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10 Strange Things Found Inside Other Things

by Jana Louise Smit
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Some things carry unexpected passengers. Whether they land inside their “hosts” by accident or design, many such pairs are invaluable to researchers. Rare finds can broaden our understanding of history and help rediscover lost species, codes, and more.

However, not even the experts can predict where such a gem might reveal itself, as concealed goodies have been pulled from objects as polar opposite as a shark’s heart and Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch. This fascinating phenomenon is supported by countless examples, but for now, here are ten of the best for you to enjoy today!

Related: 10 Ludicrously Large Things Humans Have Lost

10 An Unknown Snake (in Another Snake)

New Snake Species Found in Another Snake’s Stomach

In 1976, a palm harvester in Mexico found a Central American coral snake. The animal was given to herpetologists, who cut it open and found the remains of another snake in its belly. The researchers realized that the “snack” was probably worth studying, but instead of putting it under the microscope, the critter was forgotten in storage for over 40 years.

In 2018, the preserved specimen was re-examined. Not only was it a new species, but the irony of its relationship to the snake that had swallowed it was too delicious—both belonged to the same suborder.

The new snake was named Cenaspis aenigma or “the mysterious dinner snake.” The reptile was indeed mysterious. Its plain scales and long skull suggested a burrowing snake that lived mostly underground. Such snakes usually lack distinctive patterns, perhaps because they need less camouflage than their above-ground cousins. But for some reason, Cenaspis had vivid, bold stripes on its belly and tail.

Solving this quirky exception requires the observation of a living specimen, but it has yet to be found.[1]

9 The Killymoon Cellar Messages

“Hidden Messages: The Story of American Soldiers at Killymoon Castle”

In Northern Ireland stands a castle with a unique window into the past. Upon visiting the basement, visitors are confronted with a lot of “graffiti” on the walls, but these are not ordinary doodles. The canvas of written dates, drawings, and names preserves an important page in history.

Killymoon Castle hosted American soldiers preparing for D-Day, an operation that would see Allied soldiers land at Normandy in France during World War II. It would become one of the bloodiest invasions of all time. On June 6, 1944, over 4,400 troops died upon arrival, and thousands more soldiers and French civilians lost their lives during the ensuing Battle of Normandy.

The hundreds of messages in the cellar were hand-written by these soldiers, some of whom survived, while others were destined to perish in Normandy. Many tourists are still surprised to find this hidden slice of World War II in an ancient Irish castle. But it never fails to show the human side of the American soldiers who left their names, the names of loved ones, and even jokes during a time that was anything but.[2]

8 An Empty Box That Wasn’t Empty

West Point historians open lead box hidden in 194-year-old statue

At the United States Military Academy in West Point stands a statue. Depicting Thaddeus Kościuszko, a Revolutionary War hero, it underwent renovations in 2023, where a box was discovered inside the statue’s marble base. Remarkably, it had been placed there by cadets who attended the Academy nearly 200 years ago.

In a decision the Academy would later regret, they widely publicized their plans to open the box in front of an audience at the school and live-stream the event on YouTube. On that day, countless people gathered for the big reveal. Excitement grew as the faculty hyped up the moment on stage—and at last, the container was unsealed.

Embarrassingly, an archaeologist only scooped handfuls of silt from the box. Viewers lost interest, and dejected researchers returned to the laboratory to comb through the sediment. The next day, away from the cameras, artifacts began to emerge; an Erie Canal commemorative medal and six silver coins from the time when the statue was completed in 1828.

Why the cadets hid the box in the statue’s base remains unknown. The silt is another mystery, but it likely came from decomposing organic matter. Further research is needed to better understand this interesting (albeit slightly awkward) chapter in the Academy’s history.[3]

7 The Oldest Complete Star Map

Parts of a Legendary Star Catalogue Finally Found Hiding In Ancient Text

In the second century BC, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus became the first known person to chart the entire night sky. Among his work was a catalog of stars that went missing.

In 2022, a map was recovered inside a medieval manuscript called the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a religious work housed at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The codex was a palimpsest or a book made of parchments scraped clean of older writings, leaving a blank page to be used again.

Since the codex contained Aramaic texts describing the Old and New Testaments, researchers assumed that the pages originally contained earlier Christian writings. However, when the palimpsest was scanned with multispectral imaging, the truth emerged. Underneath the Aramaic were star coordinates for a constellation called Corona Borealis.

The star map dated to roughly 129 BC, making it a good candidate for the world’s oldest complete steller chart and the missing work of Hipparchus, who, by that time, was already a veteran astronomer.[4]

6 Parasitic Heart Eels

We Finally Know Where Eels Come From

Foreign objects inside of a heart are never good. Among the worst things that can crawl into this vital organ are parasites, and in 1997, scientists were treated (or traumatized) by a strange sight when they sliced open a mako shark. Inside the unlucky predator’s heart were two large eels measuring 8.3 and 9.4 inches (21 and 24 cm), respectively.

Called the snubnosed eel, the pair of parasites were bloated with blood, having gorged on the shark’s life liquid for some time. Frighteningly, for sharks, at least, this was not an isolated case. A decade later, a small-tooth sand tiger shark was found to be infested with the same species of eels. They were found inside the animal’s muscles, heart, and body cavity.

The most bizarre fact about snubnosed eels is that they aren’t like other parasites that critically depend upon a host to survive. These fish can happily live in the ocean as regular eels and scavenge on organic matter. But for some reason, they will burrow into a shark and act like vampires when the opportunity presents.[5]

5 A Jesus Time Capsule

Secret Message Discovered in Statue of Jesus | National Geographic

In 2017, a restoration company in Spain removed a statue of Jesus from the church of Santa Águeda for repairs. While examining the wooden sculpture, the team found a hidden panel on the back, and once removed, they peered into the statue and found a surprise. Someone stuffed two hand-written pages into the hollow interior almost 300 years ago.

