50 Discoveries Found In The Desert That Will Leave You Speechless
If you are looking for more art installations in the middle of nowhere, you might want to look at the Desert Breath installation in Egypt. This beautiful arrangement of cone shapes between the Red Sea and the local mountain range perplexed Google map users and travelers worldwide.
Desert Breath has more than 8,000 cubic meters of sand displaced across 100,000-square-meters of the desert. The answer was pretty obvious though. Created by the D.A.S.T. Arteam, the epic structure took two years to complete, only finishing back in 1997.
When you think of deserts, you picture a scenic landscape with sand as far as the eye could see. You might also envision a camel trail and random footprints. These, however, are not the only things you can find in these desolate places.
With just the right amount of luck and perseverance, you can find something much more valuable: hidden treasure. Just like what we have on our list. Let's check out some of the most valuable items ever unearthed in the world.
Hand of the Desert
Along the Pan-American highway in the Atacama desert in Chile, you might stumble upon a giant 36-foot hand rising out of the sand. Do not freak out when you do, okay? That is the La Mano del Desierto, or ”the Hand of the Desert.”
It was commissioned by the city of Antofagasta more than 25 years ago. Santiago sculptor Mario Mario Irarrázabal was the man behind its design. The monument itself is dedicated to the desolation of the Atacama desert. It also symbolizes human vulnerability.
Iraqi Fighter Jets
In 2003, American troops stumbled upon 30 Iraqi fighter jets buried in the sand during a search for weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi desert. Then-Defense Secretary admitted that they did not know they were going to be there despite the troops operating in the immediate vicinity for about 12 weeks.
Well, we don't think anybody expected to find the jets in the middle of nowhere. Rumsfeld explained, "You don’t run around digging into everything on a discovery process.”
King Tut's Mask
One of the most well-known Egyptian artifacts in the world, the mask of Tutankhamun, has roots that date back to the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt. It is believed to have belonged to the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who reigned from 1332 to 1323 BC.
Adorned with semi-precious stones, the 1.8-feet tall piece weighs about 22 pounds. The mask was originally intended for Queen Neferneferuaten Nefertiti. King Tut's mask and sarcophagus alone are worth more than any other archeological find in history. Her royal name was found partly erased on the side of the mask.
The Ten Commandments Film Set
The iconic 1923 movie, The Ten Commandments, is one of the defining films of the golden age of Hollywood. Filmmaker Cecil B. Demille had a legendary dreamscape built on California’s Central Coast for the shooting of the silent black-and-white film.
Soon after the production wrapped up, the props were left buried beneath the shifting sands of Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. In 2014, archeologists dug up a huge plaster sphinx head out of the Santa Barbara sand. This led to the full discovery of the fake lost city.
Caesarea Sunken Treasure
This might be cheating a little bit, but this is still treasure found in a desert region nevertheless. In 2015, scuba divers explored the seabed near the harbor of Caesarea National Park, Israel. One of them thought that he had seen a child's toy when they found the first gold coin.
But when they examined the coins more closely, they saw engravings on them. They reported their findings to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Later on, they returned with metal detectors to search the area more thoroughly. Roughly 2,000 coins were recovered.
An Ancient Amenemhat Tomb
In 2017, archeologists discovered the ancient tomb of an Egyptian goldsmith called "Amenemhat." The grave was found in the Draa el-Naga burial ground, which is situated near the fabulous Valley of the Kings.
About 3,500 years ago, Amenemhat would be considered one of ancient Egyptian society's high-status individuals because of his profession. Researchers assume that his final resting place contained elaborate jewelry for this reason. The site also had 150 small statues that represent the number of the goldsmith's afterlife attendants.
The James Ossuary
Back in 2002, a 1st-century limestone box was discovered in Israel. This came to be known as the James Ossuary, which was used to hold the bones of the departed. When it was found and introduced to the world, the box attracted scholarly attention for good reason.
The side of the box has an Aramaic inscription cut out in Hebrew letters, which means “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Though it is debated, some historians believe that the box contains his actual bones.
Libyan Desert Glass
Libyan Desert Glass, also known as "Great Sand Sea Glass," is a result of a concentration of glass fragments of a broad range of sizes strewn across the desert surface. It is made mostly from Lechatelierite.
