Every civilization—regardless of the historical period—leaves behind artifacts that teach us more about its culture, religion, and the things that were most important to its people. A wonderful piece of art or human remains can be found amid a hoard of garbage at any given time. Historians spend countless hours delving into these artifacts to learn as much as possible about the past.
Archaeologists may be able to learn about a civilization’s nutrition by looking at the density of bones that are several centuries old. These items are then delivered to museums, where the general audience can study them.
Although these objects are historically priceless, museums are compelled by law to value them to cover their risks. Some of the artwork was possibly bought and sold over the years. In this guide, we’ve compiled a list of 9 of the most priceless artifacts now on display at museums across the country and the globe.
A Brief Look Into How the Rarest and Most Valuable Artifacts Came Into Existence
In the six million years that we’ve been on this planet, we’ve had plenty of time to create and then forget things, allowing for a series of evolution. Artifacts from ancient civilizations and our human ancestors have been lying dormant for millennia, just as fossils are constantly being discovered around the planet. We appreciate these artifacts beyond all others because they teach us about life as it was before we arrived on the scene, no matter where they were found.
Museums around the world have collected several of these artifacts after examination to the point of obsession. Some ancient objects’ provenance remains a mystery despite years of inquiry, even to most experts.
Ancient times may seem like a long time ago, but these antiques prove that some things never change. Ingenuity has always been the driving force behind humankind’s creations, from essential things to spectacular artworks.
An ancient artifact can represent any tool or chair. Perhaps you may be fascinated by Egypt’s pyramids, or you’re more interested in the Mesopotamians, who had an extraordinary capacity to create anything out of clay in the primordial era. The point is that these artifacts are clues to how ancient peoples lived, worked, and played because many ancient people didn’t create a written language.
Artifacts have a way of saying more than any words ever could. The specimens are a valuable educational tool, and many hobbyists aspire to find a truly remarkable one of their own. If you find an artifact and aren’t an archaeologist, you must report it in the United States. You can get help from the preservation agency or the state archaeologist in your state.
The Top 9 Most Expensive Artifacts in the World
Throughout human history, the ancients have given us a wealth of knowledge and artifacts that we may draw on today. These riches include not only cultural, spiritual, and scientific wealth but also a wide variety of rare artifacts.
A key thing to note is that monetary value no longer applies to these pieces. They’re unattainable even if the price tag is in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. That said, here’s our take on the top 9 most valuable artifacts in the world.
1. The Tutankhamun Gold Mask — Egyptian Artifact (Link)
- Price: $2 million
- Discovered by: Howard Carter in KV62 in the Valley of the Kings
- Year: 1925
- Location: Egyptian Museum, Cairo
The most valuable item in the world—the Tutankhamun gold mask—was discovered in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. The monarch’s mummy was said to have been found with its head covered in a gold mask after 19 years of excavation. The mask matched the genuine man’s face in size and covered his entire face, so it was a perfect fit. The mask is covered in gold leaf and embellished with jewels and stained glass.
Tutankhamun’s gold mask, with eagles and cobras on the forehead, signified the Egyptian sophistication of the period. Osiris’ beard was among the rare items reattached to the mask following earlier detachment. The gold mask of Tutankhamun has not only become one of the world’s most valuable artifacts but has also elevated its owner to the status of Egypt’s most well-known ancient pharaoh.
2. The Mona Lisa — France Artifact (Link)
- Price: Over $850 million
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Year: 1503–1506, perhaps continuing until c. 1517
- Location: Louvre Museum (since 1797)
A masterpiece of Renaissance art, the Mona Lisa, was completed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1503, just before he died in 1519, making it one of the most famous paintings ever painted. Lisa del Giorcon, a member of a wealthy family in Florence, is depicted in the photograph.
What makes this picture so great is that you can feel the Mona Lisa’s smile as you look in any direction. According to a scientific investigation, the Mona Lisa’s smile comprised 83% delight, 9% disdain, 6% fear, and 2% rage.
Through multispectral analysis, scientists have identified three separate paintings concealed behind the Mona Lisa’s grin. These photographs show a dynamic Mona Lisa smile if we can recover them.
Leonardo da Vinci’s creativity had to be surrendered, and his paintings included so many mysteries that no one knew exactly what he was getting at. All of these explain why his works appear on several lists of valuable artifacts.
