Imagine you’re a California gold miner who’s just finished plotting out the perfect location for your mine. After polishing your hard hat and sharpening your pickaxe, you take your first swing, but as soon as it touches the earth, it snags. You’ve struck something, but it isn’t gold: it’s an entire field of oil!

This kind of luck befell the Turkish government when a simple urbanization project turned up a find more valuable than oil or gold. As construction crews removed rubble, they discovered a treasure that promised to change the fate of the small city of Nevşehir forever.

Located in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, Nevşehir is known for its tourism and its proximity to several underground cities. But as one construction crew discovered, there was more hiding in those underground tunnels than they thought.

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But the local government wanted more for Nevşehir. So, in 2013 they proposed a “transformation project” to reinvigorate the area. This project would demolish 1,5000 old buildings to make way for a new city center.

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Officials also wanted to restore some landmark sites, including the historic Nevşehir Castle. Shortly after work began on the fortress, however, construction crews made a puzzling discovery.

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A few errant pickaxe strikes revealed a system of tunnels beneath the fortress. The construction crew immediately halted the restoration and brought in a group of local archaeologists to investigate.

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Geophysicists from Nevşehir University attempted to take an official survey of the system. Data was gathered over the span of a few days, and once completed, researchers were startled by what they found.

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The survey revealed that the passages were part of a massive tunnel system that was an unbelievable 5 million square feet. Not only that, but the system plunged as deep as 371 feet, the length of one and a half Boeing 747s!

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Researchers began an expedition into the system to discover what secrets it might hold. They didn’t have to look far. Almost immediately upon descending into the web of tunnels, they came across an extraordinary find.

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They discovered rooms that served a functional purpose for a group of earlier settlers; kitchens, chapels, and even wineries were just some of the various types of living and working spaces they came upon.

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Hordes of artifacts were also unearthed, dating the cavern’s use between the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman conquest. They even discovered linseed presses used to make lamp oil, confirming this massive tunnel system to be yet another ancient underground city!

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Given its proposed size, this city would be nearly a third larger than Derinkuyu, Cappadocia’s most well-known underground settlement. Yet without a full exploration of the millions of square feet a claim such as this couldn’t be supported at the time.

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Over the next year, researchers pieced together a 300-year-old paper trail to explain the origin of the tunnels. Nevşehir’s mayor, Hasan Ünver: “We found that there were close to 30 major water tunnels in this region.”

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“As of now, it is not possible to say [how large the city is],” said Murat Gülyaz, director of the  Nevşehir Museum and the archaeologist in charge. “But given the city’s location, and proximity to a water supply, it is highly likely that it spans a very large area.”

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Regardless, it was clear that the city survived through centuries of war and resettlement. With the ability to support a large population, the occupants likely could’ve avoided surface conflicts for months at a time.

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The researchers deduced that the primary reason for the city’s construction was to create a safe haven for Christians amidst the religious wars that ravaged Anatolia, the area now known as Turkey.

Though the settlement likely saw use in the lead up to the 8th century, it wasn’t until Muslim invaders arrived – and later the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans – that the city grew to its current size.

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When faced with a potential invasion, the occupants of the underground city would roll large stones in front of the entranceways to thwart oncoming enemies.

If combatants did manage to get past the defenses, the narrow, single-file tunnels would bottleneck the intruders and make them easy targets for the defending dwellers.

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As time went on, however, large-scale conflicts became less prevalent in the area, and the city was gradually lost to time. In light of this recent find, the local government took a different approach to reinvigorate the region.

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The original urbanization and housing project that led to the discovery has now been relocated, allowing researchers to further study the city. Once completed, Nevşehir’s mayor is hoping to begin a new project, one that he believes will do wonders for the city.

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According to mayor Hasan Ünver, Nevşehir will become “the world’s largest antique park,” complete with museums and underground churches. He considers the city to be “a new pearl” added to Cappadocia’s already vast cultural riches.

