Top 10 Horrific Facts About Scalping On The American Frontier

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Top 10 Horrific Facts About Scalping On The American Frontier


Native Americans weren’t the only people who scalped their enemies. The European settlers who colonized the country learned from and copied them. Cutting off the skin on a man’s head became a widespread practice across the country—America’s dirty secret that plays a hidden role in every major moment in the nation’s history.

At first, the settlers of the New World treated scalping as a sign of barbarism and savagery. But as time went on and they struggled through more of life on the wild frontier, some started to see tearing the skin of a man’s skull as nothing worse than an efficient way to take home his head.

The American frontier became a brutal place where the scalps of dead men were a currency. White men and natives alike were massacring and mutilating innocent people for a fistful of cash—and the thin, delicate line between civilization and savagery slowly eroded away.

Featured image credit: Peter S. Duval

10A Chief Tried To Impress Jacques Cartier With His Scalp Collection

Photo credit: Lawrence R. Batchelor

Jacques Cartier may have been the first European to see a scalp firsthand. While in the area now known as Quebec City, he met with a tribal chief named Donnacona.

They greeted one another with courtesy. The tribe put on a dance of welcoming for the visiting explorers, and Cartier presented Donnacona with gifts. Then, to impress his new friend, Donnacona showed Cartier his most prized possession: five human scalps, dried out and stretched across hoops.

Other Europeans would soon start writing home about it, describing warriors who would carve off the scalps of their dead enemies, raise them above, and let out a cry they called “the death cry.” The Native Americans, men reported, would bring the scalps of their enemies home on the tips of their lances. They would pass them around and make jokes about them, sometimes even feeding them to their dogs.

It was psychological warfare, meant to terrify, and it definitely worked on the Europeans. The record of Cartier’s voyage says little about their reaction. But after describing the scalps with hoops, the account ends with a stoic, “After seeing these things, we returned to our ships.”

9Some People Were Scalped Alive

Photo credit: E.E. Henry

Scalping wasn’t just a way to claim a trophy from the body of a dead man. Some people were still alive and struggling when a warrior would pull back their head and slice off the skin at the top of their skulls.

We have medical records from doctors who had to treat the still-living victims of a scalping. Some were given a second chance at life. If a doctor acted fast, he could surgically repair the scalp and leave the person alive, with nothing worse than a disfiguring, bald scar that would cover the head for the rest of the person’s life.

In the earlier days, though, the doctors weren’t as effective. The first treatments for scalped men had doctors pierce the skull to the bone marrow. Opening up little holes into the bone marrow, the doctors wrote, would make a “flesh projection” grow over the wound. But it would also leave them with a soft, thin spot on the top of their skulls and put them through excruciating pain.

Other people survived without treatment—but not for long. They would live for a few months with exposed bone at the top of their heads until infection set in. Their skulls would get inflamed, and the bone would start to separate, slowing exposing their bare, unprotected brains.

8American Colonies Paid Bounties For Indian Scalps

Not long after the Mayflower set sail to the New World in search of a Christian utopia of peace and tolerance, white men started taking scalps.

The first scalps were claimed during the Pequot War. When a trader named John Oldham was killed by Native Americans, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Colony started fighting a full-on war with their neighbors. Soon, the governor was promising a reward for any man who could bring home the head of a Native American.

Heads, though, are large and cumbersome, and the men would have to come home with only a few kills under their belts to claim their reward. It wasn’t long before the Puritans picked up an idea from their enemies. They started cutting off scalps, filling bags with them, and bringing the scalps home instead.

Other colonies followed their lead. By 1641, the governor of New Netherlands put out the first official bounty on any and all scalps from a native’s head, promising “10 fathoms of wampum” for every scalp from a member of the Raritan tribe.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony soon had their own, promising 40 pounds for the scalps of warriors and 20 pounds for women and children younger than 12 years old. Every citizen, the governor declared, was called upon to “embrace all opportunities of pursuing, capturing, killing, and destroying all and any of the aforesaid Indians.”

Hunting season had begun.

7The Crow Creek Scalping Massacre

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One of the worst scalping massacres of all time happened in 1325, more than 100 years before Columbus’s voyage, at a Native American town called Crow Creek.

