9 Unusual Items Found in Rivers Around the World


What do a brothel token, ice cream trucks, and an ancient Egyptian portico have in common? They've all been found at the bottom of some of the world's most famous rivers. But the treasure trove doesn’t end there. Here are nine unusual items that have surfaced from well-known rivers across the globe.


A cabin cruiser located at the bottom of the Hudson River near Yonkers (the exact location is kept secret) sits atop an older, flattened shipwreck—"probably a nineteenth century sailing ship," according to New York Magazine.

Other bizarre NYC discoveries include "gribbles" (Limnoria tripunctata), wood-eating isopods that gnaw on the pilings holding up the FDR Drive, ice cream trucks, and just a little further out, the remnants of an early 20th century amusement park. There's also a $26 million collection of silver bars from a 1903 shipwreck lying in the Arthur Kill area, but those have yet to be recovered.


In 2012, an amateur archaeologist discovered a Roman brothel token near the Thames's Putney Bridge. The bronze token depicts a graphic act of passion; experts believe this “sex token” was hidden beneath the mud for around 2000 years. 



In case the grit and grime doesn’t deter you, here’s another reason to forgo a dip in the Seine: In 1984, a 31-inch Nile crocodile was found crawling in a sewer near the popular Pont Neuf bridge. Sanitation workers stumbled upon the reptile while on the job, and called in a zoo vet. It eventually found its way to the Aquarium de Vannes. While its life pre-sewer remains a mystery, the veterinarian estimated the croc spent one to two months living in France’s sewer systems before its discovery.

Over the years, the Seine has seen its fair share of terrifying creatures. Sightings of snapping turtles, snakes, and pacu—relatives of piranhas with an almost uncertainly undeserved reputation for biting off testicles—have all been reported.


Amsterdam, a city of 780,000, has been estimated to have around 2 million bicycles. But as canal cleaners have discovered, bicycles fill more than just streets: Approximately 15,000 bikes are pulled up from Amsterdam’s canals each year.

“Bike fishing” has actually become a popular Amsterdam tourist attraction. The local water company (Waternet) has perfected the activity with a claw and crane device that sits atop a barge.


In 2007, a team of Egyptian archaeologists embarked on the Nile River’s first underwater excavation, hoping to uncover antiquities and shipwrecks from the river’s deep past. Surveying the Nile’s dense, intensely muddy waters wasn’t easy, and required specific gear, including side scan sonar to find artifacts beneath the mud and a GPS, according to Daily News Egypt.

Despite the tough conditions, the historic dive did not disappoint. Archaeologists discovered a portico (covered entryway) for an ancient Egyptian temple. According to a 2008 National Geographic report, the entryway led to the temple of fertility god Khnum. The stone featured inscriptions that date back anywhere from 945 to 525 BCE. The archaeologists also found parts of an ancient Christian church during their dives.


In 2015, Poland’s Vistula River reached historically low levels, which unearthed rare World War II artifacts, including a Soviet fighter plane and the remains of its pilots. According to the Associated Press, the plane crashed in January 1945 when Germany’s army was retreating back toward Berlin. The plane was hit while flying low across the Vistula, and ultimately crashed through the ice into the river.

Explorers also found parts of the pilots' uniforms, boots, parachutes, a sheepskin coat collar, and radio equipment with Cyrillic controls.


When Disneyland visitors raft over to Tom Sawyer Island, they don’t just drop gum or cellphones in the river (although hundreds do that every year). In 2010, Disneyland employees uncovered a desktop computer tower during a routine maintenance draining.


Every spring, the Friends of the Los Angeles River organization hosts a city-wide river cleanup that draws thousands of volunteers, who pick up 70-plus tons of trash and an assortment of unusual trinkets and treasures. Findings from the group’s more than two decades of cleanups include machetes, a sauna, and a phone booth.


According to experts, the Detroit River's muddy waters obscure numerous museum-worthy relics. Between 1980 and 2011, divers pulled up six separate cannons dating back to the 1700s, according to a recent story in the Detroit Free Press. And those cannons, which were likely part of a stash kept by British soldiers before the War of 1812, represent just a small portion of the treasures on the river's bottom (which, given the visibility issues, divers can usually only locate by touch). In November, a 6000-pound anchor belonging to Greater Detroit—a 2100-passenger steamship which traveled the Great Lakes from 1924 to 1950—was recovered; there are also rumors of Prohibition-era vehicles, like a Model T, on the river's Canadian side. (Divers need a federal permit to explore there.)

Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Unearth the Victims of a Mysterious Massacre 400 Years Ago on an Australian Island
Beacon Island
Beacon Island
Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The cargo ship Batavia set out from the Netherlands in October 1628, bound for the Dutch colony at present-day Jakarta, Indonesia, with more than 300 crew and passengers. For some still-unknown reason, the ship veered off course to the south and smashed into a coral atoll about 50 miles west of the Australian coast.

