12 Of The Oldest Objects Ever Discovered

By: Wes Walcott  | 
A brown and bluish crystal
Discovered in 2001 in the Jack Hills, Western Australia, zircon crystal is the oldest known material formed on Earth. Daniel Grizelj / Getty Images

A lot of the time when people think of ancient artifacts, they picture Greek or Roman tools and relics. Things like oxidized copper trinkets, ivory statues, or maybe a bit of gold jewelry. But once you start thinking in archeological terms, a whole world of possibilities open up that pre-date recorded history. Now we know that some of the oldest objects in the world are actually much older than anything you would typically see in a museum. So, what's the oldest thing on earth? Just take a look at this list and see for yourself.


12. Oldest Piece of Gum

A British archaeology student discovered a 5,000-year-old piece of Neolithic chewing gum made from birch bark tar. 23-year-old Sarah Pickin found the ancient gum while on a dig in Finland and it was later revealed to have tooth marks in it. Birch bark tar is known to contain phenols, which have antiseptic properties. It is generally believed that Neolithic people used to chew the stuff to help treat mouth and gum infections.


11. Oldest Footwear

Within a cave in Armenia, along with a treasure trove of other artifacts from the Copper Age, was a well-preserved shoe that was later revealed to be the oldest example of footwear ever discovered. The 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was made from a single piece of cowhide leather (a technique that draws premium prices for today’s designer shoes under the designation “whole cut”) and rubbed with a plant or vegetable oil. It also contained shoe laces which were crisscrossed through a series of holes just like in modern sneakers.

The shoe was roughly as big as women’s size seven (U.S.) and was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner who, judging by the high level of craftsmanship, was likely a fairly wealthy individual.


10. Oldest Mask

A collection of stone masks found in Israel’s Judean hills is believed to be close to 9,000 years old. The masks are typically between 11 and 12 inches in height and are thought to have been used by early farmers in important ancestral rituals. Since there was no known form of writing in the early agricultural period of 7,000 B.C., it’s thought that these ancestral masks would have provided the only proof that a farmer had ownership of land. The facial imprint of the farmer’s father, grandfather or great-grandfather, for instance, would have at least been able to demonstrate that they have the same structural features in the face as the land's previous proprietor(s).


9. Oldest Purse

After excavating a site near Leipzig, Germany, archaeologists uncovered more than a hundred dog teeth neatly aligned in a grave that dates back to roughly 2,500 B.C. According to archaeologist Susanne Friederich, the teeth were most likely used as decorations for the outer flap of an ancient purse. The handbag’s main material was probably either leather or textile but, whatever it was, it didn’t survive the test of time, leaving only the decorations behind, which were embedded in soil.

“Over the years the leather or fabric disappeared, and all that’s left is the teeth. They’re all pointing in the same direction, so it looks a lot like a modern handbag flap,” said Friederich.


As it turns out, canine teeth were actually highly fashionable 4,500 years ago, adorning everything from blankets to clothing to jewelry. Nevertheless, the number of teeth on the purse (apparently they came from over a dozen animals) and the item’s intricacy would indicate that the owner was a person of status.

8. Oldest Skirt

The same Armenian cave where they found the world’s oldest shoe was also the location where the world’s oldest skirt was discovered. Pavel Avetisian, the head of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography in Yerevan, believes the discrepancy in the ages between the 5,500-year-old shoe and the 5,900-year-old skirt, along with other items found in the cave, indicates that the area must have been populated for centuries.

The cave has been under intense study by American, Irish and Armenian researchers since 2007 and has yielded a number of fascinating discoveries over the years, including the mummified remains of a goat that are thought to be 5,900 — predating all of the famously mummified animals found in Egypt.


7. Oldest Musical Instruments

In 2012, researchers identified what now holds the title of the oldest-known musical instrument in the world. The two flutes, made from mammoth ivory and bird bone which carbon dating revealed to be approximately 43,000 years old, were found in a cave in southern Germany and are now regarded as early evidence for the occupation of Europe by modern humans.

It’s been suggested by some scientists that our ancestors, the Homo Sapiens, had a number of advantages over their Neanderthal competitors that gave them the edge and helped them survive to modern times. Music might have been one of the ways Homo Sapiens socialized and formed communities that fostered cooperation and the pooling of resources.


According to Professor Nick Conard — the Tuebingen University researcher who identified the previous record holder for the world's oldest musical instrument — these findings are consistent with a hypothesis made several years ago that the Danube River was an important passageway for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe 45,000 years ago.