The Crow Creek tribe had a massive town, with 55 lodges surrounded by a thick wall made of wood and buffalo hides. One night, while they were sleeping, an enemy tribe sneaked over their walls and massacred nearly every person there.

Archaeologists found the remains of 486 people at the site of the massacre. Nearly every person in the town was scalped after they were killed—except for the young women, who were taken back as sex slaves for the men who’d killed their husbands.

Since the only thing we know about the massacre is what we can find in the remains of the victims, nobody knows for sure who did it. By the time Europeans made it to the site of Crow Creek, though, the Arikara tribe was telling stories about a great big village that had to be taught a lesson—which might just be a clue.

6Hannah Duston Scalped Her Captors

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Hannah Duston was a housewife, the mother of eight children, and the last person you’d expect to walk into a governor’s office demanding the bountyfor her 10 scalps.

Her story begins in 1697 when her home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, was attacked by the Abenaki tribe. Her husband, Thomas, fled with seven of their children, but he left Hannah and their newborn daughter behind. Hannah watched in horror as 27 people in her village were murdered. Then her Abenaki captor pulled her newborn baby girl from her arms and smashed the baby’s head against a tree.

The Abenaki dragged Hannah to an island to be their captive, but Hannah spent every second looking for her chance for revenge. She waited until they fell asleep. Then she grabbed a tomahawk and rammed it into the heads of the 10 Abenaki people holding her hostage.

She cut off their scalps before she escaped. Then she brought the other hostages to a canoe and rescued them all.

And that’s how a middle-aged mother, thought to be dead, showed up at the Massachusett governor’s office with the biggest collection of scalps they’d ever seen and demanded her reward.

5US Rangers Went On Scalp-Hunting Expeditions

Photo via Wikimedia

In the early 1700s, some US Rangers started working as full-time scalpcollectors. They would go into the wilderness looking for Native Americans to kill, determined to bring home a bag full of scalps and make a small fortune.

One of the most successful was John Lovewell, who became a minorcelebrity for the number of scalps he brought home. At one point, he made a wig from the torn scalps of the men he’d killed. Then Lovewell paraded through the streets of Boston wearing the wig on his head.

Scalping was profitable. Lovewell wasn’t just famous—he was rich. He got 100 pounds for every scalp he brought home, which was a lot of money at the time. Killing Native Americans had made him more money than he’d ever earned in his life.

It also ended up getting him killed. He organized a group of 47 men to take a village of more than 100 people. Likely, he hoped to split the profits among as few people as possible. He’d overestimated his own abilities, though. Lovewell was killed in the battle—and, appropriately enough, scalped.

4Henry Hamilton Paid Indians For The Scalps Of American Revolutionaries

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During the American Revolution, a British man called Henry Hamilton earned the nickname “The Hair-Buyer General. He was in charge of getting Native American tribes to help Britain beat down the American Revolutionaries—and he did it by buying scalps.

Hamilton didn’t exactly have progressive opinions. He wrote about the Native Americans as “savages,” arguing that Britain should take advantage of their “natural propensity . . . for blood.” He paid the Native Americans for every white man’s scalp they could bring home, only telling them not to “redden your axe with the blood of women and children.”

Hamilton provided the natives with scalping knives and kept records of how many scalps they brought in. In his biggest haul, he was given 129 American scalps in a single day.

But scalping only brought about more scalping. As the Americans watched their men die, they struck back—and started scalping Hamilton’s mercenaries as brutal acts of revenge.

3A Kentucky Militia Would Strip Naked And Take Scalps

The next time that the United States and Britain went to war, some Americans had fully embraced the idea of scalping their enemies. By the time the War of 1812 had begun, a militia group from Kentucky had gone completely savage.

The Kentucky Militia would strip down to their underwear and daub themselves with red war paint before attacking British and Native American camps. The militia murdered every person they could find and tore off their scalps. There wasn’t a cash reward for doing it—they just wanted a memento of their massacres.

One officer from Pennsylvania wrote in his journal that he’d been sitting next to a soldier from Kentucky when, without warning, the Kentuckian “ripped open his waistband, fleshed them with his knife, salted them, and set them in hoops.”

