Accidental Discoveries You've Probably Never Heard Of
Here are some strange accidental discoveries you've probably never heard of!Knowledge
The world can be full of wonderful surprises. Let's take a look at a few weird, accidental discoveries, and the stories behind some everyday innovations that you’ve probably never even heard of.
The Williams Enigmalith
In 1998, electrical engineer John Williams went out hiking in the mountain wilderness in rural North America. He was hoping to simply enjoy the scenery, but instead, he discovered something that took his breath away, and it wasn't the altitude!
After digging up an oddly shaped rock from the ground, Williams was shocked to see that a 3-pin electrical connector was embedded in it. Curious, he tried to pull the plug out of the rock, sort of like a modern-day version of King Arthur pulling a sword from a stone! But unlike Arthur’s sword, the electrical connector wouldn’t budge.
Was this mysterious object artificially manufactured? Apparently not. Williams claimed that the rock wasn’t found near any human settlements, although he also didn’t disclose the exact location, apparently afraid the site might be plundered by artifact hunters. That led some skeptics to conclude that this accidental discovery was just a hoax.
However, researchers who’ve examined the strange device, now known as the Williams Enigmalith, say otherwise. Apparently, the rock is composed of granite, quartz, and feldspar and doesn’t contain any binding agents, ruling out the possibility that it was artificially manufactured.
Also, the metal-like material making up the pins is not, in fact, any kind of identifiable metal. And according to Williams, the rock is at least 100,000 years old, meaning it can’t have been created by humans if our understanding of mankind’s technological development is correct.
Offers up to $500,000 have been made for the device, but Williams refused to sell. Crazy as that seems, it’s because he believes the artifact belongs to an advanced ancient civilization or even an extraterrestrial race. Could it have been part of a UFO, or was it some sort of ancient rock-shaped plug-in diffuser? Most believe that Mr. Williams might be making up these features to feel special, however.
The Cinchona Tree, Malaria And Colonization
In the 17th Century, a feverish man suffering from malaria was staggering through the Andean forests of South America. The parasitic infection was a difficult one to endure, and so, desperate for a drink, he gulped from a pool of stagnant water at the base of a tree. Any survival expert will tell you drinking stagnant jungle water is a very bad idea, as it’s a breeding ground for dangerous waterborne pathogens.
Although he quenched his thirst, the man soon experienced a horrible bitter taste in his mouth. He immediately feared that it‘d made his illness even worse. Yet, to his amazement the malaria subsided, and soon after he was able to find his way home and share his miraculous story.
Fictional as this may sound, it turns out that the bark of the Cinchona tree contains quinine, a compound that has anti-malarial properties. And this tree’s found only in the Andean forests of South America. Clearly, the tale spread. In the 1640s the cinchona bark was introduced to Europe for medical use. As the magical effects of quinine became more and more well-known, everyone was after some of the good stuff.
Whether it was King Louis XIV of France, King Charles II of England, or even the countless number of soldiers from European countries who were colonizing lands where malaria was rife. And while quinine helped keep hundreds of thousands of Europeans alive, it meant that countries in Africa, Asia, and South America became more easily colonized.
To make matters even worse for the Andean people, it also resulted in the devastation of their trees. In 1805, explorers documented 25,000 of these trees in the Ecuadorean Andes, today there are just 29.
Biofluorescence: Mammals Glowing In The Dark
You might already know that some deep-sea creatures, insects, algae, and even fungi can glow in the dark thanks to a feature called bioluminescence. While they’re all hypnotic to watch in action, you’ve probably never seen photos or footage of a glow-in-the-dark mammal.
It was believed all mammals simply lacked the ability to glow in any way until very recently. Back in 2017, Jon Martin, a Forestry Professor at Northland College, Wisconsin, was wandering around the woods at night, trying to find out whether certain lichens, fungi, and plants would glow under an ultraviolet flashlight.
While foraging amongst the undergrowth, Martin heard a rustling above him. So, he pointed his flashlight at it, and was stunned to see a pink, glowing squirrel staring back at him! In a supremely unexpected twist, Jon had discovered that some mammals could be biofluorescent.
