Follow TV Tropes


Archaeological Arms Race

Go To
Excavating some Ancient Persian MiGs.

"No artificer or wizard can replicate the powerful artifacts found in Xen'drik. These objects wait to be found, and with international tensions already heightened by the Last War, possession of deadly magic weapons could easily shift the balance of power."
Eberron, "Eberron Campaign Setting, Chapter 7: Life in the World"

In fiction there's often a lot of reasons why opposing factions want to develop better technology (although they only need one). While some research and create it, others just find (or supplement their own creations with) Lost Technology. When both sides scramble to secure such caches you end up with this trope.

Where the technology's being salvaged from can vary greatly depending on the setting and story;

  • Cold War (and sometimes present day) settings often have abandoned Nazi technology (and scientists). Present day settings might also treat Soviet Superscience and scientists in the same fashion. More fantastic settings might provide a similar dynamic with a Fictional Counterpart: a recently defeated faction who've left lots of technology and research lying around.
  • Salvaging technology which was left behind by Precursors.
  • A variation might involve salvaging your own technology after a disaster of some sort destroyed your ability to manufacture more of it; either by digging it from the wreckage or finding caches. Or acquiring it from neutral factions who'll only hand it over to the first bidder.

The list goes on, all that matters is that both sides are struggling to get their hands on technology which they didn't develop (or build, in extreme cases) themselves. If they're merely finding the means to build their weapons (or also actively reverse engineering the technology) then it's also a Lensman Arms Race. If this is the only means of getting hold of anything then the setting is most likely a Scavenger World.

When this happens with characters rather than technology, see Sealed Cast in a Multipack. When they use technology which is technically obsolete (and often already theirs) it's Break Out the Museum Piece. When everyone's after a specific piece of technology it's a MacGuffin or Sword of Plot Advancement. If the source of the technology engineered the conflict for their own ends it's War for Fun and Profit. Compare; Gotta Catch 'Em All, Grand Theft Prototype. Particularly old technology must have had Ragnarök Proofing and benefits from Older Is Better.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • ∀ Gundam has all the major Earth-bound factions trying to dig up and salvage old mobile suits from previous Gundam Eras in a bid to defeat either each other or the invading Moonrace. Gym Ghingham's faction of the Moonrace then discovers some buried old mobile suits on the Moon, and do the same.
  • In The Big O, the residents of the domed megalopolis Paradigm City experienced mass amnesia forty years prior to the series and had to reverse-engineer all technology and civilization from their surroundings. Occasionally, someone will spontaneously remember some bit of technological knowledge or stumble upon some new piece of machinery such as the titular Giant Robot; these fragments of the past are collectively referred to as "memories" and can make the finder a rich entrepreneur, a dangerous terrorist, or a madman, depending on their inclination.
  • The Ancient Belka wars of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise was fueled by this and the Lensman Arms Race, with nations also scrambling to find various Lost Logia to give themselves an advantage over their enemies. The Cradle of the Saint Kings, for example, was not made by the Ancient Belkans, and was instead an especially powerful Lost Logia they discovered whose origins could be traced back to Al-Hazard.
  • In the Macross series, humanity is developing its own technology but continues to pursue Protoculture technology because it's still much more advanced. They're also driven by the desire for something that can stop possibly multiple hostile Zentraedi fleets after a single fleet almost wiped out the Earth and they know there are still more Zentraedi fleets out there with immense numerical superiority.
  • Soul Eater: Eibon's Demon Tools and the process of "keep away from Kishin" involving them. Specifically B.R.E.W and the Book of Eibon, and with good reason, as B.R.E.W is whatever you desire it to be, and the Book of Eibon is a collection of magical and dangerous creatures that can be summoned at any time by the user and actually is Eibon himself at one point in the anime.
  • Spriggan centers on the pursuit of OOPArts (Out-Of-Place Artifacts), ancient Lost Technology with the potential to disrupt the balance of power or even destroy the world if misused. Many governments and organizations are willing to resort to extreme measures to secure or destroy these artifacts.
  • Super Dimension Century Orguss 02 is driven by this trope, with two rival nations excavating the Humongous Mecha from the original series and repairing them with Industrial-age weaponry. The plot thickens when the country our protagonist isn't from excavates an extremely Humongous Mecha powerful enough to win the war singlehandedly.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942):
      • During the Golden Age, Diana accompanies the Holliday Girls on a couple of excursions hoping to find magical or other useful items for the war effort during archaeological excavations.
      • Diana's Silver Age foe Osira is an evil Ancient Astronaut who the ancient Egyptians managed to seal, and then build a pyramid on top of. Once she escapes, Osira and several heroes are in a bit of a race for what's left of her tech, with the heroes hoping to prevent her from getting to it.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): The Amazons have to deal with a subset of American and other politicians treating Amazonian technology, especially their Purple Ray, as something they are entitled to, treating the Amazons themselves as an outdated ancient relic from the past rather than an existing city-state.