6. Oldest Prosthetic

Discovered with Egyptian mummies buried 3,000 years ago was a false toe, now believed to be the oldest prosthetic device in existence. The fake toe, which was fashioned out of wood and leather, had been buried with a woman who was thought to have lived between 950 B.C. and 710 B.C., and, according to experts, it looks as though it was more of a practical walking device rather than a prosthetic.

University of Manchester researchers made a replica of the wooden toe and found volunteers with missing toes to test it out wearing the same kind of sandals that were worn in ancient Egypt. From the data gathered by pressure sensors, it was determined that it would have been very difficult for an ancient Egyptian missing a big toe to walk normally wearing traditional sandals. Research suggests that wearing these false toes would have made walking around in a sandal much more comfortable.


5. Oldest Written Song

Clay tablets excavated in the Syrian city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) appear to be the oldest known example of sheet music ever discovered. The tablets date back to roughly 1,400 B.C. and contain an entire hymn written as a tribute to Nikal, the moon god’s wife. Amazingly, the stone etchings even contained detailed performance notes for a singer accompanied by a harpist, as well as footnotes on how to properly tune the harp for the performance. After well over a decade of research, Anne Kilmer, a professor of Assyriology at the University of California was finally able to transcribe the oldest known piece of music notation in the world.


4. Oldest Swiss Army Knife

Found in the Mediterranean in the 1980s, this ancient multi-tool isn’t Swiss in origin but looks as though it was the precursor to all those versatile pocket knives manufactured by companies like Leatherman and Victorinox.

The device originates from the second-century Roman Empire and, based on its features, was primarily used for eating. It includes a spike that historians believe was used to pluck snails out of their shells, and a hook-like spatula thought to have been used to help get sauce out of bottles. The tool also includes a knife, fork and spoon for eating with, as well as a small pick to help users dig any mealtime remnants out of their teeth afterward. Surprisingly, all of these utensils appear to fold into the handle of the knife to help keep everything compact and prevent people from accidentally jabbing themselves, just like modern-day Swiss Army Knives.


3. Oldest Marijuana Stash

Almost two pounds of green plant material were found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert in what has now been identified as the world’s oldest marijuana stash. The find, which is detailed in the Journal of Experimental Botany, underwent a barrage of tests that proved that the weed possessed potent psychoactive properties, casting doubts on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp so they could make clothing, rope and other objects out of the versatile material.

Almost two pounds of green plant material were found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert in what has now been identified as the world’s oldest marijuana stash. The find, which is detailed in the Journal of Experimental Botany, underwent a barrage of tests that proved that the weed possessed potent psychoactive properties, casting doubts on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp so they could make clothing, rope and other objects out of the versatile material.

In an interview with Discovery News, journal author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana “is quite similar” to what’s grown today, leading many people to suspect that certain societies have been getting high for far longer than we previously thought. Unfortunately, for any stoners hoping that the vintage chronic aged like a fine wine, chemical analysis has shown that no one could possibly feel the effects from smoking it today, due to the level of decomposition it experienced over the millennia.

2. Oldest Sex Toy

German scientists were tickled pink after digging up what they believe to be is one of the world’s oldest sculpted phallic devices — a piece of highly polished siltstone lovingly crafted about 28,000 years ago. The prehistoric phallus is eight inches long, three centimeters wide, and, well ... as hard as a rock. It also bears the scars of having been used to knap flints (the technique of banging two rocks together to shape stone for the purposes of making new tools). But despite the wear and tear the sex toy endured over the millennia, it appears to have been reconstructed a number of times based on the fact that it was composed of 14 fragments rather than one solid piece. Needless to say, if inanimate objects could talk, this one would probably have one hell of a story to tell.

1. Oldest Known Material

Discovered in 2001 on a sheep ranch in a part of Western Australia known as the Jack Hills, this ancient zircon crystal is the oldest known material formed on Earth. Scientists say they’ve dated the ancient crystal to about 4.4 billion years ago. Meaning that it has been around pretty much since the time the Earth formed.

The finding was only recently published in 2014 in the journal Nature Geoscience. John Valley, the lead study author and professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison describes the crystal as being translucent red but glowing blue when bombarded with electrons. It’s also a very minuscule specimen with its largest dimension being roughly the thickness of four human hairs.

Scientists say the crystal’s chemistry suggests that the temperatures on Earth 4.4 billion years ago would have supported liquid water, and therefore perhaps life as well. According to Valley, this means that the Earth cooled much more quickly than we had previously thought, indicating that our planet’s crust is actually a lot older than anyone imagined.