the Mona Lisa.
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