Have you ever thought why researchers hunt for extremely old and almost useless artefacts or engage in years, sometimes decade-long historic excavations in remote parts of the world? Well, the answer is quite simple: to study and understand our past through material culture. This is Archaeology.
An archaeological artifact can be cultural properties, architecture, biofact or ecofact. Archaeology is extremely important to find out more about prehistoric societies. These artifacts provides a palpable or material insight of culture and sight of our past.
Today, we are going to unravel 16 of the oldest things in the world. Here you can find both natural ecofacts such as the oldest stone and man-made artifacts, like 40,000 years old cave painting and oldest attempt at photography, music and even shoes.
Early 6th century BCE Lydian electrum coin
Historian believes that the ancient kingdom of Lydia (present-day Turkey) had the oldest currency in circulation as they were the first to use coin about 2,500 years ago. Their coins were known as staters, which were created using electrum, a naturally occurring gold and silver alloy. Staters were later used in other regions of Europe. They remained in use until 350 BCE, before going out-of-order.
But if you are wondering which is the oldest surviving currency in the world, its the British Pound, which was introduced about 1,200 years ago dating back to the Anglo-Saxon era.
15. Oldest Dress
Age: 5000 Years
At an age of more than 5,000 years, the Tarkhan Dress is perhaps the oldest linen garment in the world. The dress was excavated back in 1913 from the Tarkhan cemetery near Cairo, capital of Egypt.
Back in 2015, the University of Oxford conducted a radiocarbon testing on the dress and confirmed earlier findings regarding its age. It is currently at University College London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
14. The Oldest Wheel
Age: 5350 Years
Where It Was Found: Ljubljana, Slovenia
According to our history books, the wheel, one of the most important tools in the human history, was invented by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Kuwait) sometime before 3500 BCE. However, the oldest discovered wheel to date was found in Slovenia, a small country in south-central Europe.
The discovery was made by a group of local archaeologists back in 2002 during a series of excavations near Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Radiocarbon dating revealed that it was at least 5,350 years old, making it the oldest wooden wheel discovered to date.
13. Oldest Man-Made Structure
Built-In: 4850 BCE
Where: Brittany, France
The Cairn of Barnenez also known as Barnenez Mound is perhaps the oldest man-made structure in the world. It’s located near a small commune of Plouezoc’h in north-west Brittany, France.
Through radiocarbon dating, researchers were able to find out that the entire structure was constructed at least in two phases: the first one was completed sometime between 4850 and 4250 BCE while the second phase between 4450 and 4000 BCE.
Cairn of Barnenez is also one of the earliest examples of megalithic monuments in Europe alongside the Tumulus of Bougon and Locmariaquer megaliths. The current structure is about 8 m high, 72 m long and have 11 chambers with a separate passageway for each.
12. Oldest Shoe
The leather shoe from Areni-1 Image Courtesy: University College Cork
Age: 5,500 Years
Where: The Areni village, Armenia
In 2008, while conducting a series of archaeological excavations in the Areni-1 cave complex located in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia, Diana Zardaryan, a doctoral student of the Institute of Archaeology discovered an extremely old but largely intact one-piece leather shoe.
Upon further investigation, she and her research team find out the shoe was more than 5,500 years old and belongs to the Chalcolithic period. The shoe remained in almost perfect condition due to the cool and dry environment inside the cave.
Researchers also found a thick layer of sheep dung covering the entire floor of the cave which acted as an airlock and protected the leather shoe from moisture. Even the shoe-laces were preserved. The shoe is currently on display at the History Museum of Armenia.
11. Oldest Sculpture
Where: Schelklingen, Germany
The oldest sculpture on Earth is… well it’s controversial. Although the Venus of Hohle Fels is currently the oldest undisputed depiction of a human being, few much older artifacts such as the Venus of Berekhat Ram, which was discovered in Golan Heights, Israel and Venus of Tan-Tan (discovered in Morocco) are contenders of this title.
Anyway, the Venus of Hohle Fels was discovered back in 2008 by a team of researchers in Hohle Fels cave near a small town of Schelklingen in West Germany. The figurine was carved from mammoth tusk but was eventually broken into pieces. At the time of its discovery, only six fragments were recovered.
On the left side of its head, the sculpture has a perforated protrusion (hollowed bump) which suggest another possible use of the figurine. It belongs to the Upper Paleolithic age, which is generally associated with the presence of Cro-Magnon (European early modern humans).
On a different note, the oldest known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world is Löwenmensch figurine or simply the Lion-man sculpture. It was discovered in Hohlenstein-Stadel cave system in Germany and is slightly older than the Hohle Fels.
10. The Oldest Photograph
A retouched version of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s photograph
Created In: 1826-1827 A.D
Where: Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France
The oldest surviving photograph, known as “View from the Window at Le Gras” was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce sometime between 1826 and 1827. Although, not as clear and sophisticated as contemporary photographs, Niépce’s masterpiece played an important role in the development of camera technology and images.
The photograph exhibits rural surrounding including buildings near Niépce’s estate in Burgundy, France. To capture the photograph, Niépce used pewter (a malleable metal alloy) plate coated with Bitumen. An extremely long exposure was needed to take the photograph successfully.