    Fan Works 
  • Despite Age of Strife being set immediately After the End, salvaged technology can shift the balance of power dramatically. Much of Greengraft's supremacy came from its early recovery of a universal assembly machine with weapon STC patterns in it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: The Red Skull unearths the Tesseract, the key to making super-powered weaponry, in an ancient Viking ruin. After finding it, he somewhat derisively implies that the Nazis are involved in similar searches.
    Red Skull: And the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert.
  • Like in the source novel, the protagonists of Congo want to find the Lost City of Zinj because of the value of its diamonds for communications. But unlike in the novel, Karen builds a deadly laser with them.
  • This is alluded to in Raiders of the Lost Ark, since both the US government and the Nazis might want to use it as a weapon (although it's more of a powerful spiritual artifact than lost technology).
    Colonel Musgrove: What's that supposed to be coming out of there?
    Indiana Jones: Lightning. Fire. The power of God or something.
    Major Eaton: I'm beginning to understand Hitler's interest in this.
    Marcus Brody: The Bible speaks of the Ark laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it... is invincible.

Examples by author:
  • A recurrent theme in some of Philip K. Dick's short stories, with post war survivors whose lives are dependent on ancient or alien technology and in some cases the will and resourcefulness needed to acquire them.
Examples by title:
  • The Beginning After the End: From Volume 8 onward, part of the main conflict centers on how Agrona, in his bid to master fate and conquer Epheotus, has been sending his servants to investigate the ruins left by the ancient Djinn. Specifically, there are four ruins of note, and Agrona and the Vritra are unable to access them as the Djinn had rendered them impassable to the Asuras that sought to exterminate them. After learning of the true extent of Agrona's plans by the second message Sylvia had left for him, Arthur begins planning on investigating those ruins and discovering what knowledge lies buried in them before Agrona's servants do.
  • Congo: Two corporations try to reach a centuries-abandoned city in the African jungle because of a unique type of diamond found there, whose unique physical properties are valuable to build communications devices. The application of this "communications" to activating missile sites is directly addressed. Ironically, the kind of diamond they want is still common there because its color wasn't valuable to the original inhabitants of the city.
  • In The Corellian Trilogy, it's discovered that the entire Corellian star system was actually built, using planetary repulser systems to move its five habitable planets into a single solar system, with Centerpoint Station as a hyperspace tractor — the means to open a tunnel through hyperspace and pull them through. All of these can also be used as powerful weapons though, so the occupants of the planets have been searching for them in order to use them against their enemies.
  • Death or Glory: The galactic war described in The Legacy of Giants and No One but Us involves an attempt to recover a cache of the Precursors' portals that can be used to transport entire armadas instantaneously (normal FTL travel is fast but far from instantaneous and can be detected far in advance of arrival — arriving ships leave an "imprint" in space). The duology is even called "The War for Mobility", as both sides realize that the more mobile side wins. In the end, the good side (the one with humans) ends up obtaining the portals and quickly figuring out how to use them to capture the "evil" side's Emperor, forcing their surrender.
  • In The Dreamside Road, most of the main cast fights to find the the titular treasure – a trove of artifacts stolen and hidden from a secret government agency.
  • Defied in The Fifth Season by the Sanze Empire: although the continent is dotted with incomprehensible relics of long-dead civilizations, the Empire's official policy is that if they didn't save those civilizations, they're of no use in the present day. This turns out to be a deliberate misdirection, since the most visible of those relics are part of a planet-spanning Amplifier Artifact of potentially apocalyptic power.
  • In David Barnett's Gideon Smith novels, young fisherman Gideon Smith and his band of misfits from a steampunk England are racing against the villains to go to Egypt and recover Apep, an ancient clockwork dragon made from brass and the ultimate Magitek weapon.
  • Rivalry over long-dead races' Lost Technology creates conflict in the Known Space story "The Soft Weapon".
  • The "Mazeheart Object" of Molt Brother is a mythical artifact leftover from a previous civilization rumored to reveal the secrets of a form of mind-control. It's not just archaeologists Arshel and Dennis who are after the thing for its cultural value — every political faction in the Hundred Planets is willing to kill for information leading to the whereabouts of the artifact.
  • As Mortal Engines is set in the future a long time After the End, when civilization has rebuilt, most of the weapons technology comes from archeologists find "Old Tech" knowledge or superweapons.
  • The Reclamation Project: The city of Ambara Down and titular Reclamation Project fight over the lost technology of ancients, leftover after humans abandoned the surface of the Earth and left it to the zoomorphs.
  • Deconstructed in the Schooled in Magic books. A mage attempts this and fails. As it turns out the ancient spells were clumsy and inefficient compared to the contemporary ones. In several of his Author's notes, Christopher Nuttall comments on the unlikelihood that ancient magical spells and/or objects would somehow be more powerful than those created by contemporary mages who have a longer history of experimentation to draw upon.
  • Sepulchre: On Sir Leonard Woolley's excavation near the city of Ur of the Sumerian Royal Cemetery, Felix Kline, by natural psychic insight, hastened to uncover the preserved heart of incarnate Sumerian deity Bel-Marduk, custody of which offers indefinite youth.
