Why ancient treasure is buried beneath your feet

Construction workers keep accidentally turning up important archaeological finds all over the world just by digging. One minute it’s just a shovelful of dirt and crud; the next you have a priceless artifact.

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Just this year:

Discoveries like this happen several times a year nowadays. We’re just beginning to wake up to what’s right under our noses.

Paul Mullins has some great insights on the contrast between the banality of parking lots and the excitement of discovery: What seems ordinary in one age becomes a priceless artifact in another. “There is a story to be told in all of these non-descript parking lots,” he says. “In the end it is not as banal as it might seem on first glance.”

The explosion of new discoveries goes beyond archaeology, too. For example: We’re just starting to realize how common meteor strikes are. We know that shooting stars happen every night, but only recently have scientists realized that 60 meteors have detonated in midair air since 1990 with enough force to register on devices meant to listen for nuclear bomb explosions. They usually go unnoticed at the time, happening over unpopulated areas.

The Guardian Newspaper collected records of every meteorite strike recorded since 861 AD and made this awesome animation from it. (And a global map). You can see that it’s only in the recent past that mankind has begun to notice and remember these things.

We’re living in a miraculous age.

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So I stepped on a giant prehistoric snail on the way to work.

Cities around the world have the fossilized remains of ancient life embedded in their infrastricture. The builders usually didn’t even know it.

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People just walk over this cross-section of a giant snail in the floor of the Smithsonian Arts & Industries building without even thinking about it. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

If you look closely at the stones of certain buildings in your area, you might find fossils stuck in the walls or floors. Or in a bridge or paving stone or any other stonework. We use huge amounts of rock in constructing our cities, and often they just happen to have fossils embedded in them.

Sometimes it’s deliberate, but sometimes it’s only later that we notice that some of the stones have fossils. There’s probably many times more hidden beneath the surface.

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The floor of the National Gallery of Art is full of these weird extinct nautiloids. (Photo credit: Christopher Barr)

There’s fossils built into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Not just that, of course. They’re everywhere. You just have to look for them. A good geologist can often tell a sedimentary rock (the kind more likely to have fossils) just by looking.

Christopher Barr, a geology expert in Washington, D.C., has been hard at work obsessively cataloging the fossils you can find just by walking around in public in the nation’s capital. No museum required.

The BBC has video showing these ancient treasures hidden in plain sight in London.

Here’s where to find a few in Manhattan. They can also be found in a bathroom in Florida, a church in England, and a department store in Tokyo.

They’re everywhere!

Have you ever seen a fossil hidden in plain sight? Keep an eye out and maybe you will.

Let us know if you do.