Most of the country was disgusted by this. The British used it in propaganda, calling Kentuckians “the most barbarous, illiterate beings in America.”

But the Kentuckians didn’t care. One young soldier wrote that he’d sent a scalp home to his parents the first chance he got. “Daddy and Mamma,” thesoldier wrote, “thought I had done about right.”

2The Sand Creek Massacre

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When the Civil War began, some soldiers got sidetracked over a dispute with the local Cheyenne tribe. They had been accused of stealing livestock, and the Union troops wouldn’t stand for it. In retaliation, a group led by Colonel John Chivington started burning down Cheyenne camps.

The Cheyenne didn’t want any trouble. Their chief, Black Kettle, came to Chivington begging for peace, saying, “We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace.” Chivington told Black Kettle that he wasn’t authorized to make peace—and then made plans to massacre the village of Sand Creek.

“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians,” Chivington declared. “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

A white man named John Smith had a son in the camp who died with the others. He went in to claim his dead and saw the horrifying scene firsthand. “I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces,” he reported. They had been scalped and brutalized, with their children killed and unborn babies ripped out of wombs.

The worst, though, was the body of a man called White Antelope. After he was scalped, his nose and ears were cut off and his testicles were removed and turned into a tobacco pouch—a keepsake for army men who had slaughtered a peaceful village.

1The Glanton Gang Scalped Mexicans For Cash

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During the Mexican-American War, Texas Ranger John Joel Glanton took up a job collecting scalps from the Apache tribe. Some of the Apache had become involved in the fighting, and the American Army wanted them out of the way. So they paid handsomely for every scalp that Glanton could bring in.

This made Glanton rich. But fairly soon, he started running out of Apaches to kill. The US Army, though, wasn’t really checking where his scalps came from. So he started killing Mexican civilians instead and passing them off as Apaches.

After a while, Glanton’s bloodlust turned him into a full-on serial killer. He and his gang stole a river ferry from some members of the Yuma tribe and invited people to ride in his boat. Once the people were trapped in the middle of the water, Glanton and his men would massacre them—whether they were Mexicans or Americans—and loot their dead bodies.

The Chihuahua government put a bounty on his head, but it was the Yuma who got him. They were normally a peaceful tribe, but Glanton had pushed them too far. While he was sleeping, the Yuma tribe sneaked into his camp. They killed his cohorts and slit Glanton’s throat while he was sleeping.

10 Greatest Native American Chiefs And Leaders

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10 Greatest Native American Chiefs And Leaders


If you live in the the United States (and even if you don’t) you’ve probably heard about a number of the country’s prominent historical figures. But what about the history of those who were there before? Even many Americans know very little of Native American history.

One of many overlooked aspects of Native American history is the long list of exceptional men who led various tribes as chiefs or war leaders. Just as noble and brave as anyone on the Mexican, British, or American sides, many of them have been swept into the dustbin of history. Here are ten of the greatest Native American chiefs and leaders.


Photo credit: Pinterest

A member of the Apache tribe, Victorio was also the chief of his particular band, the Chiricahua. He was born in what is now New Mexico in 1809, when the land was still under Mexican control. For decades, the United States had been taking Native American lands, and Victorio grew up in turbulent times for his people. Because of that experience, he became a fearsome warrior and leader, commanding a relatively small band of fighters on innumerable raids.

For more than ten years, Victorio and his men managed to evade the pursuing US forces before he finally surrendered in 1869. Unfortunately, the land he accepted as the spot for their reservation was basically inhospitable and unsuitable for farming. (It’s known as Hell’s Forty Acres.) He quickly decided to move his people and became an outlaw once again. In 1880, in the Tres Castillos Mountains of Mexico, Victorio was finally surrounded and killed by Mexican troops. (Some sources, especially Apache sources, say he actually took his own life.)

Perhaps more interesting than Victorio was his younger sister, Lozen. She was said to have participated in a special Apache puberty rite which was purported to have given her the ability to sense her enemies. Her hands would tingle when she was facing the direction of her foes, with the strength of the feeling telling how close they were.