  • In The Stand, the good guys' main concern (once they've begun to rebuild, at least) is taking care of Randall Flagg before he starts utilizing all the old military weapons and equipment that are free for the taking now that The Plague has wiped out most of humanity. Flagg's minion Trashcan Man is particularly adept at finding these new toys and getting them in working order.
  • The Time Traders revolves around a Cold War competition to recover lost alien tech.
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle has the Ruins, seven enormous abandoned structures containing advanced technology such as Drag-Rides. All of the countries devote effort to exploring the Ruins, to the point of holding competitions to win the rights to explore them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • The humans are one of the least-advanced major galactic powers, dependent at first upon the Centauri for access to hyperspace jumpgates and later the Narn for weapons to use against the Minbari, who outclass them by far. Even during the setting of the series proper humans are the only major power not to have developed artificial gravity (except for the Narn, who may just not care). In response, the humans formed InterPlanetary Expeditions (IPX), a corporation that funds archaeological expeditions to locate and exploit the technology of any dead alien races. Earth's major innovative weapons system, the Interceptor (designed to shoot down incoming energy weapons fire) is stated in expanded materials to be one such piece of reverse-engineered alien tech. The main plot kicks off when an IPX survey reaches Z'ha'dum and awakens the Shadows.
    • IPX really makes things go pear-shaped in the TV movie Thirdspace, in which a massive artifact so dangerous even the Vorlons couldn't control is recovered and activated.
  • Revolution: More or less. One who can make pre-blackout tech work will have a gigantic advantage.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • Stargate SG-1: This is one of the major stated objectives of Stargate Command. Given that the Tau'ri are fighting tooth and nail against a technologically vastly superior Goa'uld Empire with only three things saving them from immediate annihilationnote , the immediate priority is to discover technology to even the odds and make alliances with other races/planets to the same end. However, there are also several factions are desperate to get their hands on any alien technology, through theft rather than diplomacy if need be; the NID prioritized acquisition over alliances and would steal from friendly races given the chance; the Committee, made up of major global economic players, wanted to use alien technology to develop products to sell to the populace and get rich doing so; the Trust, successors to the NID, were willing to use any means necessary to protect Earth from Goa'uld invasion but were eventually taken over entirely by the Goa'uld.
      • This is also played with by the fact that the the Goa'uld are scavengers by nature; virtually all of their technology, such as optical computers and even the Stargate, has been either found, stolen from someone else, or reverse engineered. This puts them at a disadvantage against more innovative species, such as the Tau'ri. But because of their genetic memory, it also means that the handful of times the Goa'uld actually develop something new on their own, it tends to be extremely dangerous.
      • In the later seasons, when Earth finally gains parity against the Goa'uld, they find themselves being threatened by even more powerful foes and even intergalactic empires. Against these enemies, the technology they have on hand is nowhere near powerful enough to defend themselves, so they have to search for technology left behind by the Ancients, the most powerful race to ever exist between several galaxies.
    • Stargate Atlantis: This trope is turned on its side in that while the Atlantis Expedition are based in literally the most powerful and technologically advanced city in the Pegasus Galaxynote , they have no means to access or power said technology due to the lack of Zero Point Modules, so much of the early seasons are spent exploring the galaxy and trying to find ZPMs to protect themselves against the Wraith. And any time they do gain access to some of the deeper levels of Atlantis's research labs, what they discover tends to be more dangerous than useful, since even by the standards of the Ancients the labs contain cutting-edge and exotic experiments. Of note, while Earth already has access to multiple Daedalus-class battlecruisers throughout the series, they still can't stand toe-to-toe against Wraith Hive Ships, so much of the scavenging is also attempting to find Ancient weapons that can do the job, from caches of drones to entire Aurora-class warships. Of course, because of their limited understanding of Ancient technology, they can rarely ever operate said warships at their full potential any time they get their hands on one.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • "Contagion" has Picard and co travel to a planet in the Romulan Neutral Zone to find the homeworld of the legendary Iconians, a highly advanced (and defunct) civilization with the technology to teleport matter at interstellar ranges, allowing them to drop an army (or just a whole lot of explosives, biochemical agents, etc.) on any planet they chose any time they chose. Naturally the Romulans are none too pleased about this and set out to stop Star Fleet and gain any technology for themselves first.
    • "The Chase" features several factions — Federation, Klingons, Cardassians and Romulans — who are all after a DNA code left by Precursors. Said code has been broken into several pieces, with various pieces in the possession of each of the aforementioned factions. The Klingons, in particular, think it's a weapon, while the Cardassians think it will yield an unsurpassed power source. It turns out to be a message to the Precursors' descendant species, talking about the commonality between them. Picard and the Romulan representative are receptive, the Klingons and Cardassians are not.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The world of 7th Sea is littered with Syrneth artifacts, remnants of previous non-human civilizations on Theah. Major nations and secret societies come into conflict over the most powerful ones.
