1. In a farmer’s field
In 1820, a Greek peasant named Yorgos was digging in his field on the island of Milos when he unearthed several carved blocks of stone. He burrowed deeper and found four statues – three figures of Hermes and one of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Three weeks later, the Choiseul archeological expedition arrived by ship, purchased the Aphrodite, and took it to France. Louis XVIII gave it the name Venus de Milo and presented it to the Louvre where it became one of the most famous works of art in history.
2. Beneath a street
On February 21, 1978, electrical workers were putting down lines on a busy street corner in Mexico city when they discovered a 20 ton stone bas-relief of the Aztec night goddess, Coyolxauqui. It is believed to have been sculpted in the early fifteenth century and buried prior to the destruction o the Aztec civilisation by the Spanish conquistadors in 1521. The stone was moved 200 yards from the site to the Museum of the Great Temple.
3. In a hole in the ground
In 1978 more than 500 movies dating from 1903 to 1929 were dug out of a hole in the ground of Dawson City, Yukon. Under normal circumstances, the 35mm nitrate films would have perished, but the permafrost preserved them perfectly.
4. Under a bed
Joanne Perez, the widow of vaudeville performer Pepito the Spanish Clown, cleaned out the area underneath her bed and discovered the only existing copy of the pilot for the TV series I Love Lucy. Pepito had coached Lucille Ball and had guest-starred in the pilot. Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, had given it to Pepito as a gift in 1951 and it had remained under the bed for thirty years.
5. On a wall
A middle-aged couple in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, asked an art prospector to appraise a painting in their home. While he was there, he examined another painting that the couple had thought was a reproduction of a work by Van Gogh. It turned out to be an 1886 original. On March 10, 1991, the painting Still Life with Flowers sold at auction for $1.4m (US).
6. In a trunk in an attic
In 1961 Barbara Testa, a Hollywood librarian, inherited six steamer trunks that had belonged to her grandfather, James Fraser Gluck, a Buffalo, New York, lawyer who died in 1895. Over the next three decades she gradually sifted through the contents of the trunks, until one day in Autumn of 1990 she came upon 665 pages that turned out to be the original handwritten manuscript of the first half of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The two halves of the great American novel were finally reunited at the Buffalo and Eerie County Public Library.
7. At a flea market
A Philadelphia financial analyst was browsing at a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, when he was attracted by a wooden picture frame. He paid $4 for it. Back at his home he removed the old torn painting in the frame and found a folded document between the canvas and the wood backing. It turned out to be a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence – one of 24 known to remain. On June 13, 1991, it was sold at auction for $2.4m (US)
8. Masquerading as a bicycle rack
For years, employees of the God’s House Tower Archaeology Museum in Southampton, England, propped their bikes against a 27 inch black rock in the basement. In 2000, two Egyptologists investigating the Museums holdings identified the bike rack as a 7th century BC Egyptian statue portraying King Taharqa a Kushite monarch from the region that is modern Sudan. Karen Wordley, the Southampton city council’s curator of archaeological collections, said it was a “mystery” how the sculpture ended up in the Museum basement.