In September 1940, four French teenagers were roaming the forests near Montignac when their dog began sniffing around a mysterious hole in the ground. After shimmying down a stone shaft, the boys encountered a vast underground cavern whose walls were adorned with some 2,000 ancient paintings and engravings. The astonished teens initially agreed to explore the grotto in secret, but they later sent word of the find to their schoolteacher, who persuaded a cave expert to verify its authenticity. Before long, word of the Lascaux cave’s exquisite collection of animal drawings and abstract symbols had spread across Europe, and it became known as the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art.” Historians later placed the age of its paintings at around 15,000-17,000 years old, and many believe the cave was once the site of religious and hunting rites among Upper Paleolithic peoples.
In 1974, a group of Chinese farmers chanced upon the discovery of a lifetime: the tomb of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The seven-man team was digging a well near the city of Xian when one of their shovels struck the head of a buried statue. The men initially thought they had discovered a bronze bust or an ancient Buddha sculpture, but when archeologists conducted further excavations, they found it was one of some 8,000 life-sized terra cotta soldiers, horses and chariots constructed to guard the 3rd century B.C. Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. The tomb and its highly detailed soldiers—each has its own unique face—are now regarded as some of the most important archeological treasures in all of China.