The Biggest Historical Art Discoveries Of The Last Decade

Art from different periods in history can tell us much about the people of those times and their culture. It can give clues as to what languages they spoke, what they did to survive, where they lived, and what kind of technology they had access to. It can even give us a peek into the very progress of history and how we got to where we are today.

This is why it’s so important to study art from the course of human history. The more we learn about the art of the past, the more we learn about ourselves. Here are some of the biggest historical art discoveries of the past few years.

Ancient Egyptian Crafts And The Pyramids

a view of the Great Pyramid of Khufu
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

One of the world’s great mysteries is how the ancient Egyptians managed to construct the pyramids. After all, during ancient times, there were no cranes or other modern equipment to build such impressive structures.

However, a 2018 discovery may provide some clues. Archaeologists have stumbled upon something that seems to have been key to the construction of the pyramids: a ramp. The ramp is impressively steep and seems to date to the time that the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed.

The Preservation Of Ancient Egyptian Skeletons

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In searching for clues to the lives of the ancient Egyptians, experts – against all superstitious warnings of a curse – opened a tomb estimated to be roughly 2,000 years old. Inside, they found a grisly sight.There were ancient skeletons preserved in what appeared to be sewage. Presumably, both the contents and the sewage were as old as the tomb.

Of course, the scientists did not fall victim to the effects of any curse, but finding mummified skeletons certainly tells us that the Egyptians knew a thing or two about preservation.

Ancient Cave Art Gives Clues to Abilities of Early Peoples

ancient cave art
Sergi Reboredo/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Sergi Reboredo/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

One of the most important historical clues to the very earliest times of which we have managed to trace human history is ancient cave art. All over Europe, the earliest ancestors left their marks in the caves. However, often these cave art designs, surprisingly sophisticated for people whose main goal was sheer survival and who had such little to work with, confused the timeline.

It is believed that the first Homo Sapiens arrived in Europe roughly 40,000 years ago. However, some of the cave art designs are believed to be roughly 65,000 years old. That means that there is the very real possibility that we have been either wrong about when the first Homo Sapiens arrived, or that their predecessors, the Neanderthals, were smarter than originally believed.

There Have Been Renewed Discoveries of the Mayans

maya city guatemala
Jon G. Fuller/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jon G. Fuller/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Modern technology sure can help shine a light on ancient times, even thousands of years later. New laser imaging has permitted scientists studying the Mayan Biosphere in Guatemala to see the complexity of the ancient civilization.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is the name of the magic game being played here, and it has yielded more than impressive results this time. According to the scientists using it, the Mayans had an 800 square mile societal system complete with highways and the likes just like an ancient version of ours. That discovery should really give us pause. Are we so superior after all?

Ancient Stolen Artwork Was Recovered in the Strangest of Places

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AFP/Getty Images via Methode Times
AFP/Getty Images via Methode Times

No one ever expects to find a famous piece of stolen art worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on the luggage rack on a bus, but that is just what happened to the 1877 Edgar Degas pastel “Lest Choristes.” The painting had been on display in a museum in the South of France when it suddenly disappeared.

The piece turned up randomly on a bus that had made a pit stop.It was actually inside a suitcase, though of course, the artwork, valued at $904,000 USD, had a thief who was sure to never come forward. No matter, though – it was returned to the museum where it belonged.

James Castle’s Art is Still Being Found Even Though He Died in 1977

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James Castle Collection and Archives, Boise
James Castle Collection and Archives, Boise

James Castle was a Boise, Idaho man known for being a brilliant artist with no formal training. Like many creative types, it would seem that Mr. Castle was also a rather interesting figure. He passed away in 1977, and his home became a museum. While much of what made Castle famous was his public art, it was discovered that nowhere near all of it had been for public consumption during the artist’s life.

During the restoration, the people doing the grunt work found 11 new drawings in the walls. They were donated to Castle’s hometown of Boise, along with 50 more of his creations. When the house was re-occupied, the new owner found more than 100 previously unseen works of art done by Castle in the ceiling.