What happened over the next few months—culminating in a mysterious and brutal massacre that left at least 125 people dead—is Australia's oldest cold case.

In a story that aired on 60 Minutes Australia, correspondent Liam Bartlett traveled to this "island of horror" where a team of Australian and Dutch scientists is uncovering the nearly 400-year-old skeletons, well preserved in the sand of what is now Beacon Island. They hope to discover what led to the sudden mass slaughter of adults and children.

"We're dealing with a psychopath and some pretty horrible events," Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and the leader of the research team, tells Bartlett. "There's nothing like it in Dutch history or Australian history."

A screenshot of the Beacon Island dig site from 60 Minutes Australia
A scene from the 60 Minutes Australia report
Kat Long

The Batavia, the flagship of the Dutch East India Company, was on its maiden voyage. The commander, Francisco Pelsaert, and the captain, Ariaen Jacobsz, detested each other. Jacobsz conspired with Pelsaert's deputy, Jeronimus Cornelisz, to take control of the ship and its load of silver and valuable paintings. But before the mutiny could unfold, the ship crashed into the reef in the early morning of June 4, 1629.

About 100 people died in the wreck, while almost 200 made it to a cluster of islands in the Abrolhos chain—treeless, desert-like stretches of sand without water or food. Pelsaert and Jacobsz sailed for help, hoping to reach their original destination nearly 2000 miles away by boat.

The events of the next three months continue to puzzle and horrify modern researchers. Initially, Jeronimus Cornelisz organized food rations and shelter for the survivors on Beacon Island as a way to cement his leadership. But then, he hoarded the weapons and boats for his own use. He ordered his followers to execute the strong, able-bodied men who could pose a threat to his control over the group. Most of the women and children who would be a drain on supplies were also killed, though some women were kept alive as sexual slaves, Bartlett reports.

"Totally Lord of the Flies," Paterson says.

The Batavia massacre
An image from Pelsaert's journal of the voyage
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cornelisz marooned several men on a nearby island to get them out of the way as the killing rampage continued. But those men, led by a sailor named Wiebbe Hayes, managed to find water and food, and made a primitive protective fort of stone slabs—which still exists as the first European-made structure on Australian soil. In early August, two months after the wreck, Cornelisz and his men attempted to storm Hayes' stronghold and eliminate his band of survivors.

At the last moment, a rescue ship helmed by Pelsaert and Jacobsz appeared on the horizon. Both Hayes and Cornelisz sent out boats to intercept the ship, hoping to establish their version of events as fact and save themselves from punishment. Fortunately, Hayes's men reached the ship first.

Only 80 to 90 survivors out of the Batavia's 300-plus passengers eventually arrived in present-day Jakarta. Cornelisz, who never showed a hint of remorse or offered an explanation for his brutality, was hanged along with his co-conspirators. The bones of his victims, preserved in the island's alkali coral sand for almost four centuries, are now revealing clues to the historical mystery. 

"Horrible things happened to these individuals. They clearly were victims," Paterson tells Bartlett. "But the archaeology allows us to get their story told." 

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Find Traces of What Could Be the Oldest Wine in the World

Humankind has enjoyed wine for a long time—since the early Neolithic period, at least, judging from ancient residue on prehistoric pottery shards excavated from two sites in Georgia, in the South Caucasus. The fragments potentially date back to 6000 BCE, pushing back the earliest evidence of winemaking by about 600 to 1000 years, as The New York Times reports.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the findings pinpoint Georgia as one of the very first—if not the first—nations to have mastered winemaking. Before, Iran held the honor, although China can still lay claim to the world's oldest fermented beverage (a cocktail-like concoction of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and wild grapes that was enjoyed as early as 7000 BCE).

Leading the PNAS study was Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He and his team excavated the remains of two Neolithic villages, located around 30 miles south of Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi. There, they found shards of clay jars—the likely remnants of large, rotund vats, which once could have accommodated as many as 400 bottles worth of today's wine.

Remains of ancient Georgian pottery vessels that may have once contained wine, photographed by Mindia Jalabadze.
(A) Representative early Neolithic jar from Khramis Didi-Gora (B) Jar base (C) Jar base (D) Jar base, interior
Mindia Jalabadze, courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia

These shards were collected for chemical analysis. Eight of them ended up containing tartaric, malic, succinic, and citric acids, all of which had leached into the clay long ago. The combination of these four acids is believed to be present only in grape wine. Researchers also noted traces of ancient grape pollen, starch from grape wine, and signs of prehistoric fruit flies.

Of course, there is the off chance that the jars might have been used to just make grape juice, but their decorations indicate that they weren't made to hold ordinary drinks, researchers argue.

Archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age shows that Georgians have always held wine in great importance. But some experts thought this love of vino dated back even further—and now they believe they have pretty convincing proof.

[h/t The New York Times]


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