  • In the post-apocalyptic strategy/card game Armageddon Empires, while all the factions are capable of researching new technology, most games also feature at least a few special tiles where you can dig up unique (and powerful) units, weapon systems, enhancements, and other goodies to unleash against your enemies.
  • In BattleTech, the Schizo Tech is the result of multiple interstellar wars clubbing the Inner Sphere as a whole back a century or so technologically — often purposefully, as research and industrial sites were prime targets in the First Succession War. Afterwards, everyone realized that a lot of what was once common technology had become irreplaceable LosTech, and by the time of the Second Succession War began preservation of science and industrial sites were part and parcel of the Ares Conventions. This also means that many of the "supernatural" Indiana Jones tropes expected of an Archaeological Arms Race were in full effect; the only Lostech caches remaining were ones with some fairly dangerous security measures (in the 2018 game, a cache was protected by an artificially intelligent computer virus). ComStar had a debatable effect on all of this; they maintained the faster-than-light communication networks, along with interstellar civilization in general... but they also secretly monopolized their technological edge by destroying everyone else's research sites and killing every cutting-edge scientist who wouldn't join them. This era came to an end after the Third Succession War — much of which was fought over lostech caches — when the Gray Death Legion mercenaries discovered the Helm Memory Core, a near-complete set of lostech schematics which they chose to spread through the Inner Sphere despite the efforts of ComStar. Meanwhile, the Clans who left the Inner Sphere at the start of the Succession Wars not only maintained their level of technology, but actually improved on it, making a Clan 'Mech of a given weight worth, in general, one and half Inner Sphere 'Mechs of the same weight.
  • Implied in Eberron. Several countries are gearing up for war and there are a great deal of powerful magical artifacts to uncover. Whether the trope is played straight is up the DM, of course. The Forge of War, a sourcebook dealing with the Last War, explicitly suggests this as a basis for adventurer involvement in said war.
  • Exalted: All types of Exalts are in a race to unearth ancient Solar superweapons (and there are tons of them), with the ones coming ahead being the Houses of the Dragon-Blooded, ready to use them in the inevitable civil war. The only ones who aren't in the race are Sidereals, whose interest is in keeping the artifacts buried. In the Infernal sourcebook, Captain Gyrfalcon is seen with possession of Thousand-Forged Dragon. He's understandably proud of himself.
  • Magic: The Gathering: This is a major part of the storyline of the Antiquities expansion, as told in The Brothers' War. Later, when the story returned to Dominaria after a long break and a move to planes following a Planet of Hats model, all of that time spent there in the past led to it becoming the Continuity Porn plane, and this idea came back, with the twist now that these are relics from past storylines.
  • Mutant UA, being set in a post-apocalyptic setting, has several stories and campaign books about technology from the "old times". Seeing as the main civilisation is somewhere in the age of steam, it's not surprising that something as simple as a bolt-action rifle, a battery-powered flashlight, or anything made out of plastic are seen as valuable artifacts worth mounting an expedition to find. Then there's the really valuable stuff, like laser rifles and power armor...
  • The entire basis of Numenera. The game is set in the Ninth World, a billion or so years into the future of Earth after eight previous civilisations have risen to technology levels ranging from near-future to Magic from Technology, before falling again for unknown reasons. The titular numenera are the leftovers of these previous worlds, ranging from obviously technological devices to swarms of nanobots to things that appear outright magical — the setting makes heavy use of Clarke's Third Law and can be treated as anything from hard sci-fi to high fantasy.
  • Rifts has had a few of those happen in the backstory, with the clear winners in North America being the human supremacist, anti-magic Coalition States and Free Quebec, and to a lesser degree Ishpeming a.k.a. Northern Gun, who managed to unearth, refurbish and reproduce several pre-rifts technologies. Seriously downplayed by the setting's "modern" time, however, as while finding a cache of ancient high-tech toys might make you rich and/or a local bigwig, you most likely won't matter much to the current great or even medium powers, who either managed to mostly regain humanity's old tech level, never lost it in the first place, or never needed it due to having an equivalent — usually supernatural power or alien tech (or in some rare cases both).
  • In Rocket Age, ancient Martian artefacts are constantly being fought over for their technological value.
  • In the final days of the Star*Drive setting, the Galactic Concord and allies faced off against the Exeat. Each side tried to dig up artifacts left by various Precursors to use against each other. In the Battle of Aegis, the Exeat displayed such a weapon. It hit hard.
  • In Traveller, this is the reason the Imperium (and presumably other governments) keep track of Ancient sites and artifacts. One piece of technology, the Black Globe Generator, is specifically stated to have been uncovered at an Ancient site.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • This is often the case when different factions in the Imperium of Man (especially the Adeptus Mechanicus) end up fighting each other, as they've become technologically backwards and most of their best technology is either relics they've dug up (or stolen from each other) or created by the few xenos they haven't killed on sight. The Mechanicus also bans innovation as heresy against the ancients, forcing them to obtain all tech from archaeological relics built during the Dark Age of Technology.
    • This also occurs between species from time to time, particularly with ancient Necron/C'tan relics (often not known to be so by those trying to claim it). Particularly frequent with Orks, who will happily try to salvage and use anything regardless of who made it, what it's supposed to do or how dangerous it might be.