3. The Jewels Of The British Royal Family — British Artifact (Link)
- Price: $4 billion
- Owner: Elizabeth II in right of the Crown
- Year: 12th century – 1953
- Location: Jewel House and Martin Tower at the Tower of London
Britain’s royal jewels are one of the most expensive historical artifacts among the top valuable items in the world. The British royal family’s rise to power in the British Empire has made them famous worldwide, and until now, their every action generates headlines. The crown and cane sported by the King or Queen of England have become the center of attention globally since their coronation by the British monarchs.
Aside from their symbolic significance, the crown and cane are adorned with innumerable gems. These include some of the world’s most valuable and rare diamonds and precious stones, which have been sought after by successive monarchs. As a British colony, South Africa—the world’s most famous diamond producer—was tasked with dedicating newly discovered gems to the British royal family.
4. The Dead Sea Scrolls — Religious Artifact (Link)
- Price: $125,000–$1,000,000
- Discovered: 1946/47–1956
- Material: Papyrus, parchment, and copper
- Location: The Jordan Museum, Amman, Jerusalem
When shepherd teenagers unearthed these ancient documents nearly 70 years ago, they had no idea they contained some of the earliest Bible texts. With a treasure map that can make anyone the richest person globally, one paragraph is truly written on copper plates, and we consider this piece one of the most valuable old artifacts.
Compared to other writing materials at the time, copper was extremely valuable. Hence, it lasted longer. Considering these realities, this is one of the most valuable religious artifacts that currently exist.
5. Mrs. Atoka Shipwreck — Ancient Egyptian Artifact (Link)
- Price: Roughly $400 million
- Discovered by: Mel Fisher
- Year: 1622 wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha in Florida waters
- Location: Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida
In August 1622, Mrs. Atoka and a fleet of 29 ships came to Spain from a colony in South America, where they had recently returned from a voyage of exploration. Although the Nuestra Señora de Atocha served as a guard ship, it housed the most valuable loot.
A cyclone on the way home caused the ship to sink to a depth of 17 meters pretty quickly. It’s estimated that the Atoka contained 40 tons worth of gold and diamonds, making it the seventh most valuable treasure on earth by value alone.
6. Fabergé Hot Eggs — Russian Artifact (Link)
- Price: $33 million
- Created by: Russian Jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé
- Year: 1902
- First owner: Barbara Kelch
- Location: Houston Museum of Natural Science
A century ago, Peter Carl Faberge created a stunning collection of 54 Faberge eggs for the Russian royal family to symbolize Russia’s imperial grandeur. Each of these eggs is an original piece of art in its own right. These priceless items had been meticulously crafted and reveal even more priceless surprises that are just as rare and valuable when opened.
The Soviet Union confiscated the masterpieces after the Russian Revolution, and some of them were eventually sold abroad. There are only eight of the 54 royal eggs still unaccounted for in private or public collections worldwide.
7. The Crown of Poland — Poland Artifact (Link)
- Price: Unknown
- Lost: after 1036 and 1794
- Returned in: 1960
- Location: The National Museum in Warsaw
The history of Poland’s crown jewels goes back almost as far as Poland itself. An inventory from 1633 indicates that the collection is held in five chests, including numerous crowns, chains, and swords from various historical events and notable persons.
The Prussians took the treasure in 1794 and brought it to Berlin. When the crown jewels of Poland were melted down into gold in 1809, they were everything but dazzling. Only the “schcherbech”—the scariest artifact in the world—has survived and is currently on exhibit in Krakow.
8. Hoxne Coins — British Artifact (Link)
- Price: $4.3 million
- Owner: Eric Lawes
- Year: November 16, 1992
- Location: Room 49, British Museum, London
Eric Lawes—an ordinary farmer in the English village of Hoxne-accidentally dug up an underground treasure that contained 14,191 silver coins, 565 gold coins, and 24 copper coins, as well as some crafts, jewelry, and gold. All of the coins were 9-and-a-half cents in purity.
Thirteen separate mints produced the coins between 394 and 405 AD, and they’re all in excellent condition. It’s among the British museum’s most valuable artifacts today.