9Chief Cornstalk

Photo credit: Wikimedia

More popularly known by the English translation of his Shawnee name Hokolesqua, Chief Cornstalk was born sometime around 1720, probably in Pennsylvania. Like much of the Shawnee people, he resettled to Ohio in the 1730s as a result of continuous conflict with invading white settlers (especially over the alcohol they brought with them). Tradition holds that Cornstalk got his first taste of battle during the French and Indian War, in which his tribe sided with the French.

A lesser-known conflict called Lord Dunmore’s War took place in 1774, and Cornstalk was thrust into fighting once again. However, the colonists quickly routed the Shawnee and their allies, compelling the Native Americans to sign a treaty, ceding all land east and south of the Ohio River. Though Cornstalk would abide by the agreement until his death, many other Shawnee bristled at the idea of losing their territory and plotted to attack once again. In 1777, Cornstalk went to an American fort to warn them of an impending siege. However, he was taken prisoner and later murdered by vengeance-seeking colonists.

Cornstalk’s longest-lasting legacy has nothing to do with his actions in life. After his death, when reports of a flying creature later dubbed the “Mothman” began to surface in West Virginia, its appearance was purported to have come about because of a supposed curse which Cornstalk had laid on the land after the treachery that resulted in his death.

8Black Hawk

Photo credit: Wikimedia

A member and eventual war leader of the Sauk tribe, Black Hawk was born in Virginia in 1767. Relatively little is known about him until he joined theBritish side during the War of 1812, leading to some to refer to Black Hawk and his followers as the “British Band.” (He was also a subordinate of Tecumseh, another Native American leader on this list.) A rival Sauk leader signed a treaty with the United States, perhaps because he was tricked, which ceded much of their land, and Black Hawk refused to honor the document, leading to decades of conflict between the two parties.

In 1832, after having been forcibly resettled two years earlier, Black Hawk led between 1,000 and 1,500 Native Americans back to a disputed area in Illinois. That move instigated the Black Hawk War, which only lasted 15 weeks, after which around two-thirds of the Sauk who came to Illinois had perished. Black Hawk himself avoided capture until 1833, though he was released in a relatively short amount of time. Disgraced among his people, he lived out the last five years of his life in Iowa. A few years before his death, he dictated his autobiography to an interpreter and became somewhat of a celebrity to the US public.


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Another Shawnee war leader, Tecumseh was born in the Ohio Valley sometime around 1768. Around the age of 20, he began going on raids with an older brother, traveling to various frontier towns in Kentucky and Tennessee. After a number of Native American defeats, he left to Indiana, raising a band of young warriors and becoming a respected war chief. One of his younger brothers underwent a series of visions and became a religious prophet, going so far as to accurately predict a solar eclipse.

Using his brother’s abilities to his advantage, Tecumseh quickly began to unify a number of different peoples into a settlement known as Prophetstown, better known in the United States as Tippecanoe. One day, while Tecumseh was away on a recruiting trip, future US president William Henry Harrison launched a surprise attack and burned it to the ground, killing nearly everyone.

Still angered at his people’s treatment at the hands of the US, Tecumseh joined forces with Great Britain when the War of 1812 began. However, he died at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. Though he was a constant enemy to them, Americans quickly turned Tecumseh into a folk hero, valuing his impressive oratory skills and the bravery of his spirit.


Photo credit: Ben Wittick

Perhaps the most famous Native American leader of all time, Geronimo was a medicine man in the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua. Born in June 1829, he was quickly acclimated to the Apache way of life. As a young boy, he swallowed the heart of his first successful hunting kill and had already led four separate raids before he turned 18. Like many of his people, he suffered greatly at the hands of the “civilized” people around him. The Mexicans, who still controlled the land, killed his wife and three young children. (Though he hated Americans, he maintained a deep-seated abhorrence for Mexicans until his dying day.)

In 1848, Mexico ceded control of vast swaths of land, including Apache territory, in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This preceded near-constant conflict between the new American settlers and the tribes which lived on the land. Eventually, Geronimo and his people were moved off their ancestors’ land and placed in a reservation in a barren part of Arizona, something the great leader deeply resented. Over the course of the next ten years, he led a number of successful breakouts, hounded persistently by the US Army. In addition, he became a celebrity for his daring escapes, playing on the public’s love of the Wild West.

