Top 10 Real-Life Discoveries of Lost Cities

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Top 10 Real-Life Discoveries of Lost Cities

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
These ancient places lay undisturbed for centuries! For this list, we'll be looking at the most interesting cities, towns, settlements and historical sites that were only discovered long after their time. Our countdown includes Genghis Khan's Long-Lost Fortress, Pompeii, Troy, and more!
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Top 10 Discoveries of Lost Cities


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 discoveries of lost cities.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most interesting cities, towns, settlements and historical sites that were only discovered long after their time. We’re only considering places that really were lost, so you won’t see any conquered or colonized cities on this list.

Let us know in the comments which lost city you hope to see rediscovered next.

#10: Mohenjo-daro

The Indus Valley Civilization was an extremely advanced society that flourished roughly 5,000 years ago, and Mohenjo-daro was its crowning jewel. The site, which is in modern-day Pakistan, was only unearthed in the 1920s. It provides astonishing insight into the lives of the Indus Valley society which, among other things, had some of the earliest sanitation and sewer systems found anywhere in the world. It’s believed that the city was able to comfortably sustain a population of 40,000 people, but for all it has taught us, we still have many questions about how the city was managed and controlled. Also still a mystery is the decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the reason why they left their cities behind.

#9: Genghis Khan’s Long-Lost Fortress

Genghis Khan was the famed founder of the Mongol Empire. A joint endeavor between Japanese and Mongolian archeologists to find his final resting place was met with a different discovery in 2015. After identifying a promising site in Mongolia back in 2001, it turned out that this wasn’t Genghis Khan’s grave, nor was it his palace. It was actually the remains of a long-lost fortress that had been buried for around 800 years, and had most certainly housed Khan and his army during one of the Mongol campaigns. Unfortunately, we’re still no closer to finding the founder’s grave, but that’s probably because of the measures taken by him and his soldiers to ensure its secrecy.

#8: Çatalhöyük

This Neolithic site was unearthed in southern Turkey in the 1950s, and has since become an important example of the earliest human settlements. It was built an incredible 9,000 years ago, and was believed to have been occupied for a long time, meaning it pre-dates the Bronze Age period of human history. Interestingly, Çatalhöyük was believed to be an egalitarian society based on the housing and relics found--of which there are many. Even more striking is the fact that many — if not all — of the proto-city’s buildings were built with entrances on the roofs. There were little to no paths or streets in-between homes. The people of Çatalhöyük seemingly traveled by rooftop!

#7: L’Anse aux Meadows

Long before Columbus was even born, the Vikings had already made the treacherous voyage across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to set up shop in Newfoundland in modern Canada. Though it was already known that Vikings had reached North America, for a long time, there was little concrete evidence outside of the Vikings’ famous sagas... that was, until a Viking town was unearthed at L’Anse aux Meadows in the 1960s. Evidence suggests the Vikings didn’t stay long enough to build up a particularly large presence, and the village would have held only about a hundred people, but it was still a major discovery in the history of European voyages to the Americas, and in Norse history itself.

#6: Helike

As it turns out, there may be some truth to Plato’s story of an advanced city sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Though there are a few Greek ruins that fit this bill, Helike is probably the closest, since it truly was swallowed up by the ocean. Unlike Atlantis, Helike’s story isn’t quite one of hubris. It was a prominent city-state in Greece that was affected by an earthquake, which likely subsequently caused the tsunami that submerged it. Despite there being plenty of records attesting to its existence, archeologists weren’t able to find it until 2001. Among the artifacts uncovered are coins embossed with the image of Poseidon... which is awkward, because legend says it was Poseidon’s vengeance that caused Helike’s downfall.

#5: Leptis Magna

Originally built by the Phoenicians, Leptis Magna was settled with several colonies, and ultimately fell to the Romans, before they lost control of it completely. By the seventh century AD, the once stunning city fell into abandoned ruins and was eventually completely consumed by sand. It disappeared until the 1930s, when the Italian invasion of Libya included trying to find the grand city. The Italians were successful, and huge portions of the city were excavated, including a beautiful Roman theater and many of the settlement's buildings. It’s now an important part of Libyan culture, with many people dedicated to preserving and protecting it.

#4: Knossos

Knossos was the hub of the Minoan civilization, which thrived in parts of Ancient Greece and Crete during the Bronze Age. This stunning palace was unearthed on Crete’s northern coast in 1878, and has since become one of the island’s most important and impressive tourist attractions. Unlike many other ancient cities and monuments, Knossos is striking with how colorful it is, with bright red pillars and vivid wall murals still visible. The Minoans were ultimately wiped out by a devastating eruption of the Thera volcano (in modern-day Santorini). in approximately 1600 BC. The eruption was so violent that most of Thera itself was completely destroyed, too, which is why it’s so amazing that any of Knossos survived at all.

#3: Heracleion

Known as Heracleion to the Greeks and Thonis to the Egyptians, this sunken city was finally rediscovered off the northern coast of Egypt in the early 2000s. Though many of the ancient world’s most important historians, including Herodotus, talked about Thonis, its mysterious vanishing still confounded modern scholars. Relentless earthquakes and tsunamis had weakened the city, and the rising sea levels eventually did it in. It was identified beneath thirty feet of water after being spotted from above by a member of the Royal Air Force in the 1930s, but its full discovery still took decades of further investigation. Luckily, it was easily identifiable by its many distinct statues, all remarkably preserved underwater.

#2: Pompeii

A catastrophic eruption at Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD laid waste not only to Pompeii, but also to the neighboring town of Herculaneum. Vesuvius spewed out an enormous amount of ash and gas that moved so quickly many of the people in Pompeii were killed while fleeing for their lives. They were essentially tragically frozen in time, leading to some of the most distinctive archeological finds in history. But, as significant and as famous as Pompeii and its destruction are now, the site was of little interest until the turn of the twentieth century. Sadly, those early excavators weren’t anywhere nearly as careful as modern practices demand, which means some aspects of Pompeiian life are likely lost forever.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Honorable Mentions:

Akrotiri
Small Minoan Outpost Destroyed in the Same Eruption as Knossos

Pavlopetri
One of the Oldest Sunken Cities

#1: Troy

The legendary city of Homer’s “Iliad”, there were plenty of people who believed the lost city of Troy was entirely fictional and could never be found. But Troy proved so alluring that the sheer dedication of the archeologists hunting for it won out, and a site in Turkey called Hisarlik was finally definitively identified as Troy in the 1870s. Unfortunately, the man responsible for proving this, Heinrich Schliemann, also made liberal use of dynamite in his excavations – something scientists certainly wouldn’t do today. And, at least so far, there’s no hard evidence of the existence of the famous Trojan Horse.
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