9. Cullinan Diamonds — British Artifact (Link)
- Price: $400 million
- Year: 1905
- Original owner: Premier Diamond Mining Company
- Owner: Queen Elizabeth II
- Location: Tower of London with Britain’s other Crown Jewels
The world’s largest diamond—the 3,106.75-carat Curinan—weighs 621.2 grams, compared to the 1,000-gram, 10,000-gram, 100,000-gram, and 200,000-gram Curinan. Wales, a mine manager who had noticed a glint of light on the ground and dug it up with the size of an adult man’s fist, discovered the diamond in South Africa on January 25, 1905. Pure and translucent, with a faint blue hue, Cullinan diamonds are the finest gem diamonds.
Experts speculate that only one-third of the original full crystals of Cullinan diamonds have been found, and the other two-thirds are still missing. This precious diamond was also bequeathed to the British royal family because South Africa was a British colony at the time.
Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Finding Historically Valuable Artifacts in the Market
A few people have a particular interest in antiquities and ancient pieces. Anyone interested in this as a hobby should be familiar with the best places to look for and how to identify valuable goods. Still, this guide throws more light on these areas, especially for those who aren’t too familiar with locating collectibles.
Valuable Tips for Artifact Collectors
To quickly identify and locate valuable artifacts on the market, here are six tips to help you.
1. Do proper research.
Do your homework and thoroughly investigate the products you’re interested in before buying. You can also make a list to focus on just one or two categories. There are many other artifacts out there, and you’ll be able to resist the need to accumulate more items if you do this. Finally, explore several design types, ages, and price points to estimate the worth of an item.
2. Know your materials.
Learning about an old piece can be beneficial. The quickest way to tell if something is legitimate is to look at the numbers and color icons. Examine the publication date and edition number like you would while looking for antique or collectible books.
Even if the item is over a century old, its value will experience a decline if other items of a similar age are still in existence. Of course, the value of unique items is higher than that of more common items. You should also factor in quality marks; check the bottom or base of the item to see whether it has any inscriptions engraved into the surface.
3. Learn to distinguish fake from real.
You can also discern the real thing from a reproduction if it shows indications of restoration or wear and tear. Make sure to pay attention to the tiniest of details. To determine whether an item is genuine or fake, pay attention to the small characteristics.
4. Ask the right questions.
Avoid being hesitant to ask many questions since this can help you better comprehend and identify the materials’ provenance.
5. Scrutinize and analyze.
You need to acquire a keen eye for spotting little details in everything you see. Determine the item’s condition by paying close attention to it.
How well or frequently is it used?
Is it in a terrible condition?
How well does it shine or remain intact?
If you find any flaws, then such an item will have a reduction in value.
6. Target the right areas.
Flea markets, thrift stores, and vintage shops are the first locations to visit while searching for incredibly old stuff. However, in the case of valuable ancient artifacts, you will likely find them in museums.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Ancient Artifacts You See Online
Buying anything that seems like it belonged in an old tomb, temple, or palace online isn’t a good idea. According to recent reports, 80% of antiquities sold online are either plundered or fakes. You shouldn’t be surprised by the shady business practices of antiquities smugglers and sellers on the internet.
However, recently, there’s been an increase in the sale of false or stolen antiquities on the internet. There are at least 100,000 artifacts posted for sale online at any given time on online sites, which are usually worth $10 million.
There are many reasons for this increase, including the popularity of social media and e-commerce, as well as the widespread looting of Syrian and Iraqi sites. The earnings from the sale of these stolen antiques are used to fuel terrorism and criminal activity by groups like ISIS.
Thankfully, several of the world’s largest online marketplaces—such as Amazon, Facebook, and eBay—prohibit the sale of stolen goods and delete dubious adverts, material, listings, and even individuals.
How to Identify if Online Artifacts Are Authentic
When it comes to artifacts, the market is rife with fakes and originals. Forgery can be so convincing that it’s impossible to tell without additional testing. If you’re looking for authentic items online, you can find them in the most well-known museums and galleries.
There are three terms to apprise oneself with when it comes to artifacts, as we’ll see below:
- Relic: A relic is a piece of ancient artifact preserved in its original form. Originally, the piece was crafted by ancient humans to help them carry out their day-to-day activities.
- Replica: It’s also called an open or specific reproduction of the original relic. This artifact piece is made when the real components are extremely scarce and can’t be replaced. The good thing about replicas is that several locations can display them simultaneously.