But this fluky find led fellow professors at Northland College to do a bit of exploring themselves. What they saw left them gobsmacked! They shone an ultraviolet flashlight on an old platypus specimen of theirs to see if that too glowed, and shockingly it did; this time with a blue-ish green hue.
Word soon spread to other zoos and museums, who found that bats, Tasmanian devils, wombats, and many more also glowed! So, why do some mammals turn into shiny Pokémon under UV light? Biofluorescent animals have fur or skin that absorbs the short wavelength of ultraviolet light and re-emits it at a longer wavelength, making it visible to humans.
It’s still not entirely clear why some mammals have this fancy trait. One theory is that their neon glow can help squirrels and platypus recognize each other in low-light situations. Another is that the light emitted may be enough to scare off any predators lurking in the dark.
Huge Dinosaur Skeleton Unearthed In Portuguese Garden
If you dig up your backyard, you might discover some broken plant pots, or maybe, if you’re lucky, some old coins! However, one man from Pombal in Portugal found something slightly bigger back in 2017.
While doing some construction on his property, he noticed bone fragments poking out from the earth. But don’t worry, he hadn’t stumbled across some cursed, ancient burial site. It was actually the fossilized remains of a dinosaur!
The skeleton was found in Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock, suggesting that it was a whopping 150 million years old. Excavators continued to unearth more remains, with the size of the bones suggesting the dinosaur was around 40 feet high and 80 feet long! For reference, that’s around the same size as an adult blue whale, the largest living animal in the world!
Paleontologists believe that this sizeable skeleton belongs to a brachiosaurid sauropod, a gigantic herbivorous dinosaur with a wildly long neck and tail. In fact, this yard fossil is so large it's believed to be the biggest dinosaur found in Europe! Forget Jurassic Park, this is Jurassic Yard!
The Accidental Invention of the Slinky
In 1943, Richard James was working on finding a device that could keep sensitive ship equipment steady at sea. He eventually came up with the idea of suspending the items with springs. But after James inadvertently dropped one of the springs on the floor, he stumbled across an even better idea.
When the spring fell to the ground it walked end-over-end, like a metal worm. Excitedly, James returned home and told his wife about his discovery.
She scoured the dictionary, looking for the perfect name to call the new toy-like invention. In the end, the couple decided on a name you’ll probably recognize: Slinky. And it’s safe to say that their accidental discovery was a success. More than 360 million Slinky toys have been sold since they hit the shops in 1945.
But apparently, the benefits of this fluky find weren’t enough for Richard. In 1960, he left the slinky firm and his family to join a religious cult in Bolivia. You could say he slinked away!
The Accidental Invention of Kellogg's Corn Flakes
There’s nothing worse than moldy food, right? But crazy as it sounds, sometimes it pays off to leave your food out overnight; just ask the Kellogg brothers. The siblings, who were two of America’s first wellness gurus, attempted to make a fresh batch of granola using wheat berries one day in 1898.
But after they went off to bed, forgetting to put away their wheat-based cereal dough, they came downstairs the next morning to find that their mixture had fermented. While that may sound like a quick way to get abdominal aches, fermenting grains like wheat actually helps to make it more digestible!
So, when the dough was rolled into thin sheets and cooked, it produced perfectly thin, crispy flakes. Eventually, Will Kellogg figured out that corn produced even crunchier, crispier flakes than wheat. 8 years later, Will opened the “Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company”, creating the first batch of Kellogg’s Cornflakes.
Since then, you could say the cereal’s been pretty popular. Today, the Kellogg’s Company is worth an eye-watering $24.8 billion and sells around 31.7 million boxes of Cornflakes alone every year! Pretty astonishing to think such big numbers were born out of an accidental dough mixture.
The Accidental Invention of Matches
Even after the invention of lighters, there’s a chance that you’ll find a good old fashion box of matches somewhere in your house. But, as useful and popular as these little sticks are, they didn’t start off as an intentional design.
In 1826, English chemist John Walker was working with phosphorous, antimony sulfide, and potassium chlorate; for those of us that don’t speak chemistry, that’s basically a lot of stuff you don’t want to mess with.
It’s believed Walker was dangerously meddling with these compounds to make percussion caps for guns. But, after stirring the mixture together, he was left with a small blob at the tip of his splint. In an attempt to remove the residue, Walker swiped it against his fireplace. At that moment, the splint lit up with a flame.