The Mystery of Caravaggio’s Death May Finally Be Solved

Caravaggio
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

The Renaissance was a time of great awakening for the arts, and for society at large. People were embracing new ideas and ways of living, and, of course, new art. One of the most famous artists of the time was a man named Caravaggio. The circumstances surrounding the man’s death have largely been rather sketchy, but they may have just become a bit clearer.

Infamously violent, Carragio was originally believed to have passed away as a result of lead poisoning in the paint he used to create his works of art. However, the violence was another piece, and now it seems that parts of his body have been found. Caravaggio may have been affected by the lead-poisoned paint, but he also could have ultimately met his sticky end at age 38 due to a blood infection from a sword fight.

We Are Now Closer to Unlocking the Secrets of Pompeii

pompeii
Getty Images
Getty Images

Pompeii is the famously ancient city that was discovered more than two centuries ago, surprisingly well-preserved after being annihilated by an angry 17 B.C.E eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. We originally thought that we had pegged the date of this eruption as August 24 of that year, but a single charcoal marking in a cave in the ancient town changes all of that.

The new recorded date for Vesuvius’s eruption is October 17 of the same year. This might seem like a minuscule discovery, but for a city that old, it is quite significant when it comes to understanding history prior to modern times.

We Got Two New Works From Rembrandt

Photo shows a detail from a portrait in the exhibition of Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn
JUAN VRIJDAG/AFP/Getty Images
JUAN VRIJDAG/AFP/Getty Images

Rembrandt was, of course, one of history’s most renowned artists. Hailing from the Dutch 1600s, he is said to be one of the masters of the craft. Now, we have expert confirmation that there are more original Rembrandts than originally thought.

“Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” believed to have been produced around 1634, is now confirmed as an original Rembrandt. Art dealer Jan Six got quite the deal on the purchase, at just $185,000. “Let the Children Come to See Me,” also purchased by Six, was confirmed as a Rembrandt painting as well. It was purchased in 2014 and believed to be produced around 1627-1628.

We Unlocked a Bit More of Ancient Greece

siren ancient greece
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

It is fitting that one of the most fascinating and mysterious elements of the world’s past – ancient Greece – would have its latest puzzle piece unearthed at the bottom of the Black Sea. Archaeologists from the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project found a wrecked ship from ancient Greece at the bottom of that mysterious body of water, believed to be used for trading, and more than 2,400 years old.

Greek mythology would have us believe that this ship is from the same period as when Odysseus used a Greek vase so as not to be lured by the songs of Sirens, as depicted in works of art such as the British “Siren’s Vase.”

A Mythological City Became Real

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One discovery completely turned what we thought we knew about Greek mythology on its head. Archaeologist Elena Korka gave the whole world of mythology enthusiasts a real treat. While we generally think of much of what we fantasize about with ancient Greece as just that – fantasy (and it is), we also have to admit the truth when we are wrong.

Korka showed the world that we were wrong about the Trojan city of Tenea being a myth. It is indeed real. While working in Chiliomodi, a small town and Greece, Korka discovered an entire town, just as the myth says.

We Have Two New Gorgeous Michelangelo Sculptures

Michaeangelo bronzes
JACK TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images
JACK TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images

There is no mistaking the sculpted beauty of artist Michelangelo’s famous work, “David.” This particular artist has always been well known for his penchant for depicting men as muscled, sinewy, god-like creatures, frozen forever in time as a perfect depiction of male beauty.

Two such sculptures were sold in 2002, and they bore a striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s signature male form. However, no one could know for sure if the statues, beautiful men featuring abdomens ripped into not eight, but a ten-pack, perfectly sculpted muscles, had been the work of Michelangelo. This would take the talents of a team of art experts from Cambridge. When they were finished, the world was rewarded: the bronze statues did, indeed, bear the hallmarks of being original Michelangelo works.

The World’s Bluest Blue

YInMn_Blue_discovery
Wikipedia
Wikipedia

In 2009, a team of chemists led by Professor Mas Subramanian at Oregon State University was experimenting with electronics when they stumbled upon a discovery. They were able to create the bluest pigment of blue that had ever been seen, the first inorganic blue pigment discovered in 200 years, since 1802, when cobalt blue was made.

Named YInMn Blue, it’s the world’s newest shade of blue and has been licensed for commercial use.