He finally surrendered for the last time on September 4, 1886, followed by a number of different imprisonments. Shortly before his death, Geronimo pleaded his case before President Theodore Roosevelt, failing to convince the American leader to allow his people to return home. He took his last breath in 1909, following an accident on his horse. On his deathbed, he was said to have stated: “I should never have surrendered; I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

5Crazy Horse

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A fearsome warrior and leader of the Oglala Sioux, Crazy Horse was born around 1840 in present-day South Dakota. One story about his name says that he was given it by his father after displaying his skills as a fighter. Tensions between Americans and the Sioux had been increasing since his birth, but they boiled over when he was a young teenager. In August 1854, a Sioux chief named Conquering Bear was killed by a white soldier. In retaliation, the Sioux killed the lieutenant in command along with all 30 of his men in what is now known as the Grattan Massacre.

Utilizing his knowledge as a guerilla fighter, Crazy Horse was a thorn in the side of the US Army, which would stop at nothing to force his people onto reservations. The most memorable battle in which Crazy Horse participated was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the fight in which Custer and his men were defeated. However, by the next year, Crazy Horse had surrendered. The scorched-earth policy of the US Army had proven to be too much for his people to bear. While in captivity, he was stabbed to death with a bayonet, allegedly planning to escape.

4Chief Seattle

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Born in 1790, Chief Seattle lived in present-day Washington state, taking up residence along the Puget Sound. A chief of two different tribes thanks to his parents, he was initially quite welcoming to the settlers who began to arrive in the 1850s, as were they to him. In fact, they established a colony on Elliot Bay and named it after the great chief. However, some of the other local tribes resented the encroachment of the Americans, and violent conflicts began to rise up from time to time, resulting in an attack on the small settlement of Seattle.

Chief Seattle felt his people would eventually be driven out of every place by these new settlers but argued that violence would only speed up the process, a sentiment which seemed to cool tempers. The close, and peaceful, contact which followed led him to convert to Christianity, becoming a devout follower for the rest of his days. In a nod to the chief’s traditional religion, the people of Seattle paid a small tax to use his name for the city. (Seattle’s people believed the mention of a deceased person’s name kept him from resting peacefully.)

Fun fact: The speech most people associate with Chief Seattle, in which he puts a heavy emphasis on mankind’s need to care for the environment, is completely fabricated. It was written by a man named Dr. Henry A. Smith in 1887.


Almost nothing is known about the childhood of one of the greatest Apache chiefs in history. In fact, no one is even sure when he was born. Relatively tall for his day, he was said to have stood at least 183 centimeters (6′), cutting a very imposing figure. A leader of the Chiricahua tribe, Cochise led his people on a number of raids, sometimes against Mexicans and sometimes against Americans. However, it was his attacks on the US which led to his demise.

In 1861, a raiding party of a different Apache tribe kidnapped a child, and Cochise’s tribe was accused of the act by a relatively inexperienced US Army officer. Though they were innocent, an attempt at arresting the Native Americans, who had come to talk, ended in violence, with one shot to death and Cochise escaping the meeting tent by cutting a hole in the side and fleeing. Various acts of torture and execution by both sides followed, and it seemed to have no end. But the US Civil War had begun, and Arizona was left to the Apache.

Less than a year later, however, the Army was back, armed with howitzers, and they began to destroy the tribes still fighting. For nearly ten years, Cochise and a small band of fighters hid among the mountains, raiding when necessary and evading capture. In the end, Cochise was offered a huge part of Arizona as a reservation. His reply: “The white man and the Indian are to drink of the same water, eat of the same bread, and be at peace.” Unfortunately for Cochise, he didn’t get to experience the fruits of his labor for long, as he became seriously ill and died in 1874.

2Sitting Bull

Photo credit: David F. Barry

A chief and holy man of the Hunkpapa Lakota, Sitting Bull was born in 1831, somewhere in present-day South Dakota. In his youth, he was an ardent warrior, going on his first raid at only 14. His first violent encounter with US troops was in 1863. It was this bravery which led to him becoming the head of all the Lakota in 1868. Though small conflicts between the Lakota and the US would continue for the decade, it wasn’t until 1874 that full-scale war began. The reason: Gold had been found in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. (The land had been off-limits thanks to an earlier treaty, but the US discarded it when attempts to buy the land were unsuccessful.)