And just like that, he’d created the first friction-based matchstick, as a fluke. Over the next few months, Walker perfected the mixture and, one year later, he began to sell his invention, known then as friction lights.
Yet, for reasons unknown, Walker never patented his invention. Unsurprisingly, other inventors were quick to jump on his idea and created their own friction-based matches. And now, around 500 billion are used every year in the U.S. alone. Who knew that chemicals and fire were a match made in heaven?
Back in September 2022, fishermen off the coast of Devon, England, were looking to catch lobsters through an alternative, albeit bright, method. Instead of putting bait in expensive lobster pots, they used small underwater lights.
The idea was that the lighted bait could outline the lobster pot as a potential shelter, or that the crustacean would be attracted to the light. To the fishermen’s amazement, the lights proved to be a huge hit, but not with lobsters, with scallops.
Usually, the fishermen would catch around five scallops out of 35,000 pots. Yet, with the addition of the LED lights, there were around 15 scallops for every 50 pots! That’s a 1,500-fold increase!
Scientists are still trying to uncover the reason why scallops are attracted to these little lights. They look like they don’t have eyes but it turns out scallops have 200 eyes, all lining the mantle of their shell! Although they don’t work like our eyes, they are able to detect prey by picking them out in the glow of the light.
And scientists believe it’s for this reason that these guys just can’t resist that little patch of light, like moths to a flame or, more accurately, scallops to an LED. The traditional method of catching delicious scallops is by dredging. Scallop Dredges rely on heavy-duty metal framed nets, which are pulled over the seabed, digging into it, and flipping scallops out of the sand and into the nets.
But this catching method causes irreparable damage to the seabed, taking up to ten years for the ecosystems to recover from dredging. But with the discovery of scallop discos, there’s hope that we’ll soon see a decrease in this catching technique. That calls for a party!
Mysterious Wooden Ship Unearthed At Ground Zero
September 11th, 2001, was a dark day for America. An attack on the World Trade Center destroyed the twin towers, and almost 3000 people lost their lives. But out of the tragedy, a construction crew at ground zero made an incredible discovery that softened the loss ever so slightly.
In 2010, digging began for the Vehicular Security Center, an underground parking complex for the One World Trade Center. As they dug deeper and deeper, the workers uncovered a historic gem. Around 20 feet underground were the remains of a large ship’s hull, measuring 30 feet long.
After gathering samples of wood from what would have been the hull, scientists used dendrochronological dating, which is the method of dating tree rings, to work out that the ship was built in a Philadelphia shipyard around 1773.
No one knows for sure what the backstory of this ship is, or how it came to rest at such a profound point in New York. At the moment, the best guess is that it’s a Hudson River Sloop. This was a vessel designed by Dutch settlers in the U.S. to carry passengers and cargo over shallow, rocky water, like the Hudson River that runs through New York.
But the real question is, how did a ship end up buried 20 feet below ground? After being in use for around 20 years, the ship’s believed to have sailed to lower Manhattan, where it was eventually sunk, either deliberately or by accident.
Sadly, the vessel didn’t have a great send-off. It was likely buried by trash and other fill materials to extend Manhattan’s shoreline. Thankfully, this lucky discovery has seen the ship gain a slightly better resting place at the New York State Museum.
The Discovery of Insulin
Around 415 million people in the world have diabetes, with many relying on a simple insulin injection to live their lives as normally as possible. But without a bizarre discovery, this remedy may never have been identified.
In 1889, two doctors from the University of Strasbourg in France were trying to understand how the pancreas affected digestion. To do this, they removed the pancreas from a healthy dog. The results didn’t help them discover much about digestion; clearly, they were barking up the wrong tree! However, they did notice one strange quirk.
A few days after the pancreas was removed, flies were swarming around the dog’s urine. Something abnormal and unexpected had happened! After testing, the doctors realized that the dog was secreting sugar in its urine, a symptom of diabetes.
The doctors knew that removing the pancreas had caused the previously healthy dog to become diabetic. With more tests, they concluded that a healthy pancreas must secrete a substance that controls sugar levels in the body. The two doctors were never able to isolate the mysterious substance.