9. Oldest University
The University of Bologna Central Library
Built-In: 1088 A.D
Where: Bologna, Italy
The University of Bologna is the oldest and one of the most prominent academic institutions in Italy and in Europe. Although it was established as early as 1088 A.D, the university was officially recognized only in 1158 A.D after receiving the charter (rights) by Frederick Barbarossa, the Roman emperor at that time.
This led many historians to believe it was the third oldest university after Oxford (built in 1096 AD) and the University of Salamanca (built in 1134 AD). It was only in the mid 19th century, when a group of historians including Giosuè Carducci, a renowned Italian poet traced the university back to 1088, which would make it the oldest functional educational institution in the world.
It was only in the middle of the 19th century, when a group of historians including Giosuè Carducci, a renowned poet traced university’s roots back to 1088.
8. Oldest Restaurant
Built-In: 803 A.D
Where: Salzburg, Austria
Located in Salzburg, Austria, Stiftskeller St. Peter is considered by many as the oldest restaurant in existence. This centuries-old restaurant happens to be in the same town where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most influential composers was born.
But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the title of the oldest operational restaurant goes to Sobrino de Botín. Located in Madrid, Botín was established in 1725 by a French national named Jean Botin. Apparently, this restaurant was popular among artists and writers.
Sone renowned novelists like Ernest Hemingway and Benito Pérez Galdós mentioned its name in their novels. Famous romantic painter Francisco de Goya also worked here as a waiter at one point in his life.
7. Oldest Wine Bottle
The Speyer wine bottle Image Courtesy: Immanuel Giel
Bottled In: 325-350 A.D
Where: Speyer, Germany
The tradition of wine drinking is not new. In fact, wine has been produced for more than a millennia and evidence of their consumption dates back to 7000 BCE in China. However, it seems like the oldest wine bottle that has survived was manufactured and buried in a tomb sometime around 325-350 A.D.
The bottle was recovered from the tomb in 1867 during an excavation process carried near the town of Speyer in Germany. Despite been tempted to test its contents over the years, researchers opted not to open the bottle since they are unsure how it would react after being exposed to air.
6. Oldest Shipwreck
Where: Urla port
Estimated Age: 4,000 Years
Archaeologists and historians believe the world’s oldest underwater shipwreck can be found offshore Turkey’s famous Urla Port. The wreckage is estimated to be more than 4,000 years old and was discovered by researchers from the Ankara University in 2014. What’s more interesting is that the port dates back to the 7th century and it is the site for many other shipwrecks.
5. Oldest Musical Instrument
Divje Babe Flute as displayed in museum Image Courtesy: National Museum of Slovenia
Age: 43,000 Years
Where: Cerkno, Slovenia
Divje Babe Flute, popularly known as “Neanderthal flute” is the oldest surviving musical instrument in the world but it is unlike any other musical instrument. The Divje Babe Flute is actually made up of femur bone of a cave bear, which according to the researchers was made by Neanderthals as a mode of entertainment.
The historical artifact was excavated from the Divje Babe archeological park located near Cerkno, Slovenia in 1995 and is currently preserved in the National Museum of Slovenia.
4. The Oldest Cave Painting
Oldest cave art in El Castillo cave, Spain Image Courtesy: Gobierno de Cantabria
Age: 40,000 Years
Where: Puente Viesgo, Spain
The Cave of El Castillo also known as the cave of the castle located in Spain contains the oldest known cave art in the world. The cave was first discovered in 1903 by a Spanish archaeologist Hermilio Alcalde del Río.
To accurately estimate the age of the paintings, researchers used Uranium–thorium dating, a very uncommon radiometric dating technique which determines the age of calcite deposits.
Anyway, it’s age is consistent with Proto-Aurignacian tradition of cave painting. The cave is under preservation and currently a UNESCO world heritage site.
3. Oldest Living Tree
Image courtesy: Rick Goldwaser/ flickr
Age: 5,067 Years
Where: White Mountains California, United States
Pinus longaeva or Great Basin bristlecone pine is identified as a long-living species of trees that are found specifically in western states of Utah, Nevada, and California. Until 2012, a member of this species named Methuselah was considered as the oldest living tree in the world with a verified age of 4,850 years.
However, researchers were able to discover another, a much older tree or living non-clonal organism in the same area. Although still un-named, studies have confirmed its age to be above 5,000 years.
2. The Oldest Stone
Image Courtesy: Andrée Valley, University of Wisconsin
Age: 4.4 Billion Years
Where: Jack Hills range, Australia
In an astonishing finding, a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison have discovered perhaps the oldest piece of rock existing on earth. Known as zircon, the mineral was extracted from Australia’s Jack Hills range.
Radiometric data revealed the stone was aged 4.37 billion years, which is extremely remarkable since our Earth is 4.5 billion years old. This discovery has some major implications especially for studies related to Earth’s past.
1. Oldest Human Fossil
Age: 7 Million Years
Where: Djurab Desert, Chad
The oldest human fossils discovered to date was found back in 2001 in Djurab Desert, Chad (a central African country). The excavations and research were carried out by a team of paleontologist from the University of Poitiers, headed by Michel Brunet in the mid-1990s.
The fossils were of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, an extinct homininae species, which after the discovery many claimed to be the oldest known ancestor after the human line was split from that of chimpanzees.