10 Discoveries Of Lost Cultures That May Rewrite Our History

It’s been said that history is written by the victors. But sometimes, history is rewritten (or at least given a few edits) by archaeologists, historians, and other researchers who unearth the secrets of lost cultures long after the victors have perished. Still, for all we’ve learned, many mysteries remain.

10 Underground Ani – Turkey


Photo credit: Fragwurdig/Wikimedia

Although it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, the 5,000-year-old city of Ani now lies within the borders of Turkey. Once called the “City of 1,001 Churches” or the “City of Forty Gates,” the formerly powerful, prosperous, and regionally dominant Ani has been abandoned for over 300 years.

Its history had been a violent one, with the city-state having been conquered hundreds of times. At various points, Ani was ruled by the Armenians, the Byzantines, the Georgians, the Kurds, the Ottoman Turks, and the Russians.

Just after World War I, Turkish officials ordered the obliteration of Ani’s monuments, which were within Turkey’s borders by then. Although the official destruction wasn’t complete, looters and vandals added to the ruin of the neglected city.

It appeared to be a sad coda to the history of the city and its culture until researchers uncovered the secrets of “underground Ani” and announced them at the 2014 Kars Symposium at Kafkas University in Turkey. In his presentation, history researcher Sezai Yazici told of how George Ivanovic Gurdjieff and his friend Pogosyan were digging at a tunnel beneath the ruins of Ani in the 1880s when they realized the soil had changed. As they continued digging, they stumbled upon a famous Mesopotamian school that was used in the sixth and seventh centuries. They also found letters between monks that were written in an ancient Armenian language.

As confirmed by Italian excavators in 1915, underground Ani had a school, a monastery, rock houses, monk cells, water channels, meditation rooms, and more than 500 meters (1,600 ft) of complex tunnels. At least 823 structures and caves have been identified in underground Ani. Yazici wants this underground complex to be promoted to the outside world by Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry.

9 Silla – Korea


Photo credit: National Museum of Korea

Initially, Silla was one of three kingdoms in Korea. The other two were Goguryeo and Baekje. Silla came into existence in 57 BC as a small tribal state, but it grew over time to encompass over half of the Korean peninsula, mainly in the South.

As Silla developed into a centralized power, the royal Kim family consolidated its right to rule by designing a system of social status called kolpum, or “bone rank.” Similar to being born with royal blood, all rulers initially had to be of “hallowed bone” rank. This caste system also controlled your career options, the size of your house and carriage, and the color of your clothes.

Silla combined forces with China to conquer Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668. With only a small part of northern Korea outside of its rule, the three kingdoms became known as the “Unified Silla” kingdom. Much of Unified Silla remains a mystery, including the Hwarang, an elite group of young men whose military and religious role is the subject of continued debate.

Unified Silla introduced Buddhism as the dominant force in Korea’s culture, including its art, traditions, and government. The capital city of the kingdom was Gyeongju, which is still home to some of the country’s most impressive Buddhist art and royal tombs. Before the rise of Buddhism, valuable jewelry, weapons, and pottery were usually placed in tombs to help the departed in their next life. Gold jewelry and glass bead necklaces were particularly popular. After Buddhism became dominant, valuable art was put on public display, instead of in tombs, because Buddhists believe art is for the living.

During this time, the government also restored many temples, including the famous Pulguksa Temple, which was heavily influenced by Tang Chinese architecture. The temple’s bridges (or staircases) helped visitors journey from the earthly world to a Buddhist paradise. Among other advancements, the Koreans also developed movable type about two centuries before Gutenberg.

In 935, Unified Silla was conquered by the Goryeo Dynasty. At 992 years, Silla was the longest-lasting kingdom in Korea’s history. Although Silla’s cultural importance to Korea may be clear to some of its residents, it has been almost completely unknown outside of Korean borders, especially in the West.

8 The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture – Eastern Europe


Photo credit: Cristian Chirita

In 1893, the ruins of the village Trypillia were discovered in central Ukraine, sparking an archaeological exploration that revealed a fascinating culture extending 35,000 square kilometers (14,000 mi2) into what is known today as Ukraine, Romania, and Moldova. The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture existed from 5400 BC to 2700 BC, with some of its cities hosting as many as 15,000 residents and thousands of buildings. Many of its settlements were only 3–4 kilometers (2–2.5 mi) apart.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian people had a matriarchal society, with worship of a Great Goddess and belief in an afterlife. Excavators have found decorated altars, pottery, and figurines, with many statuettes made of metal. From pictures on the artifacts, archaeologists learned that women farmed with ploughs, created pottery, and made clothing. Men hunted, bred animals, and made tools.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian people planned their cities using clay models of the buildings. With copper and stone axes, they chopped down thousands of trees to construct the single and multistoried buildings in their settlements. Walls and floors were coated with clay, painted white and red, and decorated to keep residents safe from evil spirits. The Cucuteni-Trypillian people also built temples and other public buildings.

But for all the care with which they constructed a settlement, they engaged in a strange ritual of burning down the entire village every 60–80 years, sometimes reconstructing the same buildings over the ruins. In Romania, archaeologists have found 13 layers of settlements in the same location. However, in some cases, they moved to another area to rebuild. Scientists have different theories as to why the Cucuteni-Trypillian people did this, but the actual reason remains a mystery.

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