- Fake: A fake piece is a copy of a genuine artifact meant to fool others into thinking the piece is authentic. Fake artifacts are made using a variety of aging procedures to give the appearance of real age and make them more difficult to detect.
Sadly, fake artifacts—whether physical or digital—abound in the market. So, how do you avoid getting fake artifacts? Here are a few tips that can help you avoid buying fakes:
1. Ask for documentation.
Before making a purchase, make a conscious effort to obtain a copy of the artifact’s provenance paperwork. This also saves you from getting into a legal mess if the piece in question is a stolen one. For new owners, you must be able to show that the documentation is authentic, so double-check.
2. Buy from reputable dealers.
Even well-known auction houses and dealers are occasionally duped, but they deal with genuine pieces in the vast majority of situations. If you’re unfamiliar with the particular piece, it’d be in your best interest to avoid purchasing it online. If you have any doubts about the piece’s authenticity, you can request a forensic examination.
What to Do When You Find a Valuable Antiquity or Artifact
Museums around the world display artifacts. However, because the past is all around us, anyone can come upon something that appears to be old, no matter where they are. So, how can you learn more about the artifact you found, inherited, or purchased?
As a first step, it’s extremely difficult for a specialist to assess an artifact’s age or qualities using even the best photograph. It’s even more difficult to determine whether or not it’s authentic. A specialist in that field can be a good option if you know where the piece came from, how old it is, or what culture it belonged to.
Artifact identification can be challenging; therefore, it’s a good idea to find someone nearby who can assist you in identifying the piece. If found locally, the chances that someone in the area will recognize it as a product created in the area are stronger. If you’re unsure of which specialist to consult, you can reach out to a historian, an archaeologist, or a geologist.
You may think archaeologists are nowhere near, but the truth is they’re not. Anthropology or classical history departments at your local institution, the state archaeologist’s office, museums and historical societies in the area, and professional and amateur associations could all point you in the right direction. Cultural resources or heritage companies carry out archaeological excavations. You can also search for the term “archaeology” in your city or state using Google’s advanced search.
Is there anything specific they should know?
For starters, be ready to tell them where you got it from. Learning more about the object’s environment (place of finding) may aid identification. Another thing to add is that professional archaeologists won’t retain your piece, even if they need to examine it under a microscope.
Where can I find valuable artifacts in history?
Most religious, cultural, and historical artifacts and materials are preserved at museums. They’re a great source of entertainment, and these institutions work to safeguard and disseminate the nation’s rich cultural legacy. Museums are repositories for historical artifacts, sculptures, and other collectibles.
Exhibit materials are typically procured by either purchasing or borrowing from other museums. When it comes to the world of museums, it’s not always cheaper to borrow than to buy.
What are the most valuable artifacts from Titanic?
The Titanic Diamond Bracelet, discovered with the ship at the bottom of the ocean, fetched $200 million at auction. However, the “Amy Diamond Bracelet” is the most expensive piece of memorabilia ever sold.
Can I purchase the most valuable artifacts?
Yes, and no.
There are no laws against the possession of antiquities. However, you can’t purchase, sell, trade, import, or export those obtained through illicit means. These means include digging up graves or gathering on public lands without a permit, or disturbing the remains of others.
Are the most valuable items in museums original?
Yes, they are.
Museums do a decent job of identifying what’s real and what’s not. They collect from individuals, antique shops, and auction houses. Before making a purchase, the curators conduct extensive studies on the artifacts to ensure that they’re genuine, in good shape and at a decent price.
Do I retain ownership of priceless artifacts if I discover them?
If you’re a landowner, you can legally gather artifacts from your private property in the United States. In some states, additional rules and regulations may apply.
Simply put, it’s yours if it’s located on your land. The only exception is if you make a contract with a government agency, archeologists, or educational institution. Such a contract includes one that authorizes the other party to excavate on your property and keep any uncovered artifacts.
There’s no better feeling than collecting an ancient artifact, especially when you consider that it’ll be valuable to others. However, make sure you aren’t attempting to buy what you believe will be the next popular trend. As an alternative, focus on long-term goals and the types of items you enjoy collecting. Become an expert or at least knowledgeable enough to tell the real ones from the fakes.
When purchasing artifacts, it’s recommended to receive guidance from a professional, especially if you know incredibly little about the piece. Also, do proper research and ensure you buy only from legal sources.