Did We Just Find Da Vinci’s First Work?

da vinci rome
Getty Images
Getty Images

Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the world’s most renowned painters. Whether or not someone is an art lover or expert, surely one has heard of Da Vinci. For instance, he allegedly has only 13 works that are still around today.

However, there are things that many people do not know about the revered Italian artist. It seems his collection is about to be brought in sharp relief with the addition of more work to his meager surviving collection. It appears that the work of Gabriel the Archangel not only belongs to Da Vinci but is also the first piece he ever did. In addition to that, “Salvator Mundi” has been added to the collection of Da Vinci originals, bringing the number to fifteen.

A Photo We Thought was Van Gogh Is Actually His Brother

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Image via B. Schwarz, Brussels, via the Van Gogh Museum
Image via B. Schwarz, Brussels, via the Van Gogh Museum

The entire world could likely recognize famed artist Vincent Van Gogh. After all, part of his appeal and romance was that he was a tortured artist. The infamous story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear means that most of the world presumably is more than familiar with what the artist looked like, both in youth and as an adult. However, it would seem that this may not always have been the case.

There is a photo that was long thought to be of Vincent Van Gogh as a teenager that is actually of his younger brother, Theo. The younger Van Gogh, clearly not nearly as famous, resembled the artist so much that he was mistaken for him for many years.

Ancient Egyptian Discoveries Give New Insight Into the Human Past

ancient egyptian art
Haled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Haled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

It is no secret that the ancient Egyptians were absolutely brilliant people. After all, they gave us the pyramids, the tombs, and so much beautiful art. Now, however, they are giving us more insight than ever – yes, through their art – into what the culture and lives of ancient humans were like.

Egypt’s Grand Egyptian Museum will be on full display in 2020, and much of this ancient art will be front and center. With the project reaching more than $1 billion, it is sure to be a hit. There will even be cats and beetles on display, mummified for thousands of years, along with an ancient pottery studio.

William de Kooning Paintings Found in a New Jersey Storage Locker

killen gallery
Image via Killen Gallery
Image via Killen Gallery

This list is full of strange art happenings, and this one is no less strange. A New Jersey man who happens to be an art dealer bought a storage locker. Inside, he says, were six miraculous works of art, by Willem De Kooning. The foundation of William de Kooning is not in the business of authentication, so dealer David Killen was in a bit of a fix.

He found a conservator who happened to have worked for the late artist, and that was his lucky break. In a New Jersey storage locker among what Killen called “a bunch of junk” was priceless art by Willem de Kooning.

A Piece Missing for 40 Years is Voluntarily Returned

robert motherwell
Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images
Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images

A 1978 change in moving companies meant that several precious pieces of art would be thought lost forever. When Robert Motherwell of the New York School art network went from using the Santini Moving Company, he was missing many precious pieces. Though dozens went missing, just one was recovered – in July 2018 by the FBI. The piece was from all the way back in 1967.

The discovery happened as a pure act of selfless honesty, by a person who once worked for the Santini moving company. He sought to authenticate the untitled work of art and willingly gave it to authorities.

Contributions of Ancient Greek and Egyptian Civilizations

pyramids
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

If we have learned one thing from all of these new discoveries, it is that our arrogance regarding modern-day developments should not make us immune to the contributions and capabilities of the people from much earlier civilizations. It is quite clear that they were capable, knowledgeable, and creative. They built entire cities, had their own governments, religious beliefs, and roles in society.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway here is not only these beautiful, awe-inspiring, and history-making artistic artifacts from two of the most fascinating societies to have ever existed, but also the contributions they continue to make to our society all these years later.

The Value of These Art Discoveries

greek ruins
Getty Images
Getty Images

All of these discoveries hold societal value. From the cave art that told us that we could be wrong about the dates of the first homo sapiens arriving in Europe – or even about our characterization of the Neanderthals – to the fact that we had the eruption of Mount Vesuvius wrong, means that art not only gives us beauty and entertainment, especially when it is of the historical variety.

Hopefully, these contributions mean that we continue to value and fund artistic discovery. We may never know what it can tell us about our world – or about ourselves.