    Video Games 
  • Ascendancy: A good number of planets feature ruin tiles that can be excavated, resulting in a random tech from the research tree. This can be anything from a tech you would've discovered the next turn from normal research to endgame tech that could give you a massive advantage. It normally takes 50 turns (25 if colony base is built on a red square) to build a dig site on a newly colonized world.
  • Part of the Assassin's Creed franchise's overarching plot is the race to find artifacts left behind by the First Civilization, such as the Apples of Eden. By the present-day, the Templars are winning with the Assassins playing catch-up.
  • Aurora (4X): Xenological excavations are a steady and relatively safe source of applied technology... Just remember to bring a competent military unit with you.
  • In the setting of Borderlands, this is part of the reason why so many people are on Pandora. Everyone is racing for control over the legendary Vaults, which hold various Eridian secrets, and in all of the games, the players are "Vault Hunters" who are trying to seize the priceless alien ruins. The Atlas corporation, in particular, owes much of its superiority to capturing and repurposing Eridian technology. Later on, the Hyperion corporation rises to prominence by exploiting the opening of a Vault to harvest the extremely valuable element Eridium, which began growing on Pandora after the events of the first game. The second game even has an outright arms race, as Handsome Jack is racing to unlock one particular Vault which houses an ancient Eridian superweapon known as The Warrior.
  • Civilization:
    • A non-military version in the Brave New World Expansion Pack to V. After the discovery of Archaeology, you can start training Archaeologist units who can excavate antiquity sites for cultural artifacts that boost your Tourism rating. There are also hidden antiquity sites that are only visible to players who have maxed out the Exploration policy tree. These aren't any better than the regular sites, but, being the only one who can see and excavate them can give a huge advantage to someone going for a cultural victory. Also, other civs get annoyed when you start excavating within their borders, especially since excavating a site on an improved tile destroys the improvement.
    • Then there's the so-called Goody Huts. In most versions of Civilization, these are small tribal villages that you can visit and which might attack you or give a small gift such as money, weapons, technology, or knowledge of local terrain. Finding them can be a major contributor to an early-game advantage, especially if you get a few free techs or level up your scouts. In V, there are only ruins, which become the aforementioned antiquity sites. The first civ to explore one of these always gets a bonus of some kind. Depending on the edition of the game, goody huts can give a technological bonus, no matter which era you find them in. This can lead to late-game explorers finding isolated villages which teach them the ancient secrets of rocketry or nanotechnology.
    • Civilization: Beyond Earth features this as well. You can explore both alien and human ruins (yours is the first successful expedition to the planet), Siege Worm remains, crashed satellites, as well as supply pods sent ahead of the expedition. Rising Tide is set to built on this feature with the addition of relics, pieces of old Earth or alien technology which can provide nice boosts to your civ on their own, but often some in sets, and when collected together, grant your faction even more powerful bonuses as well as entirely new perks and buildings — provided you manage to find the other pieces before some other civ does.
  • Dark Colony: The race begins when the humans and Taar realize there are riches to be had by excavating Martian ruins. The ultimate prize is an engine of war that can single-handedly wipe the enemy off the face of the planet.
  • EVE Online: This is how strategic cruisers were developed by the four empires. Thanks to the black boxing used in their construction, for a while it was necessary for player alliances to control wormhole systems and the archaeological sites within them in order to build strategic cruisers. Now it is possible to find relic sites in high-sec, but the wormhole sites are still much more productive.
  • The Fallout games evoke this trope, as the Brotherhood of Steel is sometimes depicted as going to any length to secure pre-war weapon technology. Most such technology is found in Vaults, since everywhere else is a Scavenger World.
    • The first game featured a nuke which you could use to skip the endgame boss fight.
    • In the second game, the Enclave has access to enough fossil fuel to manage a small army, complete with helicopters due to having total control of the last oil rig in the entire world. This made them more powerful than the Brotherhood of Steel, and they could curb stomp any faction in the Wasteland. They also have a strain of the Forced Evolutionary Virus that would allow them to kill off anyone and everyone via massive hemorrhaging and inflammations before finally dying after an hour of torture.
    • In Fallout 3 the Brotherhood one-upped the Enclave by not only stealing their resources after beating them in the Brotherhood-Enclave War, but also salvaging a Humongous Mecha built by the U.S. government during the Battle of Anchorage.
    • Fallout: New Vegas was particularly blatant about this, featuring a power plant called "HELIOS One" which fanatical former Brotherhood Elder Elijah (hoping to dig up an ancient weapon system) defended to the bitter end, refusing to abandon the site despite his forces being massively outnumbered by the NCR even with their technological superiority. The worst part is he was absolutely right. However, he wasn't completely right, as HELIOS One was damaged after the Great War, various programs left behind in the terminals further reduce the energy production of the plant, and a small boy uses the trigger as a toy ray gun.
