10 Archaeological Discoveries That Were Made By Pure Chance

We’re always amazed when archaeologists come upon extraordinary and magnificent discoveries. Sometimes, the discoveries are rather small and maybe insignificant (such as a single coin from centuries ago), and sometimes, they’re bigger and incredibly important (such as a forgotten ancient city). While some important discoveries are made as part of well-planned expeditions and aren’t especially surprising, incredible archaeological discoveries are sometimes made by pure chance. Below is a list of 10 important archaeological discoveries that were uncovered completely by accident.

10. 19th-Century Brothel


In 1997, the Smithsonian Institution commissioned an archaeological study of the site upon which the National Museum of the American Indian was to be built and found artifacts, buried and untouched for more than a century, that could have only been from a wealthy household. These high-quality, expensive items were an unusual find in an area that was known to previously have been working-class neighborhood, and as a result, old maps and real estate records were consulted. It was then confirmed that the artifacts were what remained of a 19th-century brothel which was run by Mary Ann Hall, a mysterious, successful entrepreneur.

Prior to the dig, archaeologists didn’t know exactly what they were going to find, although they did have their suspicions. Archival research done before the archaeological excavations revealed that the house was occupied by a rather large number of females, a fact which the researchers and archaeologists found rather odd. However, it was the artifacts that pointed to the actual, slightly scandalous nature of the establishment. Hundreds of champagne corks and broken bottles, shards of expensive porcelain, seeds from exotic fruits, and women’s grooming items made it obvious that the house was indeed a brothel. It was no ordinary brothel, however. It stood in close proximity to Capitol Hill and was visited by elite clientele.

Today, many of the artifacts remaining from Mary Ann Hall’s brothel are kept at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, and can be viewed with an appointment.

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