History is littered with documents, objects and places with the potential to shed light on the murky corners of the past. When a new one is discovered, observers flock to see what it can tell us and historians wipe tears of frustration on tweedy sleeves as they try to rewrite everything they thought they knew.
History is also littered with people who really want something to be true, whether the facts support it or not. Some of those desperate souls are taken in by forgers who gleefully foist upon them the fabricated artifacts they desire. Sometimes they manufacture such forgeries themselves, thinking that if other people believe them they will magically become right.
And finally, fiction and myth can become confused with reality, leading presumably sane people to speculate endlessly or even go in search of things that were never claimed to be real in the first place.
Some fakes or fictions were exposed as such early on, but some have continued to be massively influential, often long after they have been proven false. Nonexistent historical artifacts teach us not only about the human capacity to deceive, but about the human willingness to believe.
10. The Dropa Stones
The Dropa stones, uncovered in Tibet, consisted of more than 700 stone discs inscribed with spiral patterns of tiny, dense hieroglyphs. Scholar Tsum Um Nui translated the hieroglyphs and wrote down their startling story of the extraterrestrial Dropa tribe, who landed in spaceships and came into conflict with local tribes.
The fact we're not all bowing down to our benevolent Dropa overlords has probably spoiled the outcome of all this, which is that the Dropa stones weren't real. They weren't even fakes - there are no physical stones anywhere. All the Chinese museums and universities attested to have stored them have no record of them and they have never been exhibited anywhere.
Russian scientist W. Zaitsev tested them in 1968 alongside Tsum Um Nui, except neither Zaitsev nor Tsum Um Nui seem to have actually existed let alone conducted experiments on stones that didn't exist either. 'Tsum Um Nui' isn't even a Chinese name and seems as made up as everything else.
The Dropa Stones belong to a rare category of historical fakes that didn't even falsify a physical artifact. The fraud, which seems to have been invented for a German vegetarianism and new age publication in 1962, exists purely in the minds of the inventors, with any potential evidence (in)conveniently lost or destroyed.