With the 20th-century rise of the automobile, there came a new demand on city land to give those cars a place to park. Sometimes deliberately, often unintentionally, history has been hidden by these stretches of concrete. Here's a look at some amazing items found buried under parking lots, from the bones of an infamous king to a magician’s curse.
1. The Corpse of Richard III
After he died from his wounds in the 1485 battle that ended the War of the Roses, the body of Richard III was put on display and then quickly interred in an ignoble grave at the Greyfriars Friary Church in Leicester, England. And there the fallen king remained, even when the church was razed, his simple memorial was lost, and a parking lot was built over the ground. In 2012, an excavation commissioned by the Richard III Society and led by the University of Leicester identified some skeletal remains with a twisted spine that matched the king’s description. DNA tests confirmed that these bones were “beyond any reasonable doubt” the remains of the last king of the House of York. In 2015, he was given a more royal burial in a new monument in Leicester Cathedral.
2. Adolf Hitler’s Bunker
There have been multiple attempts to destroy the underground Führerbunker where Adolf Hitler spent his last days before shooting himself as the Soviets entered Berlin in 1945. The East German government tried detonating it in 1959, but much of it remained. By then, the Berlin Wall had been built near it and the ruins were mostly overlooked. Following the unification of Germany in 1990, there was concern over it becoming a destination for right-wing extremists, and it was purposefully buried by a parking lot. Yet myths about its size, design, and exact location—and tourists peppering the local shop owners with questions—led to a sign being erected at the site in 2006.
3. A Black Church in Colonial Williamsburg
In the 18th century, free and enslaved Black people came together in the capital of the Virginia Colony to secretly establish a congregation where they could safely gather. Eventually, they built a church, which by 1828 had over 600 members. Another building was erected in 1856. But, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s restoration efforts in the 1950s disregarded its significance. The structure was demolished and a parking lot was put in its place in the 1960s. Finally, in 2020, the foundation launched an excavation. The ongoing archaeological work to identify graves and artifacts is bringing forth a centuries-long heritage, omitted for decades in the narrative of the living-history museum.
4. The Cave of a Royal Saint
Saint Margaret of Scotland, a devout Roman Catholic, started the Canmore dynasty of Scottish kings with her husband in the 11th century. According to lore, she would retreat to pray in a small cave in Dunfermline, northwest of modern-day Edinburgh. Over nine centuries later, that meditative haven is now below a parking lot, but it’s still accessible to visitors through an underground staircase. The passage was added thanks to public outcry after the town council moved to fill in the area around the cave for the lot in 1962. Now a statue of Queen Margaret kneels in the cave, with carved stone benches visible on either side, and 21st-century visitors have convenient parking for paying their respects.
5. A Native American Shellmound
In 2020, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put a Berkeley, California, restaurant parking lot on its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The location was an Ohlone village’s burial and ceremonial shellmound—one of the hundreds of ancient mounds [PDF] in the area constructed with oyster, clam, and other shells—dating back 5700 years. It was mapped in 1907 and almost 100 burials were removed. Even after it was leveled in the 1950s and then paved, some remains were left behind. Despite the Ohlone continuing to use the site for ancestral purposes, it is located on private land and is under threat from potential development.
6. A Viking Parliament
Historians had long suspected Dingwall, Scotland, might have been home to a Viking parliament: It was right there in its name. Dingwall likely originated from thingvellir or “the field of the assembly,” a place where Norsemen would tackle political decisions and legal disputes. Similar sites were known in Iceland, Norway, and other Viking locales. They were proven right when, in 2013, remains of a “Thing” dating to the 11th century were found in a Dingwall parking lot. It was once the location of an earth mound, which was leveled in 1947 to make way for cars.
7. A Victorian Bathhouse
For Victorian mill and factory workers, the bathhouses of Manchester were essential places to get clean. The Mayfield Baths, opened in 1857, were the English city’s third public baths and had two pools: one for women and one for men. After the bathhouse was bombed in World War II, a parking lot was built over the site. Then, during the construction of a new park in 2020, University of Salford archaeologists were surprised to rediscover the pools in stunning condition, with their pumps, boilers, and blue and white tiles accented with flowers still present. It’s planned for the tiles to be incorporated into the development of the neighborhood to recall this momentous era of industrial change and advancement of public health.
8. The Feet of a Pharaoh
It's not unusual for artifacts to be revealed during construction in Egypt. In 2018, an intact 2000-year-old tomb was unearthed at an Alexandria construction site, and in 2019, a tomb structure over 2200 years old was found while workers built a sewage drain in the village of Kom Shakau, so the Ministry of Antiquities regularly monitors development. In 2018, excavations at a parking lot in the Sohag Governorate turned up a depiction of Amenhotep III—or, at least, part of him. The black granite fragment has hieroglyphs declaring the pharaoh’s birthdate and name, and his two feet, one striding ahead of the other, in the pharaonic pose indicating the tread of ancient royalty. While it was a remarkable artifact, it wasn’t a shock when his identity was confirmed: The ruler was especially prolific in statue form, with more examples known of him than of any other pharaoh.
9. A Magician’s Curse
Starting with its excavation in 2007, the Givati Parking Lot outside the City of David in Jerusalem has been an archaeological treasure trove. Objects dating back to the ancient world have been discovered, from a delicate 2000-year-old cupid cameo to the remains of a monumental structure that may have been the palace of Queen Helena of Adiabene. Archaeologists also found a lead tablet in a collapsed Roman mansion with some ominous text. Written in Greek from a woman named Kyrilla, it calls on divine powers to “strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys.” In seeking justice against Iennys, Kyrilla called on six gods from four different religions, and probably enlisted the expertise of a professional magician who would have completed the curse by hammering and nailing the text. The archaeologists speculated that the curse may then have been secreted somewhere close to poor Iennys in order to do him the most harm.
10. The Chapel Where Henry VIII Worshipped
Centuries of development in London had covered up the chapel at the Palace of Placentia, or the “pleasant place,” at Greenwich. Built by Henry VII, it was there that his son Henry VIII would pray, including during the time when he was considering his break with Catholicism to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. By the end of the 17th century, the chapel was in disuse and was demolished for a new hospital, which became the Royal Naval College. In 2006, archaeologists with the Museum of London uncovered the tiled floor of the lost chapel beneath a Royal Hospital parking lot, allowing a glimpse back into what this spiritual space looked like when Henry VIII decided to turn the country’s religion on its head (which led to two of his wives losing theirs).
11. More Than 400 18th-Century Skeletons
Sometimes, as was uttered in the film Poltergeist, only the headstones get moved in a cemetery and the dead get left behind. That turned out to be the case when, in 2017, over 400 skeletons were found at a Philadelphia construction site during its redevelopment. The Arch Street location had recently been used as a parking lot, but it was once home to the First Baptist Church. Its burial ground was believed to have been relocated to the new Mount Moriah Cemetery—but evidently, a few permanent residents were still present. The Mütter Research Institute and volunteers organized an emergency dig, and the long-forgotten dead were rescued. After they are analyzed for clues to what life and death were like in early Philadelphia, they will finally get their eternal rest in Mount Moriah.