10 Historically Significant Things Destroyed Due to Human Stupidity

March 6, 2024

6. Archimedes Palimpsest

During the 13th century, a monk took an old book written by Archimedes, erased the contents, and wrote over it with prayers. The erased manuscript originally contained advance information such as the foundations of calculus centuries before Newton and Leibniz.

10 Historically Significant Things Destroyed Due to Human StupidityImage credits: Walters Museum, Baltimore, Maryland/Archimedespalimpsest

Archimedes was a world-famous Greek mathematician, engineer, and scientist who lived in the 3rd century BCE. He wrote his research and proofs as letters addressed to his contemporaries. Sometime around 530 BCE a Greek architect, Isidorus of Miletus, compiled the letters into one single, comprehensive text. In 1204, this Byzantine manuscript traveled from Constantinople to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem in the year 1229, a monk unbound the Archimedes codex. Since he couldn’t understand the text, he scraped and washed the vellum the of Archimedes codex along with six other manuscripts. Then he folded the leaves in half, rebound it, and reused it to write a religious text. This was quite a common practice at that time as vellum was scarce.

So, the Archimedes codex was lost until the 1840s when Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf found Greek mathematics visible on the palimpsest. Intrigued, he brought a leaf of it home where a Greek scholar transcribed several lines of the partially visible text. In 1906, Danish historian, Johan Heiberg, saw these lines and realized that the work was by Archimedes. He took several photographs of the manuscript and produced transcriptions. Sometime later, the Greek text of Archimedes was translated into English by T. L. Heath making it popular among mathematicians, historians, and physicists all over the world. (1, 2)

7. Mayan Pyramids in Belize

An ancient Mayan pyramid in Belize that stood for 2,300 years which had been constructed out of hand-made limestone bricks and was once the center of a 12-square-mile settlement of 40,000 people, was torn down and turned into gravel to be used to repair roads.

Located on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize is bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea. Mayans settled in this country between 1500 BCE and 300 CE, and here their civilizations flourished until about 1200 CE. Home to about 2 million Mayans, Belize has many Mayan-era pyramids. One of the pyramids that had been standing tall for 2,300 years was destroyed in 2013 just to make gravel for road fill.

The bulldozed pyramid was a Mayan temple located at the Noh Mul site in northern Belize. Built with hand-cut limestone, it stood about 65 feet tall. It was built around 250 BCE and was the center of a settlement of about 40,000 people. Around it, there were 81 buildings spread over 12 square miles. Mayans used high-quality limestone to build their temples, and it was seen as a prized source of stone by contractors. That’s why the contractor destroyed this ancient monument just to use its limestone to upgrade and repair local roads. According to archaeologists, the destruction has severely compromised the site’s scientific value. (1, 2)

8. Singapore Stone

The Singapore Stone is a fragment of a large sandstone slab that used to stand at the mouth of the Singapore River covered in an undeciphered inscription in either Old Javanese, Sanskrit script, or one the other languages ancestral to those in the area. In 1843, a few decades after it was discovered, the colonials blew it up so they could expand a fort. A hotel sits there now.

10 Historically Significant Things Destroyed Due to Human StupidityImage credits: Richard Johnson/Flickr

The Singapore Stone is the fragment of a large stone slab that once stood at the mouth of Singapore River. The slab was 19 feet high and nine to 10 feet long. Erected in the 13th century or possibly even earlier, it bore a 52-line inscription. The engraved inscription was in rounded letters about 1.9 cm wide. The script was probably Old Javanese or Sanskrit.

Centuries passed by since its installation, and slowly nature began withering away its inscriptions. The final destruction of this historical artifact came not by the hands of nature but by the stupidity of a single person. In January 1843, Captain D.H. Stevenson ordered his men to blow up the slab to widen the passageway at the Singapore River mouth to make space for a fort and the quarters of commanders. When the explosion took place, Lieutenant-Colonel James Low saved some fragments that had inscriptions on them. One of the saved fragments is now in the Raffles Museum in Singapore and is known as the “Singapore Stone.” (source)

9. Namdaemun

Namdaemun, the South Gate of Seoul, stood for 600 years and was designated the “National Treasure No. 1” by the South Korean government. It was burnt down in February 2008 by a man who was outraged about not having been paid in full for the land he had sold to developers.

10 Historically Significant Things Destroyed Due to Human StupidityImage credits: DoulosCore/Wikipedia

In 1396, a series of walls were made around the city of Seoul to protect it against invaders. There were eight gates in this fortress wall. Namdaemun (officially known as the “Sungnyemun”) is one of these gates. It was built in the historic pagoda-style and is now designated as the first National Treasure of South Korea. Before 2008, it was the oldest wooden structure in Seoul. On 10 February 2008, a fire broke out in the Namdaemun Gate at around 8:50 p.m. More than 360 firefighters tried to bring the fire under control, but by midnight, the structure was completely destroyed.

Firefighters found two disposable lighters at the site. Also, people reported seeing a suspicious man entering the gate before the fire. The man was identified as 69-year-old Chae Jong-gi. Thirty minutes after his arrest he confessed to the crime and reported using paint thinner and lighters to start the fire. He reported to the police that he set alight the Namdaemun Gate as he was upset about discrepancies in the payment of his land that he had sold to developers.

After the loss of 2008, South Korea rebuilt the Namdaemun Gate over a span of five years. The restored historic gate was officially reopened on 5 May 2013. (1, 2)

10. New Place

William Shakespeare’s final place of residence, New Place, was demolished by the very person who purchased it in 1756. Reverend Francis Gastrell was so frustrated by all the tourists visiting Shakespeare’s former house that in 1759, he demolished it. The man was kicked out of the town because of it.

10 Historically Significant Things Destroyed Due to Human StupidityStratford-upon-Avon- Shakespeare’s New Place. Image credits: Tripadvisor

Situated in Stratford-upon-Avon, New Place was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton. It is famous for being the final residence of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare bought it in 1597 when he was at the height of his theatrical success. In 1612, he retired from London and went to live in New Place. After Shakespeare’s death, the house changed multiple hands before being owned by Reverend Francis Gastrell.

Well known as the final residence of William Shakespeare, many people flocked in to visit the house. Tired of the visitors, Gastrell destroyed a mulberry tree that was planted by Shakespeare. Enraged, the townsfolk destroyed the windows of New Place. Later, Gastrell applied for permission to extend the garden, but his application was rejected and also his tax was increased. In retaliation, Gastrell demolished the house in 1759. This act enraged the inhabitants again and, eventually, Gastrell was forced to leave the town. (source)