Read the 15 Most Popular Artnet News Stories of 2021, From the Discovery of Ancient Footprints to the Man Who Sold an Invisible Sculpture

Whether in search of news, or in the hopes of finding a joyous surprise, readers flocked to our coverage this year.

Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.
Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

Your clicks have spoken.

As in years past, readers came to our stories looking for insights and analysis, but also a good ol’ bit of fun. Whether in search of news, intelligence, or in the hopes of coming upon a joyous surprise, readers flocked to our coverage this year.

Here are the 15 most popular stories of the year.

A Corona satellite launch at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Photo courtesy of the National Reconnaissance Office.

15. Archaeologists Are Using Incredible Photographs From This Cold War-Era Spy Satellite to Unlock Secrets of World History

“Satellite imagery from the Corona project, a Cold War spy program that acquired military intelligence about the Soviet Union for the US, is proving useful in ways its creators could have never imagined—including for archaeologists.”

Camille Pissarro, La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep), 1886. Courtesy of the Musée d’Orsay.

Camille Pissarro, La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep), 1886. Courtesy of the Musée d’Orsay.

14. ‘I Have No Other Choice’: Holocaust Survivor Relinquishes Her Claim to a Looted Camille Pissarro Painting

“Eighty years after Nazis stole La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons from the parents of Léone Meyer, the Holocaust survivor has given up her quest for the work’s restitution.”

A prehistoric footprint at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Dating on these tracks is shattering archaeologists' understanding of prehistoric migration to North America. Photo by Dan Odess, courtesy of the National Park Service.

A prehistoric footprint at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Dating on these tracks is shattering archaeologists’ understanding of prehistoric migration to North America. Photo by Dan Odess, courtesy of the National Park Service.

13. The Oldest Human Footprints in North America Could Redefine Prehistory as We Know It—and It’s All Thanks to These Tiny Seeds

“New data on prehistoric footprints suggest they are the earliest ever found in North America, dating to 23,000 years ago—thousands of years before humans were previously believed to have made their way to the continent.”

The date on this stone vessel is compelling evidence that the tomb is the final resting place of Han Emperor Liu Zhi. It references his successor, Ling, who would have built a mausoleum for the deceased ruler. Photo courtesy of Luoyang City Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

The date on this stone vessel is compelling evidence that the tomb is the final resting place of Han Emperor Liu Zhi. It references his successor, Ling, who would have built a mausoleum for the deceased ruler. Photo courtesy of Luoyang City Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute.

12. A Modest Stone Relic Has Led Archeologists to the Tomb of a Depraved Ancient Chinese Emperor Famed for His Cruelty and Enormous Harem

“Ruling from 146 to 168, Liu Zhi was known for allying with a politically influential group of eunuchs to execute officials.”

Gainesville artist Tom Miller in front of his 2016 artwork, Nothing.

Gainesville artist Tom Miller in front of his 2016 artwork, Nothing.

11. A Florida Man Is Threatening to Sue an Artist Whose Invisible Sculpture Sold for $18,000, Saying He Came Up With the Idea First

“The Florida artist says that, in 2016, he installed his own invisible sculpture in Gainesville’s Bo Diddley Community Plaza. Tens of people were on hand to see the opus unveiled that June.”

An antique globe that sold for $154,000 at Hansons Auctioneers. Courtesy of the auction house.

An antique globe that sold for $154,000 at Hansons Auctioneers. Courtesy of the auction house.

10. A Welsh Woman Picked Up a Globe for $199 at an Antique Fair Last Year. She Just Sold It for Almost 800 Times That at Auction

“A Welsh woman bought a globe for £150 ($199) at an antique fair. Then it sold for 770 times that at auction.”

Italian conceptualist Salvatore Garau, via Instagram.

Italian conceptualist Salvatore Garau, via Instagram.

9. An Italian Artist Auctioned Off an ‘Invisible Sculpture’ for $18,300. It’s Made Literally of Nothing

“The 67-year-old artist Salvatore Garau sold an ‘immaterial sculpture’—which is to say that it doesn’t exist.”