In 1932, it was discovered by the international scientific community in the eastern Sahara in the deserts of eastern Libya and western Egypt. Libyan Glass is one of the rarest minerals in the world. It is estimated that the glass formed roughly 29 million years ago.
Tomb of the Silver Pharaoh
In 1939, French archaeologist Pierre Montet came across a tomb that was filled with lavish jewels and treasure. He stumbled upon it by accident when he was in northern Egypt. It was a royal burial chamber.
At the time, no Egyptologist had anticipated a tomb of such grandeur in the area. It turned out to be the tomb of Psusennes I, or the Silver Pharaoh. Psusennes I was the third pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty who ruled from Tanis between 1047 and 1001 BC.
Ptolemaic Coinage was found in Israel back in 2010. Researchers called it "the most valuable item that has ever been discovered." These coins were based on Greek currencies with dynastic or royal figures. Coinage was introduced to Egypt by the Ptolemaic dynasty.
They were last used during the last dynasty of Egypt. The Ptolemaic coins weigh about 14.2 grams, which is relatively smaller compared to other Hellenistic coinage. The coins were an estimated 2,200 years old at the time of their discovery.
The Gibeon Meteorite
The Gibeon meteorite was first discovered by the Nama people, an African ethnic group of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana. They used to make tools and weapons out of the material. In 1836, English captain J.E. Alexander gathered samples of the meteorite from the vicinity of the Fish River in Namibia.
The items were sent to London and were analyzed by John Herschel, who then confirmed that they were of the extraterrestrial nature. They weighed between 195 and 509 kilograms.
The Hand of Faith Nugget
Sometimes you need skill, but most of the time you only need a bit of luck. Australian prospector Kevin Hillier found something he never expected in a desert close to the town of Kingower, Victoria back in 1980.
He came across an astounding golden nugget that weighed about 960 ounces. Called the "Hand of Faith" nugget, it is one of the biggest golden nuggets ever discovered. Hillier then decided that he wanted to cash in, so he found a buyer in Las Vegas. The buyer purchased it for $1 million.
The Fire of Australia
The Fire of Australia is considered the world's finest uncut opal. This translucent opal, with its warm colors, also happens to be one of Australia's finest treasures. The stone was discovered in southern Australia back in 1946, in the small desert town of Coober Pedy.
Walter Bartram mined the 998-gram uncut gem. The family kept the opal until 2017 before it was sold for $500,000. These days, the uncut opal is part of the South Australian Museum's collection and is available for public viewing.
The Copper Scroll
Okay, this sounds like something Indiana Jones would find. The text of the Copper Scroll is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll describes vast amounts of hidden treasure. It was discovered back in 1952 in Cave 3 at Khirbet Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea.
The scroll contains a map of the 65 tons of silver and 26 tons of gold hidden away by the Essenes during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. The scroll is one of the few that laid unfound for nearly 2,000 years.
Uranium Mines of Namibia
While others look for gold, silver, or diamonds in their quest for treasure, some of us search for minerals. In this case, uranium was found along the coast of Namibia. Uranium is still a highly valuable commodity.
This radioactive metal is utilized for nuclear submarines, power stations, and weaponry. The Uranium Mines of Namibia is one of the largest ever recorded in the world. So remember, the next time you go digging, there are other minerals just as valuable as gold.
Discovered in the site Tillya Tepe, or the "Golden Hill," in Afghanistan, the Bactrian gold was recovered from six burial mounds. The location was excavated in 1978 by a Soviet-Afghan team led by the Greek-Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi.
They found a collection of roughly 20,600 ornaments, coins, and other artifacts that were made of gold, silver, and ivory. The items date back to around 1st-century BCE-1st century CE. The collection's pieces are currently displayed at different museums around the world.
Timbuktu is a city in Mali that used to have quite the library. In the 16th century, the city was wealthy and had a strong tradition of scholarship and study. There were hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts at its university.
Many of the books that the city boasted had been lost to posterity in the centuries that followed. By the year 2,000, the city started to regain back some of its old glory. These days, the Timbuktu manuscripts are in Bamako, which is the capital of Mali.
Yes, that is what you think it is. It is a designer outlet in the middle of the Valentine, Texas desert. It was a site-specific land art project by artists Elmgreen & Dragset constructed in 2005. They modeled it after a Prada boutique.