  • Throughout the Halo franchise, the theocratic Covenant is constantly searching for technology and structures left behind by the Forerunners. However, their religious fervour means that the Covies consider all Forerunner tech to be holy relics, to the point where any attempt to even just better understand said techology, much less actually improve on it, runs the risk of being considered heresy. The result is that Covenant technology is inferior to the Forerunner originals, though still somewhat better than what humanity has. When humanity gets forced to fight a Hopeless War against the Covenant, the UNSC (secretly) throws more and more of its researchers at the few Forerunner archaeological sites it has. In fact, Halo: Combat Evolved starts with the Pillar of Autumn warp-jumping to one of the titular Forerunner installations in order to lure the Covenant away from Earth, with Cortana having secretly used Forerunner navigational coordinates in the hopes that they would point humanity to a potential game-changer against the Covenant.
    • Humanity is more willing to properly reverse-engineer what they can find, but most of the war-era technology they can put into the field is based on stolen Covenant knock-offs, partly because the Covenant own more archaeological sites, but also because genuine Forerunner tech is even more difficult to figure out. Still, the UNSC is more willing to improve on Covenant technology if they can, with Spartan MJOLNIR armor being superior to standard-issue Elite power armor (though the Covenant were far better able to mass-produce their own stuff during the war).
    • In Halo: First Strike, Cortana hijacks a Covenant carrier and discovers that its plasma cannon firmware is an absolute mess. She re-writes it in the middle of a space battle to convert its inefficient plasma torpedoes into even more powerful and precise ion beams, then proceeds to tear apart several Covenant capital ships. While doing so, a Covenant AI jumps out and calls her a heretic for altering "holy relics". Yes, they deliberately stunt their AIs with the same religious restrictions.
    • By the time of Halo 4, humans has closed much of the gap with what's left of the Covenant in the Forerunner arms race, in part due to them acquiring both their own Forerunner shield world in Onyx/Trevelyan plus a number of Engineer/Huragok defectors, and also because the vast majority of the Covenant's species had their own scientific skills deliberately limited by their now all-but-extinct Prophets (though supplemental materials indicate that at least a few post-Covenant factions have managed to recover a lot of their previously suppressed technical skills). Subsequently, the struggle between the UNSC and the more hostile Covenant remnants over Forerunner sites has become a major source of conflict, as seen Halo 4's Spartan Ops, 'Halo: Spartan Assault'', and various other media.
      • Case in point: the most advanced UNSC ship, the Infinity, was augmented with reverse-engineered Covenant and Forerunner tech (with the help of Huragok recovered from Trevelyan); and can outgun almost anything produced by post-Covenant shipyards.
      • The post-war period also gives us a nice subversion; the UNSC and the more friendly post-Covenant factions, namely the Swords of Sanghelios, have actually been cooperating on a number of technological projects, including those pertaining to the Forerunners.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: A one-sided version. Ruins of the Metal World dot the landscape, but most of the artifacts within are either useless or junk — some of the most valuable things you can scavenge are old coffee mugs. The Eclipse cult, however, have somehow found a way to revive ancient machines buried beneath the ground, different from the normal Mechanical Lifeforms that form a part of the world's ecosystem. These strange machines are not only exceedingly deadly on their own, but they can corrupt other machines to serve them. Higher-ranking eclipse often have scavenged guns collected from those machines. As it turns out, these are the machines that originally destroyed the world, consuming biomass to make more of themselves. After every living thing was dead, they went into hibernation, and a terraforming AI named GAIA was able to calculate the shutdown codes to put them down for good, then rebuild the biosphere from scratch. But an Outside-Context Problem managed to hack GAIA, driving her subroutines sapient and turning them into rogue gods; HADES has recruited the Eclipse to build an army to destroy the world again, while HAPHAESTUS overclocked machine production to slaughter the human race into submission.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: When the Hylians caught wind that the ancient evil Ganon was on the verge of waking up, their solution was to try to dig up the magitek superweapons that had defeated him 10,000 years prior. Unfortunately, they didn't fully understand how to control the ancient devices, resulting in Ganon simply hijacking them and turning them against their masters, destroying most vestiges of civilization as a result.
  • Mass Effect: Technology from the Protheans, the civilization that ruled the galaxy 50,000 years before the present day, is in massive demand and every galactic civilization tries to get as much as they possibly can. Once the Reapers are revealed, collecting their technology (which is actually what the Protheans' tech was based on) becomes even more important due to the need to find effective ways to fight them, though as Reaper tech is designed to have the side effect of brainwashing anyone who gets near it into worshiping the Reapers it's a double-edged sword.
  • Metal Fatigue: The entire conflict is based on three brothers working for their Combot building family business discovering alien technology, setting off a war between it and two other companies (one of which each of the brothers ends up working for). Naturally the best way to get the best parts is to find said alien technology (as well as stealing parts you've blased off enemy combots).
  • In the setting of Panzer Dragoon, several factions are after technology left behind by the Ancients, generally for this purpose:
    • The Empire is the largest and most notable of these factions. They were originally formed to try and help better society with the technology, but by the time the games take place, they have become corrupt.