The violence culminated in a Native American coalition facing off against US troops led by Custer at the aforementioned Battle of the Little Bighorn. Afterward, many more troops came pouring into the area, and chief after chief was forced to surrender, with Sitting Bull escaping to Canada. His people’s starvation eventually led to an agreement with the US, whereupon they were moved to a reservation. After fears were raised that Sitting Bull would join in a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance, a ceremony which purported to rid the land of white people, his arrest was ordered. A gunfight between police and his supporters soon erupted, and Sitting Bull was shot in the head and killed.

1Mangas Coloradas

Photo credit: True West Magazine

The father-in-law to Cochise and one of the most influential chiefs of the 1800s, Mangas Coloradas was a member of the Apache. Born just before the turn of the century, he was said to be unusually tall and became the leader of his band in 1837, after his predecessor and many of their band were killed. They died because Mexico was offering money for Native American scalps—no questions asked. Determined to not let that go unpunished, Mangas Coloradas and his warriors began wreaking havoc, even killing all the citizens of the town of Santa Rita.

When the US declared war on Mexico, Mangas Coloradas saw them as his people’s saviors, signing a treaty with the Americans allowing soldiers passage through Apache lands. However, as was usually the case, when gold and silver were found in the area, the treaty was discarded. By 1863, the US was flying a flag of truce, allegedly trying to come to a peace agreement with the great chief. However, he was betrayed, killed under the false pretense that he was trying to escape, and then mutilated after death. Asa Daklugie, a nephew of Geronimo, later said this was the last straw for the Apache, who would began mutilating those who had the bad luck to fall into their hands.

Top 10 Artifacts And Places Frozen In Time

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Top 10 Artifacts And Places Frozen In Time


In archaeology, an untouched pot shard is more valuable than a gold statue moved miles from its original stand. To understand the great puzzle of our past, context is crucial.

How and where an unmoved object is found can retrieve authentic history—from previously unknown rituals and chapters of known history to rare information about vanished cultures. Lost cities, art, and even structures known only from descriptions are being seen for the first time.

10The Unused Roman Oven

Photo credit: Live Science

In 2014, developers eyed a patch near Falkirk, a town in Scotland. Per law, before the shopping center’s first brick was allowed to land, archaeologists had to sweep the site. The area previously delivered Roman fortifications which heightened the chance of a hidden ancient presence.

After some shoveling and dusting, archaeologists uncovered a familiar structure with a twist. Two sunken chambers formed a trademark 8-shape that connected them. Appearing undisturbed from the day it was built was a 2,000-year-old Roman oven.

Normally, Roman ovens yield the ash and charcoal of ancient cooking. This one was squeaky clean, with no such layers or scorching. In fact, archaeologists suspected that it had never even been used.

Due to the missing morsels of ancient meals, more evidence is needed to confirm its purpose. However, the shape and site suggest that it was a military bread oven. Similar and confirmed bakers’ tools have popped up in Roman camps throughout Scotland.

At the Falkirk excavation, items surfaced that support an army settlement, including hobnails from soldiers’ sandals and a bolt head.

9The Antarctica Fruitcake

Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

The first buildings in Antarctica were raised at Cape Adare in 1899. Recently, over a thousand artifacts were removed for study and preservation. Included in the haul was a surprise: a 106-year-old fruitcake still wrapped in its original wax paper.

Unlike the rusted cake tin in which it was found, the fruity snack looked ready to serve. A clue to the identity of the person who could not resist bringing fruitcake along to the edge of the world was the bakery’s name on the tin. Huntley & Palmers always provided baked provisions for Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer.

It was likely left behind when Scott departed from the cabin in a bid to reach the South Pole first. The famous Terra Nova expedition (1910–1913) turned out to be fatal.

His team eventually reached their destination, but Norwegian explorers had beaten them to it a month earlier. Scott’s entire team perished on the return trip when they froze to death. The well-preserved cake, with only a whiff of rancid butter, will be treated with stabilizing chemicals and returned with other artifacts to be displayed in the Cape Adare cabin.