The author was a man with an interesting idea. In 1777, Joaquín Mínguez, the chaplain of the Cathedral of the Burgo de Osma, wanted future generations to get a glimpse of the world his flock lived in. Minguez described the region’s crops and wine. He mentioned how people suffered from diseases like typhoid and malaria. The chaplain also included ball games and cards as activities the locals were fond of.

He chose the Jesus statue as a time capsule, likely knowing that his message would come to light in the way that it did. The restoration team respected Minguez’s wish to connect with modern readers and sealed a copy of his letters inside the statue for others to find in the coming centuries.[6]

4 A Record-Breaking Beetle

Triamyxa – The Butt-Borne Bog Beetle | Triassic, WTF?

A few years ago, researchers found a chunk of coprolite or fossilized poop. Since feces can reveal a lot about an animal’s health and diet, the dung was scanned for more information. Incredibly, it contained beetles. While finding insects in poop isn’t unusual, these goobers weren’t dismembered or digested like most insects are after passing through an animal’s digestive tract. They were perfectly intact.

The discovery was noteworthy for two more reasons. The fossil was 230 million years old, making the beetles older than any ancient specimen preserved in amber, as the trees that produced the sap that would later fossilize into amber did not yet exist. Secondly, the beetles belonged to a new species, now called Triamyx coprolithica.

Researchers suspect that the animal behind the coprolite was a Silesaurus, a beaked reptile known to have roamed the region where the poop was found, an area that would later become Poland. It likely scooped up the bugs while foraging and deposited them once the digestion process was complete.

The stunning preservation of the beetles will undoubtedly encourage other scientists to scan their own coprolite collections. Who knows, perhaps this unusual source of fossils will produce more spectacular finds.[7]

3 The Silk Dress Cryptogram

Messages found in Victorian-era dress decoded in Manitoba

In 2013, a woman bought an old dress in Maine. While examining the Victorian-era silk garment, she discovered a secret pocket. It contained papers lined with two garbled messages, reading “Calgarry Cuba Unguard confute duck fagan egypt,” and “Grub wrongful hug duck fagan each.”

Hoping that cipher enthusiasts would quickly break the code, the buyer shared the words on her blog. Instead, the “Silk Dress Cryptogram” proved so uncrackable that it joined the world’s top 50 unsolved codes.

A decade later, Wayne Chan, a computer analyst from Canada, did some sleuthing and realized that the code wasn’t hiding a secret. It was a thrifty hack. During the nineteenth century, every word on a telegram cost dollars. The code was a special shorthand used by the United States Army and Weather Bureau to send rich reports using as few words—and dollars–as possible.

The code likely disappeared because few weathermen used the shorthand, and once telegrams were read, they weren’t considered valuable enough to archive. This could explain why the Silk Dress Cryptogram went unrecognized for so long. A tougher mystery is why one report landed in a secret dress pocket so hidden that it was described as “barely accessible”? We might never know the answer.[8]

2 A Pyramid Hiding Two More

Chichen Itza’s Famous Pyramid is Actually Two Pyramids

Few people would search for a pyramid inside another pyramid. This is sound logic. However, in eastern Mexico, a massive Mayan monument defies this logic not just once but twice.

During the 1930s, archaeologists explored the so-called Kukulkan pyramid when they found the first hidden pyramid deeper within its walls. As amazing as the discovery was, it wasn’t a complete surprise. A local rumor suggested that the pyramid was built around an older version of itself, which, upon discovery, stood an impressive 108 feet (33 meters) tall.

Before the hidden pyramid was found, the rumor was disbelieved by most experts. Little did they know that another secret pyramid lay within Kukulkan. Ultimately discovered in 2016, it measured 33 feet (10 meters) tall. Where was it found? Inside the pyramid discovered in the 1930s.

With each pyramid hiding a smaller version, there exists an exciting possibility that Kukulkan may be hiding even more pyramids.[9]

1 The Secret in Lincoln’s Watch

The Secret Message in Lincoln’s Pocket Watch

On February 12, 2009, a phone call reached Harry Rubenstein, a curator at the American History Museum. On the other end was Doug Stiles, an attorney from Illinois. Stiles wanted to discuss Abraham Lincoln. More specifically, the president’s watch.

Stiles’s great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dillon, worked for a jeweler in Washington, D.C. According to family lore, Dillon was repairing Lincoln’s pocket watch when he learned that the first shot of the American Civil War had been fired at Fort Sumter. His reaction? On the underside of the dial, he allegedly engraved, “The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try.”

Stiles asked the museum to open the pocket watch to confirm the story. Intrigued, Rubenstein agreed. A jeweler named George Thomas was tasked with opening the watch, and he did so under the watchful eye of Rubenstein, the Stiles family, and reporters.

To everyone’s delight, there was indeed a message. Worded a little differently, it read, “Jonathan Dillon April 13-1861 Fort Sumpter was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon April 13-1861 Washington thank God we have a government Jonth Dillon.” Perhaps the most amazing part is that Lincoln carried the watch with him without ever realizing that a jeweler had hidden a hopeful message inside.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen
Jana Louise Smit

Jana earns her beans as a freelance writer and author. She wrote one book on a dare and hundreds of articles. Jana loves hunting down bizarre facts of science, nature and the human mind.

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