    • In Panzer Dragoon Saga, the Black Fleet (some of the Empire's most elite forces) defect, and claim a specific artifact (the woman Azel) to keep the Emperor's ambitions in check.
    • Another notable faction is the secretive group known as the Seekers. Commonly thought to be nothing more than outlandish tomb raiders, their goal is to use Ancient technology to help humanity reclaim the world from the various monsters and hazards. They are at odds with the Empire at the point the games take place, despite some initial common ground.
  • Relic of War is based around this, with the Nazis discovering an Ancient Artifact and using it for taking an advantage in an alternative timeline WWII developing new technologies (the allies do the same later on)
  • Serious Sam: This is all over the place. It's made clear in the intro videos alone that Earth is only holding out against Mental thanks to caches of Sirian technology scattered across the world. No fewer than four ancient cultures (Pre-Helenistic Egypt, proto-Babylon, pre-Columbian Aztec, and (oddly) Harold of Saxony-era England) had access to working Sirian ships, teleporters, and radios, though only the Egyptians and English managed to maintain them. The Egyptians even had a working time machine, which still functioned in the year 2260. Sirian tech wound up being the only way the UN could successfully send explorer ships out amongst other star systems, too, though that may have been what attracted Mental's attention in the first place.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Mysterious monoliths, artifacts and other leftovers from the creators of Planet are scattered around the terrain and can boost scientific research of the colonist group who finds them first. Meanwhile, the alien factions have to slowly rediscover technology lost when their ships crashed on the surface after a firefight. Additionally, the Expansion Pack adds the Unity crash site, exploring which can get you a free unit or two.
  • Star Ruler: The Galactic Armory mod adds a slew of ancient superweapons, megastructures, and perfectly terraformed planets from the Remnant's long-gone empire. Warp gates, shield sapping generators, starkilling cannons, et cetera. Players will need to scramble in order to claim them or capture them from other players. Of course, the players will also need to battle their way past the AI ships that still guard said superweapons, and it's no easy task when the Remnants have antimatter engines and phased railguns when the players are still putting along on solid-fuel rockets. Remnant superweapons are not critical to winning a game, but can provide a decisive advantage, especially if the other players begin to edge ahead of you in research.
  • Star Ruler 2: Remnant artifacts dot the galaxy and come in many flavors. They range in use from totally peaceful like the stellar-scale telescope, to unstoppable juggernauts of war like the Revenant — the flagship of the Remnant fleet — which is so powerful that it must be assembled by collecting its scattered parts. Artifacts require Energy to power up, and can be activated by anyone controlling the artifact's solar system. A diplomatic action can be initiated to claim artifacts and move them to your own systems. Unknown, neutral Seed starships fly through the galaxy, slowly replenishing the supply of artifacts.
  • Stellaris: Archaeological sites can yield relics that provide powerful buffs to the empires that hold them, but excavating them requires an empire to directly control the system containing the site so wars often break out over systems with unexcavated sites. With Archaeo-tech technology researched, you can even start building ship components and buildings out of the artifacts you collect. They're much more powerful than other technologies available at the time period you're likely to unlock them, but you need to use Artifacts as a building material for them, which is a very rare resource (each completed Archaeology Site grants a single renewable Artifact deposit).
  • Trails Series: The Sept-Terrions are ancient devices gifted to mankind by the goddess hundreds of years ago, and all possess some degree of Reality Warper powers. The plot of the first game is kicked off by a leading figure in Liberl's army attempting to uncover one, as they feel it's the only way to protect themselves against an invasion by Erebonia. The Crossbell arc involves an attempt to re-create a second Sept-Terrion in the hopes of giving Crossbell (a puppet state between Erebonia and the equally expansionist Calvard) enough power to declare itself independent. We find out in the Cold Steel arc that Erebonia has also been trying to uncover and harness a Sept-Terrion's power, in the form of the Divine Knights. All the while, the Society of Ouroboros has been manipulating things behind the scenes to secure the Sept-Terrions for themselves.
  • Warframe: The Orokin left behind many artifacts which three of the major factions in the setting are all hunting for to get an upper hand in the conflict. The Tenno in particular are basing a lot of their gear on what they've used during the Old War; their game-changing technologies such as archwings (the first one only) and railjacks are earned respectively through excavation missions and and scavenging parts scattered around the Origin System, with the upgrades for the latter gained by repairing wreckage rewarded from railjack missions.
  • Wolfenstein:
    • This tends to be all over the place, with the Nazis' discoveries ranging from supernatural to ancient tech-based discoveries. In the series reboot, Wolfenstein: The New Order, the Big Bad, Deathshead manages to allow them to win the war through reversed engineered Lost Technology.
    • Technically, it's something of an aversion, since most of the tomb raiding is done by the Nazis. The Allies simply send BJ Blazkowicz in and a few hours and hundreds of Nazi corpse's later, the Reich is down one super weapon. Downplayed in Wolfenstein: The New Order; Set reveals the Da'at Yichud eventually decided to share their Anti-Gravity technology with the Allies, but by that point the Nazis had already developed nukes, so it was a curb-stomp battle and the anti-gravity (and America) quickly fell into Nazi hands.
