History fans know the thrill—that moment when you gaze upon something that hasn’t been seen in centuries or millennia. The last year or two churned out terrific “lost and found” moments from excavation sites, libraries, and even places as diverse as forests and apartment buildings. From a legendary city destroyed by a priest to the roots of British comedy, here are some of the best-hidden rarities rediscovered in recent times.
10 Picasso’s Lapdog
In 1900, the famous artist Pablo Picasso created a painting called Le Moulin de la Galette. It was the name of the dance hall in the picture that, unsurprisingly, showed dancing couples. However, for those who look closer, there is a surprise. Near the bottom left corner is the ghostly image of a dog.
Picasso never intended to make the spaniel so spooky (experts believe it’s a Cavalier King Charles spaniel). He created the dog in great detail but then hastily turned the pooch into a discarded coat. However, the outline of the animal remained, and for a long time, nobody knew what the original dog looked like. Recently, researchers scanned the painting with X-ray fluorescence technology and rediscovered the pigments Picasso had used to create the dog, along with more details about its appearance, including the breed and that it wore a red ribbon around its neck.
Some experts rue the fact that Picasso removed the dog, claiming that it would’ve made the composition more appealing. Others believe that the artist made the right choice. The dog was simply too cute and bright for the dark, uneasy atmosphere of the dancing hall.
9 A Geometric Miracle
On the Egyptian coast is the city of Taposiris Magna. It was founded in 280 BC by Ptolemy II, a direct ancestor of Cleopatra. Archaeologists have been digging among the ruins for 18 years, looking for this famous queen’s tomb. Then, one day in 2022, they were excavating 43 feet (13 meters) underneath a temple when they discovered a hidden tunnel.
This was no ordinary passageway, though. Hailed as a “geometric miracle,” the ancient tunnel had been carved straight from sandstone bedrock and measured 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall and 4,281 feet (1,305 meters) long. Experts even compared it to another magnificent engineering feat—the 6th-century BC Tunnel of Eupalinos, an aqueduct in Greece that covers a slightly shorter distance at 3,398 feet (1,036 meters).
Both designs are remarkably similar, but the purpose of the Egyptian conduit remains unknown. It might have funneled water like the Tunnel of Eupalinos, but researchers hope it could be a clue to the whereabouts of Cleopatra’s tomb. The temple was dedicated to Osiris and Isis, and Cleopatra associated herself strongly with Isis. The temple also yielded burials from Greco-Roman times, which added hope to the belief that she might have been interred in the vicinity.
8 A Rare Synagogue Mural
The so-called “Lost Mural” was never truly lost. One community in Vermont knew exactly where the glorious wall art was hidden. But let’s start at the beginning. In 1910, a Burlington synagogue, Chai Adam, commissioned 24-year-old Ben Zion Black to paint a wall. Black created a stunning triptych that depicted an important icon in Jewish history: the Tent of the Tabernacles. The completed mural covered an area of 155 square feet (14 square meters).
When the synagogue closed its doors in 1939, the building was used as a carpet store, a warehouse, and finally, in 1986, an apartment block. Burlington residents convinced the new owners to preserve the mural by walling it up. But 30 years behind the brick barrier had instead damaged the painting, as was discovered in 2012 when the wall was torn down.
Three years later, community members carefully moved the artwork to the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue to be restored. In 2022, the 112-year-old mural’s restoration was finally completed, and visitors can now visit the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue to gaze upon this rare painting. Indeed, the Vermont mural is one of a few remaining Jewish folk art murals that survived the wholesale destruction of synagogue wall paintings during the Holocaust.
7 Pompeii Earthquake Victims
The ancient city of Pompeii is one of the most excavated and explored ruins on Earth. Even so, every now and again, a new skeleton shows up and reveals more about the tragic two days back in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the Italian city in rubble and ash.
Recently, archaeologists were working at a block of buildings nicknamed the “Chaste Lovers” when they found two more bodies. This area had already been investigated, which made the discovery even more special.
The skeletons belonged to two men, both in their fifties, who appeared to have taken shelter in a room during the disaster. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong place. During the eruption, deadly earthquakes shook the city. Since the pair was found under a wall and one man had an upraised arm, researchers believe that an earthquake toppled the wall, causing the man to lift an arm in defense before they were both crushed to death.
6 A Chamber Inside the Giza Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Giza is a hotspot for researchers, but there hasn’t been a major discovery at the site for decades. So when the news broke in 2023 that a new feature had been discovered inside the iconic monument, the word spread quickly. This “feature” was a 30-foot (9-meter) long tunnel located above the pyramid’s main entrance on the north side. The tunnel also measured 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide and came with a chevron-shaped ceiling, matching the chevron entrance below it.