The structure itself included luxury goods from the brand's fall collection that same year. Sadly, nowadays, the store is empty. It was never in operation anyway, but that did not stop thieves from breaking into the shop on the very day it was unveiled.
Four centuries is a long time. This is part of the reason why the Hope Diamond is one of the most iconic jewels in history. Early records suggest that the stone was first purchased in 1666 by French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier.
Back then, it was named the Tavernier Blue. King Louis XIV ended up buying the diamond in 1668. It was recut in 1791. Eventually, the Hope Diamond was purchased in 1949 by New York gem merchant Harry Winston. These days, it is on display at the National Museum of Natural History.
Saddle Ridge Hoard
How's this for a date idea? In 2013, an American couple, who remain anonymous to this day, was walking their dog in a desolate part of Sierra Nevada in California. It was there that they spotted an old tin can, which contained gold coins.
The couple soon unearthed more cans and coins. All in all, they uncovered a treasure trove of 1,427 coins. In 2014, it was estimated that the value of the hoard was at $10 million. Oddly, though, the identity of the coin's original owners are yet to be known.
Valley of the Golden Mummies
While working at the Bahariya Oasis in the middle of Egypt's Western Desert, a group of researchers found something extraordinary in their search. After some digging, they managed to excavate roughly 250 mummies, which, as it turns out, came from the Greco-Roman era.
The mummies were 2,000 years old at the time of their discovery back in 1996. Some of them had elaborately decorated gilded masks and waistcoats, as well. They were said to be well-preserved, considering their age. The area would later be known as the "Valley of the Golden Mummies."
Ancient Cylinder Seals
Cylinder seals were first used by the Mesopotamians as royal or official signatures about 3,500 years ago. The seals were pressed onto clay to create detailed symbols and figures. Discovered in the Middle-Eastern deserts, these cylinder seals were even worn as jewelry in ancient culture.
Many of them are in museums around the world. However, the dark side of this discovery is that these seals are valuable antiquities in the black market. They are still sold illegally even to this day.
A Mysterious Tunisian Lake
We can only imagine how frightening and shocking it must have been for Tunisian locals to discover a brand new lake suddenly appearing in the dry heat. Lac de Gafsa, also called the "Mysterious Lake," appeared in 2014 just outside Gafsa in Tunisia.
The origin of the lake is still not clear. Although the most plausible explanation is that a minor earthquake ruptured the rock above the water table. Thus, a new swimming pool appeared. Today, it has become a tourist destination.
Kolmanskop Diamond Field
In 1908, Zacharias Lewala stumbled across a diamond lying in the dusty grounds of the Namib desert in a thriving community once called Kolmanskop. The town was once a small yet very rich mining village.
After the discovery, dozens of hopeful individuals went to the area to try to find something valuable. This trend extended well into the 1950s before Kolmanskop became a ghost town. These days, it has become a tourist destination, which is run by the joint firm Namibia-De Beers.
The Forgotten Winchester Rifle
Winchester rifles have long been part of the story of the American civil war. The Forgotten Winchester is a Winchester 1873 rifle that was actually made in 1882. A team of archaeologists working in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada discovered the item leaning against a local juniper tree.
To this day, nobody is sure when and how the rifle could have been left in the area. Originally costing about $25, the historic gun is likely to be worth thousands of dollars in today's age.
Welcome Stranger Nugget
The "Welcome Stranger" Nugget is the largest alluvial gold nugget ever found. It was discovered on a slope leading to a town that used to be known as Bulldog Gully in Australia. The nugget had a gross weight of 109.59 kilograms.
When it was discovered on February 5th, 1869, there were no scales that could weigh such a large object. So the prospectors, namely John Deason and Richard Oates, decided to break the nugget into three pieces on an anvil by Dunolly-based blacksmith Archibald Walls.
The Mojave Nugget
This will be the most elegant lump of gold you will ever see. The Mojave Nugget is the biggest nugget to be discovered in California. Detectorist Ty Paulsen was the one who unearthed the nugget back in 1977 in the Stringer District near Randsburg.
The nugget's size alone is remarkable, weighing at nearly 11 pounds. It is part of the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Collection of gold nuggets, which was donated to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. As of February 2020, the piece reportedly could fetch an estimated $270,000.
Gobi Buddhist Treasures
Gobi desert in Mongolia is one of the most remote locations on the planet. That is why the Buddhist treasures unearthed in the desert back in 2009 stunned researchers. In the 1930s, there were only 64 crates of invaluable relics hidden by a monk called "Tudev."