However, thanks to their accidental discovery, Frederick G Banting, Charles H. Best, and John JR. Macleod of the University of Toronto were successfully able to make a major scientific breakthrough. In the 1920s they identified that insulin was key to maintaining blood sugar levels, the chemical primarily produced by the pancreas.
Before insulin was discovered, the most effective treatment for people with diabetes was to lower their carbohydrate and overall calorie intake. This resulted in some diabetics only consuming 450 calories a day, with many succumbing to starvation! Fortunately, the common insulin injection treatment of today is a much better solution.
The Uluburun Shipwreck
A lot of us dream of one day finding a hoard of lost treasure or secret gold, maybe buried underground or hidden in an ancient chest. But back in 1982, Mehmed Çakir, a 13-year-old sponge diver from Turkey, got to live out that dream.
Mehmed had been diving for sponges off the eastern shore of Uluburun when, down in the depths of the deep blue water, he spotted something strange. It was a pile of what looked like “metal biscuits with ears”.
He quickly rushed to the shore and informed the local Nautical Archaeology department, which sent out an inspection team. What Mehmed had described was a stack of old metal ingots, one of huge historical value.
But when they dived down and finally set eyes on the site Mehmed had uncovered, they were astonished. It wasn’t just some ancient treasure, but the cargo of an age-old shipwreck! It took ten years, and more than 22,000 total dives for the archaeologists to complete the excavation, but their findings made it all worth it.
What Mehmed had led them to was the Uluburun shipwreck, a Late Bronze Age ship, which had sailed all the way back in the 14th century B.C, that’s some 3,500 years ago.
It’s likely that the ship was carrying trade goods from either a Cypriot or Syro-Palestinian port to Mycenean Greece. Due to its proximity to the shoreline, archaeologists presume that heavy winds caused the ship to venture into shallow waters and collide with the rocky headland.
The stricken 52-foot vessel was carrying a hefty 20 tons of cargo, with half of it being taken up by Cypriot copper. But one of the more intriguing items is a gold funerary mask. After death, this would’ve been placed over the deceased’s face, so that the soul would recognize its body and return to it safely.
Among the more exotic objects on board were elephant tusks, tortoise shells, ostrich eggshells, and even hippopotamus teeth. Although it may sound like the ship’s crew got in a scuffle with the local zoo, it’s likely that these curious animal items were used for things like vases and containers.
All in all, this shipwreck provided one of the most spectacular Late Bronze Age assemblages to ever be discovered. And to think, it may have been forever confined to the seabed if a 13-year-old hadn’t been out searching for sponges!
In 1963, a Turkish man decided to make a few renovations to his house. But, after knocking down a wall in his basement, he was left staring at a hole that shouldn’t have been there. Behind the wall was a secret room, with a long, winding tunnel leading down beneath the property.
So, as you’d expect he was intrigued by the free real estate jackpot and explored his new man cave, but turns out this wasn’t just a house extension. As he descended, he realized the true nature of his accidental find. He’d somehow uncovered the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu.
The city was initially dug around 3,000 years ago, but it didn’t fully form until the Byzantine Era, from the 8th to the 12th century. It was during this period that the Arab-Byzantine wars occurred. Christians used Derinkuyu as protection from Muslim Arabs, like a giant bunker.
Clearly, it was a hit with the cave expanding downwards 279 feet, that’s about 25 stories! It was so large that the city’s population reached 20,000 at one point. And it’s no surprise considering all the amenities available. From schools to chapels, and even a winery.
In the 1920s, Derinkuyu saw its last inhabitants leave the underground city. Exactly 50 years after this bizarre basement discovery, construction workers were demolishing housing around Neveshir castle, just 18 miles north of Derinkuyu. And bizarrely, emerging from the rubble was yet another underground city.
Like at Derinkuyu, persecuted Christians had developed an underground city here to flee from Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine era. This secret pad came equipped with a 12th-century rock-carved church, horse stables, and hundreds of personal items like tobacco pipes.
Incredibly, the site underneath the Neveshir castle is rumored to be the last underground city in the world, stretching some 5 million square feet and reaching depths of 370 feet deep. I hope you were amazed at these accidental inventions and discoveries! Thanks for reading.