5 Terrifying Real Artifacts (With Even Creepier Stories)

We periodically send a number of our bravest / most foolish writers to scour the annals of archaeology in order to uncover the most nightmare-inducing discoveries ever dug up. It's that time of the year again, so get ready to dive in with these artifacts that would've made Indiana Jones soil his khakis. Just imagine the first poor archaeologist to discover ...

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5
Crocodile Mummies

Mummies are terrible horror movie villains. If you remove all the CGI magic bullshit, they're basically slow, lumbering hug machines that can be defeated by a house cat with a particular fondness for toilet paper. Displaying the sort of foresight that made them empire builders, the Ancient Egyptians considered this and decided to throw later generations a terrifying curve ball. Enter mummified crocodiles:

Trustees of the British Museum

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Your move, Brendan Fraser.

Just like the weird kid who moved into the neighborhood around the time your dog disappeared, the Egyptians were fond of mummifying animals. Crocodile mummification had a particularly terrifying reasoning behind it: The procedure was performed to worship the crocodile-headed god Sobek. Some of the mummified crocs had previously been worshiped in life as incarnations of the god. Others were raised as sacrifices -- which sounds like the last thing that a crocodile god would want his followers to do, but we're not willing to risk calling him out and having a horde of immortal croco-mummies wreak havoc on our pool party.

John Stafford/

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Now pee will only be the second-most worrying pale yellow thing to float toward you.

When the British Museum investigated one 13-foot, 2,000-year-old crocodile mummy, they found that it had 20 baby crocodiles sewn onto its back, like a patchwork jacket made in Hell's own fashion boutique, each as painstakingly mummified as Sobek itself.

Stanford School of Medicine

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It seems "reptilian sacrifice" wasn't enough, so they upped it to "reptilian child sacrifice"

When a Dutch museum decided to get a closer look at their 2,500-year-old, 10-foot-long crocodile mummy, they discovered that it was in fact not just one animal, but the tightly compacted skeletons of two adolescent crocodiles, which in turn were wrapped in a blanket of nearly 50 baby crocs. Man, Egyptian nesting dolls were hardcore.

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4
The Serbian Skull Tower

The Serbian city of Nis welcomes all of its guests with a lovingly built tower ... of skulls.

Svetlana.Rajkovic/Wikimedia Commons


Their tourism industry is singlehandedly kept afloat by vacationing metal bands.

The Skull Tower, aka Cele Kula, dates back to 1809, when Serbia was still under Ottoman control. The First Serbian Uprising wasn't going too well, and the rebels were waging a losing battle against 36,000 surly, mustachioed Turks. But rebel leader Stevan Sindelic wasn't about to let his men be immortalized on the bitch side of history. During one desperate last stand at Cegar Hill, he fired a round into a keg of gunpowder inside a fully stocked armory, triggering a massive explosion which killed him and his men ... along with all the Turkish soldiers storming their trenches.

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Hellbent on posthumous revenge, the Turks collected the slain rebels' bodies and decapitated them. 952 rebel heads were skinned, and the skins filled with straw and sent to Constantinople as trophies. The skulls were used to decorate a 15-foot-high stone tower which the Turks built right at the entrance of the town.

Djina/Wikimedia Commons

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Scenic Nis: Come for the culture, stay because you've been decapitated.

The Skull Tower was intended as a reminder to never mess with the Ottomans, but this showed a fundamental lack of understanding of human nature: Now armed with a kickass "blaze of glory" story and a metal as fuck skull tower, the Serbs doubled down. In 1815, they rebelled again, ultimately winning independence in 1830.

Kulmalukko/Wikivoyage

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Finally giving a reason for all those big smiles.

It eventually occurred to the city of Nis that having a real-life Dio album cover staring at them 24/7 is cooler on paper than in practice, so in 1892 they built a modest chapel around it as a kind of architectural NSFW tag.

3
The Self-Castration Clamps Of Cybele

The myth of the fertility goddess Cybele arrived in Rome around 200 BCE, during the Second Punic War. She garnered her own cult following, but instead of going the obvious route and throwing drunken sexfests, the followers of Cybele did the ... opposite of that. Take a look at these cool, ornate clamps they used ... on their balls.

Fritz Saxl, Rudolf Wittkower/Wikimedia Commons

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You know, for fertility.

To show their devotion, Cybele's followers chose to symbolize the self-castration of Cybele's lover, Attis by ... actually castrating themselves. Apparently they didn't understand the concept of "symbols" too well back in the day. The scrotum goes between the serrated edges of those vicious-looking clamps. You close them tight, and then, when the clamp is firmly locked down, a knife is used to remove the, uh, extra parts.

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This self-mutilation continued unabated until Christians started gaining traction around the 4th century CE and began doling out punishments to curb the practice. It says a lot about Christianity's tenacity that they looked at a dude who worshiped a fertility goddess by clamping off his own nutsack, and thought: "Hey, we can figure out ways to punish that guy."

2
The Cave Of Child Sacrifices

In 2006, a looter fell 60 feet into a pitch-black cave in the Belizean jungle. His rescuers discovered a large cache of skeletal remains in the previously unknown cavern. Researchers found 9,566 bone fragments overall, most of them mired in a mixture affectionately dubbed "bone soup." The bones were in such a deteriorated state that the total body count can probably never be figured out. (As of 2016, there are at least 114 verified bodies.) And because "jungle murder cave full of bone soup" isn't terrifying enough, tooth enamel analysis revealed something even worse: All of the dead were children.

Bruce Minkin/California State University

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That's enough that you can get haunted merely by looking at this photo.

Scientists believe that the children (all younger than 14, but mainly between four and ten), were sacrificed to Chaak, a Mayan rain god. The Mayans believed humans to be made of corn (as opposed to the corn syrup we're mostly made of now), so each sacrifice "fed" the gods. Until the gods switched to all-organic fair trade cane sugar, of course. Now the problem is getting them to shut up about it.

1
Ancient Tumors With Teeth

Hey, what's up? Here's a calcified tumor that has grown teeth:

Sofia N. Wasterlain et al./International Journal of Paleopathology

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We're not explicitly saying it wants to eat your flesh -- just that it's fully capable of doing so.

This affront to all that is sacred was found during the excavation of a Gothic church graveyard in Lisbon. Scientists' best guess is that it's a teratoma -- an ovarian tumor which can start sprouting anything from teeth to hair and bones because its cells have gotten all screwed up and started developing randomly. This particular specimen was discovered inside the pelvis of a woman over 45, who died sometime between the 15th and 18th centuries, presumably from banging Cthulhu.

In 2013, archaeologists excavating a necropolis in Spain unearthed an unusual burial: 1,600-year-old remains of a woman buried with her entire lower half encased in roof tiles. That's ... pretty unusual, right?

International Journal of Paleopathology

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Assuming you weren't just crushed by the world's shittiest house.

When they removed the tiles and rummaged around, they discovered a calcified, baseball-sized tumor in her pelvis -- a tumor which, you guessed it, had sprouted teeth.

International Journal of Paleopathology


Yet somehow none of them realized they were living the first act of a horror movie.

The researchers aren't 100 percent clear what was up with the tiles. They suspect it may have been just cheap burial material, but we know the truth: Clearly, some prior archaeologist / grave robber opened up the poor woman's final resting place, and then hastily reburied the body for fear of the Cronenbergian terrors lurking within.

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Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history. It's really good, honest.

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