8Unknown River Tools

Photo credit: Live Science

Amateur archaeologists investigated an extinct river in Wales and found something that made the experts sit up and take notice. While working at the Bronze Age site in 2017, the amateurs discovered stone tools on the 4,500-year-old streambed.

Numbering about 20, the limestone utensils were triangular and showed signs of heavy use. They ranged from 5 centimeters (2 in) to 22 centimeters (8.6 in) long.

Two things made them uniquely fascinating. They appeared to have been arranged deliberately under the water when the stream still existed. Also, after archaeologists picked each other’s brains, they realized that nobody had ever seen such artifacts before.

The tools were roughly shaped into points, which were scarred and pitted from a mystery purpose. One guess considers the hand tools as engraving stones. During the Bronze Age, rocky surfaces were abundantly adorned with carvings and symbols.

Another half-understood feature stands next to the river near the triangles, although the two have no clear connection other than belonging to the same community. Discovered years earlier, the mound once turned out huge amounts of scalding water. Freshly fired stones heated the water in a pit to likely use for domestic needs.

7El Castillo’s Queens

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Long before the Inca, the Wari people ruled the Andes. They were widespread, but archaeologists struggle to document their culture. Most sites have been irreparably damaged by looters.

In 2013, aerial images of a Wari location showed artificial angles. Archaeologists then visited El Castillo de Huarmey, a pyramid site near the coast in Huarmey.

Incredibly, the lines led to a massive mausoleum below. Not only did looters miss it after repeated raids, but the deceased appeared untouched. Sitting in rows were 63 individuals.

Three women received better burials than the rest. Within the 1,200-year-old hall, each had her own chamber filled with precious metals and artifacts. Identified as Wari queens, it became the culture’s first royal tomb to be discovered intact.

There were weaving instruments and jewelry made of gold. Brightly decorated ceramics and alabaster vessels showed skill in pottery and crafting. Silver jewelry and bronze axes were also present.

However, not everything was cultured behavior by today’s standards. Some women in the tomb are suspected to be sacrifice victims. Insect pupae in the royal remains hinted at a gruesome ritual. The corpses were occasionally removed by Wari citizens and left outside for a while.

6Timeless Ships

Photo credit: National Geographic

Usually, sunken ships retain a few recognizable characteristics while the rest rot and rust away. The Black Sea is different. Eastern Europe’s major rivers feed a permanent layer of freshwater on top of the heavier seawater. This blocks oxygen from reaching the salty layer. Without oxygen, decay is impossible in the icy depths and doomed ships keep their looks.

When over 40 wrecks were recently found off the coast of Bulgaria, it was like finding a collection of bottled ships from different eras. Together, they cover a thousand years of human history (9th–19th centuries).

Some are so well-preserved that the decks contain coils of rope, carvings, and wooden structures. One medieval ship displayed a captain’s quarterdeck—the first to be physically seen in the archaeological record. It was probably Venetian and the most intact of its type ever discovered.

As a sought-after trade route for many nations, researchers estimate that the time-frozen fleet at the bottom of the Black Sea could number in the thousands.Called “one of archaeology’s greatest coups,” more surprises could wait below deck. In 2002, a Black Sea wreck yielded 2,400-year-old dried fish steaks inside a pot.

5Burghead Fort

Photo credit: Live Science

The threadbare history of the Wari looks plentiful against Scotland’s Picts. Most accounts of them are secondhand descriptions. The Romans called the tattooed tribes “Picts” (“painted people”), but their true name is lost.

A Pictish fort, referred to as Burghead Fort, disappeared beneath the town of Lossiemouth in the 1800s. Archaeologists checked in 2015 to see if anything remained. Excavations busted the belief that Lossiemouth wiped out the older settlement.

The diggers found evidence that Burghead was a stronghold of their Northern territory. Inside were major ruins, including a longhouse. The news was exciting because many already thought the fort was an important royal seat. The ruins could reveal the nature of the community, a crucial factor in understanding how power was distributed at Pictish sites.

Inside the longhouse was a coin, minted during the life of English king Alfred the Great. This dated the fort to the ninth century when the Picts had to deal with Vikings and settlers. The coin was Anglo-Saxon, proving that the Picts traded long-distance. But oddly, it was pierced. One theory suggests that perhaps the Picts wore their money on necklaces.