The corridor doesn’t appear to lead anywhere, and for now, its purpose is a mystery. However, the most popular theory suggests that the ancient builders incorporated the empty space to help distribute the weight of the masonry more evenly, thus preventing the pyramid from collapsing. Indeed, the walls are unfinished, a strong clue that the tunnel was added as an engineering hack that was never meant to be seen.
5 The Stone of Destiny Anomalies
Since the 13th century, Scottish kings have sat on the Stone of Destiny during their coronations. The carved seat is still used in coronation ceremonies but only for United Kingdom monarchs. Researchers recently scanned the large rectangular block and were surprised to notice hidden symbols and anomalies that no one had noticed before. The 800-year-old slab had mysterious markings that resembled Roman numerals or crudely drawn crosses, which might’ve been etched into the surface after the stone left Scotland for England in 1296.
But weirder were the remnants of plaster and a copper alloy stain. The latter was caused by a copper or brass object that was left standing on the stone for years, perhaps a religious object like a bell. The traces of plaster also suggested that someone once made a plaster cast of the stone. Curiously, there’s no record of a cast being made of the rock nor what the metal object might’ve been.
4 The Roots of British Comedy
In medieval England, the Wars of the Roses brought misery to many. But one minstrel was cracking jokes near the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border, and people loved it. While his name is lost to time, just the fact that researchers know he existed is a feat in itself. Real-life accounts of medieval bards are extremely rare.
Nobody would’ve known about him had it not been for two people. During the 15th century, a fan called Richard Heege created a book based on the bard’s own performance notes. This book later became known as the Heege Manuscript, but its comedic value was overlooked because experts only studied how the book was made.
The book languished at the National Library of Scotland when it was accidentally rediscovered by Dr. James Wade. He realized that the manuscript was more than just an old book. It was a unique record of live comedy shows in medieval England that not only preserved the work of a brilliant minstrel but also echoed the slapstick comedy, self-irony, and poking fun at audiences that are so characteristic of British stand-up comedy today.
3 Never Before Seen Bible Chapter
For years, an old Bible in the Vatican seemed just… well, old. But historian Grigory Kessel noticed that the book was a palimpsest or a manuscript that had been “scrubbed” of words by ancient writers to reuse. Curious about what might’ve been erased, he used ultraviolet light to scan the pages. In 2023, he released his findings—underneath three layers of words slept a chapter of the Bible that hadn’t been seen in over 1,500 years.
The text was written in Syriac and described Chapter 12 in the Book of Matthew. Interestingly, it gave researchers a unique glimpse into the Bible’s textual evolution when it revealed that the earliest phases of the Bible were slightly different from modern versions.
For example, a common phrase today comes from the original Greek version of Matthew 12:1 and says, “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.” The newly discovered Syriac passage reads, “…began to pick the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them”.
2 A Masterpiece in the Forest
Some things are hidden, not because they’re lost, but because it’s necessary for their survival. This was the case for a painting called “Dance on the Beach.” It was created in 1906 by Edvard Munch, the artist behind the infamous “The Scream.”
In 1940, “Dance on the Beach” was owned by the Olson family of Norway when the Germans invaded the country. Since Munch was on the Germans’ list of “degenerate artists,” they knew the painting would be destroyed if it ever fell into enemy hands. The Olsons, who were also neighbors of Munch, decided to save the massive 13-foot (4-meter) long artwork. They headed deep into a Norwegian forest and tucked it away in a barn along with other Munch works, including an early version of “The Scream.”
There, the monumental painting waited out World War II. The world became aware of the extraordinary tale when the 115-year-old artwork came out of hiding and hit Sotheby’s auction block in March 2023. The Expressionist masterpiece was sold for over $20 million.
1 A Legendary Lost City
According to an old German legend, there was once a great city called Rungholt. But the inhabitants were so privileged that they became sinful. One day, a group of drunken men tried to force a priest to perform sacred rites on a pig, and the cleric decided enough was enough. He prayed and asked God to punish the people, and shortly afterward, a deadly storm swept the city into the North Sea.
Many questioned whether Rungholt ever existed, but in 2023, researchers revealed that the legendary city had been found submerged in the Wadden Sea. A geological survey found medieval mounds that ran for nearly 1.2 miles (1.9 kilometers) around an island called Südfall. Under the mudflats were the remains of a large church, drainage systems, a harbor, and a 700-year-old skull of a Rungholt resident.