He hid the items to protect them from communist troops. Tudev kept the location a secret, only telling his family of the whereabouts of the pieces. His grandson ended up retrieving some of the crates in the '90s. More statues, manuscripts, and artworks were ultimately found in 2009.
The Rosetta Stone
The first time that Europeans ever saw the Rosetta Stone was back in 1799. Frenchmen, who were part of Napoleon's campaign of conquest in Egypt, discovered the slab. What makes the legendary slab so fascinating is that it is densely inscribed with a pharaonic decree from 196 BC.
The stone was eventually used to help experts decode various Egyptian writings. It singlehandedly elevated how we understand the country's ancient history. The Rosetta Stone currently resides at the British Museum in London.
The Jonker diamond is the fourth-largest uncut gem ever discovered. We have Johannes Jacobus Jonker to thank for this incredible find. He found the diamond at the Elandsfontein mine in South Africa on January 17th, 1934.
The diamond itself gained popularity after it was purchased by New York diamond dealer Harry Winston. He toured the entire United States with it. Some of the celebrities who wore it include Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple. Diamonds are a girl's best friend, after all.
The Tissint meteorite is a Martian meteorite that fell to the earth on July 18th, 2011 in the east valley of Tata, Morocco. At about 2:00 AM local time, a bright fireball appeared in the Oued Drâa valley. It was the fifth Martian meteorite that people have witnessed falling to earth.
The Tissint meteorite is the first one we witnessed since 1962. Pieces of the meteorite are now in several museums, including the Museum of Natural History of Vienna and the Natural History Museum in London.
Northwest Africa 7034
Also discovered in 2011 was the Northwest Africa 7034, or more commonly known as the "Black Beauty." It was found in Rabt Sbayta, Ghredad Sabti region, Western Sahara. The meteorite was purchased by a meteorite dealer in Morroco and was then sold to a collector in the United States.
It is believed to be the second oldest Martian meteorite discovered. How old is it? Well, it is estimated that the meteorite is two billion years old, containing the most water of any Martian meteorite found in the world.
The Comstock Lode was discovered back in the 1850s. Upon the announcement, dozens of prospectors went to the Mount Davidson area in Nevada to set up mining camps. Back then, it was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States.
This triggered the great silver rush of the time. The discovery was met with great excitement in California and the rest of the nation, considering that the California Gold Rush started just 10 years prior. The mines declined after 1874.
The Atari Landfill
Gold is not the only thing you can find in the desert. For quite some time, the Atari video game burial was dismissed as a local legend. In 2014, the landfill was finally discovered. The find reminded people of the great video game crash in 1983.
At the time, the Atari gaming and computer company decided to bury all the unsold games in the New Mexico Desert. Hundreds of thousands of copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, one of the universally panned games of all time, laid in the sand.
Tanzanite is one of the most beautiful pieces ever unearthed. It is the blue and violet variety of the mineral zoisite. Goan tailor and part-time gold prospector Manuel de Souza found the diamond in July 1967. Originating from Tanzania, the diamond soon gained its fame with Tiffany & Co.
The brand introduced it to the market back in 1968 and people have been looking for it ever since. Tanzanites also have a way of changing hues depending on the lighting conditions.
Hidden in the deep Jordan desert is the ancient city of Petra, or more commonly known as "Rose City." It was first discovered back in 1812 by a Swiss traveler named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, which led to its introduction to the western world.
These days, it is considered one of the most amazing structures in the world. While it has become famous worldwide, the complex itself still perplexes scientists. To this day, researchers wonder how the Nabateans managed to create Petra thousands of years ago.
Located in the Nubian Desert, Nabta Playa remains one of the most mysterious sites in the African region. The location consists of a wide range of tumuli, artifacts, and rock formations built more than 11,000 years ago. There is evidence of an advanced civilization, too.
This site is highlighted by the megalithic stone circle, which was only uncovered a few decades ago. The circle is arguably the oldest astronomical alignment of stones in the world. Yes, it is even older than Stonehenge.
Discovered in the 1930s by amateur collector Chester Post, Searles Lake does not have gold or silver. But the lake does possess something valuable, too. It is called "Borax Lake" for a reason, okay? The location has an abundance of the powdery white mineral.
