Ancient Troy. Photograph by James Stanfield. Myth, folklore, mystery, and intrigue surround the ancient city of Troy like no other ruin on Earth. Once thought to be purely imaginary, a prop in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, excavations in northwestern Turkey in 1871 eventually proved that the city indeed existed.
In 1871, German adventurer Heinrich Schliemann began digging at Hisarlik, Turkey, (shown here) in search of the fabled city. His roughshod excavation wrought havoc on the site, but revealed nine ancient cities, each built on top of the next and dating back some 5,000 years. At the time, most archaeologists were skeptical that Troy was among the ruins, but evidence since the discovery suggests the Trojan capital indeed lies within the site.
Machu Picchu. Photograph by David Evans
Although the archaeological discovery of Machu Picchu came nearly a hundred years ago, historians are still unsure of the function of this ancient Inca citadel.
The Inca had no system of writing and left no written records, and archaeologists have been left to piece together bits of evidence as to why Machu Picchu was built, what purpose it served, and why it was so quickly vacated.
Palmyra, Syria. Photograph by James Stanfield
There is evidence that the ancient city of Palmyra, also known as Tadmor, was in existence as far back as the 19th century B.C. Its importance grew around 300 B.C. as trading caravans began using it as a way station between Mesopotamia and Persia. Palmyra’s strategic location and prosperity attracted the interest of the Romans, who took control of the city in the first century A.D.
Persepolis, Iran. Photograph by James Blair
The ancient city of Persepolis in modern-day Iran was one of four capitals of the sprawling Persian Empire. Built beginning around 520 B.C., the city was a showcase for the empire’s staggering wealth, with grand architecture, extravagant works of silver and gold, and extensive relief sculptures such as this one portraying envoys with offerings for the king.
The height of Persian rule lasted from about 550 B.C. until 330 B.C., when Alexander the Great overthrew the ruling Archaemenid dynasty and burned Persepolis to the ground.
Photograph by Paul Nicklen. More than 600 cliff dwellings made by the ancestral Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi, are scattered throughout Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado (shown here).
The Anasazi arrived in the region as early as A.D. 550, building their homes and cultivating crops on the soaring mesa tops. Around 1150, though, they began to move their dwellings to the alcoves within the canyon walls. Most houses were quite small, but a few reached enormous proportions, housing up 250 people.