Ai-Da the artist robot with her self-portraits. Photo courtesy the Design Museum.

Ai-Da the artist robot with her self-portraits. Photo by Lucy Seal, courtesy the Design Museum and Aidan Meller.

8. An Art-Making Robot Was Detained on Her Way to Show at the Pyramids Because Egyptian Customs Officials Thought She Was a Spy

“Ai-Da was held by customs officials for 10 days before her release. Her work was set to appear in the first contemporary art show ever staged at the Great Pyramid of Giza, opening tomorrow.”

Archeologists Hagay Hamer and Oriah Amichai sifting through finds at the Cave of Horrors. Photo by Eitan Klein, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Archeologists Hagay Hamer and Oriah Amichai sifting through finds at the Cave of Horrors. Photo by Eitan Klein, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

7. In a Remarkable Find, Archaeologists Exploring the ‘Cave of Horror’ in Israel Have Discovered a New Dead Sea Scroll

“For the first time in 60 years, archaeologists have discovered a new fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts uncovered in the Qumran Caves on the northern shore of the Dead Sea.”

Spencer Elden recreates his pose from the cover of Nirvana's album Nevermind, shot when he was a baby, 25 years later. Courtesy of John Chapple.

Spencer Elden recreates his pose from the cover of Nirvana’s album Nevermind, shot when he was a baby, 25 years later. Courtesy of John Chapple.

6. The Former Baby From Nirvana’s Famous Album Cover Was Motivated to Sue After the Band Blew Off His Art Show

“Spencer Elden, who appeared naked on the front of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind when he was just four months old, is now suing the band for commercial child sexual exploitation..”

The hoard of gold. Courtesy Norfolk Castle Museum

5. A Metal Detectorist Has Found What Is Now Declared the Largest-Ever Hoard of Gold Anglo-Saxon Coins in His Backyard

“The East Norfolk-based man first found a coin around 1990, but most of the treasure was discovered between 2014 and 2020.”

Surveying mustatils via helicopter reconnaissance. Photo ©Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal Commission for AlUla.

Surveying mustatils via helicopter reconnaissance. Photo ©Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal Commission for AlUla.

4. Archaeologists Say a Mystifying Group of Ancient Monuments in Saudi Arabia Suggests the Existence of a Prehistoric Cattle Cult

“Scattered across 77,000 square miles of desert in northwest Arabia, the mustatils were built between 8,500 and 4,800 years ago.”

The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bank (c. 1503), believed to have been created by Albrecht Dürer. Courtesy of Agnews, London.

The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bank (c. 1503), believed to have been created by Albrecht Dürer.
Courtesy of Agnews, London.

3. A Massachusetts Man Bought a Drawing for $30 at an Estate Sale. It May Be an Authentic Dürer Worth $50 Million

“A man in Massachusetts attended a routine estate sale four years ago, where a small drawing of a woman and child caught his eye.

Stonehenge at sunrise in 2015. Photo by Freesally, public domain.

Stonehenge at sunrise in 2015. Photo by Freesally, public domain.

2. Scientists Have Conducted Tests That Reveal Stonehenge Is Made From a Nearly Indestructible Ancient Material

“Analysis of a core sample taken from one of the site’s massive slabs suggests that the stone’s geochemical composition may have made it uniquely well-equipped to stand the test of time.”

Yale University's Vineland Map, thought to be the earliest depiction of North America, is now proven to be a modern fake. Collection of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Connecticut, public domain.

Yale University’s Vineland Map, thought to be the earliest depiction of North America, is now proven to be a modern fake. Collection of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Connecticut, public domain.

1. ‘There Is No Reasonable Doubt Here’: A Research Team at Yale Proves That the 15th-Century Vinland Map Is a 20th-Century Fake

“The Vinland Map, once believed to be the earliest cartographic depiction of the New World, has been proven to be a modern forgery.”


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