This has long been part of the Californian way of life. Back in the days of Paleo-Indian tribes, they noticed that the clothes they washed came out cleaner in the lake. As it turns out, the borax deposits were the culprit.
The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
Ask any local in Lalibela, Ethiopia about the rock-hewn churches, and they will likely tell you that the churches were built by angels in one night. The official answer is that these churches date from the 7th to 13th centuries.
They are credited under the reign of King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe Dynasty. Even to this day, the site remains in use by the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church. It also remains an important place of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers.
The Wadi Al-Hitan Site
Add this to the long list of discoveries in the Sahara Desert you might want to see. But this is probably one of its weirdest. You might be surprised to learn that the desert contains whale fossil sites. It is one of the most fascinating sites around the world.
Many researchers believe that these fossils represent how whales transitioned from being land animals to sea creatures. The fossil beds of Wadi El-Hitan were first discovered during the winter of 1902 or 1903.
In 1900, Swedish explorer Sven Hedin discovered the ancient city of Loulan. Buried beneath the sands of the Taklamakan Desert in China, the Loulan Kingdom led to more incredible finds. This includes a mummy that would later be known as "The Beauty of Loulan” and the "Yingpan man."
Strangely enough, they are of Caucasian origin. The perfectly preserved mummies have features associated with Caucasians, like their red and blonde hair. However, these claims are heavily disputed by the Chinese government.
The Garamantes Civilization
The fall of Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi made access to the ruins of Libya a whole lot easier. Satellite images would soon discover the ruins of a long-lost advanced ancient civilization, which existed even before Roman times.
The ruins are said to have belonged to the ancient “Garamantes” civilization. They were highly advanced people who built underground networks of tunnels and shafts in order to mine the fossil water from under the desert sand. Their forts and villages were incredibly organized, as well.
Wadi Rum Rocks
Okay, we know what you are thinking. No, those are not signs from aliens. These are some of the drawings on the hiking trails of Wadi Rum, more commonly known as the "Valley of the Moon," in Jordan. The location itself is one of the most beautiful deserts in the Arabian Peninsula.
Thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions are etched into the sandstone and granite of the valley. Some even believe that the inscriptions are clues to hidden springs. You never know. One day you might get lucky and discover the springs yourself.
So what are a bunch of upside-down Cadillacs doing in a dusty Texas cow pasture? Go ahead and ask eccentric millionaire and San Francisco art collective The Ant Farm for that. Cadillac Ranch is an installation that consists of 10 cars nose-down and buried.
The group deliberately placed the cars at the same angle as the Cheops’ pyramids. These cars are not for driving though, as they are all covered in graffiti. Visitors are encouraged to add their own designs to the vehicles, too.
Black Swan Project
Odyssey Marine Exploration's Black Swan Project discovered an estimated $500 million worth of silver and gold coins from the ocean floor. They got it from an early 19th-century Spanish shipwreck off the coast of Portugal.
Initially, the group kept the origin of the treasure confidential. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish government intervened. The government claimed that the treasure was theirs and an entire legal battle ensued. In the end, the only thing the Odyssey Marine Exploration was, well, their effort.
More popularly known as the "Star of Africa," the Cullinan diamond was the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever discovered. The diamond weighed roughly 622 grams. It was found on January 26th, 1905 at the Premier No.2 mine in Cullinan, South Africa.
When the company auctioned it off, nobody wanted to purchase it for two years. The Transvaal Colony government ended up swooping in. They then presented it to King Edward VII, who had it cut by Joseph Asscher & Co. in Amsterdam.
A mansion is the last thing you would see in the middle of a desert. The next time you go to Death Valley National Park, make sure to pass by Scotty's Castle or the Death Valley Ranch. This Spanish-style villa was named after gold prospector Walter E. Scott.
He never owned it though and it is not an actual castle. Scott was a con man who fooled Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson into investing in his gold mine in the area. When Johnson found out he was a fraud, they even developed an unlikely friendship.
A Miracle Cure
This just goes to show that you never know what you might find in a desolate habitat. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, scientists have discovered that there are tiny microbes that would help rid humanity of HIV.
One strain of bacteria found was proven to be an inhibitor of an enzyme that allows the HIV virus to reproduce itself. The lifeform that they found could be an effective treatment for the disease. Who would have known that they would find it in one of the driest places on earth?