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“When the underground city beneath Nevşehir Castle is completely revealed,” he said, “it is almost certain to change the destination of Cappadocia dramatically.” He had seen what a discovery like this could do for a city.

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Any home restoration tends to rekindle the love you have for your property. During Luke Irwin’s most recent renovation, though, he found something far better than a nice appreciation for his home.

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Luke, a rug designer, lived with his wife and son near the village of Tisbury, England, in a pristine, riverside region. His property was one-of-a-kind, and though he appreciated it, he didn’t realize how special it truly was.

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One day, while workers were installing a shower in his home, Luke asked them if they wouldn’t mind taking on an extra project. He wanted them to wire the detached barn 20 yards from his house so that his son had light when he played table tennis inside.

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After a short time, one of the workers called out. They’d found a strange mosaic underneath the topsoil. Uncovering original details on a property during a renovation is always an encouraging sign, but this was just the tip of the iceberg!

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As a designer, Luke was mesmerized by the beauty of the mosaic—its zig-zag pattern, its bright colors. Little did he realize, however, that the discovery would lead him to unimaginable finds throughout all of his property.

The fact that Luke found something like this wasn’t entirely surprising; he’d always assumed his property had some medieval history to it. He didn’t know, though, just how rich the history of his home actually was.

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Still, finding the mosaic changed Luke’s understanding of his property. “When you find a mosaic,” he said, “you know this predates anything medieval.” So, he called the Wilshire County archeological department to see what this meant for his home…

The archeologists arrived within 20 minutes of Luke’s call and were floored by what they saw. “It’s a million-to-one chance of just finding a mosaic by chance,” archeologist Dr. Dave Roberts said. “It simply doesn’t happen.”

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This mosaic, more importantly, was evidence of the Ancient Romans—and it was in great shape. As Dr. Roberts put it, the quality of it was “fantastic” and “equivalent to some of the greatest villas in Britain,” like that seen at the Chedworth Villa (pictured).

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Still, the location of the find concerned the archeologists. “The frustrating thing,” Dr. Roberts said, was “that the mosaic is right under a gate leading to the modern buildings.” Those modern buildings could be on top of just about anything—so they investigated.

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As the archeologists inspected the rest of the property, subtle evidence indicated that there had once been so much more than just a mosaic there: Luke’s home had actually been constructed on top of the remains of a Roman villa!

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Slowly but surely, the archeologists created several dig sites throughout Luke’s property in search of the remains of the villa—dubbed the Deverill Villa—that the landscape suggested. Their finds went far beyond the initial mosaic…

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Along with the remains of a wall they found near the mosaic—confirming their theory that the mosaic had been in the entrance to a grand villa—archeologists uncovered tons of Roman artifacts, like coins and butcher-cut animal bones.

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They also came across oyster shells—a fascinating and telling find, as they were more than 40 miles from the shoreline. Whoever had lived in the Deverill Villa had to have been very wealthy to import oysters. Still, there was another discovery that impressed Dr. Roberts…

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In Luke’s back yard was a strange stone basin that had been there since he purchased the home. Most recently, it served as a flowerbed for geraniums. Dr. Roberts revealed to Luke what it actually was…

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Dr. Roberts “kept coming back to this thing to tell me to look at,” Luke said. “Why are you so interested in it?” Luke had asked. Dr. Roberts’s answer chilled him to the bone: “He said, ‘Because that is a Roman child’s coffin!'” It had been in Luke’s back yard this entire time!

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All in all, the archeologists figured that the Deverill Villa beneath Luke’s property was built between 175 and 220 AD. Whoever lived there during that time continued remodeling it until the mid-4th century.

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Unfortunately, Dr. Roberts and the archeologists at Wiltshire County didn’t have the funds to excavate the site to the extent they wanted. They needed to raise more money before they could unearth all of the villa’s secrets.

Of course, Luke found inspiration in that very first mosaic that the contractors uncovered while installing a light fixture in the barn. Luke even designed a rug of his own around the pattern he saw in it!

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