4House Of The Tesserae

On January 18, 749, artisans were busy installing floor mosaics when anearthquake struck the city of Jerash. The disaster toppled the house and sealed everything as it was that day, including one of the workers.

Situated in modern-day Jordan, ancient Jerash is well studied except for the northwest quarter. That was where the “House Of The Tesserae” protected its timeless interior until its discovery in 2017.

Named for the small tiles that wove together the mosaics, the house provided rare insights and answers. It froze the moment before the earthquake struck. The whole house had been emptied beforehand for the extensive redecorating.

Walls were being prepared for painting. The top floor’s mosaic was already completed with geometric designs. The ground level was in progress and gave elusive clues about a certain issue.

For a long time, nobody knew how mosaics during the eighth century’s early Islamic period were made. Were the tiny limestone tesserae cut on-site, or were they created elsewhere? A metal hammer near containers of freshly carved tiles suggests that they were chiseled at the house.

3The Lost Civilization

Photo credit: National Geographic

Adventurers have hunted the mythical White City of Honduras for decades. In 1940, explorer Theodore Morde came back from the Mosquitia rain forest, claiming to have found it. Fearing looters, Morde never disclosed the location.

In 2012, an aerial scan detected man-made features under Mosquitia’s forest canopy. For more than a mile were signs of buildings and water canals. Three years later, a ground expedition braved unexplored swaths ofjungle to see what was going on down there.

What they found was dramatic.

The team walked into an untouched lost city with plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid. Near the pyramid were 52 half-buried statues, among them a snarling jaguar head, ceremonial stone seats, and vessels.

The carvings were possibly part of the city’s last rites, ritually offered before the place was abandoned. Crafted between AD 1000–1400, their undisturbed positions, along with the rest of the pristine city, offer a unique opportunity to view a civilization so unknown that it has yet to be given a name.

Whether this is the legendary White City remains to be seen. To protect valuable clues from destructive looters, the location remains secret.

2The Soldiers Before Hadian’s Wall

Photo credit: The Guardian

The 117-kilometer (73 mi) wall in Northumberland was raised in AD 122 to defend Rome’s frontier in Britain. In 2017, a floor of the fourth-century fort of Vindolanda was lifted with little expectation.

Instead, they encountered the living quarters of some of the first soldierstasked with keeping the locals under control. The barracks were built in AD 105, long before Hadrian’s barrier, and belonged to a cavalry unit of about 1,000 men.

Cavalry weapons, including exceptionally rare swords, and horse tack littered the floors. Toys and personal possessions showed that the soldiers’ families also lived there.

Around 30 years after the camp was apparently abandoned in a panic, the Romans returned. They poured concrete for new barracks and sealed thousands of artifacts in an oxygen-free state. Things that usually rot remained pristine—wooden tablets, leather, and cloth. Riding equipment shone, and strap junctions retained their alloy links, a highly scarce occurrence.

The collection allows a priceless study of those who lived in the hot zone when the Britons rebelled, possibly the reason why the camp fled. It is also valued for adding a unique chapter to the prelude to Hadrian’s Wall.

1Tall el-Hammam

The biblical city of Sodom, destroyed by God for the debauchery of its residents, was described as the biggest settlement in Jordan’s eastern side during the Bronze Age. In 2005, archaeologists chose the relatively unstudied Tall el-Hammam as a candidate.

The monumental mound was at the right place and was the biggest Bronze Age site even outside of the required region. A decade of excavations revealed the remarkable builders who had managed Tall el-Hammam as a powerhouse while other cities in the area folded.

Archaeologists describe the scope of the city-state as “monstrous.” Ancient construction continued from 3500–1540 BC, adding formidable defensive walls and ramparts, towers, plazas, buildings, monuments, and a palace. The rampart system alone consists of millions of bricks and forms a fortified superstructure over 30 meters (100 ft) tall.

Like many ancient cities, Tall el-Hammam came to a sudden and mysterious end. That the city-state previously survived factors that had killed off the surrounding great cities makes it even stranger.

After 700 years as a veritable ghost town, a new population grew during the Iron Age II period (1000–332 BC). More building was done, some of it great, but nothing ever equaled the glory of the Bronze Age again.