  • World of Warcraft has this pop up from time to time, usually centered on Titan technology.
    • The most prominent example is Garrosh Hellscream excavating in Pandaria to find the heart of an Old God and the ensuing battle to stop him before he can completely master its power.
    • This turns up again in Warlords of Draenor, in which the ogre Gorian Empire scours Draenor for Titan artifacts and relics of past civilizations to give them more of an advantage, while the Alliance and Horde compete for their own artifact on an old ogre island. As it turns out, the ogre empire is already so diminished that none of it matters, and the most powerful artifact they find is hijacked by one of their own who betrays them. Meanwhile, the Alliance and Horde competition ends up largely irrelevant, as its existence to begin with was mostly an Excuse Plot for a PvP zone.
  • Xenogears: Most of the best Gears used in the war between Aveh and Kislev are dug up relics from previous wars, not newly manufactured. This naturally leads to conflicts over the best salvage sites.

  • Lord Moonbark of Girl Genius is a British agent whose work for years has been recovering the notes and research of dead Sparks for Her Undying Majesty while other powers in Europa try to keep such things hidden or steal them for themselves.
  • The Hunters of Salamanstra is about the titular fallen country, completely ruined after their magical superweapon backfired and opened portals to eldritch worlds, saturating the borders in eldritch beasts. Over the decades, multiple surrounding countries have sent mercenary guilds "to protect their homelands and make a profit doing so", but it's a clearly flimsy excuse. In addition to the ancient magical artifacts that become game-breakers in a magic-restricted world, many of these artifacts have synthesized and forced adaption in the eldritch beasts, creating an arms race between nations to see who can create/reverse-engineer the greatest monster.

    Western Animation 
  • The second season of Transformers: Prime has the Autobots and Decepticons racing each other to retrieve the Iacon Relics — Cybertronian Lost Technology which was scattered across Earth for safekeeping. Some of the Relics are full-on magical artifacts — Everyone treats the supposed origin story of the Forge of Solus Prime (a forge used by a major religious figure) as true, and it can create things that normally cannot be made, such as artificial T-Cogs.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, during the Cold War both the West and the Soviet Union were quite keen to recruit former Nazi scientists (some of the same minds responsible for putting man on the moon also developed the V1 and V2 weapons which bombed London in WWII).
  • Among much other nonsense, the Ahnenerbe, the closest Real Life Nazi institution to the Ghostapo and the inspiration of the Indiana Jones movies, sometimes launched expeditions to search for mythical items that the Nazis considered Lost Technology from a time when advanced Nordic peoples were ruling the world. One sought item was Thor's Hammer, that the Nazis believed to be a real weapon capable of releasing electrical charges. Another was Atlantis.
    • It's somewhat downplayed — the Nazis were quite... wacky in much more serious, darker and frankly horrifying ways, but their supposed penchant for occult mumbo-jumbo is inflated quite a bit in pop culture. The SS was particularly susceptible to it, as Himmler, its founder and leader, had been intensely interested in mysticism and occultism all his life, but even in the SS, it was restricted to parts of the higher officer corps and some weird offshoots such as the aforementioned Ahnenerbe. The Nazi party itself did make conscious use of (perverted) Norse Mythology symbolism, but most leading figures of it could not have cared less about spiritual beliefs and mysticism, much less the resolutely secular and pragmatic (where that point is concerned, at least) Wehrmacht high command. And that's not even to mention the general civilian population as such, which by and large couldn't have cared less about Black Suns, Nordic prehistoric Supermen or expeditions to find some mythological trinket or other — which did indeed occur, but the funding for which had always been minuscule and was cut completely as the war progressed. The Real Life Nazis in general were much more banal and ordinary than in nearly all fictional representations, which only makes their actual deeds seem more horrifying.
  • In the wake of the Cold War former Soviet technology and scientists were highly sought after by both the United States (in order to keep them out of the hands of other countries) and emerging world powers such as China and India (in order to bolster their own positions). The US and China were the #1 and #2 purchasers of ex-Soviet weapons systems in the world.
  • Most past societies considered relics to be extremely potent sources of power, either as a demonstration of a god's favor, or as literal spiritual weapons. As such, the discovery of relic caches could easily lead to local conflicts, as rival tribes feared the power such relics might bring to their enemies. Paradoxically though, this is actually more common the further back one goes through history, since tribal territories would occasionally become rich enough to produce or obtain works of a quality normally impossible for a given territory, only to later have that society collapse, encouraging neighboring tribes to fight for the now irreplaceable works.
  • Sunken ships have been used on occasion as sources of non-radioactive steel. During the 1960s when global radiation was at an all-time high, thanks to nuclear testing, it was difficult at the time to make non-radioactive steel in a blast furnace (which takes in a lot of air). A scuttled German fleet at Scapa Flow, off the Orkney Islands, was one source of inert steel salvaged at the time. Nowadays the background radiation level is lower and there's now numerous types of air filters that didn't exist in the 1960s, so this usually isn't an issue.